Nunnington Hall: The Carlisle Collection

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.

Carlisle Collection: Antique Shop showing scale
Carlisle Collection: Antique Shop showing scale

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.

Carlisle Collection: Antique Shop interior from above
Carlisle Collection: Antique Shop interior from above

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!*

Carlisle Collection; Greenhouse
Carlisle Collection; Greenhouse

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.

Carlisle Collection; Painter and Decorators's Workshop
Carlisle Collection; Painter and Decorators’s Workshop

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.

Carlisle Collection; Music Room
Carlisle Collection; Music Room

The Palladian Hall, reputedly the last of the rooms to be commissioned by Mrs. Carlisle is modeled on one at Hatch Court in Somerset.

Carlisle Collection; Entrance Hall
Carlisle Collection; Entrance Hall

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.

Carlisle Collection: Georgian Bedroom
Carlisle Collection: Georgian Bedroom

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.

Carlisle Collection; Queen Anne Drawing Room
Carlisle Collection; Queen Anne Drawing Room

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!

 

 

 

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I remember.

Fallen Heroes - the poppies tumble out of the Tower of London
Fallen Heroes – the poppies tumble out of the Tower of London

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.

For King and Country - the Rose wades into the bloody conflict
For King and Country – the Rose wades into the bloody conflict

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.

‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. ‘

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.

Ceramic Poppies by ceramic artist, Paul Cummins
Ceramic Poppies by ceramic artist, Paul Cummins

 

Montage of the poppies surrounding the Tower
Montage of the poppies surrounding the Tower

 

 

 

 

As always, thanks for reading once more!

Linus and The Great Pumpkin Patch

Linus and sally await the arrival of The Great Pumpkin
Linus and Sally await the arrival of The Great Pumpkin

Oh, far too many years ago than I’m prepared to count (I haven’t enough fingers!), I recall adoring Charlie Brown and the gang from the Peanuts cartoons. I used to carefully cut them out of the newspaper each day and paste them into a scrapbook, which was a cheap(ish) way to retain the stories so that I could reread them over and over. Charlie Brown’s posse seemed so idyllic to me, a lonely singleton, inspite of two elder siblings – who left home long before, or at least not long after I was born. I loved the idea of the companionship these characters offered each other. Yes, at times they were rather harsh with each other, but you could feel the love they all shared and I bought into their lives big-time.

As a small child,  living in Barbados between the ages of five and eight, much of my early childhood that I can clearly recall had a very Americanized feel to it. We had many American friends who gave us an insight into their culture as it differs from British, more specifically from English, culture. Some of the traditions of Halloween were observed, perhaps not as ubiquitously as it is today, but certainly more so than in England at the time. Trick or treating was undertaken in small groups around the neighbourhood, usually unaccompanied by any adults and I recall faring well from our outings, which I always enjoyed -especially the dressing-up part.

When we returned to England after Daddy died, in 1969, I forgot about these things. It simply wasn’t noted here much at all – partly because Bonfire Night falls just a few days later on November 5th each year, commemorating the downfall of the Catholic Guy Fawkes’s band of braggarts’ attempt to blow up Parliament in 1604; the run up to this event used to mean a couple of weeks of avoiding groups of lads who wandered around with firecrackers in their pockets and weren’t afraid to throw them at you, if you so much as looked at them sideways. And woe betide any small animal, such as a cat or little dog, for they were frequently mercilessly tortured by these little thugs. I was always incredulous of this event, finding it very difficult to buy into the whole ‘penny for the Guy’ idea. Burning an effigy atop a large bonfire seemed crazy to me, even as a ten-year-old. And I hated fireworks. Loud, noisy, stinky and often quite dangerous, I still don’t see the attraction.

But distraction it was from the whole idea of Halloween. Not really until we returned from Hong Kong in 2005 did I begin to realise how much things had changed here – nowadays, it all goes completely crazy in the stores in the weeks before and you cannot get through October (or even September) without being ‘oranged’ out. It is everywhere. I’m sure it remains a much bigger deal across The Pond, but some places really do get into the spirit, bedecking their houses, gardens and even street furniture with anything deemed remotely ‘spooky’ – fake cobwebbing, giant plastic spiders, polystyrene gravestones, witches’ cauldrons, broomsticks, Frankensteins, vampire bats and black cats being amongst the most popular accoutrements for the evening. In the village where my daughter and grandchildren live, they have a whale of a time, going around together in little groups and thoroughly scaring each other in a safe environment – which is lots of fun for everyone I think.

A few days ago we drove past a local farm who has really got in on the act, growing several thousand pumpkins, presumably to serve the high demand in local supermarkets. Still, they have many left over that they sell directly from the farm shop. I was enchanted by their pumpkin patch though and was instantly transported back to my own childhood, recalling the hours that poor Linus spent, sitting amongst the pumpkins, impatiently awaiting the arrival of the mysterious Great Pumpkin, every year, without fail. Poor Linus. I smiled at the memory and made the decision to get up early one morning to go and photograph them as the sun rose.

Cold. Definitely nippy. But reasonably dry at least.

Still dark as I arose, getting dressed and grabbing the camera and paraphernalia, so that we could leave home and drive to the pumpkin patch before the sun really got its act together. I was worrying that it would be too dark.

It wasn’t.

We timed it pretty near perfectly.

As I took photos, standing ankle deep in mud, crouching down to find a good angle, tip-toeing through the umbilical vines that fed these earthy vegetables, I found myself truly ‘in the zone’. Linus would definitely have approved. The light was magnificently magical.

The Pumpkin Patch - hundreds of them!
The Pumpkin Patch – hundreds of them!
Waiting for the sun to pop up over the roof
Waiting for the sun to pop up over the roof
They have one or two for sale here
They have one or two for sale here
Morning dew sparkles on the pumpkin
Morning dew sparkles on the pumpkin
Pumpkins snuggle into the warm Earth
Pumpkins snuggle into the warm Earth
The sun rises a little higher...
The sun rises a little higher…
Sunrise over the pumpkins
Sunrise over the pumpkins

I hope you enjoy looking at these pictures as much as I enjoyed capturing them.

Thanks for reading, once again!

 

 

 

The village stream

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.

Leaves at Scampston, a couple of Autumns ago
Leaves at Scampston, a couple of Autumns ago

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.

A child collecting conkers in some gorgeous light
A child collecting conkers in some gorgeous light

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.

The lane form Scampston to Rillington
The lane from Scampston to Rillington

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.

The holly...
The holly…
... and the Ivy
… and the Ivy

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.

Houses covered with glorious red leaves
Houses covered with glorious red leaves

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 tiny stream trickles truculently
The tiny stream trickles truculently

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.

The path leads upwards into the churchyard
The path leads upwards into the churchyard

In the morning sunshine, the church clock chimes the quarter-hour in a serenely sonorous tone, reminding villagers of the inevitable passage of time.

Time to get ready for the day ahead sleepyheads!
Time to get ready for the day ahead sleepyheads!

I look up into the bright blue of the sky, seeing time from a different perspective.

Time passes strangely slowly sometimes...
Time passes strangely slowly sometimes…

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.

Gravestones mark the lives of villagers from long ago...
Gravestones mark the lives of villagers from long ago…

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.

Frank's tombstone Wharbeck
Frank Wharbeck’s tombstone

 

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.

How respected were you to be commemorated on the very church wall?
How respected were you to be commemorated on the very church wall?

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.

Robert, son of Robert. Such a young man.
Robert, son of Robert. Such a young man.

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.

Time is just a perspective
Time is just 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 broken eggshell ... a new life for a new day
A broken eggshell … a new life for a 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!

Lindum Colonia, you’re a revelation!

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.

The Humber Bridge - seventh longest single span suspension bridge in the world
The Humber Bridge – seventh longest single span suspension bridge in the world

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.

The Humber bridge
The Humber bridge

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.

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral

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.

Classic Gothic architecture
Classic Gothic architecture

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.

Is it just me, or does that gargoyle look like an Egyptian Pharaoh?
Is it just me, or does that gargoyle look like an Egyptian Pharaoh?

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.

Vintage Austin - classy wedding car!
Vintage Austin – classy wedding car!

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!

Castle Hill Club lies at the top of Drury Lane
Castle Hill Club lies at the top of Drury Lane
Timber framed shops, similar to York's Shambles
Timber framed shops, similar to York’s Shambles
Steep Hill. Clearly!
Steep Hill. Clearly!

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.

Browns Pie Shop. I feel a need to return...
Browns Pie Shop. I feel a need to return…
Loved the charming olde-world signage
Loved the charming olde-world signage

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.

Reflective vase - a feeling of grandeur?
Reflective vase – a feeling of grandeur?

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.

These hold the houses together when temperatures fluctuate
These hold the houses together when temperatures fluctuate

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.

Number 23: the first houses to have numbers in Britain
Number 23: the first houses to have numbers in Britain

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.

Imminent arrival at our destination

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.

How grown-up they all seem!
How grown-up they all seem!

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.

Ah, the hallowed turf of Old Trafford beckoned...
Ah, the hallowed turf of Old Trafford beckoned…

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.

Did the Countenence Divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?
Did the Countenence Divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?

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 - a utopian experience?
Media City – a utopian experience?

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 Peel Centre re-interpreted with pampas grass from the gardens
The Peel Centre re-interpreted with pampas grass from the gardens

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?

 

As it says on the tin... the University of Salford, which lies at the heart of Media City
As it says on the tin… the University of Salford, which lies at the heart of Media City
Glass buildings are wonderfully reflective
Glass buildings are wonderfully reflective
Petra - the first Blue Peter Dog - has a statue in the Blue Peter Garden
Petra – the first Blue Peter Dog – has a statue in the Blue Peter Garden
A Blue Peter Badge is something to treasure!
A Blue Peter Badge is something to treasure!

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 Rudbeckia is still flowering profusely int he Blue Peter Garden
The Rudbeckia is still flowering profusely in the Blue Peter Garden
The ITV building...
The ITV building…
Delightful opportunities to appreciate perspective...
Delightful opportunities to appreciate perspective…
... and the BBC
… and the BBC

The Lowry Museum intrigued from inside and out…

The Lowry Museum roof is a  testament to simple lines, shapes and textures
The Lowry Museum roof is a testament to simple lines, shapes and textures
The Light Railway tram to Eccles made me think of times long past
The Light Railway tram to Eccles made me think of times long past

… whilst other structures, such as the cable stayed footbridge over the water, are all about the linear qualities.

The bridge over to The Other Side
The bridge over to The Other Side

Now… I wonder if you can recognise the original inspiration for these orbs?

Of course I orbed it!
Of course I orbed it!
Ok... this one is a bit of a give-away!
Ok… this one is a bit of a give-away!
Yet another give-away ...
Yet another give-away …
I cheated with the colours on this one though...
I cheated with the colours on this one though…
This one should be easy!
This one should be easy!
I'm making this too easy, aren't I?
I’m making this too easy, aren’t I?
But there are two different BBC buildings!
But there are two different BBC buildings!

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!

 

Lest we forget…

Fallen Heroes - the poppies tumble out of the Tower of London
Fallen Heroes – the poppies tumble out of the Tower of London

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!

L. S. Lowry's depiction of Crowther Street
L. S. Lowry’s depiction of Crowther Street

 

 

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.

Ceramic Poppies by ceramic artist, Paul Cummins
Ceramic Poppies by ceramic artist, Paul Cummins

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.

For King and Country - the Rose wades into the bloody conflict
For King and Country – the Rose wades into the bloody conflict

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.

Private George Pearce died at Galipoli in 1915, aged just 22 years
Private George Pearce died at Galipoli in 1915, aged just 22 years

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.

Montage of the poppies surrounding the Tower
Montage of the poppies surrounding the Tower

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!