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."

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Some Shopping Trip!

I was amazed to see that Carmi at Written Inc had given us 'shopping’ for this week’s Thematic Photographic so soon after my ‘Open All Hour’s post last week. I thought I’d be all shopped out and struggling to rise to the challenge. Then I had a brainwave (of sorts) when I remembered a trip to the States in October 1999. I knew I’d got some photos of some very different shops and I was sure I had scribbled some notes to remind me what they were.
I couldn’t believe we were actually in New York! This is obviously just a souvenir of our visit to ‘The World’s Largest Store’ so not wildly exciting. I would have loved to have taken pictures actually inside the building as everything was laid out so beautifully, like a work of art. Unfortunately they got very sniffy in there and wouldn’t allow it, so this would have to do!

In Lancaster, I had written that it was a very pleasant old town with a 100 year old market. There was a little shopping arcade with quaint shops selling fine art and crafts. That’s my kind of shopping. There was a lady from Yorkshire selling pots and the shop next door was owned by a man from Cheshire! I bought some earrings, which I still have.

We had coffee in what I described as a ‘folksy’ café, and then it was on to Amish country, where we saw some beautiful quilts for sale and from there to Intercourse P.A. where I noted that the shopping village ‘knocked our local one into a cocked hat’, and one fruit store sold fourteen different varieties of apples! I was obviously impressed.

Beautiful handmade quilts were for sale by Amish ladies in Lancaster, and below an example of the ‘Intercourse P.A.’ shopping experience.

At Harper’s Ferry I photographed this recreated shop. Very different from Macy’s.

In Washington I had written that we visited Tyson’s Corner shopping mall, where it seems I replenished my needleworks supplies. Some of the best patchwork fabrics come from the USA and I purchased several lengths of cotton material, some of which remains unused.
Now it would appear that all I did on that trip was shop. This is not so; we saw museums and art galleries, great buildings and memorials, and many moving Civil War battlefields, but the shopping was obviously a big part of the experience. On the final day we wandered 'The King of Prussia', which is one of the biggest shopping malls I have ever experienced. As it was October there were pumpkins and scarecrows and autumn leaves falling and some amazing sunsets. All in all wonderful trip and one I’ve been happy to re-live for this post which evoked those memories.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Open All Hours

The very detailed pictured provided as a prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday, shows a shop doorway in Sydney, Australia in 1934. This sent me delving into my father’s side of the family, where I knew that at least three of them had been shopkeepers. It’s amazing what a little research for a blogpost will nudge, quite literally, into the frame. I had always been aware of a blurry sepia picture of my great-grandfather Sydney (Dad’s Grandfather on his mother’s side) standing in the doorway of his fishmonger’s shop in Nottingham. My older brother knew a few more details but also provided me with three new pictures I had never seen before. The first of these is the one I like best; the nonchalant pose is not one I’ve ever seen adopted by a 'sepia shopkeeper' before!

Now, I know this isn’t a fishmonger’s, it appears to be a grocer’s, so we have a bit of a mystery. Could it be two windows of the same premises? Behind him, in the shop, can be seen tins of biscuits and other dried goods which would have been his stock-in-trade. A second picture appears to confirm this, though he doesn’t look quite so dapper here; waistcoat off and sleeves rolled up. The child beside him is a friend of the family and the other youngster just happened to have run in front of the intended subjects, as small children so annoyingly can when a shot is being posed. No digital cameras then, and films were precious, so once the shutter clicked it would have to do. This picture seems to pre-date the next one as my Great-grandfather looks a little younger, but it’s interesting to note the price of bread is the same as that in the Sepia Saturday prompt. The shop reminds me of the one kept by Arkwright in the TV series ‘Open All Hours’. I wonder if it had a similar lethal till (cash register).

I talked to my 90 year old father about the fishmongers on Manvers Street, Nottingham. Dad remembers his Grandfather also sold rabbits, and my Grandmother (one of his fourteen children) as a girl, had the job of skinning them. There was sawdust on the shopfloor to catch the blood .

Here’s the picture of my Great-grandfather which started me on this quest. Now we see him in yet another working outfit, complete with striped apron, from which he would produce a halfpenny when my Dad visited as a child. The window advertises cod and crabs. I’m told this was Jubilee Day 1934, and the bunting can just be seen above the window and door.

My Dad, who was a travelling salesman, also inherited the selling gene from Lydia, his Grandmother on his Father’s side. At some time around the turn of the twentieth century we know that she had what Dad called a ‘Bread Shop’, but I don’t think it was what we would now know as Baker’s. It was more likely a corner shop, typical of many a street in town and village at that time. The shop would provide those commodities needed by people with little income, who had only to walk to the end of the road where they lived to buy a loaf or a packet of tea.

The last picture is of yet another member of the family. The lady in the doorway is not Lydia, who died in 1910, but her daughter Sarah (born in 1885). This picture was probably taken in the late 1920s or early 30s. She was my Dad’s Aunt ‘Cis' who would later run a sweet shop in Delta Street. Cis would have given up her original skilled job, which according to the 1901 census, was that of a lace-hand in Nottingham’s famous lace industry. I like the way the children in the street have engineered to be in the photograph; it makes it all the more interesting. The little chap is being given a ride on a bike which is far too big for him - he could never reach the pedals. On the other hand it seems too small for his older sibling. There’s another smaller bike on the right, face on to camera. What do we think the youngster on the left is doing? And no, he’s not sending a text!
I asked both my parents about the sweetshops of their childhood. Dad recalled Pontefract Cakes, Marshmallows,Tiger Nuts, Turkish Delight and Barley Sugar sticks. Mum remembered that when she was a little girl in the 1920s, she would visit a shop run by the Misses Mackintosh on Tealby Terrace, Nottingham, where 2oz of sweets would cost one penny and a bar of chocolate would be tuppence. There would be fruit drops, dolly mixtures and liquorice sticks. Mum loved walnut whips (a rare treat) and sherbert fountains. “Do you know, she said, I haven’t had one of those in years. I wonder if you can still get them. I’ll look out for them next time I’m out shopping.” Mum will be 91 in November, with a wonderful memory for the small details of her childhood. "Aniseed balls,” she said, “We used to suck them until they changed colour, and we’d keep sticking our tongues out to each other to check.” She also recalled her friend Tommy who always gave her the little toy from his ‘Lucky Bag’ for her Doll’s House. The simple pleasures of childhood.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Viva Vibrancy

This week’s Thematic Photographic prompt from Carmi is ‘Vibrant’. According to my dictionary this can refer to people, colours or music. Living here in Lanzarote I appreciate the influence of the artist and architect, Cèsar Manrique, for whom we must thank, among other things, keeping our island from falling victim to the monstrous high-rise developments which have blighted other popular holiday destinations. 

This is one of his smaller wind sculptures, just outside his home, which is now a huge visitor attraction. Lanzarote is dotted with many examples, large and small, which bring their own vibrancy to the island.

His house, now Fundacion Cèsar Manrique, where he entertained many famous celebrities of the 60s and 70s, is made from a series of old volcanic bubbles and is testament to the vision of this creative genius. Celebrities of the 60s and 70s flocked to see the wonderful house. The mosaic mural above is in the garden of the house, and I only wish that the curators would remove the cacti which have gown steadily in front of it over a number of years. In my view these prevent us from appreciating the full grandeur and vibrant colours. Others may not agree with me, and perhaps Manrique himself would see it as a manifestation of that symbiosis between man, nature and art, which he championed.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Going Back To My Roots

Here I am aged about ten years, with my childhood friend, Pearl, on a visit to Edwinstowe to see 'The Major Oak'. I was born in Nottingham and many of our family outings in the 60s would be to Sherwood Forest, legendary home of the outlaw Robin Hood. The forest is home to hundreds of ancient oaks like the one above, but of course the Major Oak was the most famous. It is over 800 years old and has a history all of its own. Clicking the above link will take you to the website of ’The Friends of Sherwood Forest’ where you can see some amazing photographs of this mighty tree. I was brought up on stories of the oak being the hiding place or larder of Robin and his Merry Men, and I never failed to feel excitement and wonder whenever we visited. Just walking into the wood and getting that earthy tang of trees, fern, bracken, fungi and moss was enough to lift the spirits.

In later life I’ve often been lucky to live near forest and woodland. Back in the 80s we lived in R.A.F. married quarters in Rheindahlen, Germany, and we had only to step out of the gate at the bottom of the garden to take a walk in the woods. This is where I learned to love my favourite bird, the Nuthatch, which I would watch from my kitchen window as he scurried up and down the trunk of the trees over the road.

When we lived in Salisbury, we would visit the New Forest, where not only oak, ash and beech grew, but also more exotic trees such as Wellingtonia, Sweet Chestnut and Japanese Cedar. The Knightwood Oak grows there, a visitor attraction since Victorian Times, when it was marked on the OS maps as ‘The Queen of the Forest’. She and the slightly smaller, ‘Adam and Eve’ and the ‘The Eagle Oak’ vie for the prize of largest tree, but these are youngsters of 200-300 years compared with the mighty Major Oak of Sherwood.

It is easy to feel dwarfed by these huge, ancient trees and be somewhat in awe of them, as Francis Kilvert wrote of the ancient trees in Moccas Park in Herefordshire, when he visited in 1876.

"I fear those grey old men of Moccas, those grey, gnarled, low-browed, knock-kneed, bowed, bent, huge, strange, long-armed, deformed, misshapened oak men that stand waiting and watching century after century, biding God’s time with both feet in the grave and yet tiring down and seeing out generation after generation, with such tales to tell, as when they whisper them to each other in the midsummer nights, make the silver birches weep and the poplars and aspens shiver, and the long ears of hares and rabbits stand on end. No human hand set those oaks. They are the ‘trees which the Lord hath planted'. They look as if they have been at the beginning and making of the world, and they will probably see its end."

We should also remember though that trees can bring us joy and create hours of fun. Apart from hiding inside their hollowed trunks, generations of children have climbed into their leafy canopies, for games of hide-and-seek, to make tree-houses, or just for the sheer challenge and adventure. Here are my own two, twenty-five and more years ago, learning to appreciate some of the sensations we feel in the company of trees. The pleasure of leaning on the sturdy trunk of a mature tree whilst bathed in dappled sunlight, and surrounded by the natural sounds of the woodland and those earthy forest-floor smells. The childish happiness felt when achieving that first clamber into the lowest branches of the garden tree, knowing that from then on anything was possible. There may be falls and scrapes along the way, but what a lesson in life.

If you want to branch out and hear some more old arboreal memories, visit this week’s Sepia Saturday, where Alan’s picture prompt sowed the seed for today’s post. 

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Having a Spiritual Moment

Among the many thousands of things that I have never been able to understand, one in particular stands out. That is the question of who was the first person who stood by a pile of sand and said, “You know, I bet if we took some of this and mixed it with a little potash and heated it, we could make a material that would be solid and yet transparent. We could call it glass.” Call me obtuse, but you could stand me on a beach till the end of time, and never would it occur to me to try to make it into windows. (Bill Bryson)

For this week’s Thematic Photographic Challenge Carmi  at Written.Inc. wants to see what we can find that is made of glass. The problem was not what to put in, but what to leave out. I decided my photographs of the beautiful stained glass windows in St Mary’s Church, Brownsea Island, off the Dorset coast, had to be the main contenders. There are many wonderful examples of stained glass, in churches and houses around the world, some far more intricate than this, but the sheer simplicity of the above makes it stand out. I especially like the Dove of Peace on the cobalt blue background. The picture was taken on a day trip to the island with some children and staff of the school where I was headteacher for a while. Inside the church the children, led by my musical colleague, sang a sweet, impromptu, unaccompanied hymn in childish harmony. Many of these were pupils from very deprived backgrounds; travellers and refuge children, with mothers escaping violent partners. Their behaviour was often challenging, but they loved to sing, and always put every effort into it. For those few moments they were little angels and remembering it now, still gives me great pleasure.

So, with angels in mind, here is a very simple, glass cherub, candle-holder, rather eerily lit from the light in the glass display cabinet. He has a casual, somewhat nonchalant air I think. I don’t have many ornaments and ‘knick-knacks’ but this I treasure; when his night-light burns he is a focus of calm and peace. I don’t have to peer into my crystal ball to know that you will find other lovely examples of glass in its many forms, over at Written Inc.

Friday 12 August 2011

Not Rhett and Scarlett

For those of you who enjoy a bit of romance, you are in for a treat over at Sepia Saturday this week, where Alan’s picture entitled ‘Romance’ is the prompt. Settle back and enjoy my contribution, a romantic real-life story. Here are my Mum and Dad aged twenty, pictured in front of the Anderson Shelter in my grandparents’ garden in Nottingham. They got engaged on November 22nd 1941, three days before my Mum’s 21st birthday, having known each other since Dad was seventeen. Mum remembers it was a Saturday and that there was bread and margarine and celery on the table for the celebratory meal. Dad had joined the R.A.F. and the following year Mum was called up into the A.T.S. From then on life would never be the same again. They were both serving when they married in July 1942, two days after Dad’s 21st birthday. It was always a sore point that Dad had to have his parents' permission to get married as he was still not 21 when the banns were called, but oddly enough no-one asked his parents if he was allowed to fight for King and Country! Dad married in his uniform and Mum would probably have done the same if one of her friends hadn’t generously donated her clothing coupons so that she could have a real wedding dress.

At the time only unmarried women were being called up, so the timing was really unfortunate, as once you were in, you were in, so married life meant long separations as they were often posted to opposite ends of the country. On the rare occasions that they managed to get leave together they tried to bring as much romance to the meeting as they could. They either had to spend it at my grandparents’ house or they would visit relatives as there was no money for hotels.

In 1943, as near to their first wedding anniversary as possible, they were able to spend a couple of days with my Grandmother’s sister in London. All their lives my parents were wonderful dancers and in 1943 London they enjoyed dancing to some well known Big Bands of the time.

Another great escape was the cinema, although the cost was often prohibitive. 

'Gone With The Wind’ had opened in 1940 and was a huge hit with cinema audiences during the Blitz. It played for four years and during that time my parents decided to go the Ritz Cinema in Leicester Square, to see it. They had been married for one whole year, which was something to celebrate in such uncertain times, and it brought some colour and romance into their lives. It was obviously very special to them as Mum saved her ticket.

Note the price of six shillings. Mum tells me that this was a lot to pay out of a weekly army allowance of nine shillings and sixpence (sixpence was taken at source to pay 'barrack damages'). The Ritz called itself the 'intimate cinema’ and was small and probably very plush, adding to the romance of the occasion.

I think the memory and the romance stayed with them long after; Dad grew himself a moustache, so there may have been a bit of a Rhett Butler thing going on.

Many of the cards at that time depicted ladies in big crinolines, like Scarlett's, and some of the Wedding Anniversary and Birthday cards they sent in those early days reflected this.

Not Scarlett, but a lovely romantic card, nonetheless. What can’t be seen here is that the dress is made of patterned silver paper placed behind an aperture in the card front. I loved this card when I was a little girl and thought the lady was beautiful.

The cards don’t have the bright colours of today’s greeting cards; these were the post-war austerity years, but the subtle colours have a beauty all of their own and the big-skirted ladies add to the romantic feel.

Mum and Dad have just celebrated their 69th Wedding Anniversary and are as romantic as ever. Here they are at Mum’s 90th last November, where we get the kiss photo to go with the one which started this week’s post off!

 No, not Scarlett and Rhett, but I know which I prefer. If you enjoyed this, you may like my ‘Not Burt and Deborah’ post, with more Sepia Saturday romance. Go on pucker up!

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Rough and Tumble

Carmi’s challenge this week over at Written.Inc Thematic Photographic is the theme of ‘Rough’ - literally and figuratively. My two shots are of abandoned and tumbledown buildings, fallen into disrepair. The first is a decidedly rough archway, formed when the rest of the farmhouse crumbled away. Here in Lanzarote this is what happens to old abandoned buildings, as they decay over time. There is some ancient law that says it is not allowed to knock them down. This means that the landscape is dotted with half-ruins which form their own beautiful shapes and landmarks and are enhanced by nature, as lichen covers the surfaces and the winds wear away at the stone walls.

Tinasoria, Lanzarote

The second, is an abandoned spa at Kalithea on the island of Rhodes, which we visited a few years ago. It had been built in the 1930s by affluent Italians in an idyllic spot, but had been left to fall into a ruin. Reading it up on the web it appears it has now been restored and is a popular venue for island weddings! It is difficult to find much about the history but if you click here you will see some old sepia photographs which give some hint of the grandeur that was Kalithea.

Kalithea, Rhodes

Thursday 4 August 2011

Nothing Half So Much Worth Doing

“Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING...absolutely nothing...half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing.” 

So, spoke the Water Rat to The Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’. You can read the whole chapter here. It happened to be my Mum’s favourite book at school, when a chapter was read out each day by her teacher. I wonder if she was remembering that quote in the picture below.

For Sepia Saturday this week we had a choice of themes taken from the picture prompt, but Alan only had to mention ‘boating lakes’ and I was off on one of my reveries.  I spent many happy hours of my own childhood on the boating lake at Highfields in my home city of Nottingham; sadly there are no pictures in the family archive to record this. However, I recently acquired this rare photograph of my Mum and her older brother from approximately 1930.  I think it’s rare because, despite my best efforts I haven’t been able to find a picture on the web of any similar craft (unless someone out there knows better). There are many old photographs of rowing boats, dinghies and sailing boats, even pedaloes, but not a hand-cranked paddle-boat. 

I asked Mum where she thought the photo was taken and she said it would have been on one of the annual week’s holiday the siblings took with my Gran when she visited her own mother in Watford. Granddad would have stayed in Nottingham working, as he would only have had a week’s holiday each year. This was the thirties and times were going to be even harder before long, with Granddad laid off from his labouring job more than once.

We think it was probably taken in Oxhey Park, where there was boating, bathing and other recreations. I haven’t been able to find any similar pictures of the park to support this theory and it’s possible that it could be some other place entirely. Mum said, “Can you see that I am pulling a face in the picture?” Yes, we can! Mum seemed to think there was an altercation between her and her brother Billy about who should have control. It looks as if they each have a handle of some sort to turn the paddle wheel, so I wonder what the grimace was about.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Seeing Red

This photo is a souvenir of a visit to the Scilly Isles. I was taken as much by its warning that ‘The times of collection are dependant upon the departure of transport facilities’ as I was by the contrast of its rusting red beauty with the lichen-covered stone wall. A post box from the era of Queen Victoria, when Britain was still building its now diminished Empire, but still in use today.

Britain lagged behind its European neighbours in providing roadside letter boxes, with the first being erected in St Helier, Jersey at the recommendation of Anthony Trollope, the novelist, who was working as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office at that time.

Over the years there have been many designs of pillar and post boxes, meriting whole books and webpages on their history. When Bill Bryson published his book 'Icons of England' in 2008, a bright red pillar box adorned the cover and a piece by Peter Ashley. 'From Pillar to Post’, reminded the reader of why these ‘essential items in the iconography of England’ should be conserved.

Carmi prompted this piece in the ‘Thematic Photography’ section of his blog, with a call for photographs of anything red. Take a look and you will see links there to some of my fellow-bloggers who have already posted some wonderful pictures.

A postscript (if you will pardon the pun) for the pedants among us. The word ‘dependant’ in the inscription above, jars somewhat. I was always taught that spelled with an ‘a’ the word was a noun and that an adjective, as in ‘dependent upon’ should be spelled with an ‘e’. Nowadays it is possible to find examples of both spellings in use for the adjective. I’m not sure what was going on in the above example; we now take a much more relaxed approach to orthography, and perhaps the Victorian signwriters did too. The way we spell and use words is evolving, and these days the notice would probably say that departure times were dependent upon ‘transportation’, which until recently had an entirely different meaning in the English language. So occasionally  I ‘see red’ over the way we seem to casually cast off perfectly serviceable words in favour of other more clunky alternatives (at the risk of offending my American friends), but I am slowly learning to accept that it’s all part of the evolution of language.

Liz, over at ‘Shortbread and Ginger’ also wrote a piece a few weeks back; if you click here you can see some of her photographs of old postboxes in Scotland.