Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Horses by Edwin Muir

Serendipity! I have found a poem lost long years ago because I did not know the name of the poet, well it is Edwin Muir, I caught it on a radio programme about the Orkneys, the little island of Wyre.  It is one of those poems that capture an aftermath of war when everything ceases, radio, oil and people have to go back to the old ways, and then one day the sound of horses hooves as they come back to offer their service although in reality it is  servitude to the people.... taken from the Poem Hunter.....

The Horses

Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
'They'll molder away and be like other loam.'
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers' land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers' time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Little Baddow church

As today was so beautiful we went for a walk to Little Baddow church, parking the car near the River Chelmer so that could walk across the field, there were skylarks in this field.  One of my interests in church yards are the wild flowers that still remain, but not to be seen so far in this quiet spot.  Planted graves with spring flowers had encouraged queen bumblebees out, a red tailed one and a yellow tailed one, they worked the crocuses and heather flowers..
Norman church with later 15th C addition of tower.

Slightly eerie these barrel shapes

Elegant memorial, many of these type have a tendency to subsidence, so that the top becomes askew

red tailed queen

this queen had yellow banding

timbered old Manor house

Busily intent bottom feeding this swan took no notice of anyone

Like all churches the range of headstones reflect the fashion of their times 18th century table top tombs, Victorian extravagance and even a 1930's modernist stone.  Sad yes, but the peace of the place is timeless, there was also a very new headstone for a soldier killed in the Great War.

Earlier blog on Little Baddow Church

This is a postscript, or not very interesting photos.  The first one shows a fairly newish grave just outside the main grave yard, newly planted it had a host of hoverflies round the flowers and what looks like dog paws across it, though it could have been fox.. The other photo is a close ground shot of the lawn, but which shows a patchwork of wildflower plants, so there is always hope.

And perhaps this photo to underline the parlous state of the small streams that feed into the river due to drought, though the Chelmer itself runs well...

Friday, February 24, 2012

This and that

There I started out so confident with my patchwork, thinking to edge each 9 block with the green polka dot material but sadly it did not work, so I have sewn them all together and now waiting for the wadding to finish it off.  Neatness was never my forte but I am happy with the bright colours.  It reminds me of when I was at the convent boarding school, needlework in the evening and embroidering a cloth.  The nun in charge came over, me feeingl a certain pride that I had managed to produce a passable example.  She turned my work over,'this will not do the back HAS to be as neat as the front' - deflation and probably a lifelong insecurity ;) well maybe not but I do envy the neat people in this world!
 My cushion cover is wildly bright and fits the mood of optimism I feel now that spring might be on its way.

It was so warm yesterday, I had bought some herbs from the garden centre, mint, oregano and silver thyme and fragrant lily bulbs for summer show. Parsley and chive seeds were sown, and now I shall haunt the garden centre for those purple hearted cream foxgloves and the feathery cosmos plants for the garden that speak of summer.

I have three of these books, they are the Royal Academy annual paintings chosen for the year.  I had looked  up one of Vanessa Bell's teachers in them and yes he did have a painting exhibited, but a completely boring depiction of some worthy gentleman, and of course none of the Bloomsbury group would have appeared I suspect.  I love its binding and one day may even take photos of the paintings inside, and create an online virtual gallery.
The BBC are doing just that with John Peel's extensive record collection an online museum....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

This is a tale of books, having pulled out Frances Spalding book of John Piper to flit through I began to want to read her Vanessa Bell book, which I had left behind with many others book in the old house.  So I tackled Amazon only to find that it was either a £121 to get a good copy or £16 odd for a paperback, well you can guess which one I sent for. The booksellers make a good profit, my copy had a £2 sticker on it!
My love says who is Vanessa Bell? Bloomsbury people I say, not sure whether to call this artistic group dissolute or anything else but they are fascinating and of course Vanessa was sister to Virginia Woolf, very artistic in her own right, painted within the house at Charleston in her own style along with Duncan Grant and she even designed fabric. I'm not saying I like her art, but I like the expression of it if that makes sense.
The lives of the moderately well off in the early 20th century is a tale of class and inherited wealth, the Bloomsbury group were breaking away from the social and polite manners of this time and enough has been written of them individually but Vanessa was a striking woman, not only for her beauty but because she followed her artistic career whilst running a home and caring for three children and managing to keep her lovers in line as friends as well.

Snowdrops are never quite wild, these planted in a little copse have covered the ground under the trees. 

The snowdrops are two weeks early this year. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Wasp

There he hangs in the balance in the early morning sun, unsure of himself in this warmer weather, a perfect specimen, wonder where he has been hiding in the garden. Well the birds think spring is on its way as well, blackbirds noisily taking control, collared doves mating, hope they are all not too early in their anticipation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bits and pieces

There is not much news on the home front in this cold weather, patchwork and spinning has been my main occupations.  Good news came through this weekend, the scaffolding at the cottage had at last come down after three months. My son-in-law had gone to turn up the heating there on a bitterly cold night, and it wasn't there.
Anyway a photo arrived this morning -'it looks good naked'. So come summer I  shall fill the yard with bright red geraniums in Swiss style - if I'm allowed of course that is ;)

Free at last

If you were to go up the steps and turn right a 100 years ago, you would have found the loos for the three cottages, I remember seeing this on the deeds.  Another bone of contention, though not really, is the raised platform under the wall on the right, theoretically I own a couple of yards of it but it was never registered as owned, so we all 'share' this space which was probably in its day small brick outhouses for cooking in at one time.
The family, or at least a couple of them occasionally sleep there overnight, and I expect this first year it will be used for family and friends coming to visit, it has become part of the communal 'pot'

Whilst spinning I have been listening to the monotonous computer voice reading Gilbert White's History of Selborne, a fascinating experience, means I can do two things at the same time, though the voice is pretty awful, at least I can check some of the 18th century words,  a water eft is nothing more than a newt, a daw is a jackdaw of course.  Apparently they nested in between the small interstices of the stones at Stonehenge.  Sadly although White is a keen ornithologist, the slaughter for specimens is rather appalling, when they shoot the one and only bird of a species the heart sinks (normally with fury), but hunting  and killing by all and sundry was in its heyday.  I came across the Waltham Blacks, which upon checking alluded to poachers of deer from Waltham, they blacked their faces whilst out poaching.  Another sad practice was to par the hooves of the young deer so that they wouldn't run away, fatten them up and then kill them.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

All things Welsh - John Piper

Jagged Rocks under Tryfan, 1949-50 courtesy of Cardiff Museum
A favourite artist of mine, National Museum of Wales have a show of his mountain paintings of North Wales.  Apparently 'Piper had been commissioned by the WAAC to paint the cavern inside Manod, where a good part of the National Gallery was being stored' in 1945.  He wanted to paint Pistyll Cain waterfall, and also Cader Idris, on the way he came to the picturesque Rise of the Dovey which is featured in the Museum show, its lake surrounded on all sides by steep mountains.
In Frances Spalding's book she says of this painting, 'the sense of scale, the restrained drama of light and atmosphere, and the originality in the handling of colour all tell of his admiration for late Turner'.
Nant Ffrancon Valley, Snowdonia. Photo courtsey  Peter Bond - Creative commons license

Anyway he rents a cottage called Pentre, the rent was £35 a year.  But later moves to another cottage up the valley a hafod  of the farmer, the valley was over half a mile long, 'hemmed in by steep hills and through which winds a small river.  Glacial rubbish lay strewn over the hillsides and created heaps of loose blocks in the valley, beneath which, in places could be heard the tinkling sound of water'..

Richard Wilson - Cader Idris 

Sounds idyllic but anyone who knows Wales, will understand the difficult terrain of rocks and stones, ankle breaking if you don't watch your step.  John Piper was influenced by an 18th century painter called Richard Wilson, looking at Wilson's paintings online they seem rather dull, but the  above painting is of Cader Idris.

Ref; Frances Spalding - John Piper, Myfanwy Piper.

Note; on meandering through the internet on the books John Piper was reading at the time, came across one online by Thomas Pennant - Tours in Wales  someone in the 18th century who had the time and money to produce many books.

There was also listed a great favourite of mine Gilbert White's - The History of Selbourne, which I will read eventually

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Starved of flowers over this winter, I have been putting some of my hundreds of photos on CDs from my now working external drive, it is a nostalgic journey through all my interests, walks in Wales, Somerset, prehistory, flowers, dragonflies, trees and rivers I record with an eye for colour and I think sheer amazement at the wonderful world we occupy.  My companion on these walks for 11 years was my dog Moss, and it is often  sadness I feel when he pops up in the photos, looking back at me because I am dawdling etc..
Anyway to the flowers, this rose came up, a lovely purple mauve colour, unusual and its blooms always used to dangle down because of the thinness of the stem, so that it needed support.... 

Old fashioned rose

Japanese anemones

This rose is quartered 


Tangling roses with a honeysuckle is pretty difficult  

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Well it fell in the night, 8 inches deep at least in the garden when I went to clear a space for the bird food.
There are about a hundred people on the green, most of them clustered round the small hillock on which the children toboggan down with great glee and shouts. How come its always despair on the radio when snow arrives, airports shut, roads impassable etc, etc but people, children and dogs love the white stuff.  I have never seen so many people about on a sunday, trogging into Asda buying snow shovels and extra food - English people love it, the sense of adventure and the newness of snow.  Dogs prance high dancing in the snow, then nose deep in the stuff look for buried scents, the little dogs snug in their coats with small snowballs caught on their legs prance along.

This is just the beginning of the sledges

starlings as always
And what of the birds, well having cleared a patch for them, the blackbirds dominate bullying away the smaller birds, robins, chaffinches  and of course the many starlings that haunt this part of the world.

We need more hills in Essex! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Women Archaeologists

Well I meant to write up on three female archaeologists some while ago but only managed to write about two.  The third is of course Jacquetta Hawkes, probably my favourite as she brought the gift of writing to her many books often written about prehistory.

Avebury stones in Winter 

The cottages still sport their flowers 70 years later
Jacquetta Hawkes

"learned men and kings still go to Avebury, but they are supplemented by thousands of tourists.  This flow of visitors to ancestral monuments is curiously reminiscent of that of medieval  pilgrims to famous shrines; though without faith or doctrine, their fundamental needs and purposes are, I believe, very much the same.
Howver this may be, there is no doubt that in the summer months visitors swarm at Avebury, and the archaeological traveller may prefer to there in other seasons when the place relapses peacefully into the downland countryside.  Let him go in early spring when the wind still blows chilly across the chalk hills but the beeches are grape coloured with thrusting buds, or in autumn when these trees are no more than a glowing aftermath of summer in the pale nostalgic air, and he can wander in pursuit of earthworks and stones among cottage gardens heavy with the last dahlias and chrysantheums."

Isobel Smith: Archaeologist (22 December 1912-18 November 2005).
Google her full name with the word “archaeology” and you will not find too many entries. Isobel Smith, who has died aged 92, would have giggled delightedly, but her contribution to archaeology will one day be recognised. She linked archaeologists of the early 20th century working at the world heritage site at Avebury, in Wiltshire, with those of today – salvaging her predecessors’ work and inspiring her successors. Thus our understanding of one of Europe’s two great stone circles is assured; the last century was less kind to Stonehenge.

Guardian obituary by Mike Pitts. 17th January 2006.
Though today we are more aware of woman archaeologists working in this science, through the medium of television and radio, but it was not always so. As a profession, archaeology has been mostly male dominated from the 18th century onward, and it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that we begin to see the emergence of women archaeologists on a more equal footing!

Isabel Smith had a long life ambition, born in Canada she became a British citizen in 1953, after doing a part-time diploma course in archaeology and a PhD under the supervision of Vere Gordon Childe, she was offered the job of writing up Alexander Keiller’s extensive notes on Windmill Hill, which was published in 1965 – the book was called Windmill Hill and Avebury: excavations by Alexander Keiller, 1925-1939, now of course out of print. It seems that after all this hard work she was rewarded with a permanent position with the Royal Commision on the Historical Monuments of England, and she stayed there until her retirement in 1978.

She lived in a small cottage in Avebury after her retirement, and it is here that we must bring her back to our future, for she was very protective of Avebury and its surrounding environment championing three causes which were set up to defend the intrusion of inappropiate development in the Avebury area. The first was the building of a ‘themed’ hotel near to the Sanctuary circle in place of a transport cafe. The second, another large hotel to be built and replace West Kennet Farm (under which is a Neolithic monument) and the third cause was to join the opposition to the ‘Elizabethan themed park’ at Avebury Manor. We need her again today to champion the cause of yet another ‘development’ in Avebury by the National Trust. There are rumoured plans afoot to turn a building in the High Street into ‘tearooms’ or at least an establishment serving food.

Other ref:

Maude Cunnington
Maud Cunnington (24 September 1869–28 February 1951).
Born in the latter part of the 19th century Maud Cunnington was, according to her biography, educated briefly at Cheltenham Ladies School, she went on to marry Benjamin Cunnington, who was a honorary curator at Devizes Museum and who also worked in his family’s business. Amongst the many places they excavated, Woodhenge and The Sanctuary at Avebury stands out as sites of special importance. They excavated a late Neolithic henge at Woodhenge from 1926-1928. The site had been identified from the air in 1925 by O.S. Crawford and Alexander Keiller. What we see today of course are concrete pillars establishing where the large wooden posts would have been. In the centre is a small stone mound covering the grave of a young child of about three years old.
Child's grave

Hunting round on the web for information about the privately published book that the Cunnington’s wrote about Woodhenge after the excavation, I came across these words recorded by Rideflame, and would like to quote them in full in Maude’s own words…

A small grave was found lying on the line of midsummer sunrise, and at slightly rounded ends, was only a foot deep in the chalk. In the Southern end, the grave being unnecessarily large for a burial lay the crouched skeleton of a child of about three years old. Owing to the decayed condition of the bones, many of them having disappeared all together, it was difficult to determine the exact position, but the body was turned towards the North-East i.e., to the rising sun at midsummer.
It will be seen from the plan that the line of sunrise falls across the Southern end of the grave, across the centre of the burial, though not through the centre of the grave.
A remarkable circumstance in connection with the skeleton is that the skull appears to have been cleft before burial. When the bones were first uncovered it was exclaimed “There must be two skeletons” because there appeared to be two skulls lying side by side, touching one another. But when the bones were removed they proved to be those of only one individual, and what looked like two skulls were actually the two halves of the same skull. It is a common thing to find a skull crushed in the ground, but there seems no way of accounting for its being found lying in two parts, unless it had been cleft before burial.
There is something sad about these relic bones of a young child found in the 1920s, a prehistoric child ghost still haunting our world. The bones were in actual fact destroyed in the Blitz during the war. There was also another skeleton found in the ditch of the henge. This was of a teenage boy, who seemed to have suffered some deformities. Sir Arthur Keith who studied the bones said this of them, that he found the shape of the skull was more typical of an Iron Age date and Maud had also written that “It is remarkable that the man from the bottom of the ditch bears a striking resemblance to skulls found during the course of excavations at Casterley Camp, Salisbury Plain: 1909 -1912.”
Sir Arthur Keith’s report:
A slim man five feet seven inches tall all his teeth free from disease – but certain of his bones have not ceased growing. Wrist bones are finished so is knee and shoulder. Epiphyses of hip and shoulder blade are un-closed. Sagittal suture if fussed which makes him older than thirty-five -but other signs show him to be less than twenty-two. His face and appearance different to that of Bronze Age people.
Such judgement made in the early 20th century are reflections of that time, today’s interpretation would probably be different. Mike Pitts in Hengeworld, stresses that the Cunningtons were not necessarily the best of archaeologists, Maud did not produce field notes for the important Sanctuary stone circle site, recorded by Stukeley but subsequently destroyed soon after.
The Sanctuary

She did though write a report to be published the following year, but as field notes are essential to interpretation of detail, such information is lost to later archaeologists. She also however, as in the case of Woodhenge, bought the land on which The Sanctuary stone circle was located, though it it is now under the ownership of English Heritage. She left in her estate £14,000 pounds to pay the salary of a curator at Devizes Museum.
Archaeology in the early 20th century was to be fair, still in the hands of people who had funds to privately excavate, Alexander Keiller comes to mind, his excavations at Windmill Hill and Avebury were funded by a ‘marmalade empire’. He did not like Maud Cunnington, the feeling was mutual, but he was prepared to watch the Cunnington’s excavations from afar, employing the same foreman as well. The Cunningtons were fascinated by the past, and we must be thankful for those antiquarians who were prepared to dig and delve, record and draw in past centuries; archaeology also had to undergo a ‘growing up’ period, developing along the way a purer form of sciences for the extraction of knowledge, but without those first pioneers there would be no information to build on in the present!

With thanks to:
Information gleaned from Rideframe’s blog.
Hengeworld by Mike Pitts. Published by Century in 2000.

The river

The weather has at last become very cold, snow forecast for the weekend.  My patchwork had to be put on hold, because the materials I ordered didn't turn up. Checking back on the email, and I saw the wrong number in the address line.  Trogged down to the house to which it had been  addressed but the lady had already put my parcel back into the post box. 
so got in touch with the patchwork people, and they sent me another parcel which arrived yesterday.  She was very sweet at Cottonpatch but apparently all returned parcels go back to Belfast in Ireland and take ages to come back to the sender.

Yesterday we went for a walk down to the river, the weather sunny but cold and my photos managed to capture the peaceful sluggish movement of the water. The solitary swan kept upending in the water for food below the surface, slightly ruffling his dignified procession up the river, a couple of ducks suddenly flew up from the water skidding the surface as they always do, and the moorhens scurried out busily to ward off invaders.  I love the dying elements of the plants, nettles once so lush and green now lie crumpled and dead and the feathering of the bulrushes softens their death as well.....

patchwork materials a bit pale this time

The mill shorn of all it's green cover
This afternoon we are off to get some logs and coal, just in case the heating breaks down, LS does not enjoy snow but I'm fond of the crystal world it produces....

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