Tuesday, September 28, 2010

School days

Me sitting next to my half brother Peter

Wandering through my Facebook 'friends' I noticed someone was collecting the past history of his family. Now genealogy does not really interest me, mostly because I have a complicated family background and its just too much hard work. I only have three photos from my childhood, one of which is the above. It is the tea or breakfast after my confirmation at the convent.
Firstly it must be stressed I never believed in any god from the year dot, curious from an early age I questioned everything that was told to me, but obviously under the strict rules of being schooled in a time when you acquiesced in what your elders taught you, I was a model pupil!
The covent was a Dominican one and in Brewood, Staffordshire, checking now and the lovely old building and grounds I knew have been replaced by a modern red bricked elite school for girls.
Its the photo that is interesting, it must have been taken in the library or the Mother Superior's study where I had to learn the catechism by heart for the event of the confirmation. On the table four candles for us girls, boiled eggs and thinly buttered bread our feast, with cups of tea in fine china. There is a little tableau in the centre and 'holy pictures' anyone who has been brought up in the Catholic faith would recognise the scene; Hunt's Light of the World I think was probably the bookmark in my new prayer book for the occasion. I am sitting next to my half brother Peter, he wears the grey uniform of Tettenhall College, where he went with my other half brother Barry, so we were all either day boarders or proper boarders at the time.


The ceremony is rather frightening for children, you are, or become brides of Christ under the foolish rituals of the Catholic dogma, the nuns lying prostrate on the floor during the ceremony in the chapel, the photo probably singles out the pure relief we girls would have felt having tea after such an ordeal. I suspect my feelings towards the recent Pope's visit was one of anger for the harm that has been perpetuated in this very paternalistic faith.


You can also tell from the photo that the Mother Superior was very kind, I was a day pupil for some time, but when a family break-up occured became a boarder. Convent life for us girls was strict, our every moment was accounted for, from getting up in the morning and going to chapel, - I had to have special dispensation from the priest to have a cup of tea and biscuit for these early morning rises as I had a tendency to faint if not fed! Through the school day, till that sad moment when the day pupils left and you felt very homesick, then we would have some tea and then back to the classroom for an hour or so of homework. Freedom came in the evening, and was the best time of the day, we could read or sew and would have some supper.
Crocodiling in pairs on Sunday, my first chance to go riding at the local stables, was cruelly brought to an abrupt end one chilly cold morning, when I became ill, and for a couple of months was very sick, and being nursed by the nuns, all I remember of food was toast and Bovril drinks to keep my strength up, I emerged a very much skinnier person than the photo above and I remember coming down the steps in the large hall with a nun to meet my grandfather and his new wife.
Interestingly behind my head is a reflection of some sort of the photographer, though there is no mirror and could be an overlay, or perhaps even a ghost!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Sacrificial Animal



My brain is still like a soft sponge after the migraines, I must tackle subjects to get it working again! Holman Hunt's The Scapegoat took my fancy, looking at his paintings, especially The Light of the World painting which is far too stylised and badly done as a religous statement of meaning, at least to my eyes. Criticism though of the above painting is that it has a rather 'staged effect' the posed goat (the first died poor creature and the above is the second one he tethered in a tray of sand) and skeleton in the background. The background waste/desert is evocative but the subject matter is pretty miserable...Why do we sacrifice animals? it is so that our sins can be taken up by something other than ourselves and in this instance lost in the desert to die, a rather macabre thought, this is the allegorical wilderness we face if we have no belief.


The good side of Hunt though is that he can turn his subject matter into a story, see the previous Lady of Shalott poem, poetry and art are part of the same vein of thought. The Pre-raphaelites turned their hands to too many things, poetry, painting, needlework and furniture making, Morris in his endless pursuit of a stylised medieval world reduced his subject matter, Hunt on the other hand expanded his painting into other subjects.
For me the painting is a reminder that humans often treat animals badly, and that this act is an ultimate act of selfishness to make something other than ourselves pick up the burden of our bad deeds, it is primitive and cruel. Cruelly treating animals is still part of today of course, but then by the same method we are as cruel to other humans, cruelty is just part of the makeup of particular societies or people.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott

Holman Hunt's Lady of Shalott tangled in her threads

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.
continued for many more verses here I cannot believe that I had to learn all these verses as a child, it could only have been a few!

Ugg boots and migraine




A three point turn on the barge, executed by a female...


feeding the ducks


Which comes first, let us tackle the headache first,which happened a couple of days ago and caused such misery but luckily for me my memory blanked out this first bout, the second bout was much lighter but now I am somewhat fragile, my mind drifting along, so thoughts need to be gathered.....
The family came down over the weekend from Whitby, it seems such a long way to drive there and back from Whitby, but it is a break from routine.
In the morning we went down to Paper Mill lock and fed the ducks, and then my son-in-law tackled a ford with the land rover, which was the highlight of his visit.
We arrived at the ford which takes a rather long course along the lane, it was just about a foot deep. When we arrived there was a car stuck and a couple of cars parked. Now I'm not sure if I'm making this up but we are convinced that this place is a meeting place for males! The car that was stuck had been through the water and got water in the engine, so our lot said we would push him out of the way, including its occupants, why on earth they did'nt get out beats me!
The children piled back into the car, the back end of the land rover was automatically raised, our car was to go back, and then with a flourish of spewing water, the land rover sailed through in front of an audience of walkers who happened to be standing on the bridge. Triumph, luckily my son-in-law was dissuaded from doing a repeat performance - families can be embarassing!
The usual long wait for a meal at the Fox and Raven, which when it arrived was'nt very good, but the children are unfailingly good mannered and cheerful.

And so to the Ugg boots, two pairs to be precise for the girls and to my way of thinking very expensive. Pretty they were, little Lillies gold shoes with satin ribbons more so, but walking in the muddy countryside? next time I stipulated could they please bring wellingtons.

Its strange, there I bought my daughter up on a shoestring, quite happily making her clothes, knitting her jumpers, and she has gone almost to the opposite, i.e. she can just about sew on a button, did I go wrong I wonder? Hopefully she is not reading this, but as I sat opposite her and noticed her 'distressed' jeans (and boy were they distressed) thinking she needs some new ones, I was informed that there had'nt been much change out of a couple hundred pounds for these pair. We do however have one thing in common and that is migraines and hopefully one day there will be a cure for the weird effects they have!



No its not our food arriving!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday





Today I have been baking, bread, pizza dough, cheese straws and crumble mixture a satisfyingly quiet thing to do listening to music on the radio and of course thinking. For instance I love to make eccles cakes from puff pastry, not particularly to eat them, but the buttery spoonful of dried fruit in the centre of the small cut out circle, will after being squished together, then be rolled out to a thinnish biscuit with butter oozing out and raisins appearing on the surface like dead flies!

Coffee break was listening to that marvellous A History of the World in 100 Objects, told by Neil Macgregor, head of the British Museum, the small quarter of an hour stories over the past few weeks have been intriguing, the music just striking the right note of mystery and wistfulness.

In the studio the rythmic sound of the brush hitting the back of the latest Japanese scroll, a pregnant lady, her gown falling away from a rounded bosom and tum, reminding me of Demi Moore's famous naked pregnant photo in Vanity Fair which caused such controversy. Actually this Japanese drawing reminds me more of a cottage loaf, the two lines of bosom and tum are very simple.. Below is another female, maybe a geisha girl, most paintings have to be stretched for weeks on the drying board, the creases are reinforced from the back by very fine strips of paper, nothing can be done at speed and everything requires great patience....







Dorthy Hartley says of Eccles cakes that they were originally made with blackcurrants and mint, but the oldest cakes in this tradition are of course Banbury cakes, which had "chopped peel and fruit, sugar and spice, the whole cake very hot, brittle and fresh" and carried around in specially made chip baskets, or woven reed baskets.

Ref; Dorothy Hartley's Food in England...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Projects


This photo is an early morning photo of golden plovers taken a couple of years back on the Somerset downs. They fly in complete unison, a soft swish of wings over head. They come in late autumn, and sleep in the grass over night, then they take to the air and perform wonderful acrobatics in the sky.

This morning I read rather a funny quote on another blog, it goes like this, a Zen refrain.....
Life is all about cutting wood and fetching water, then you get Enlightened, only to find that life is still all about cutting wood and fetching water.
Well this morning we have been waiting for the plumber to fix a blocked pipe, phone calls told us that he would be with us every half hour or so. Eventually he arrives, stays about half an hour and then goes for another half an hour to get something, plus his son. Now I thought he meant a big strapping lad to help him, but the small eighteen month lovely little boy sitting in the front of the van does'nt seem quite up to it.
Strange as this may sound we hardly ever go into town, but today we were going to, me to buy some buttons for my latest knitting, The cardigan is for Matilda she seems to feel the cold just as much as me, and on the last trip to london she borrowed my favourite cardi to wear, pulling it out of shape much of the time.



Not quite finished yet, but the next project on the horizon, is spinning some grey bluefaced leicester wool which will probably take a while on a spindle! My computer needs renewing as well having become very, very slow but I can hardly make one of those from scratch! Sometimes I feel like giving it up, one becomes too wrapt up in the stuff you can read on the web and time ebbs away, don't even like those fancy laptops, which are about the only ones on offer.

Another project contemplated, is making little books for the children, whenever I tell stories of how they behaved when younger they become fascinated by their own histories, again there is a long tale of why I can't do it. Firstly, there is the spare printer which I could use but it is sitting somewhere else until I get some shelving for my study, which also presents a problem because there is'nt much room to put the shelving up!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Musée des Beaux-Arts - a poem by W.H.Auden



On one of the blogs I follow Whistling which is such a marvellous potpourri of poetry, cooking,and everything else under the sun, but one name echoes from the past and that is e e cummings, who was'nt into capitals or punctuation by the way. But I'm not going to spout him in this instance but it brought up another memory of a poem by W.H.Auden, (something I did at college) the poem is really I suspect about the futility of our lives, but then he was a miserable creature... The legend Auden refers is of course Icarus who flew too close to the sun and got his wings burnt and fell to the sea below.
The painting by Breughul highlights the indifference of all those that may, or may not have been aware of the small tragedy of Icarus's downfall. Auden of course muses on this indifference, a reflection of the world today maybe, we are saturated by bad news and unable to take it all in, not necessarily an indifference to suffering but an overwhelming feeling that there is nothing to be done.....


About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters;
how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.



In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.



A photo from yesterday, whenever I am miserable, someone takes me down to a river, (not to drown me but for a soothing walk ;), the underwater world of plants never fail to ground me, especially the fish swimming or coming to the surface and creating ripples as they rise for insects.... ...

Soliloquoies of a Chalk Giant by Jeremy Hooker

Kinship by Seamus Heaney

Bog Queen - Seamus Heaney

Friday, September 3, 2010

paper making

Middle Mill
A few days ago I wrote about Middle Mill and what a pretty valley it was, whilst we were there my love said to me that it would be a good place to make hand-made paper in, with the clean water of the river Solva, and the open nature of the valley with the wind going through. So I noted this passing comment because one of his dreams was to make paper at one stage, and indeed he has written on the old way of hand-made paper making in Japan. But yesterday they did a programme on the radio about the beginnings of Penguin books and he recognised the name of Tanya Schmoller on the radio, which set him off on one of his stories which was the fascinating discovery of boxes of Japanese papers that had lain forgotten in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and was rediscovered by Hans Schmoller sometime in the 1980's.


The tale is long and would need several chapters, but this morning he unearthed all the correspondence on the subject, and I have ploughed through them absorbing those tiny details which makes history either an interesting or boring subject to those who choose to read it!


Schmoller did write a book (very expensive), but he started from an old government paper (Reports on the Manufacture of Paper in Japan 1871), that he had found in Japan. This report was undertaken by the then Consul of Japan - Sir H.Parkes, and he asked three sub consuls to seek out the information in their areas.


It is extraordinary how our cultures are dictated by what is to hand, mostly I focus on the stone of prehistoric man, but in Japan it was the plants and trees that dictated the use of many of the material goods they made. Bamboo of course springs to mind immediately, but hand made paper was made from many different plants and trees and underwent very many different processes.


So that paper coats were made (a woven paper string in this instance) but waterproof; hats, boxes, a hundred different types of paper for different acts of formalised writing, the list goes on... and I would need to type out the whole report to give some idea. When Schmoller made the discovery, and unearthed the 'lost' boxes, it was found that not only were some of the boxes at the V&A but also at Kew Gardens, this, for the identification of the plants used. The photos below will give some idea of what was in the boxes, a rare 18th Japanese book was found in one of the boxes, although it had been reprinted, or to be more accurate copied by an American artist in the 20th century, showing the process of early paper making.


Schmoller was a typographer at Penguins', and he and his wife collected the different types of patterned paper that were around in the 1950s and onwards, much of this collection seems to have distributed around museums and universities (need to check).


The report must have been asked for by the British government, Schmoller calls his book Mr.Gladstone's Washi (paper) below is a sketch by one of the consuls........................



19th century sketch by one of the consuls

The boxes

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September the 1st

A favourite walk by the small River Ter, its almost a brook but the graylings are still there, large and small and tiny 'sprat' fish dart around amongst the huge grey monsters. Warm sunny weather, and the edges of autumn turning everything honey-coloured in the fields. The hedgerows are showing those bright red highlights of berries, whilst the sloes have turned that dusky blue-black colour with a silver sheen, The old massive silver willows hang their leaves over the brook, one old entbeard branches are beginning to die off, but new growth springs round its trunk. Wild hops cling to the hawthorn bushes and smother a blackberry, closely imitated by that other destructive plant - convulvus.

The little concrete bridge, with an ash shading it. First time I've seen an ash here in Essex, plenty up on the downs of Somerset, they do well in cold places coming into leaf late.

An old willow stump, with another willow growing at its base.

Angelica growing near the water, so many uses in times gone past. Medicine, perfume and of course the candied sweet stems.


Good year for sloes, sad that there only use is for flavouring gin!

Fireweed; Taken from Grigson a delightful Gerard quote; The branches come out of the ground in great numbers, growing, to the height of sixe foote, garnished with brave flowers of great beautie, consisting of fower leaves a piece, of an orient purple colour. The cod is long...and full of downie matter, which flieth away with the winde, when the cod is opened...The cods must be the long red seed pods.

The hop - humulus lupulus; The hop twined and twirled in English hedges and thickets long before it became one of the ingredients of English beer. Grigson. Anglo-Saxon form was hymele or humele.

This stretch of the river has a serenity that is hard to define, the banks on either side are completely overrun with plants, though the farmer may grow his acreage with wheat, he also sees that there is a large patch of ground unsown between the river and field, done out of love I think for this small sparkling river

On the way back young pheasant everywhere, scampering across the lanes, they are still growing their bright plumages, so at the moment a dull beige with highlighted heads or patches on their bodies looking most strange.