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, 28 September 2011

Bedtime Story

Clicking the link to Sepia Saturday will show you this week's picture prompt; an Australian magazine cover from the 1930s, called the Queenslander Illustrated Weekly, and priced at 6d. Alan suggests any number of hidden themes to be found there, and I have chosen 'young ladies' and a ‘reading a good story’ as my own themes this week.

The picture above is a five year-old young lady - me, photographed reading a bedtime story to one of my very favourite soft toys, my Golly. Sensitive readers must excuse his inclusion on the grounds that: a) this was the 1950s when he was still thought of as a harmless manifestation of popular children’s storybook characters, and b) I loved him, quite literally, to pieces. He was as dear to me as Blue Bunny was, first to my son and then to my grandson. I wouldn’t want to own one now but I’m not going to airbrush him out of my childhood. My Dad would have taken this picture and I wonder what made him choose to capture that moment, the precious half hour before bedtime, reading in the glow of the firelight, before going up to bed and having another good story, either Mrs Tiggywinkle or other Beatrix Potter stories, read by my Mum, or a Freddie and Flossie Frog story, made up by Dad as he went along.

And here I am with little friend Gillian, doing the next best thing to reading alone - sharing a book with a friend. As a primary school teacher, and headteacher, this is a pose I would often witness in 'The Book Corner', and although these days children are just as likely to be huddled together over the iPad, the magic of a good story is unbeatable. This was a sunny day, hence my trendy shirred swimsuit, and the garden deckchair has been dusted off and put to good use by two little girls lost in a book.
I don’t have any pictures of my Mum reading, but here she is (second row, first right) in her primary School classroom in the 1920s. Reading doesn’t look nearly as much fun in this formally posed picture, but my Mum, now aged 90, assures me that it was. She first heard her favourite, The Wind in the Willows, read aloud by her teacher, in chapters at the end of the day, instilling in Mum a lifelong love of good stories. Mum is an avid reader of fiction and poetry to this day, and reads far faster than I ever can. I asked her what her other stories she enjoyed when she was a youngster. 'Martin Rattler, the Adventures of a Boy in the Forests of Brazil', by R.M. Ballantyne, was top of the list and she loved the Grimms and Hans Christian Anderson stories, which she would read by the light of a Tilley Lamp in bed.

My own daughter followed in the family tradition, and devoured books from an early age. She both reads and writes good stories and poems, in which her love of words shines through. She too had a much loved Golly, made by me, and she wasn’t at all put off when reading the stories of Enid Blyton, who painted him as a mischievous, sometimes sinister character.

 Here she is reading one of my old Rupert Annuals. These were full of good stories, and again peopled by strange characters, some of whom were very un-P.C. Some of her other favourite reads were the ‘Mr Men’ and Little Miss books of Roger Hargreaves, classic fairy tales and anything with a mermaid in it. A Rupert story featuring mermaids and merboys was a double bonus. When she was older she graduated to Roald Dahl.

We all caught the reading habit very young, and are united in our love of books. There’s nothing to beat taking a well-thumbed much loved book from the shelf and dipping again into a good story or favourite poem. I hope this will remain so, even in the age of the Kindle and iPad, and I hope that my daughter will get as much pleasure the experience when she’s 90, as my Mum does.
Mum reading ‘White Doves of Morning’ by James Lee Burke, in the Lanzarote sunshine. Highly recommended - the book AND the Lanzarote sunshine!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Capturing Animals

The title above does not refer to a an expedition to collect specimens for the local zoo. It’s about capturing them in art; on mosaics and stamps, and in photographs. There’s an African thread which runs through the post too.

The decorative stamps above were issued in February 1976, as part of a series of Tunisian mosaics. They actually appeared on a postcard sent by my parents when they holidayed in Tunisia in 1978. Obviously the hotel had over ordered!

 I’m not a stamp collector as such, but I do keep memorabilia which are important to me, and this card has allowed me to join in with Sunday Stamps, which this week has the theme of Africa. I have been admiring some of my fellow-bloggers' posts on there for a while, and itching for a chance  to play along.

In the card my mother writes that the hotel enjoys a peaceful location; this was obviously long before the recent unrest of the Arab Spring. My parents were booked for an excursion to the camel market and my mother wondered if she would be able to pluck up courage to have a ride on one! She was looking forward to visiting Tunis, Sidi Bou Said and Carthage.

It would be another four years before I visited Tunisia myself, and the ruins of Carthage were high on my list of sights to see. The museum there is one of the richest in the world and a good place to see some outstanding mosaics.

Carthage is steeped in history and recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Centre; their website describes it as:

“ An exceptional place of mixing, diffusion and blossoming of several cultures that succeeded one another’”

These included Greek, Roman, Vandal and Arab. It was the place which sheltered the mythical love of Dido and Aeneas.The navigator-explorer Hannon and the Roman general Hannibal (whose own history is also inextricably linked with riding enormous wild animals) are also part of its past. It was founded in the 9th century BC by Phoenician traders from Tyre, who dominated the seas for centuries trading in gold, silver, fruit, nuts, jewellery and wild animals. The animals would play a huge part in the amphitheatres during the Roman occupation too. This is probably why the splendid prowling wild cat was chosen as one of the stamps designs.

I’ve never been back to that part of Africa, but I do live on Lanzarote, which is about 70 miles from the African coast. We have camels here too, and they were the favoured beasts of burden in the past. These days they are mostly ridden by tourists, and also have a starring role in our Three Kings Festival on 6th January, for obvious reasons. They are well cared for and contented animals and recently a new baby arrived at our local Riding Centre. My three year-old twin grandchildren, who were visiting us, were delighted, and my grandson borrowed his Mum’s iPhone to take a souvenir picture. He also captured a shot of a Hoopoe who had flown down to investigate; however, I’m told by my son that this is not the picture taken by my grandson as I first thought, but was captured by his Daddy using a more sophisticated camera than an iPhone! My grandson will happily pick up his father’s camera and shoot away too - I’m NOT sharing the one he took of me...oh no!

Contented Camels, taking a well-earned rest.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Their Finest Hour

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 
As I foretold you, were all spirits and 
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. 

William Shakespeare 
From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1

Alan’s photo prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday gives us ‘sleeping' or ‘rest’ for a theme, if we choose to do so. Alan was confident that we themers could pluck something from the thinnest of air, cleverly referring, I’m sure, to the words above, spoken by Prospero in Shakespeare’s ’The Tempest’.

The picture I have chosen is of Spitfire pilots resting during World War Two*, whilst waiting for the call to ‘scramble’ their aircraft. Last Sunday was ‘Battle of Britain Sunday’, an occasion marked by church services throughout the country, including Westminster Abbey. This year also marks the 75th Anniversary of the first flight of the prototype Spitfire, the remarkable aircraft which played such a huge part in the Battle of Britain, a turning point in the war.

My own father was serving in the RAF at that time, having enlisted in July 1941, the month of his 19th birthday. He was one of the unsung groundcrew, who made sure that the aircraft were serviceable, and put in long and exhausting hours, often in extreme weather conditions. Dad suffered frostbite whilst stationed at RAF Silloth in Cumbria in one of the bitterest winters on record 1941-2. However, prior to that was stationed at Biggin Hill with 609 Squadron during part of the Battle of Britain, and knew many of the young pilots, for whom he has a deep and lasting respect.

I’m not going to detail facts and figures about the aircraft as, these can be found by simply clicking a button and searching the web, but in 2006, marking its 70th birthday Jonathan Glancey’s book ‘Spitfire, the biography’ was published, which gave a very readable account of the aircraft and its life above and beyond the war.

The book is full of detail, anecdotes and stories, and I am indebted to it for the further information I gleaned from it. Glancey quotes the famous poem ‘High Flight’, by John Gillespie Magee, a young American Spitfire pilot who had crossed the border in order to join the Canadian Air Force. In a letter home, he wrote:

 "An aeroplane, is not to us a weapon of war, but a flash of silver slanting the skies; the hum of a deep-voiced motor; a feeling of dizziness; it is speed and ecstasy.”

Glancey reminds us that Magee was tragically killed in an aircraft collision, just a few days after America joined the war. He was just nineteen.

We took Dad to Biggin Hill a few years ago, and he was very moved whilst visiting the chapel, and old wartime memories were stirred.

Dad was really pleased when in 1985-7, my husband was stationed at R.A.F. Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and as OC Mechanical Engineering (Aircraft) Squadron, was responsible for the maintenance of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight aircraft. Dad got to visit the Flight and see the Spitfires, Lancaster and Hurricane at close quarters again. It was our honour and pleasure to see the aircraft flying overhead on a regular basis, and always gave us a special thrill to remember the part they had placed in our island’s history.

‘Their finest hour' comes from the famous speech made by Winston Churchill, making reference to the Battle of Britain which was about to begin.

* RAF Pilots with Beaufighter and Spitfire at Malta 1943, UK Government via Wikimedia Commons

Update on this post: My father, who died in November 2012, would have been very upset to hear recently that the MOD did not think St George’s Chapel (seen in the photos above) was worth maintaining any longer. Luckily, in January 2015, Biggin Hill Airport stepped in to make up the £50,000 per year shortfall in running costs.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Eat Up - They’re Good For You!

This week Carmi’s thematic photograph challenge, over at Written.inc is ‘Eating Our Vegetables’. He’s obviously thinking of our well-being, and encouraging us to take the healthy option. I’m also linking to Weekend Cooking this week, as this post fits in nicely with its foodie theme.
I couldn’t resist this quirky stone sculpture found in the Jardin de Cactus here in Lanzarote. As in previous posts I’m paying homage once again to César Manrique, for this too is his brainchild. The Cactus Garden was the last work he completed before his untimely death in a car accident outside his home. The island is dotted with examples of his creative genius and the cactus garden is just one more. The garden has over 1000 species of cacti of all shapes and sizes, complimented by Manrique’s sense of fun in his clever designs throughout. This giant stone face reminds me of so many different characters from folklore and children’s literature; but whatever that creature is, giant, troll or hobgoblin, he’s certainly eating his greens! To see one of his English cousins have a look at Broken Biro’s picture here.

These squashes and pumpkins were on display at Mancha Blanca local market. A stallholder had placed them on the wall, instantly creating a modern ‘still life’. I thought they looked wonderful sitting on the white wall of the marketplace, with the blue sky and a distant volcano in the background. Strictly speaking they are gourds, but so are cucumbers and melons. I’m taking the wider definition of vegetable here. The market, in the north of the island, is a Canarian farmers’ market, where most of the stallholders dress in traditional costume, and they will happily slice off as much or as little of the squash as you require. Nothing is pre-packed and covered in cling film, and all the produce is freshly picked. The vegetable aren’t washed and sorted into sizes to suit the supermarket; instead they appear as they do when freshly harvested, with earth still clinging to them in some cases. Don’t let this put you off, the taste is far better than anything bought in a supermarket.

And if you prefer to see your veggies already prepared and served up on the plate, try my very own spicy marinated aubergines, just one item on the menu we served to friends who joined us for Tapas recently.

And of course the famous Canarian Wrinkly Potatoes which we eat with Mojo Sauce, both red and green, and again very spicy and garlicky. To see some of the other dishes I served have a look at my previous post,Tapas Evening and wash it all down with a nice glass of red to make sure you get your 5-a day!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Thousands Are Sailing

Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see 

(The Pogues ‘Thousand Are Sailing’)

Sepia Saturday this week has a 1910 photo of the offices of the London and North Western Railway Company, on the Quay, Waterford, Ireland. Alan invites the themers amongst us to choose from the ‘suitcase full' suggested by his prompt. During a wonderful holiday in Ireland in August 1998, we visited the town of Cobh in County Cork. The highlight of that day was ‘The Queenstown Story’ housed in the restored Victorian Railway Station of Cobh (pronounced ‘Cove’).

This was a dramatic exhibition, rich in the history of Cobh, which had been re-named Queenstown in honour of a visit by Queen Victoria in 1849, and did not revert back to its old name until 1922.  There were recreations of life on board a convict ship bound for Australia in 1801, The 2.5 million adults and children who emigrated from Ireland via Cobh on 'Coffin Ships’ to escape the famines and poverty, were also commemorated. The ill-fated Titanic which sank on her maiden voyage was remembered because Cobh was her last port of call. We also relived the World War 1 sinking of the Lusitania at Kinsale, off Cork Harbour in 1915, with the loss of 1198 lives, an act which was to bring the USA into the war. Outside the exhibition, on the quayside stood a statue of Annie Moore and her brothers, who left Cobh on New Year’s Day 1892 for a new life in America; she was the first emigrant ever to be processed in Ellis Island. This was one of those ‘living’ exhibitions’ where the voices of the people and the sounds of everydy life aboard ship were re-created. Reading some of the stories of those early emigrants was very moving.

The town itself was charming, and colourful with so much to see and do. I had made a scrapbook of the holiday and jotted some notes alongside the photographs, postcards, maps and tickets, and I noted that after visiting the exhibition we admired a Mexican ship which was in port. The smart young officer and ratings, in full dress uniform, turned heads about the town. It was a warm and sunny day and we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the park near St Colman’s Cathedral.

So from Alan’s possible themes list I managed holidays, railways, ships, Ireland and travel....but no handcarts! The latter were probably more in evidence at our next day’s outing - a tasting trip to the Jameson Whiskey Heritage Centre - but I can’t remember....I wonder why.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

To The Lighthouse

'Playing With Light’ is the theme Carmi at written.inc has presented us with this week. His own picture prompt is something of a mystery, which I am sure he will reveal later in the week, but has the look of something from out in Space. My own choice is somewhat nearer home. I am lucky to live in Playa Blanca, Lanzarote and I have sweeping views of the coast. The lighthouse or Faro de Pechiguera, is a local landmark, which I see daily from my window, and when I lie in bed at night I can count the beats of the strobing light filtered through the skylights onto my bedroom wall. There are actually two lighthouses side by side, an older and a newer version. César Manrique, the architect of the island, had hoped to put in place a string of lighthouses around the coast, but sadly the project was never completed. One day last year we took a stroll along the beach in late afternoon, when a dark cloud appeared over the lighthouse. Suddenly an aperture appeared and sun shone through, creating a halo of light around the lighthouse. The giver of light had become the recipient. I grabbed the camera and took the following shots. Then we walked round to the lighthouse itself and watched as the clouds moved over the Bocaina Straits between here and Fuerteventura, turning the sea the colour of copper. Finally the clouds shed their load of raindrops out at sea, but with the backdrop of the sun’s glow.
If you are tempted to visit, you can find out more about Playa Blanca here.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Descending Order

I always try hard to stay on one of the themes suggested by Alan’s photo prompt in Sepia Saturday. Having spent a couple of pleasant, but seemingly fruitless, hours trawling my family albums, I came up with the one above, almost in desperation. Alan’s picture had President Wilson descending the staircase of the observation platform of a train. The above picture shows a little man, on the right, aged about three years, coming down the stairs of a wooden bridge. This is from my husband’ s family album and is one of a series of shots of him taken at Willow Lane Nursery, Lancaster, probably in 1952. I think it must have been a pretty progressive kindergarten, judging by the other shots, with lots of opportunities for learning through play. It’s the least clear of the set, but it does fit the theme - which I am determined to follow.

This one should raise a chuckle. The man in the photograph (my father) has been decapitated, but is still grimly hanging on to his duty-free cigarettes. That’s my Mum, just about to step onto terra firma, sporting a trendy trouser suit and newly set hair, and clutching her coat and vanity case. Sandwiched between them is a 18 year-old Me, in my red PVC mac and backcombed hair. It looks as though I’d plastered on the mascara as well. I was obviously out to attract as many Spanish waiters as possible - for this was Ibiza in the Balearic Islands, and it would be my first taste of Spanish sun. This was 1970, long before Ibiza became the ‘Party Capital of the World’ and was still a largely unspoilt and beautiful island.

The next sequence, which immediately came to mind when I was scratching the inside of my brain, is the iconic, ‘Man ascending stairs’ by Eadweard Muybridge in 1884-5. He was a hugely influential pioneer photographer and had a fascinating life, which included the murder of his wife’s lover. You can be diverted for a few moments by clicking here. It’s well worth the read.

It won’t have escaped your notice that this man is neither descending the stairs (as in the original prompt), nor wearing any clothes. By the look of his well-toned muscular physique he was probaby a body-builder/artists’ model. Muybridge did produce similar moving images of a female actually descending stairs, but I am far too coy to reproduce in my blog; voyeurs may click here.

So, for a man descending a staircase, but also naked as the day he was born, what better illustration than Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending Staircase No 2’, which Duchamp acknowledged was influenced by the work of Muybridge among others.

And to bring this post back full circle to the original prompt, there is also a Presidential connection. After seeing the above work in an exhibition, President Roosevelt wrote:

"Take the picture which for some reason is called 'A Naked Man Going Down Stairs'. There is in my bathroom a really good Navajo rug which, on any proper interpretation of the Cubist theory, is a far more satisfactory and decorative picture. Now, if, for some inscrutable reason, it suited somebody to call this rug a picture of, say, 'A Well-Dressed Man Going Up a Ladder', the name would fit the facts just about as well as in the case of the Cubist picture of the 'Naked Man Going Down Stairs'. From the standpoint of terminology each name would have whatever merit inheres in a rather cheap straining after effect; and from the standpoint of decorative value, of sincerity, and of artistic merit, the Navajo rug is infinitely ahead of the picture.” (History as Literature by Theodore Roosevelt 1913)

So there you have it, Men (of all ages, shapes and sizes) descending and ascending stairs, either clothed or naked, some complete, others, with body parts missing.

My three year-old grandaughter, who is visiting, wandered into the room whilst I was writing this post and I asked her what she thought the picture above was. She looked nonplussed, so I asked her if it looked like someone coming downstairs. She wasn’t so sure. “Like Bananas, in pyjamas!” I prompted helpfully. Suddenly recognition dawned. Now it all made perfect sense!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Wonderful in White

Carmi of Written Inc. set the challenge of ‘White’ for this week’s Thematic Photographic. It’s difficult to know where to begin, as I live on the beautiful island of Lanzarote, where white is the colour of choice. My nearest town is called Playa Blanca, which is Spanish for white beach, so there’s a clue! A couple of weeks ago for Viva Vibrancy I showed some of the beautiful colours to be found here, and described the influence of the island’s famous son César Manrique; architect, artist and visionary. His house, now a museum, created from a volcanic bubble, is decorated in clean cool lines, using a backdrop of white as a canvas on which to showcase his wonderful creations and designs.

Manrique ensured that no high rise building are built on the island and that all buildings are painted white. The door and window frames should be picked out in blue or green  if painted, though many are varnished natural wood. The picture below is of the volcano Montaña Roja, near my home, showing a fairly new development of local houses, which contrasts beautifully with the striking landscape.

One of the island’s sources of income, before tourism, was salt production. A few minutes drive from my home are the impressive salt pans; Salinas de Janubio, but in July this year we visited some disused salt pans Salinas de los Agujeros, near Guatiza; a fine example of industrial archaelogy. It would appear that production simply ceased one day, the pans were deserted and left as they were right up to the final moment.
Well I said I didn’t know where to begin, but I do know that any journey or tour should finish back at home, the place you love best, and here growing in my own garden is this amaryllis, with dainty white flowers. 

Lanzarote is an island of contrasts and great beauty, with year-round sunshine and if you feel tempted to move here yourself, you can find out more by clicking the link here.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

In Her Sunday Best

                           In her Sunday Best, cradling her doll for comfort,
                           Her eyes wide and uncertain,
                           Not confident enough to smile,
                           Standing as straight as chubby two year-old legs 
                           and starched petticoats will allow,
                           She poses for her place in The Album of Immortality

I was delighted when Alan’s Sepia Saturday prompt this week was a photograph of an angelic little girl. I have quite a few cherubic little girls in my family albums, but I think they will keep for another day. So, instead of producing what could have been a portfolio of potential models of yesteryear, I went for the ‘less is more' option and stepped outside the family to another little girl, clutching her favourite doll. She has one of the sweetest and most angelic faces I’ve seen in sepia. I inherited the picture when she died and have always loved it.

You may remember an earlier post I did about her father, ‘A Fine Looking Gentleman’, who bought Mary up after her mother’s early death. I mentioned this picture then, as I think it was taken on the same day as her father’s; the furniture is the clue, and if you check back to the picture of her father I’m sure you’ll agree.

I don’t have lots of information about Miss Mary Carter, as she died an elderly spinster with no living family that I knew of, so it’s good to be able to honour her memory in this way. The back of the photograph shows that the studio was in London, so perhaps she lived there with her family for a while. Each photograph, and the one which I think must have been her mother, bear the marks of a triple folded photograph frame with an arched top, so I am taking that as a further clue. I think she came from a loving family, as there is a further ‘snap’ of a family group with what appears to be grandparents, aunts and three children, but which is Mary is difficult to tell. Is she the shy little girl on the left, the long-haired girl on the right, or the baby, sitting on the rather stern looking grandma’s lap and reaching out for her older sister? I don’t even know if she had any sisters. The gentleman on the right could well be Mr Carter; he certainly has the neatly-trimmed beard. I also inherited a very old copy of ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ inscribed, "To Pops’ Mary Carter on her 8th Birthday”. I like to think ‘Pops’ was her grandfather, and that he is the patriarch on the left in the photograph.

Miss Mary Carter was the companion of my mother’s maiden aunt, and always dressed as elegantly as in the studio portrait below. I had maiden great-aunts from that generation on both sides of the family; so many young eligible men died in the First Word War, so it was quite common when I was growing up. By the time I knew Miss Carter she would be in her fifties. The photograph of her with her cat, Peter, was taken in her garden in 1954.

I think my Dad took the picture, as there were several taken on the same day with Miss Carter and her friend, my own great-aunt Maude. Among that batch was this one of another little poppet with her dolly; me, aged two, closing the circle for this week.