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."

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Taking the Waters

Out of thy famous Hille
There daily springeth
A water passing still
That always bringeth
Great comfort to alle them
That are diseased men
And makes them well again
So Prayse the Lord! 

      Rev Edmund Rea, Vicar of Great Malvern 1612

In May this year we visited friends in UK who took us to the famous spa town of Great Malvern in Worcestershire. Between the 17th and 19th centuries the town had become popular for the health-giving properties of its waters, and because it was situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, invalids and tourists seeking cures, rest and entertainment flocked there. Many famous people, including Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens' wife, Catherine came to 'take the waters'. The water was also bottled and shipped, hydrotherapy clinics were set up, hotels developed and residential villas built.

In the delightful Priory Museum we saw many artefacts dating from the time that the town was enjoying a popularity as a spa. Some of these have already featured in previous posts: Market Share, and Museum Piece.

This exhibit depicts a visitor taking the cure, in his Oxford Hip Bath. He doesn't look too comfortable, and is wearing a reather worried expression, but perhaps he's objecting to being snapped in this rather ungainly position.

I wonder if he'd already had a 'shallow bath' like the one portrayed in this engraving. I don't suppose the water was very warm, and the attendant looks as if he's enjoying administering the 'cure' rather more than the client does in receiving it.

The advertisement for Essington's Hotel confirms my suspicions. It offers both hot and cold baths, though why anyone would choose the latter is beyond me. Perhaps some visitors went home with more chills, aches and pains than they arrived with.

For those willing to venture out of the hotel and take a trip to some of the hillside springs, or view some of the breath-taking scenes from the surrounding hills, donkeys were the transport of choice. Donkeys would stand outside the hotels like modern taxis, waiting for passengers. There were ten donkey stands in the town, in addition to seventeen Hackney Carriage stands.

Queen Adelaide visited the famous St Ann's Well and requested a donkey ride and helped to popularise this method of transport. When Queen Victoria's mother also encouraged these jaunts, one of the donkeys used was re-named 'Royal Moses'. Very enterprising of the donkey's owner!

No opportunity was missed to capitalise on the floods of visitors as the next picture shows. Teas and Cadbury's Chocolate must have made a welcome change from the strange-tasting waters. I have sampled the waters at Bath, and once was quite enough for me! Behind the donkey lady in the picture above, is a chart listing some of the minerals to be found in the waters.

Great Malvern was an interesting place and I can recommend a visit if you are in the area, but whatever you do check before you go for interesting things to see. I thought I'd done pretty well snapping away at anything I thought would be useful for a blogpost! Then I did a little more research and realised that we had walked close to, but missed, a magnificent statue to the composer Edward Elgar and the 'Enigma' Fountain by the sculptor Rose Garrard. The fountain is a tribute both to Elgar who lived there, and to the pure spring water which feeds it.

Just a little further down the road, also by Rose Garrard is this wonderful 'drinking spout' called by 'Malvhina'. Here she has been 'dressed' with flowers for the May Day Festival.

The spout bought back spring water to the town, for the first time in forty years, from three springs on the hills above. You can read more about this clever design sculpted in stone and bronze, and the symbolism behind it here.

Continuing a theme from my post last week, where I casually mentioned literary connections in the places I'd visited, I have to point out that William Langland's 14th century poem, 'Piers Plowman', was written in Malvern, J.R.R. Tolkien frequented Malvern pubs with C.S. Lewis and both found found inspiration there (NB: it wasn't the waters that did it!).

The picture prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday had a group 'taking the waters' at The Twin Wells of Lisdoonvarna in County Clare at the turn of the century. They don't look too impressed either, but then their attention was probably drawn to the female attendant, who seems to have been mummified. When it comes to ladies and spring water I think I'd rather take my chances with Malvhina!

Why not take the cure yourself by sampling the restorative posts of other Sepia Saturday contributors?

Both images by Bob Embleton via Wikimedia Share alike Licence

Friday, 19 October 2012

Window of Opportunity

One of the themes on offer in this week's Sepia Saturday is 'windows'. I thought I'd pretty much covered this in a previous post; 'But Soft, What Light...?'. But then, flicking through the albums I came upon a few missed opportunities. I discovered three windows which all have a claim to fame in some way. The above picture of my husband, with his holiday pint in hand, was taken in 1977 in the quaintly named Cornish village of Mousehole, looking out of the window of the harbourside Ship Inn. Four years after this picture was taken the landlord of the pub died along with fellow crew members in the famous Penlee Lifeboat disaster. The village (pronounced Mowzel) is also famous for visits from the poet Dylan Thomas, who described it as 'the loveliest village in England' and for being the home of the last native Cornish speaker.

Here is my husband again, with our daughter, in 1979, looking down from one of the tower windows in another famous seaside village. This one is Portmeirion in Wales, which is famous primarily for being the setting of 'The Prisoner' TV series, now a cult classic. Over the years it has been visited by many famous musicians and writers, including Noel Coward, who wrote 'Blithe Spirit' there.

The final picture is me aged about ten, with my parents, outside Dove Cottage, Grasmere in The Lake District. This was the home of the poet William Wordsworth and his sister from 1799 - 1808. Here he wrote many of his famous poems, and his sister Dorothy kept her famous journals. If you click on the link you'll see that at the window immediately behind our heads is now obscured by shrubbery. The bedroom window in my own picture appears to have faces staring out, and so would fit in with the Sepia Saturday theme. However, when the picture is enlarged the 'faces' seem to be no more than reflections or tricks of the light. If they're faces it would be lovely to think that they were the ghosts of William and Dorothy, but a more likely explanation is that they were just holidaymakers like us.

It seems I can't resist (unwittingly) making pilgrimages to the sources of inspiration for famous writers and poets. Sadly the genius of Coward, Wordsworth and Thomas didn't rub off on me, but perhaps a little bit of the magic did and gave me my lifelong love or poetry and wit.

Why not join us at Sepia Saturday and see what windows of opportunty other contributors found.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


The cottage light pricks inky gloom, 
Where ghosts and forest shadows loom.
The stumbling stranger filled with fear,
To make the menace disappear,
Seeks out the comfort of the room.

The barn owl’s screech brings sense of doom, 
And echoes through the murky coombe.*
The lost soul starts and hurries near
                            The cottage light.    

His icy hands, cold as the tomb,
Grab greedily the tempting shroom.**
He bolts it it down and does not hear
The voice now whispering in his ear,
Nor sees the spectral shape consume
                                   The cottage light.

© Marilyn Brindley

* a valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline, especially in southern England
**a mushroom, especially one with hallucinogenic properties

I like the challenge of wrting to a form and this week I tried a rondeau. This is an old French lyric form containing a refrain. It has fifteen lines, two of which are the repeated one line refrain. The refrain is usually the first phrase of the first line (but may only be one or two words).  

Each line has eight syllables and there are three stanzas of different length: the first has five lines, the second four and the third six.

There are only two rhyming sounds throughout the poem. 

The rhyme scheme is as follows (R denotes refrain): the first stanza : a, a, b, b, a; the second stanza: a, a, b, R and the third stanza: a, a, b, b, a, R.

From 'The Poet's Craft' by Sandy Brownjohn

Taking part in The Mag where Tess Kincaid gives us an image to get the creative juices flowing, This week it's 'Midnight Snack' 1984by Curtis Wilson Cost. If your nerves aren't shattered after reading my poem, why not gatger up your courage and go and see what others made of the prompt?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Side Orders

The above group photograph includes my father (second row, end right), taken whilst serving with the RAF during WWII. Dad had enlisted in 1940, just after his nineteenth birthday and was trained as a flight mechanic, one of the unsung ground crew responsible for keeping the aircraft airworthy. The picture was taken in 1943 when Dad was stationed at RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire. He'd previously worked on the Spitfires of 609 Squadron at RAF Biggin Hill, when the Battle of Britain was its height. Ground crew checked all aircraft on their return for damage, then they would re-fuel, re-arm, test engines, radio and oxygen supplies in the shortest possible time and using a rapid and well-rehearsed drill. The ground crew worked as a team with each man playing a vital part and enabling the whole squadron to be serviced within ten minutes. Aircraft were lost of course, and replacement aircraft would arrive and have to be made combat-ready by the ground crew.*  I wrote about the Spitfire and Dad's connection with it in a previous post, Their Finest Hour.

Dad next went to Coastal Command at RAF Silloth, and to Thornaby-on-Tees in NorthYorkshire from where he was transferred to RAF Swinderby, 1660 Heavy Conversion Unit to work mainly on Avro Lancasters (as above), but also with Halifaxes and Stirlings. The hours were long and hard as the country prepared for 'the second front' and the harsh winter of 1944 saw all hands deployed clearing the runways and dispersals of snow for days on end, as flying was abandoned. Dad remained at Swinderby until he was 'demobbed' in April 1946.

Sepia Saturday this week has a photo prompt of a group of Crimean War soldiers wearing their army caps at  a jaunty angle. It reminded me of the group portrait above, with Dad and his friends wearing their regulation forage caps at that same angle, as they were meant to be of course. They were also known as 'chip bag hats' as their shape resembled the greaseproof bag used to hold your portion of chips when you bought them from the fish and chop shop. Dad is 91 years old now, but he still has the very cap he is wearing in this portrait. the style of the 'side-hat' hadn't changed much by the time my husband was serving in the RAF in the seventies and eighties, although he  and his fellow officers mostly wore a peaked hat or, when in field conditions, a  beret. Co-incidentally he too was to have a connection with the Spitfires and Lancasters, which along with the Hurricane, made up the prestigious Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The BBMF came under his engineering responsibilities whilst we were stationed at RAF Coningsby.

Join others at Sepia Saturday this week to see where the picture of jolly, jaunty sergeants led them.

*With thanks to my brother, who has documented this part of Dad's life for the family memoirs.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


Upon the pillow soft and deep,
She laid her head, but not to sleep,
She sighed so soft that few would hear,
She sobbed and wiped a bitter tear,
Sick Woman, by Jan Steen 1665
Her cheeks so pink on her wedding day,
Were drained of colour now and grey,
Poor Edith looked so pale and wan,
Her hopes all dashed, her prospects gone,
They tried to soothe her worried frown,
And hid from view her wedding gown,
Cold comforts whispered in her ear;
“You know he was too old my dear,
At times like this please let us judge,
You’d end up as an old man’s drudge,
Before you’d reached your thirtieth year,
Instead of healthy babes we fear, 
You’d be nursing him and pushing his chair,
And be worn to a shadow in his care,
His withered arm could not enfold you
His damaged hand not touch or hold you,
It was a brave and selfless act,
To end it there and that’s a fact”,
But Edith brushed them all aside,
No longer now the jilted bride,
“It wasn’t him, Oh can’t you see?
It’s Down to nobody but me,
My wish was just to live Abbey ever after,
And follow it next year with a BAFTA!”

© Marilyn Brindley

Taking part in The Mag, where Tess Kincaid gives us an image to see the creative wheels in motion. Having just watched Lady Edith being jilted in ITV's 'Downton Abbey', I was struck by the similarity!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Victory Parade

Here are my Mum, Dad and brother in 1960, standing in front of 'HMS Victory' the famous flagship of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). I took the picture I believe, so it wasn't bad for an eight-year old. One of the possible themes from this week's Sepia Saturday photo prompt, is big ships. HMS Victory qualifies on two counts; her size and her reputation.

I don't remember much about the 1960 visit, but I have been a few times since to the Naval Dockyards, Portsmouth, where not onlyVictory, but also Warrior (1860), are berthed. HMS Warrior was the Royal Navy's first armour-plated, iron-clad warship and has been beautifully restored. When completed in October 1861, she was the largest, fastest, most heavily-armoured warship the world had ever seen, but she was never to see battle in her time in service. She had rather a chequered career over the years and had several name changes, narrowly avoiding the fate of her sister iron-clads who were sold as scrap metal. She is now the fully-restored museum ship we can see today in Portsmouth.

The dockyards are well worth a visit, though perhaps this should be spread over two days as there is so much to see. Henry VIII's warship is also on view there. The Mary Rose was sunk accidentally during an engagement with the French invasion fleet, on 19th July 1545. The wreck was raised in 1982 and yielded up artefacts and human remains which have helped to inform our knowledge of the life of the Tudor sailor. Perhaps most telling is that of the bones of 179 individuals recovered, all male, many were between the ages of 11 and 13 years and the majority below the age of 30. The ship was stocked 'like a miniature society at sea' and many of the objects related to indiviual crew members; clothing, games, various items for spiritual and recreational use and those relating to mundane everydays tasks, such as personal hygiene, fishing and sewing.

I remember being fascinated by the conditions on board Victory on each of my visits. I was surprised at how cramped the living quarters for the sailors were, but we really do get a good impression of their lives 200 years ago. Nelson's quarters are all beautifully preserved, including his dining table, where he would have dined with his brother officers. His 'cot' looks exactly like that of an infant, which would make sense if he wanted to sleep when the seas were at their most turbulent. There are many stories woven around Nelson, his flagship and the Battle of Trafalgar. The one which most people remember is that he hoisted the flags which displayed the signal 'England expects that every man will do his duty' immediately prior to the battle on October 21st 1805. He lost his life on the deck of The Victory, when shot by a French sniper later that morning. A commemorative plaque now marks the spot on deck.

In 1989 we took our son and daughter to visit these famous English ships at the Naval Dockyards. Here they are seated in front of a ship's figurehead.

This is from  HMS Hibernia and represents the Celtic God, Dagda with his lyre. The figurehead no longer stands in Portsmouth, but was restored, just five years after the above picture was taken, and returned to Malta, from where it had been removed. The ship had been a permanent fixture in the Grand Harbour in Malta, until the middle of the last century. Hibernia was a first rate ship of the line' when launched in 1804, with a full complement of 850, including the Admiral. She served in the Napoleonic Wars and remained in the Mediterranean for a time as a flagship, but then sailed for Malta as a receiving ship, the Naval equivalent of a barracks. She was broken up in 1902 and the figurehead sent to Portsmouth. A book has recently been published chronicling Hibernia's story and this was reviewed in 'The Times of Malta' a couple of weeks ago. Click here to see some real sepia pictures of Dagda.

To bring my Victory Parade full circle, The (London) Times newspaper carried a story this very week about the Victory. The ship is currently undergoing a £50, million facelift which includes the removal of modern sealant from its decks and its replacement by hemp reclaimed from old ropes. The material, known as oakem, is then made waterproof with pitch. Conservators are using the same materials and implements which were used originally prior to the battle of Trafalgar. Then the crew did the job in a month, the latest restoration is expected to take at least 20 years.

If you can't wait that long, why not lift anchor and go and see what other Sepia Saturday contributors made of the prompt.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


Waking early before the dawn,
I tiptoe tentatively into the warm morning air.
That moment of peace,
before the household stirs 
and stretches its sleepy limbs.

The air is still, no birdsong yet,
No breath of wind to gently shake the leaves.
That moment of calm,
before the sun appears
and spreads its morning warmth.

The sky is dark, no street lamps glow,
No clouds to shield the moon or smudge the stars.
That moment of wonder,
before the mantle is discarded
and a falling star is glimpsed.

©Marilyn Brindley

This is my contribution to National Poetry Day, where the theme is 'Stars'. This really happened to me a couple of weeks ago.