Category Archives: British history
I’m not often overly enamored of the various trinkets that stately home owners like to put on show to the Great Unwashed – i.e. you and I, Joe Public and the like. I mean, I love the historic settings and there is definitely great value to be imbibed through getting up-close-and-personal with the hoity-toitys’ treasures but sometimes these things can leave one really wondering if there ever were real people who, once upon a time, loved these objet d’arte as much as the historians would have us believe.
The Carlisle Collection, a unique collection of truly outstanding miniature rooms, fully furnished in intricate detail and commissioned by Mrs Kitty Carlisle in the early to mid twentieth century, is housed in the attic rooms of Nunnington Hall, near York in North Yorkshire.
It is enchanting; stepping in to see each display case is a sheer delight.
The scale is reportedly on an uncommon 1/8th (1 inch = 8 inches) measurement – uncommon because most other similar artifacts are usually on the smaller 1/12th scale (1 inch = 12 inches). The considerable attention to detail is outstanding and evident in each of the dozen or more displays.
This means that everything is really tiny, but perfectly formed.
… so many possibilities, so little time! I’ll leave whatever comparisons you want to make to your own imaginations 🙂
The first room to capture my attention was the Antique Shop – apparently this was what she constructed with everything that was left over from furnishing the other rooms. What a creative way to display the gallimaufry of ephemera that had no other place! ‘Something doesn’t fit in any of the other settings? No worries! Let’s create an antique shop so nothing looks out of place!’ It’s a stroke of genius, in my mind at least.
Totally mesmerizing, I was fascinated with the tiny ceramic animals sitting on a display table and an exquisitely etched silver tea service on a silver tray. Looking through the glass in the front door made me feel like an actual giant. Truly. I suddenly completely understood Alice in Wonderland at the deepest level.
Next we spied the tiny greenhouse, complete with potted plants and gardening tools. *Squee!*
The painter and decorator’s workshop floored me with the rolls of wallpaper, stacked neatly on a shelf – Mrs Carlisle had taken the trouble to PRINT a variety of different patterns onto the wallpapers in store – one was conveniently opened up for inspection on the work bench.
Teeny tools and even the bicycle parked under the stable door made me smile broadly. I was really beginning to enjoy the display!
Now we moved across the hall to another room filled with enclosed display cabinets. These were nothing short of spectacular. I was delighted also to spot that the National Trust provided appropriate portable stepping platforms so that younger visitors might be able to see the marvelous detail for themselves – it’s a nice touch.
The Adam Music Room with its variety of splendid instruments, including a mandolin, a Spanish guitar, cello, viola, violin, clarinet, harp and harpsichord as well as a music stand with sheet music stacked up rather precariously made me wish I had such a room in my own house.
The Palladian Hall, reputedly the last of the rooms to be commissioned by Mrs. Carlisle is modeled on one at Hatch Court in Somerset.
The balustrade pattern was hand carved and then each of the 84 balusters were cast in brass whilst the 88 inches of carpet for the stairs was hand embroidered by the dedicated Mrs Carlisle, who also created all of the soft furnishings for each room setting.
The Georgian Bedroom then is even more fascinating (for textile-techies such as me at least) by this fact – take a look at the teeny little patches that Mrs Carlisle used to make the quilt for the bed – each one can be no more than a quarter-inch in size. And they are hexagons.
And, remember that back in the times that she made these remarkable bed-coverings, she would have had to have cut each tiny hexagon out by hand, tacked it to a tiny card template and then stitched each with minuscule stitches to the next in order to create the 12 inch long (approximately) counterpane. My mind was simply boggled!
The Queen Anne Drawing Room was actually Kitty Carlisle’s first commission, which she had modeled upon F.J Early’s Queen Mary’s Dolls House.
The attention to detail is simply breathtaking – dovetailed joints and even secret compartments in the writing bureau! I was also informed that the china is genuine Limoges Porcelain. Again, our seamstress busied herself with tapestries for the chair covers and footstools as well as the handsome room carpet.
Also (not pictured) there is the Day Nursery, which features a delightful toy Noah’s Ark, complete with a long line of paired animals, patiently waiting their embarkation amongst many other cherished toys; there’s also a Night Nursery, complete with a cot and a crib and other accouterments to childish slumber. It’s just lovely to see.
What a wonderful way to spend an hour or two – if you ever get a chance to visit, this is definitely a must-see attraction, especially if, like me, you’re interested in miniature worlds.
NB: With regards to copyright; I did ask if it was OK to take photos and was informed that as long as I didn’t use a flash this would be OK and I do hope that I’m not upsetting any copyright rules by publishing my own photos here – if anyone is concerned about this, please can they let me know by contacting me via the contact details on the ‘contact page’ of this website. Thanks.
There’ll be more about our trip to Nunnington Hall last weekend, which we went to in order to see the gorgeous ‘Aspects of Rievaulx Abbey’ Exhibition that was showing my two art teachers’ work, Anne Thornhill and Paul Blackwell – that’s a whole other post though, so keep reading!
After all of the beautiful images of the services at the Tower of London yesterday, I wanted to repost these pictures I took in early September of the poppies, which at that point hadn’t filled all the space in the Tower’s now defunct moat.
My grandfather fought for twenty-seven years in the Royal Horse Artillery as a gunner – he had to be able to transport the lighter cannon guns around battlefields, presumably on horseback as I understand it – until he lost a leg during the bloody carnage at Passchendaele, known as the third Battle of Ypres, in October 1917. I’m told that he demanded his men help him search for his severed lower limb in the mud before being dragged out and transported to the field hospital that day. He was lucky. There was a significant amount of mustard gas used during that battle and on top of all of that, there had been weeks of very heavy, unexpected rainfall creating an enormous quagmire in the field of battle. Many soldiers who had been badly wounded lay where they had fallen, firmly ensconced in the thick, gelatinous mud, unable to crawl to safety alone and impossible for others to rescue without being stranded themselves.
I am still researching to find out how my granddad, Thomas Sharp, managed to survive, against such absurdly improbable odds, but I am enormously grateful that he did, for I would not be here if he hadn’t. My mother was born in December 1920 – two years after the end of the Great War – so clearly without that moment of survival, she would not have been born and consequently neither would I. I am ever thankful and will always continue to remember him and the many hundreds of thousands of others who were not so fortunate in a century marked by constant conflicts around the globe.
These magnificent words from the poem written in 1914 by Robert Laurence Binyon echo down through the century and will continue to ring out our call to remember not only our own loved ones, but the great sacrifices that so many made, in defence of that which we hold so dear – the concept of freedom.
We WILL remember them.
As always, thanks for reading once more!
When I see friends posting photos on social websites of the magnificence of Autumnal New England, I find myself longing to travel to see it with my own eyes. One day, I promise myself, one day I will see the glorious, vast swathes of foliage, each tree a slightly different hue from xanthous ivory to bloody incarnadine, with every conceivable shade between. As far as the eye can see. Yes, that is definitely something, high up on my bucket list.
Of course, we have autumn here too, with some glorious examples of Mother Nature changing her garments, each individually becoming more glorious than the one before. Last week Rillington, our local big village, began the annual tree moulting with some beautiful examples of colour and light.
Scampston House and lake have provided me with a beautiful backdrop for some lovely, autumnal foliage photos in recent years. But what of this year, here and now?
The conker trees, horse-chestnuts as they are more widely known, have produced a bountiful crop and I was delighted to capture this image of a child gathering conkers with her family, on the lane from Scampston, clearly selecting her preferred specimens carefully.
I loved the light – it was a beautifully bright, crisp morning which gave a rather ethereal feel to the atmosphere. I watched as she moved around the overhanging branches, occasionally squealing with delight as her latest find surpassed all that had come before. It was one of those moments that felt like I was watching a film rather than being there in person. October light can do that sometimes.
Strolling carelessly down the lane, I could hardly help but notice the juxtaposition of enduring evergreens and fugacious broad-leaved foliage.
Holly and ivy entwined along the hedgerow, with bright, glossy Hunter’s Green leaves and almost florescent red berries just shimmering in the morning light.
I hummed the tune in my head – although it’s entirely possible that ‘The Holly and The Ivy, now they are both full grown; o-of all the trees that are in the woods, the holly bears the crown!’ may have been trilled aloud, joining the blackbird and sparrows in joyful chorus, I’m not entirely sure. I have a tendency to break into song when alone, out of earshot of most humans and in the presence of such glorious, uproarious splendour of a bright October morning in the English countryside.
More centrally in the village, houses awash in deeply rubescent foliage cannot fail to catch the eye of people passing by -such splendour is hard to ignore.
The trickling stream that runs along the side of the road gurgles playfully, reflecting the pale blue sky in repetitious ripples as it bubbles forth under the crossroad and onward, downstream toward the rushing river.
Morning has truly broken now. We stroll round the corner, coming face to face with the path of righteousness, leading ever upward to the venerable village church.
In the morning sunshine, the church clock chimes the quarter-hour in a serenely sonorous tone, reminding villagers of the inevitable passage of time.
I look up into the bright blue of the sky, seeing time from a different perspective.
Sounds become markedly muffled; I feel like I am being transported through time, drawn to consider the occupants of this tiny resting place for this ancient crossroads. I begin to notice the tombstones, lying ramshackled and ruined in the graveyard. A peaceful, tranquil air of silence seems pervasive.
Enchanted, I read testaments to long-forgotten villagers, wondering who they were, what they did with their lives, why they were here.
Frank Wharbeck of Low Moor. Who departed this life on the third of August 1776, aged sixty-six years.
Who loved you enough to raise such a marker on your passing? What did you mean to those around you?
Matthew Pape of Scampston. An Honest Man. Who died on November 14th 1778, aged sixty-five years.
You were so well thought of in the village as to warrant your headstone being raised on the side of the church wall, for all to see from far and wide. Who were you? What made you such an honest man?
And Robert, son of Robert and Elizabeth Pennock of Rillington. You died just before Christmas in 1852, aged only twenty-four years.
What happened to you? What might have happened if you had lived a longer life?
The ghosts of the past are at peace, resting quietly. But they are always here. October light has a habit of playing tricks on the unsuspecting. Time is simply a perspective.
As I return to twenty fourteen, something catches my eye on the grass… an empty shell, from which a tiny bird has scrambled into the new day.
A symbol of life renewing itself perhaps.
I hope you enjoyed my slightly spooky trek this week. Thanks for reading, once again, my friends!
We’ve been gadding about, here and there for the best part of two months, since researching potential university choices on the Internet only tells a truncated version of reality; it turns out that actually visiting the place in person gives a much more rounded view of what is on offer. It’s just a pity that we have to do them all so soon after each other – it’s getting tedious, giving up entire weekends to traipse around yet another set of corridors and having mountains of leaflets and brochures and prospectuses and other junk. On the plus side, I’ve got loads of new pictures to use as collage materials!
Some places are more intriguing than others. I was very pleasantly surprised by our recent visit to Lincoln -prompted largely by my Neanderthol’s interest in the work of one of the university’s lauded alumni, Jack Howard, who has a massive YouTube following and is now inspiring young(er) film-makers to follow in his footsteps. Some years ago, Toby and his friend, Josh, decided to attempt their own interpretation of one of Jack’s funny videos – New Car. I think it’s pretty funny and I’m hoping to persuade him to include it in his portfolio, when applying actually becomes something he gets round to doing. We also noted that the brilliant John Hurt (Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter movies, for those who are unaware of the massive body of work undertaken by this highly-regarded English actor) was also in the list of the university’s esteemed collegian.
So we travelled the eighty miles or so, setting off early on a Saturday morning; our journey took us across the Humber Bridge, a magnificent structure that caused all sorts of difficulties during the planning and building stages – taking over twenty-two years to emerge into one of the most striking local landmarks. The Humber Bridge Board have lots of fascinating information for those who wish to know more about it, but I recall the lengthy debate being played out on news and magazine programmes throughout my own childhood and early adulthood too. The main difficulty seemed to be the exorbitant costs that spiralled to a reputed ninety-eight million pounds. At one time, it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world, although it is now the seventh longest.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding the bridge, it is a mighty and magnificent piece of engineering, spanning the banks of the Humber Estuary on England’s East Coast. Getting photos of it proved tricky as we had no time to stop and find a suitable position to get a good, uninterrupted view. I managed to get a couple of interesting angles from the car as we approached – although the threat of impending rain caused some other difficulties.
And then, on to Lincoln. The university seemed everything Toby was hoping for I think and we enjoyed our tour around the campus and chats with various staff members about course choices. Yes, it all seemed extremely worthwhile, as trips go. We had learned an important lesson from one of our less successful visits to another, un-named town that gave rise to the need to explore at least a little of the local area to round out our understanding of what Toby might be committing to, should he choose to spend the next three years in this place.
This called for a short car journey up the hill, which I am reliably informed lies at almost two hundred and forty feet above sea level. Given the generally flat landscape of the surrounding area, this means there are some spectacular views from certain vantage points around the city, especially up near the Cathedral and castle. The cathedral was the tallest building in the world for over two hundred years, back in Medieval Britain. Of course, those days are long gone, but it seems that parts of Lincoln retain much of the same rustic charm that York does – unsurprisingly really, given that both have Roman heritages and both were later significant during England’s medieval period.
The classically Gothic structure of the Cathedral is remarkably similar to York Minster, with an assortment of carved gargoyles, saints and sinners depicted, mostly larger than life size to create an atmosphere of awe that would ensure that local worshippers remained faithful and obedient servants of the Church.
I was delighted to find a glorious vintage Austin bedecked with white ribbon – clearly awaiting the emergence of the newly-weds from their nuptials, which I can only assume must have been held in Lincoln Cathedral – how very grand! The car didn’t look out of place.
We wandered around the arts-and-crafty market stalls for a little while, noting aptly named streets such as ‘Steep Hill’ and ‘Castle hill’, as well as the infamous ‘Drury Lane’, where I believe that Simple Simon met the Pieman!
We explored some exquisite little shops, again reminiscent of York and The Shambles in particular. Tudor timber-framed, top-heavy structures abound, giving a quaint, Olde-Worlde charm to the area.
I desperately wanted to visit the pie shop, Browns, as it had been recommended to us by one of the university lecturers, but we had to make do with pressing our faces up against the mullioned windows, as the tiny shop was full to bursting.
On our return to the car, we looked more closely at the row of cottages that nestle into the Cathedral’s courtyard. In the window of one an elegant vase sat in wistful repose, gazing at the exalted majesty of Lincoln Cathedral. I like the way the reflection of the building is suggested upon the window pane.
In addition, I noticed that the end of the row of terraced houses featured one of these metal fittings.
They were used to help prevent the bulging and consequent collapsing of stone-built dwellings as the stone expands and contracts according to extremes in temperatures. In most cases, the iron feature is visible as a simple cross on the outside wall, but this cross is attached to a kind of axle with a matching cross on the other end that effectively holds the house together, righting the rules of physics that dictate the disintegration of the construction. In this row though, the ‘x’ is replaced by an elegant ‘s’, but I’m assuming it serves the same purpose.
We came across an information board that informed us of the significance of the numbers on this otherwise unremarkable row of houses. Apparently, they were the first houses in Britain to have numbers! Who knew? I, for one, feel cleverer now that I know this interesting little fact. I shall squirrel it away in the corner of my grey matter to be recalled at some general knowledge quiz or another. I felt terribly satisfied!
All in all it seemed perfect and at the end of Saturday, we heaved a great sigh of relief – we’d found the Neanderthol’s Number One choice. Yay! Go us!
It was with reluctance that we rose early again on the Sunday and made our way over to Leeds Beckett’s University – or as it used to be known, Leeds Met – my old stomping ground. Surely, we were going just to check it wouldn’t match up to Lincoln, but at least we’d get a glimpse of the past and have some fun reminiscing. Or would we?
That’s a tale for another day!
Thanks for reading once again.
Thirty-five years is a long time, a lifetime, donkey’s years, or a coon’s age. It’s also a blink of an eye, a jiffy, an instant, a mere moment. It sort of depends upon your yardstick really doesn’t it?
It’s the length of time that has passed since I met my partner in crime, my love, my soul-mate – actually, that and a little bit more in truth. We’re not celebrating an anniversary or anything, it’s just that for most of that time it has been us and our progeny against the world. I note, in passing, that our next anniversary will be our thirty-fifth. Of course, as soon as this thought entered my head, I found myself Googling ‘thirty-fifth wedding anniversary’ and discovered that the traditional gift for that occasion is coral – with ‘blood coral’ (found only near Italy) being the most precious – whilst the modern gift is jade and the precious stone is emerald. I can see a Chinese carved dragon of coral and jade, with glowing emerald eyes looming in my future, which seems to cover all the bases there!
For almost thirty-five years though we have not been alone. Our first child, a beautiful and much-loved daughter came along fairly quickly, followed by her cherished sibling just eighteen months later, so our early years together were as a complete family unit. As our girls grew and our horizons expanded, we ventured further afield and found ourselves in the Far East, Hong Kong before the handover. Our teenagers accepted the challenge of a third child arriving on the scene, doting on their little brother with obvious pride and joy. And then they left to pursue their own lives – which is exactly as life should be. The call of university in far-away England was always going to be strong and for several years, it was a really difficult time for us, as parents, with our girls so very far away. Pride in their achievements, both personally and academically lay hand-in-glove with the heartache of missing them so terribly much.
Our son became almost an only child; perhaps many perceived him as such if they didn’t know of our older children. He’s only seven years older than our eldest grand-child which seemed almost negligible when he was smaller. It’s been challenging at times to re-experience parenting from such a different perspective. I think, for my own mind at least, it may be easier to raise two children together than doing it with a singleton. Childhood is more fun when there’s a close sibling with which to share everything. An important element that featured in my own childhood, I think Toby has experienced more solitariness than I would have liked. On the other hand, of course, there’s the up-side – he is not afraid of ‘being alone’ and has a level of self-confidence that being an only child often brings. And on top of that, he has sisters, grown adults now of course, with whom he shares a different, more relaxed relationship; they are connected by a strong bond and are finding more to like about each other as each day passes. They look forward to being adult siblings, supporting each other through all that life throws at them.
But now he is ‘The Neanderthol’, a strapping almost-adult with magnificent strength and character, of whom we are very proud. His life lays before him as an open book, waiting to be written. He has ideas, some of them hugely entrancing, that will require a great deal of hard work and commitment to achieve, but I have little doubt that he will succeed. He’s that sort of chap. When he says to people that he wants to be a feature film director, their initial smirk of experience soon yields to a genuine smile of appreciation and often develops into the unmistakable glow of awe as they realise that this is not pie-in-the-sky for him, he just doesn’t yet know exactly how he will achieve this lofty desideratum.
So, we find ourselves this autumn, pondering the next step with him.
Options are multitudinous. The most obvious is university – we’ve travelled this road before, although it’s a little different today, with tuition fees, student loans and all the considerations of future employability weighing heavily in the mix. and so it is that we find ourselves travelling from circus to circus – sorry, that should say ‘Open day to open day’ – at the various institutions that offer courses in film-making, television or alternative media. Many of these are channelled through acting or performance-related options and the purpose of seeing a number of different facilities is to try to make sense of which is the most suitable option for him. It’s a minefield though!
At each event, we cruise through the corridors of power – although I am heartily sick of seeing endless corridors that lead to studios or black-box suites where our offspring COULD be learning how to fade-in camera 4, if only the rooms were unlocked for this inaptly monikered ‘Open Day’, which might be better called ‘Closed Day’ in many cases. The best experiences are those in which the tour-guide has an engaging and outgoing personality (which is what you might expect from ambassadors for a performance arts programme) coupled with an intimate and authoritative body of knowledge about the courses, the facilities and the general pros-and-cons of this establishment, which should persuade you to enrol immediately. So far, we’ve only really come across this in Salford.
Salford is, for those who don’t know the place, not a salubrious or particularly beautiful part of England. Even the people who live there, known in the Urban Dictionary as ‘Salfordians‘ would probably agree that whilst beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, one would not necessarily be beholding the town at the time. There is definitely a distinctive pride in the town of the significance of their heritage – the dark and gloomy Victorian mills were a mainstay of the growth of Empire, built on the backs of the workers who churned out goods to be shipped far afield, the manufacturing centre of the universe in the nineteenth century. These buildings’ purpose now long redundant, the area has faced the challenge of regeneration as effectively as the Time Lord, ‘Dr Who’, with the creation of the brand-spankingly new Media City at the core.
Gone are the slums, the filthy rows of mean terraced houses of my youth. L.S.Lowry would not recognise the place any more – many of his straightforward representations of the local landmarks look completely alien when compared with the modern landscape of the town. As a youngster, living in nearby Stockport, being a huge football fan I was occasionally treated to a visit to Old Trafford, the most hallowed ground conceivable in my mind at the time. I recall wending my way through row upon row of red-bricked houses, usually with gleaming white-painted, scrubbed-within-an-inch-of-their-lives stone doorsteps and hundreds of dodgily parked cars for what seemed like miles around the ground. None of this is there any more. I snapped a few photos of the new (to me at least) vista with Old Trafford across the river from Media City. It looks serene these days.
We visited a couple of weekends ago, with a degree of trepidation – Yorkshiremen and Mancunians have long held each other with suspicion, harking back to the Wars of the Roses I think, which raged during the fifteenth century. Five hundred years of rivalry, in business, on the sporting field and in pretty much every respect means that each is at least a tad wary when not on home ground. It’s taken me this long for my Yorkshire family to forgive me for being from ‘The Other Side’. It felt oddly comforting to cross the M62 into Lancashire after such a long absence. I’m not sure my FAB Hubby and the Neanderthol felt the same! The view over the ‘Clouded Hills’ (William Blake’s words from ‘Milton’, immortalised in the hymn ‘Jerusalem’) is definitely one to inspire though.
As Toby delved deeper into the increasingly attractive facilities that Salford University has to offer, I found myself looking at the surroundings with a photographer’s eye. (What? You’re surprised? Who knew?)
Media City is where television is made now in England, for the most part, the BBC and ITV moved many of their London-based operations to the new conurbation in the north a couple of years or so ago; it is pretty self-contained, but possess it’s own, modernistic beauty.
The buildings are functional, of course, but also less bleak than I’d imagined. There’s a real ‘buzz’ in the air. It *feels* creative. I can’t define that. I can’t put my finger on what makes it so.
Maybe some of these pictures can help define it for me?
The Blue Peter Garden, transferred from the roof of Broadcasting House in London, delights children of today so much more because of its accessibility to all in its new location at Media City.
The Lowry Museum intrigued from inside and out…
… whilst other structures, such as the cable stayed footbridge over the water, are all about the linear qualities.
Now… I wonder if you can recognise the original inspiration for these orbs?
All I can do is hope that, if this is the place where my neanderthol chooses to stride out on his own towards, it’s a place where he might do well. Find success.
Then we will truly have achieved what we wanted in life. And being alone, without the constant presence of at least one scion will seem less like a challenge and more like a new adventure. We’ll be waiting for that chapter to unfold.
Thanks for reading once again!
In 2014 we have been continually reminded that this is the centenary of the start of The Great War. During my school days, which do indeed seem like an entire lifetime ago now, I was remarkably interested in this conflict – for reasons unknown at the time. I think I was probably around twelve or so when I first became aware of the fact that the entire world had been at war with each other on two mighty occasions during the twentieth century. I can recall, as clear as day, my thoughts about this – ‘When WILL Man ever learn to live harmoniously, side by side?’ I think you can probably tell that I was a child of the Sixties, born into a generation that truly believed that Peace on Earth not only was possible but is what we will bring about – Man’s crowning glory of an achievement.
Whilst I cannot profess to being a devoted student of war, my interest in The Great War was piqued by the tales my mother was continually regaling me with, which focussed mainly upon World War 2 – she lived through it as a young adult whose equally young husband had fought in Burma, was captured and held as a Japanese prisoner of war for around three years, only to return to a strange and unreal *normality* and somehow they had both survived. I now know that she possessed an active imagination which resulted in many of her tales being augmented truths rather than reliable historical fact, but none-the-less, she inspired me to consider the consequences of war from a practical perspective – how ordinary people reacted to the fluidity of rapid change and carried on, regardless.
I recall being fascinated by the concept that people truly believed, in 1918, that the terrific horrors they had lived through surely were the worst possible things that man could inflict upon each other; that this Great War had assuredly, unquestionably and inexorably been The War To End All Wars. I learned that the benefit of hindsight when considering the mistakes of the past is an oft-misused idea and that to truly understand something you have to consider a person’s actions at the time, without the luxury of retrospection. It’s an important lesson in life, a transferable nugget of knowledge that guides the wise. If only I were wise enough to recall this at important times.
My mother often talked of her father, my granddad, Tom Sharp. She spoke of his gruffness, his taciturn, dour manner with all folk, except perhaps for a gentle twinkling when he spoke to her and her young son. She had clearly been frustrated with his reticence when dealing with others, perhaps wishing he could be more pleasant and cheerful as she felt she had to be. What little she knew of his story I cannot say, but perhaps as a young adult her own life had been so scarred by the events of World War II that she felt, as many young people often do, that it couldn’t possibly have been any worse for him so he should shake it off, forget about it and move on with his life.
She talked of him because through that return to wartime, when sense and reason had departed, she lived with him in a small terraced house in Crowther Street, Stockport. All during the Manchester Blitz, when the Doodlebugs reigned terror upon ordinary people, they clung to each other and survived. Manchester is only a hop-and-a-skip north of Stockport and as home to much of the manufacturing of the arms and weaponry of war, including the famed Avro Lancaster bombers, the city was a prime target. I’m not sure if it’s one of her fantasies or not, but she used to tell me of her work in the factory at Chadderton, where she worked on the Lancasters; it’s entirely possible as it’s only about eight miles, which was a distance she could have travelled by bus to work each day.
Stories of my mother’s wartime experiences I’ll keep for another time – it is Granddad Tom that I’m thinking of today. Only last week when we visited Salford (again, that’s a whole other story!) we found ourselves in the Lowry Museum for a little while. I love to visit galleries and see paintings, sculptures, Art, up close and in reality. Not printed in a book or photographed and available online. But actually, here: right here, in front of my own eyes, where I can observed the brush techniques the artist chose to employ and consider what they might have been envisaging, imagining, conceptualising. I’d managed to sneak a gallery visit into an altogether different trip and was pleased we had made it. Looking at the ‘Match-stalk men and match-stalk cats and dogs’, as Lowry’s paintings have come to be fondly known, took me back to my youth, when Stockport had looked much like many of the scenes depicted with such child-like simplicity. I swear I knew some of the people represented – and I definitely knew the animals!
Imagine my surprise and delight then when I came upon Lowry’s portrayal of Crowther Street, the very same street where my mother, granddad and brother had lived during that terrible period! They had lived there after the war too, for my brother has occasionally told me about his early memories of the place – sliding down the ‘Brew’ (which I think is an old Lancastrian word for steep hill) on a wooden board, nearly killing himself in the process! Granddad Tom used to stand on the doorstep outside their home at Number Five, watching the world go by, tapping our the contents of his pipe on the side of his tin leg. I was touched by the shared memory of a place and a relative that I never knew.
The tin leg intrigued me though. My brother describes his memories in an entry on his Facebook page: ‘My own grandfather (maternal) lost a leg at Paschendaele . It simply disappeared as a shell landed on his artillery wagon, killing his six horses. He was a horse farrier sergeant major and immediately detailed two gunners to go and look for his leg! He was given a tin leg and I remember that it banged like an oven door every time he knocked his pipe out on it!
In another post from my brother, I’ve discovered that our grandfather served in the Royal Horse Artillery for twenty-seven years prior to being invalided out of the Army after his brush with death at Paschendaele. Now this is a man I find I want to get to know. He is one of many hundreds of thousands of men who sacrificed much in service of their country during that egregious conflict. Thankfully, he was spared his life otherwise I would not be here today.
So when I see the commemorative events that mark the centenary of the First World War, I think of the senseless waste of human life yes, but I also think of my grandfather – how that one event must have soured his enthusiasm for life, yet in spite of it all he survived. He returned home from the madness and resumed his life with his family, fathering at least two more children in the following three years after the Great War. He further survived the death of his beloved wife, from complications in labour with their last child – the little boy survived; my eighteen-month-old mother’s only younger sibling. It’s no wonder really, that he was so out-of-sorts with life after that. Perhaps mum could have cut him a little slack for the hardships he had known in his long and difficult life.
I am overwhelmed with sadness when I see poppies each November – it has always affected me on a deep level. When I heard, earlier this year that an artist had created the magnificent ceramic poppies installation at the Tower of London, I was determined to ensure that I took some time to go and see it in real life. In person. Like viewing the Lowry paintings, the actual reality of the piece means so much more than just looking at them online.
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to see them this week. It really was a moving experience – consider the symbolism, the presence of each poppy, crafted with care and compassion and planted with equal benevolence by volunteers and patrons – each poppy representing a fallen hero from the many battles during the Great War. The venue of the Tower of London is an excellent idea, largely because of the additional symbolism of this as a place of power in times past. The hustle and bustle of the modern city is never really transcended – but then I imagine that would have been equally difficult in the squalid, unforgiving trenches on the Western Front and elsewhere.
I took many photos, of course, you would not expect anything less, I’m sure. I found myself looking for contrasts to create some contiguous images that might provoke mixed feelings. As I walked around the perimeter walls of the Tower, I noticed a heavenly perfume and was drawn to these beautiful roses, flowering in the mid-September sunshine and suddenly had exactly the juxtaposition that I was seeking. Roses, representing the beauty of individual souls alive in a sea of cold, ceramic poppies, seems so appropriate to me.
Funnily enough, the family of a fallen hero had a similar idea, I discovered, as they left a small bunch of roses tied to the railing, giving a brief account of their loved ones’ sacrifice. I found it very touching.
I also decided to make a photo-montage of the scene that I encountered. My wide-angled lens is good, but I wanted to create something that gave at least some indication of the grand scale of this installation. I took seventy-two shots from the same spot. Then I’ve pieced them together into this montage. The original file is massive of course – around 1.3GB (gigabytes – that’s a whole bunch of pixels!), so I’ve resized it to make it reasonably accessible on this blog. Also, since I did this on Wednesday, I’ve discovered a much more effective tool to stitch the individual images together – but I’m not re-doing this one yet! I hope you enjoy looking at it too.
I’ll leave you with your own thoughts about this piece of artwork – and will be remembering my Granddad too.
Thanks for reading this evening – your presence here keeps me going!
This is the second time in less than a week that I have been gobsmacked.
It’s becoming a habit.
For those of you who are not familiar with the term ‘gobsmacked’, here’s a quick dictionary definition … according the the Oxford Dictionary, it means ‘Utterly astonished; astounded’. You may recall my earlier astonishment was caused by something a little less than pleasant. Probably, the less said about that, the better.
But this time I am not only astonished, astounded or ‘gobsmacked’. I am bewildered, confounded, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, overwhelmed, staggered, stupefied and amazed. You could, possibly quite literally right now, knock me down with a feather!
Did I hear you correctly?
You want to know what has caused this altered state of mine?
‘Cause, y’know, I’m like totally together and with-it, ALL the time, never a moment of not-being-all-there-at-all with me! No, siree!
Well, this came right out of the blue, so it did.
I perhaps should start a little way back, so that you don’t get quite the same BAZINGA! and KAPOW! feeling as I did, because I care about you and don’t want you passing out on me or anything… what’s that? ‘GET ON WITH IT!’ Oh, Ok, keep your shirt on!
So, for a while now I have been ruminating the idea of how to become a proper, bona-fida “Artist” – you know so when I give my passport in when I travel and they open up the page that says ‘Occupation’ and where it always said ‘Teacher’ before, well now I want it to say ‘Writer’ or ‘Artist’ or ‘Something Creative’. It’s a bit of a dream really. Like it is real if it says so on my passport.
I’ve been setting up Facebook pages, Tumblr and Twitter pages, as well as Fine Art America and iSpyart.com accounts which have yet to prove their worth, in terms of much other than some very nice comments about some of my work. I’ve shared my work with friends in Facebook groups, mostly ones connected with the Creative Group At Bedlam Farm, where lots of positive support and generally fantastic constructive criticisms are offered and gratefully devoured by me – I try to do my share of supporting other too, it’s a win-win thing and unique on the InterWeb (as my FAB always refers to it). So far, I’ve sold a very few pieces of my work.
It’s challenging, to say the least, to work out how to make an actual living wage though. It simply can’t be impossible (my mind dismisses the possibility immediately) in this modern day and age of global telecommunications and with access to world markets at the touch of a button.
I have thunked and pondered (‘scuse the minor plagiarism there Lisa Dingle!), I have cogitated and considered all kinds of options and possibilities, but the setting up of an actual business requires not only all of that, but some actual structure too. And probably a whole caboodle of start-up cashy-type spondooliks. That’s cold, hard money to you my friends. Not something in vast supply, I’m afraid.
A friend recommended PRIME to me.
‘What’s that then?’ I asked. Rather like you probably did. Just then. I heard you!
So I looked them up on the Interweb and found that the Prince’s Trust have branched out and not only are they supporting business enterprises for all those B.Y.T’s (Bright Young Things) who are under 25 years old, but they’ve realised that there’s a big old bunch of 50+ people who also need a little bit of help with ventures they want to pursue, which may well be just as entrepreneurial, or even more so, as their younger counterparts. I found out when their introductory course was and where it was being held and booked myself a place.
You have to start somewhere. I chose here.
So, it was today and early this morning, my FAB hubby and I trundled off to Hartlepool and got cracking with the PRIME trainer, Diane.
The introduction course was great. I’ll not bore you all with too many details because that’s not even the good bit.
Not yet anyway.
So, we chat and discuss and consider and ruminate, but this time it’s with other people. Like, real, live actual humans who have no pre-determined requirement to say nice things to me or even to gasp and say ‘WOW’ when they saw some of my work. So, that bit WAS good.
But that is STILL not the good bit!
The course is winding up, in the last couple of minutes when Diane gets a bit distracted because her phone is buzzing – she’s trying not to notice but something catches her eye.
It’s the BBC.
SO, eventually, she gives up all pretence of trying to ignore it and excuses herself for a moment whilst we, her captive trainees hang with bated breath – like that moment before the bell rings and everyone starts clanging and banging desks, scraping chairs and talking loudly as they move on to the next moments of their lives. What DO the BBC want with our esteemed trainer?
She puts the phone down. There’s a glint of something in her eye. Maybe she needs to change her contact lenses? No, Fool!
‘How would one of you like to chat with the people at BBC Tees Radio this afternoon? They want to do a bit of a piece about PRIME and would like to talk to someone who’s doing the course today. Anyone interested?’
OOOOOH!!! PICK ME!!!!! PICK MEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!
I am a born Hermione and cannot sit on my hands. Ask a question that I have even an inkling of the answer to and my hand shoots up before I even recognise that the questioner has finished asking the question.
So, long story short, (OK… maybe not so short!) I get to be the person to speak to the nice researcher, Louise.
Cue several missed calls because the reception on my phone can sometimes be very dodgy. A rueful smile at a probable missed opportunity. Oh, well, when twenty minutes passed the allotted time for the call from the radio station, I assumed that the item had been dropped. In favour of discussion about the up-coming deadline (at 11pm tonight) for the football season transfer window.
Then the phone rang. Because of the rush, there was no real time to prepare and I was straight on air.
What did I get out of this morning’s course? What kind of business do I think I might pursue? What are my next steps?
I answered all of these with surprising aplomb I think – it’s not my first time on radio!
Then came the bit that shocked me. Floored me.
The lovely Neil Green, who is probably my new best friend, asked ‘Would it be OK if we were to follow your progress through this project Liz? Y’know, keep up with what you;re doing and so on?’
So, about NOW is when you can (gently) close my gaping jaw.
And maybe yours too.
I think that’s a bit of a WIN today. The BBC want to follow my progress as I develop this idea into an actual business.
Yep, I think that’s a win.
… you can listen to the podcast of the show here... I was on about five minutes to six I think, so maybe fast-forward to there if you’re interested in what was actually said!
Oh, and just to prove I was in Hartlepool here’s a couple of snaps… you knew there would be of course!
And when I saw this on the way home… it occurred to me that if pigs might fly, perhaps elephants can too?
So… watch this space, as it looks like I am going too HAVE to find a way to be successful now! This was a GOOD gobsmackin’ day!
Thanks for reading, as always!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was utterly bewitched.
A tiny duckling had lost its mother.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We will definitely be back!
As always, thanks for reading!
It is indeed way past the first of January. I’m almost a week late with my resolutions for the New Year. Some people might say too late.
I’m not one of those people.
But you knew that anyway, didn’t you?
Perhaps I should explain a little.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, this whole Christmas holiday season, what with the making of cakes, pies, hams, turkey stuffings, trimmings, and all the other food-based tasks we endeavoured to get *just right* for the Big Day. Actually, for a point of record this Christmas, believe it or not, (and of course, if you know me well, you will truly find this unbelievable, but non-the-less it is factually, truthfully utterly without invention or inaccuracy, true. Yup. not a word of a lie. Honest.) not one thing went wrong! Seriously, we were quite incredulous as each item of food was cooked to perfection, beautifully garnished, immaculately presented at the table and frequently it was actually perfect. Yay! First time in thirty four years!
The decorations were gorgeous – understated, but immensely pretty – as the eight foot tree was adorned with fairly lights and around three hundred assorted glass baubles in every colour and shape, including the newly acquired Christmas Owl, Christmas Rabbit and fluffy snowballs with carrotty noses. I kid you not. What made it even more delightful was that our eldest daughter had finally decided to spend Christmas with us and it was she who expertly placed each bauble to such delightful effect. We have so many because every year I’ve insisted that we add something new to the collection and so now it’s become a great tradition to hang the tree decorations, recalling the various details of when and why each particular decoration has been acquired.
None are more precious than two particular ornaments. Both were made by our eldest daughter, the first whilst at Nursery school and the second a few years later at Junior school. The first ornament is simple in design – a cut-out egg carton section, made from green polystyrene, turned upside down and adorned with copious amounts of silver glitter (which is still firmly attached, thirty years later! Thanks Mrs Gladstone!) and held onto the tree with a curved pipe-cleaner. The second is a little more sophisticated, having two triangular pieces of green felt cut out, with a small rectangle of brown felt; the whole thing is carefully stitched together with pink embroidery yarn and has variously coloured stars added for effect. We’ve treasured these small ornaments for many years and no matter what fashions in decoration have come and gone, these two have always adorned the tree, in pride of place, for all to see.
So it was with great delight that she placed them carefully upon this year’s Douglas fir. Coincidentally, the glorious Christmas Movie, The Santa Clause (3) accompanied this activity, providing a perfect backdrop for this ritual.
The slightly alarming angle that our tree-top fairy adopted gave the impression that she’d been at the sherry, but even that seemed utterly appropriate!
On Christmas Eve, we were ready hours earlier than usual and had a lovely night’s sleep – invaluable for ensuring that Christmas Day went smoothly, as tempers were significantly calmer than usual, so that everything flowed perfectly.
Each person was delighted with all of their gifts and it was, without doubt, one of the loveliest occasions I can remember! Santa made a brief appearance and was merrily delighted with his mince pie and milk.
We repeated the whole shabang a week later when our younger daughter arrived with all the grandchildren. Truly, sufficient sleep is the keyword for our family gatherings and it has been a blissful, heartwarming holiday this year.
The only drawback has been that I’ve had absolutely no time to devote to writing, hence the hiatus in blog posts for the past couple of weeks; if you have been waiting, with bated breath, for updates, I can only apologise for my lack of written communication. But please, rejoice in my contentment with me!
So, what of this year’s crop of New Year’s Resolutions?
My final school, probably my most formative one of the ten that I attended as a child, had a *House System*, which is (for those who are unfamiliar with this idea) a way of organising groups of students that differs from their usual tutor or class groups, thereby engendering a vertically grouped, familial sense of belonging to this larger group within the school’s overall structure. Many events are organised where students compete against each other in order to gain ‘house points’ and prizes are awarded to the winning house or ‘team’. These activities promote the development of essential team-work skills, important for making useful contributions to society. So they tell me.
I mention this because I went to school in Whitby, North Yorkshire. Whitby’s most famous son (apart for the immigrant Count Dracula of course!) is Captain James Cook, widely known as the Discoverer of Australia. Unless of course you choose to consider that the continent had been populated by the Aboriginal people for some forty thousand years or so prior to this *discovery*, in which case you may think of Cook as a somewhat impertinent, overly pompous upstart who ‘bigged up’ his achievements considerably. Nonetheless, he did head up a marvelous adventurous exploration of hitherto unknown lands (to the Brits at least) and sailed across the world at a time when such explorations usually meant certain death.
So, our houses at school were named for his three pioneering ships – the Endeavour, the Discovery and the Resolution.
These were represented by the primary colours of yellow, blue and red, respectively. I was fortunate enough to be Resolution’s Games Captain and flew the red flag with great pride and, yes, resolution in my heart to always try to do my best. It’s funny what affects you when you’re growing up isn’t it?
So making a Resolution to me is an Important Thing.
I don’t make them lightly. In fact, I rarely actually make New Year’s resolutions because they always feel like they’re not even really MEANT to be kept, so whatever is the point of going to the trouble of actually thinking them up?
But this year, a year in which I suspect will be a momentous one for me and my family, for a variety of reasons, I feel motivated to make my resolutions. I’m fairly convinced that resolutions should be personal, pertinent and possible. You cannot resolve that others should achieve or undertake something of course, that’s why they are PERSONAL! Here they are:
1: I resolve to make sufficient time each day to accommodate my need to be creative; this may be setting aside time to write, draw, paint, knit, sew or cook, but at least part of each day during 2014 I will ensure that something is produced as a result of my creative endeavours.
2: I resolve to be kinder, more empathic and understanding towards other people. I know I can be self-obsessed at times and I want to be more accepting of other people’s qualities rather than judgemental about what I frequently perceive as their foibles.
3: I resolve to complete my search for my own roots, which are complex and intricately entwined in half-truths, forgotten lies and legendary events. Many of the people who might shed light on this are no longer with us, but I’m not going to let that stop me! I may even tell you all about this as I go along – in case you’re interested.
So, there you have it… perhaps you too have made resolutions for the New Year. I wish you every success in achieving them if you have! I hope that mine will help me to grow as a human being, giving me something that I feel I lack. I hope these aspirations will give me a future, a present and a past. Who knows? Happy New year everyone!
Thanks for reading 🙂