Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 20 May 2016

Baby Face

I have no information about the above photograph, other than the fact that X marks my Dad! There he is on the front row standing up proudly in his mother’s arms. His baby-reins have slipped a bit, but she has a good grip on him. Next to my grandmother is her sister-in-law, holding my Dad’s cousin, Betty, whose attention is caught by something on the ground.

There are more babies than older children in the picture, so one wonders if they were the reason for the get-together. Was it a beautiful baby competition at the local fete, or a Mothers and Toddlers outing of some sort. There aren’t many men either, which also makes one ponder. This is c1921/2, so not all that long after the First World War; returning servicemen would have lost little time in settling down and starting, or expanding, their families.

I don’t have the original photograph, so I can’t make it any more high definition, but it’s certainly worth enlarging and perusing some of the expressions on the babies’ faces.

Sepia Saturday prompt image this week is from a 1938 Baby Show in Kent. Three infants are perched on table, with their mothers standing behind. The one in the middle is holding onto a hairbrush, which is coveted by the one on the right, whilst the third baby looks confused by the altercation that is taking place. The mums are amused anyway. In my photo, there is the inevitable crying baby as well, more than one looks confused, including my Dad, and a few could make use of that hairbrush!

It’s very likely that this photo was taken the same day. Dad now wears a ‘beanie’, but still looks bemused, and Betty, who is now in her bonnet, has gone all blurry.

Dad and Betty have long since left us, as I imagine have most of those infants, their siblings, and certainly their mothers. One can’t help wondering what the future held for them. One or two would sadly not have made it past childhood, and the next war would have probably taken care of a few more. Others, like my Dad, would have lived long and happy lives, and had babies of their own.

Whilst we’re still celebrating Shakespeare’s centenary, did you know that the artist Romney imagined ‘The Infant Shakespeare, Attended by Nature and The Passions’?  Here is the engraving made from his painting, by Benjamin Smith for 'The Boydell Shakespeare Prints’.

Join us for this week’s beautiful baby show at Sepia Saturday

Friday, 13 May 2016

Making an Impression

The figure that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the graver had a strife
With nature, to out-do the life:
O could he have but drawn his wit    
As well in brass, as he has hit
His face; the print would then surpass
All that was ever writ in brass:
But since he cannot, reader, look
Not on his picture, but his book.

'Making an impression’ has several definitions; a graphic or pictorial representation of someone or something, the printing of a number of copies of a book, periodical or picture, for issue at the same time, are just two which fit my theme this week. Perhaps the best definition however is: a difference made by the action or presence of someone or something, and Mr Shakespeare certainly did that! This wood engraving*gives us some idea of how a printing house would have looked when his First Folio was being published in 1623. Although Shakespeare had been seven years dead, he was still making an impression.  

The compositors, working near the window, are selecting individual letters from a case, and the printers in the foreground are applying the ink to the page before putting it into the press. Little had changed, in the intervening four hundred or so years, when this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt image was taken, probably some time in the middle of the Twentieth Century, although date and place is not known.** I remember being shown round the print room of what was then the Nottingham Evening Post, by a friend who worked there, in the late 1960s, and my memory is that it was very similar to the photograph. The progress in this digital age has been rapid since then.

It didn’t seem to be all that different to the way I put together labels with my John Bull Printing Outfit, as a child. I had to choose each letter and put it in a tiny tray, which then got pressed onto an ink pad and then onto notepaper. That was when you would find out which letters you had placed the wrong way round!

In the early 1970s I worked as student, during my Summer Vacation, in Boots Printing Works in Nottingham.We produced everything, from the patient information leaflets, which accompanied medicines, to fliers, catalogues and diaries. My section wasn’t involved in typesetting; we collated the finished printed products.

One of my late father’s RAF friends, who had been demobbed before him, had gone to work at the Daily Express Printing Works, in Manchester, and at the end of 1946, sent my parents a Christmas letter, using the tools of his trade.  The bulk of the letter concerns family news and reminiscences of their time together in the RAF, but there are some interesting observations in this snippet. Dad kept the letter all his life, and I don’t think I’ll be getting his friend into trouble, seventy years later, to reproduce part of here.

Back to William Shakespeare, whose Centenary we are celebrating this year. I’m currently following an online course through Warwick University, about Shakespeare and His World, and the background facts are fascinating. There is more to learn about the First Folio from The British Museum’s excellent online gallery, where you can view twelve images from the copy held by the museum. The engraver is Martin Droeshout and his version of Shakespeare is one which has more claims to authenticity than most.

Shakespeare’s friend and rival, Ben Jonson wrote the poem for the title page, with which I opened my post. It tells us that the graver (engraver) has made a good likeness of The Bard, but urges the reader to read the the book to capture the true essence of Shakespeare and his wit, something which the engraver would never be able to replicate.

To see what impressive photos and stories others have posted in response to prompt, visit Sepia Saturday.

*Jost Amman, “Eygentliche Beschreibung aller Stände auff Erden, hoher und nidriger, geistlicher und weltlicher, aller Künsten, Hanwercken und Händeln...

**Nationaal Archief, Netherlands, via Flickr Commons 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

This Shepherd’s Life

Iconic shepherd pose, with lamb tucked under arm

Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good
life, but in respect that it is a shepherd's life,
it is naught. In respect that it is solitary, I
like it very well; but in respect that it is
private, it is a very vile life. Now, in respect it
is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but 
irespect it is not in the court, it is tedious. 

I’m celebrating Shakespeare’s Centenary, so the above dialogue, between Touchstone (the court jester in disguise) and Corin, an elderly shepherd, in ‘As You Like It’ fits perfectly. Corin asks Touchstone how he likes ‘this shepherd’s life’ and he replies that he enjoys some aspects, but it’s clear from his answer that he misses his life at court. Indeed, a shepherd’s life then, as now, was very hard.

Our Sepia Saturday picture prompt this week is a photograph titled 'Ninety and Nine’ (by Joseph Gale c1890), showing a shepherd resting at a gate with a lamb under his arm and his sheepdog nearby. The picture recalls the parable from the Gospel of Matthew about the ‘Lost Sheep’.

It reminded me of a roadside statue we came across a few years ago, when travelling in Spain, near Burgos. It’s a monument to the rural shepherd and his dog, next to a shrine. Sculpted by Victor De Los Rijos, it was erected by public subscription in 1961. His Sheepdog is a large, but friendly looking Mastiff, and he also seems to have a young lad to help him. The statue is huge, as can be seen by me standing beside him!

A Colossus amongst shepherds

I delved into my ‘News From The English Countryside, 1750-1850’* for the  first time in months, to share two small news items with you which demonstrate the shepherd’s dedication.

1764: A Shepherd  for 90 years
Not your typical sheepdog

Last year died at Basingstoke one William Taylor, aged 102, as appears by the Register, in the Parish church of Basingstoke aforesaid; he was strong and healthy till a few days before his Death, and is said to have followed the business of a Shepherd upwards of 90 years.
Reading, January 28

1809: Shepherd Drowned in Mud

A shepherd to Mr Fisher, of Cotham, Lincoln was found drowned last week with a fat sheep, in one of the closes on the farm. The dog, it is supposed, drove the sheep in, and on the man endeavouring to get out, the mud was so strong, he could not extricate himself.
The Observer 
11 June 1809

The shepherd’s lad
Perhaps the second one was similar to the ‘Lost Sheep’; he had the other ninety-nine safely penned in and went off to look for Number 100 - it had to be the fat, dopey one didn’t it? And why did that daft dog drive towards the muddy pond?! Poor shepherd.

Coincidentally I’ve just watched BBC TV’s ‘Countryfile' for April 24th and it was, of course, a Shakespeare Special. One item was about the importance of the wool trade to Stratford-upon-Avon, and how it contributed to Shakespeare’s wealth and his ability to join the theatre. To make it more interesting a small flock of sheep were driven down Stratford’s Sheep Street. Unfortunately the sheep were spooked by the crowds, which and gathered to watch filming, and chaos ensued. Some sheep nearly ended up in the River Avon -  nobody drowned though. Here’s a link to the Telegraph’s report, including a short film clip.

* By Clifford Morsley: pub.Harrap

Join us at Sepia Saturday for more stories, images and anecdotes.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Here Take My Picture

Here take my picture; though I bid farewell 
Thine, in my heart, where my soul dwells, shall dwell. 
'Tis like me now, but I dead, 'twill be more 
When we are shadows both, than 'twas before. 

I was struck by these lines as I flicked through a slim volume of poems in a second-hand bookshop, last week in Nottingham. “Here take my picture!" is what we used to say to friends and family, before the age of ‘selfies’. This isn’t about recording a special moment with a camera however; the words jumped out at me because they seemed so out of place - until I read further. These were poems by John Donne (1572-1631), of whom I knew so little, but certainly wanted to know more. I bought the book.

Donne may have been handing his beloved a portrait as a keepsake when he went off to war, but he could so easily have been speaking of a photograph given by anyone in any, more recent, war. Here is the link to the poem, please read it in full and you will see exactly what I mean. Perhaps this was the image Donne wanted her to have, who knows? Its a fine portrait painted by Isaac Oliver (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

It seems my Dad wanted his sweetheart to remember him with his winning smile and a casual air when he offered her this portrait, shortly after he joined the RAF in 1940. Two years later, Mum’s ATS portrait is all smiles, even though her call-up scuppered their plans for a cosy domestic nest for Dad to return to. They still got married a few weeks later and Mum joined her battery as the first married woman; quite a novelty. Thereafter, for a couple of years, they would try to get coinciding 24 or 48 hour passes, not always with success. 

It would have been important to have a picture to gaze on and remind them of their love, until in 1944, my brother arrived as more tangible proof and the result of 24 hour pass nine months earlier; my parents kept the pass as a memento and we still have it.

By the time I came along, eight years later, the War was over but Dad started work as a sales representative for Scott and Turner, which sometimes involved being away from home, so he may have taken these pictures of his family, in his wallet, to gaze upon when he was in some bleak bed and breakfast place, and needed a reminder of home.

Over the years there have been many family separations and of course, the final one for my parents, when Dad died in 2012. A couple of months ago Mum moved from her flat, the last home she shared with Dad, into a care home. Age and Alzheimer’s are robbing her of many memories, but strangely, not the more distant ones. Of course, she has a picture of Dad by her bed.

When we went to visit her last week, we took her out around all her youthful haunts, driving to Trent Bridge and a gentle walk around the Memorial Gardens there. It was a beautiful Spring day and a good photo opportunity. I handed the camera to my husband;  “Here, take my picture with Mum.” I said.

Join us this week at Sepia Saturday to see what other images have been ‘brought to safety’ like the one in our prompt of two WW1 Belgian refugees.

The Great War. Refugees from Antwerp, Belgium, bringing a painting into safety. Belgium, 1914 Flickr Commons collection of the Dutch National Archives

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Captured and Captioned

Thank You Mummy!
These photos of my big brother are stuck in one of my Mum’s photo albums, with neat captions written by my late father. It’s very possible that they were polyfotos, which would have been a sheet of forty-eight different shots. The best one were often given away to friends and family and these woud have been the ones that my parents decided to keep. Dad brought his artistic flair even to the family album, decorating the page with scrolls and writing each caption in his beautiful italic script. The album page hasn’t reproduced well so I am going to caption the pictures using 21st century technology instead. Dad imagined what was going through his one year old son’s infant head.

What a funny ickle puppy!
Dashed Funny Old Man!

Who’s that?
Day dreaming

I think I’m going to cry

As a child I would love to look through these albums, and this page was one of my favourites. It seemed to me that Dad was telling a story; something he was always very good at. This is just one hour, in one day of my brother’s life. He’s in his seventies now and in his lifetime we’ve moved on from polyfoto to digital technology. We don’t have to rely on the photographer’s studio anymore to tell a story, we simply use a smartphone. We can take one photo and turn it into a portrait worthy of an Old Master, with the click of a few buttons.

Join us this week at Sepia Saturday, where there will be multiple images a-plenty and at least one Old Master (Alan). Our own Photo Sleuth, Brett Payne, wrote in fascinating detail about polyfotos in this 2013 blogpost.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Shoebox of Surprises

Searching through my box of postcards, in the hope of finding something that would match this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt, I was focusing on bridges, boats and flags, preferably together. I had already featured them separately, and there was nothing in the family album that would suit. I came across this black and white postcard written by my mother to her parents, fifty-four years ago; it was too interesting to discard, despite the lack of a bridge. 

In itself the postcard is not very exciting but it does have the requisite boat and oars, though no oarsmen. The only action is a group of fishermen hauling their boat up onto the beach. I have  little recollection of this family holiday in Norfolk, as I was just a youngster, but the handful  of pictures in the album, with Mum’s caption, serve well enough. I was surprised, because I must have seen the postcard before, but hadn’t paid much heed to the message on the back. I’m glad I did because it led me off to do some research.

On Tuesday 28th August Mum wrote that we were spending the evening indoors as it was raining. ‘Indoors’ meant being cooped up in this tiny caravan, lit by gas and with the rain drumming on the roof. No doubt we did what we normally did on such a night; played cards, drew pictures and listened to a small transistor radio, whilst Mum knitted or wrote postcards, including this one. The next day, the postcard says, we were going to see ‘Five Finger Exercise’ at the Little Theatre. Mum told my grandparents that the caravan site was a nice one - with hot showers (there had to be some compensations).

That morning we had visited Weybourne Camp, where Mum had been briefly with the army during WW2, only twenty years previously. Dad took a picture of her wandering alone and deep in thought; it was captioned simply ‘Memories of Weybourne’. In the postcard Mum said: “……the old camp was still there, but deserted.” My grandparents would have known about Mum being at Weybourne, as she had been given a compassionate posting back to Nottingham in the Autumn of 1942 due to her mother being seriously ill. Mum was a clerk with 504 Battery of the 144th Mobile Royal Artillery Regiment, then stationed at Mapperly. From there they went on to Ticknall in Derbyshire and Ashby near Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. It was whilst she was with the 504s they were sent to Weybourne for two weeks firing training.

During the War Weybourne played a key part in training Anti - Aircraft troops After the War it was still in use until 1958 for training and there is a Pathe Newsreel about the Territorial Army and their families using it for a training holiday. It  finally closed in 1959 and was clearly in the doldrums at the time of mum’s visit. Happily, it was acquired by Mr C. Berry Savory in the 1980s, and with his son Michael he converted it into a museum, which still attracts many visitors today. 

Just when I had given up hope, and was about to put the lid on the shoebox which houses my meagre postcard collection, this one popped up. It was written by my Great Aunt Maude in 1967, and addressed to my parents. She and her friend were holidaying in Scotland and she mentions Holyrood Palace and Castle, and was looking forward to a visit to Princes Street the next day. I rather like the card she chose, with its splash of orange on the blue water. It draws the eye, not to the bridge, but to the boat with its single oarsman. It reminded me of Renoir’s ‘The Skiff’ in The National Gallery. So, in the end I succeeded in ticking two out of three; boats and bridge, but no flags, and an interesting diversion via a shoebox of postcards. 

Join us over at Sepia Saturday to see what other contributors found in their family albums and shoeboxes

Friday, 1 April 2016

Down-along with Donkeys

Clovelly is a quaint, and somewhat secluded fishing village, on the North Devon Coast, and parts of it have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. It’s very picturesque and a haven for tourists, painters and photographers. The cobbled main street is extremely steep and custom-made sledges are the main method of transporting essential goods; once it was the donkeys who did the work but they are now just part of the tourist attraction. There are no wheeled vehicles due to the gradient and narrowness of the street. There are many images on the Internet, because of its very popularity, but I decided to look through my postcard collection for something different. I do have photos from the 1970s but they are quite boring by comparison.

This one, probably from the 1960s, quite rightly, puts a photo of a donkey centre stage. The main street is called Up-along or Down-along and is lined with pretty cottages and little narrow lanes. The village was falling into decay until the new owner, Christine Hamlyn, carried out some much-needed restoration and modernisation around 1900.

Judging by the fashions in this one I’d guess it was around the late 1950s or early 60s.

Whereas this heavily colourised version could perhaps be the 1970s. I’m no expert and these are rather wild guesses.

I know the date of this one because I sent it to my parents, twenty three year ago - almost exactly- whilst on an Easter break. It’s postmarked 14 Apr 1993 and I wrote the message at 12.05 p.m. How’s that for precision? Even better, I told them I was sitting on the harbour wall, having just walked ‘Down-a long' and was enjoying a clotted cream ice-cream (a Devon speciality) - with a chocolate ‘Flake’  (Are you all hungry now?). The sun was shining and it was apparently ‘like a Summer’s Day’ - It’s almost as if we were there isn’t it?

This harbour view, from an original watercolour by Brian Gerald, shows how steepness of the cliff to which Clovelly clings. See also the online Clovelly guide here.

I’m not sure about this one; it’s from a watercolour by Kevin Platt, and has a somewhat naive quality to it. It looks as though this is where Down-along widens and opens out into the harbour.

This week on Sepia Saturday we are wandering down-along memory lane; there will be picture postcards a-plenty and some refreshment for sure.