Monday, June 30, 2008

Coate Water

Wandering around this tranquil oasis, searching for the places that Richard Jefferies mentions in his book "Bevis", it suddenly strikes you how much smaller it is than in the book. I had read his other book "After London", in which Coate has become an inland sea, forested, mountains, people living in settlements,a whole adventure story wrapped round this magical place.
But "Bevis" was on a smaller scale, an adventure story about two boys camping in the wild on an island. The island is there though very small; The cliff is there, an old sand quarry, the place where his father taught him to swim because of the sandy beach at this particular spot; the swampy land "and so thick with sedges and grass and rushes that they walked in a forest of green up to their waists"
Its all there but you have to look for it, a magical retracing of a story.
Ducks and swans congregate to be fed under the ugly concrete diving tower, a dear old man with his leaflets for the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust, and his board of the latest threat to Coate Water, it is to be developed in one part, people wandering round with children and dogs, a quiet backwater to the hustle and bustle of the busy roads round Swindon.
An idyllic childhood? perhaps, or maybe he idolised a place he loved so much, when the harsh realities of being grown up and earning a living grated against his sensitive soul and he looked back with happy memories.

Monday, June 23, 2008
House builders submit revised plans

Persimmon Homes and Redrow Homes have submitted a revised planning application to Swindon Borough Council for 1800 houses, 41 hectares of employment land, a university campus etc etc.

It is virtually the same at the application submitted in August 2007 and they still haven't found a university partner.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dyeing experiments

Two type of marigolds pot marigold ( calendula officinalis) and the hybrid 'Art shades'

The pot marigolds have just started to flower, their bright orange/yellow has been used as colourant since the middle ages, it can also be used instead of saffron or sprinkled over salads. But as a natural dye for wool or silk, it will be mordanted with alum, equal weight of flower to silk. First the flower must be soaked in hot water overnight and then gently simmered to release the colour, this done in soft/rain water. The silk will be mordanted, then when the colour is extracted will be simmered in the dyebath, hopefully to produce yellow.
The other plant to be used is dried weld, similar quantities of the rather woody material to the silk. The plant material will be soaked for several days. Again a mordant will be used, but different colours can be expected with using iron or copper sulphate this will produce greens.

Dyeing stuff

Pale green(better in real life) is weld/coppersulphate; yellow is weld/alum


Flicking idly through my photos I came across this one of West Kennet longbarrow, and was suddenly struck by the uneven line of the ridge of the barrow highlighted by the darkness of the ridge against the sky. There is the old track that was driven across, goodness knows when, it now stands higher than the surrounding field, showing how ploughing reduces the land surface. The rest of the hollows would presumably be because of quarrying of stone I suppose.
What does stand out however is the dramatic placing of the longbarrow on the brow of the hill, facing the Ridgeway, and of course facing the somewhat later? Sanctuary, another circle of stones, preceded by timber circles.

West Kennet Longbarrow from the Sanctuary

The great stones of West Kennet would have come into view to those travelling along the Ridgeway. Bare feet tramping along the chalky track, animals perhaps being herded along, WKLB is almost an engineered feat of dramatic surprise.
And again we have only to turn round from the stance of the person taking the photograph to see Silbury Hill, another engineered feat of dramatic surprise. There is a spatial awareness carried out in the landscape, the focussing of the key elements on the bare downs, East Kennet longbarrow seems to give the same message, as it overlooks the river Kennet at the bottom of the valley.
Waden Hill is of course the place to understand this overlooking both Silbury Hill and WKLB, what we see are 'statements of strong visuality', we may term it territorial but it is also visionary, though these two monuments are separated in time in their construction they both express an underlying creativity.

Silbury from Waden Hill

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Twisted Yarns; A.S.Byatt

The Lady of Shalott by Burne-Jones

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
The Lady of Shalott."
Alfred Lord Tennyson

"We think of our lives - and of stories - as spun threads, extended and knitted or interwoven with others into the fabric of communities, or history, or texts. An intriguing exhibition at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, The Fabric of Myth, mixes ancient and modern - Penelope's shroud, unpicked nightly, with enterprising tapestries made in a maximum security prison out of unravelled socks. In an essay in the accompanying catalogue, Kathryn Sullivan Kruger collects words that connect weaving with storytelling: text, texture and textile, the fabric of society, words for disintegration - fraying, frazzling, unravelling, woolgathering, loose ends. A storyteller or a listener can lose the thread. The word "clue", Kruger tells us, derives from the Anglo-Saxon cliwen, meaning ball of yarn. The processes of cloth-making are knitted and knotted into our brains, though our houses no longer have spindles or looms.

The Greeks had the Moirae, the Fates, one to spin the yarn, one to draw out the thread, one to cut it. They are sometimes confused with the Graiae, three grey old women with one eye and one tooth between them, sisters of the Gorgons. There is a beautiful and surprising tapestry from a Henry Moore drawing in this exhibition, depicting the three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, as grave swathed figures, with Atropos standing between her sisters, pointing the fatal shears at the life-thread moving between the two. Their faces are solemn and sad, the first two apprehensive, Atropos almost appalled. Milton confused her with the Furies, in "Lycidas", when he wrote: "Comes the blind Fury with th' abhorred shears, / And slits the thin-spun life." This is unforgettable partly because of the way those thin-sounding words - "slits", "thin-spun", "life" - mimic the dangerously fine thread.
The Norse, too, had their three Fates - the Norns, who spun the thread of life at the roots of the World Ash, Yggdrasil. They are sometimes young, mature, old, and sometimes three crones. They sing wildly in Wagner's Götterdämmerung, as the plot of the world unravels. Their thread is a golden rope that was once attached to the destroyed World Ash and is now precariously anchored on other trees and sharp rocks. It rips apart; they wind themselves in it, and go under the earth; the Twilight of the Gods has come."

Velazquez - Las Hilanderas 1644-1646

Taken from Wikipedia;.....

The spinning wheel, introduced into from India between the 13th and 14th centuries, improved the hand-spinning method. The spindle was set horizontally in a wheel turned by a foot pedal and produced a single thread. Spinning by hand is still the principal method used in many developing countries."The spinning wheel replaced the earlier method of hand spinning with a spindle The first stage in mechanizing the process was mounting the spindle horizontally so it could be rotated by a cord encircling a large, hand-driven wheel. The great wheel is an example of this type, where the fiber is held in the left hand and the wheel slowly turned with the right. Holding the fiber at a slight angle to the spindle produced the necessary twist The spun yarn was then wound onto the spindle by moving it so as to form a right angle with the spindle. This type of wheel, while known in Europe by the 14th century, was not in general use until later. It ultimately was used there to spin a variety of yarns until the beginning of the 19th century and the mechanization of spinning.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sun and Colour

One of the problems with taking photos of dyed silks is that the colours do not come true, often appearing much darker on the photograph, but the following are fairly close.

Moss feeling hot on the terrace

Untidy Ashford loom with the early morning sun on recently dyed silk

The five colours - silver is natural 50% alpaca/50% silk; Next comes cream, one in weak henna, the next in henna with dash of chestnut; Greens are chartreuse, the other dash of chartreuse with chestnut.

Knitted cushion cover with handspun/dyed olive merino wool

Early morning sun highlighting the wood

Woven runner

Basket of last dyed colours, probably good sock material


A place I once lived in a long time ago, it has changed but I had forgotten how pretty it was, with its villages, storied timber houses, pargeter work and old churches. We had moved from Chigwell to Great Dunmow, my grandfather to run a small engineering business. At first we had lived in a rented cottage at Ford End, and then he had bought three old cottages at Shalford Green, and they were turned into one with a great thatched roof, and it was from here that my first marriage took place at the church.
Mostly I remember of this time is the fields alight in the evening as they set the straw alight, a dramatic picture as I drove with my labrador back from a walk somewhere. My pride and joy at the time was a small Austin Healey sprite, with the hood down and Kim sitting in the back with his ears blowing in the wind we would find places to wander in. Dim memories of riding in Hainault Forest on Sue my horse, spooky sometimes in the evening, and getting lost one day and taking a long, long, path that never seemed to end. The horse was also spooked in the gathering gloom by the dark path and in the end she bolted, giving me one of those hair-raising rides as I ducked beneath branches as she fled through the forest.
Visiting such places as Thaxted and Coggeshall and taking photos has reminded me of Alec Clifton-Taylor - The Pattern of English Building Book 1972, and I see he was struck by the view of the Thaxted church and houses for he says..

"At Thaxted in Essex, Newbiggen Street leading northwards from the church has many timber-framed houses, of which all but one, in the usual Essex way, are wholly plastered. The use of colour wash here is spectacular, and one is tempted to add, very un-English. Applied colour has turned into what is, in my view, one of the prettiest streets in the country"

Though there is hardly any colour there today but it is still a pretty view.

The other place I visited was Paycocke's house in Great Coggeshall, a delightfully pink timbered house that fronts the street, here he says of Paycocke's House
"'The appeal of the front here, despite the fascination of its discreetly restored silver-brown wood-carving , is quite seriously comprised by the unattractive bricks introduced about 1905 (before the National Trust took over) for the renewal of the nogging"

Perhaps he was a bit of a pedant, it still looks gloriously decorative.

This is a photograph of the more elaborate pargetting (post restoration) Crown House, Newport.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sutton Hoo

The greatest of death-fires
wound to the clouds,
roared before the mound;
heads melted away
wound-gates burst open,
the body's loathly cuts,
as blood sprang forth
flame, hungriest of spirits
Swallowed all those whom
battle took.....
Cremation from Beowulf

A visit to Sutton Hoo; One of the greatest Anglo Saxon treasures of this country, an exotic collection of finely wrought gold, great wealth and also a touch of homeliness in the gaming board in the covered boat burial. Elegantly long this boat, translating into the tangible excitement of Beowulf's poetry, a great epic drama of killing a terrible beast - Grendel and its loathsome mother both are locked into the storytelling of this boat. Saxon poetry which I love so much, grinding out its gloom and despair at the folly of man; magnificient thundering words accompanying beautifully made artifacts and fragments of all this are captured in the museum.
What of the site itself, great barrows ride gently on the waves of the land, the excavated barrow that revealed these treasures, has a steepsidedness that stands out. You walk round on a curving path, the day we went the rain came down gently, puddles of water to find a way around., a grey mistyness to the land and the trees that surround the site, appropiately fitting for a time lived years ago.

Reconstruction of the boat burial

Love the way they hang things on the wall

Gaming board

Reconstructed Sutton Hoo barrow

Sheltering umbrella
from the rain

Some of the other barrows

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bartlow Hills Roman Barrows

The barrows are the largest group of Roman barrows in Northern Europe. Think Silbury Mound, high conical mounds sprouting a luscious green growth of plants. Seven originally, though now only three remain.

Set in a wood, approached along a dark and winding path, suddenly the space opens up. shading trees give way to bright sunshine. Their greeting is unexpected, closely hemmed in by trees, suddenly you are confronted by three miniature mountains. Steps up the side of the tallest barrow - 45 feet high. Built of chalk, similar to Silbury, these barrows house rich pagan burials of the late 1st to early 2nd century.
Large wooden chests, cremated burials, food and drink in exotic vessels of bronze, glass and pottery, these were foreign imported goods reflecting the high status of the deceased; concerned more with feasting and sacrifical offerings rather then take all this worldy wealth to the other world. Lamps left to burn, what did that signify? a light for the spirit to see as he departed this world.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Hayfield flowers

Walking this morning up on the racecourse through the mist I wondered how many flowers still remain in the wild grasses of the hay fields that surround the course. The skylark young are finding their wings and the lush grassland still murmurs with birdsong. Yesterday I spied my buzzard sitting on a fence with another alongside him, much darker, I took a photo but this is the time that I wish I could handle a complicated long-lensed camera for close up shot of things far away.
A hayfield is particularly beautiful at this time of year, the grasses are seeding, soft purples, greens and golds, the bronzes of the plaintain and dock flowers standing amongst the graceful fronds of seedheads.
Looking at my handful, there are red and white clovers close to the paths, small white meadow parsley, laces its delicate way through the green of the grasses. Cow parsley, or Queen's Anne Lace, is over now, but the giant hogweed is coming into flower, its purple bracts straining to burst open and its great jagged leaves reminding me of the acanthus. Yellow buttercups, coned flowerheads of the plaintain and the soft reddish pink flower stalks of the docks. Dew from the mist hangs like tiny crystals along the grass seedheads, and there is a tiny white flowered plant, that holds the promise of its opening but never does.

Docks flowering

Plantain flower