Monday, 29 August 2011

Merging of ideas?

I recently started a blog for short bits of writing, inspired by taking part in the river of stones exercise.  However it is not often visited and I am bit dispirited with it.  If the only reader is me then I would be better off using a notebook and pen.  The problem may have been that I didn't have a proper purpose in mind for it.

I am going to copy over the most recent post here, I would like to know whether I should persevere with it or whether I should archive it?  If it gets some visitors I will think on it further.

traditionally considered to be stones with a natural hole in them; these stones (often flint) were prized as wards against evil.  They were hung over the door or around the neck for protection; they were also hung from the bridles and neck collars of working horses, protecting horse and driver whilst they were working.

Lonely ploughman and horse, dusk descending so that the trees become silhouettes.  No longer the friendly green clothed oak or ash, now eerie blocks of menace, peopled by crows, and rooks that creak and caw.  Hung from the collar, tipping onto the brasses and leather, is his hagstone. Turned up by the ploughs metal blade, chosen for it's power to keep them safe in this twi-lit field as they release the spirits in the soil.
Although this has no hole, the womanly shape reminded me
of votive statues from the distance past.

Europe or bust...

"What you playing?"

"Can I play too?"

"I think I will go to ... Constantinople."

"Good Move, Huh!"

"What do you mean I cheated? I'm not playing!"

And the moral of that story? Never play your cat at Ticket To Ride.

Friday, 26 August 2011

When the day is like this....

Then all you can do is this...

Or may be a little of this....

Whilst enjoying the new arrival of this...

However on reflection I think I shall continue to work on this.....

I hope this rain soaked day is being productive for you as well.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Dinosaurs, dodos and dreaming spires.

Oxford,  I have wanted to take my boys there for sometime, however it is a long way from us and a nightmare by train.  So yesterday we combined a birthday day out for Gran'pa with a trip to Oxford, splitting the driving between us to make it easier.

In the years when I was at Polytechnic there and then later worked for Oxford University Press I visited most of the museums and galleries (I studied art history and practically lived in the Ashmolean Dutch genre gallery).  
Yet in all that time I never managed to go to the Pitt Rivers or Natural Sciences museum.  So finally....

For a two truly wonderful posts about Oxford Museums please read these:  Gretel's trip around the Ashmolean and Rima's exploration of the Pitt Rivers.  I cannot write as eloquently or illustrate as fully as these two what a fabulous place they both are.

What I will show you though is the Oxford Museum of Natural History, or small child heaven, as it would be well named.  You are greeted by The Misters Dinosaur, Dinosaur and then all the little dinosaurs.  My boys ran delighted from one to another, the head of the triceratops elicited oohs and the T-rex generated ahhs.

The sensible curators have sensory sections, where the signs read "Please Touch", manna from heaven for fiddly fingers and wonderful for mamma (I hate places that don't allow children to touch anything).  The boys totally understood that they were welcome to handle some exhibits and leave others.  It was made clear to them that things were fragile and precious and that this was not just an arbitrary adult instruction.

After the joy that is the downstairs zoological history tour, you can climb up the stairs to the wonderful mezzanines above.  Here are housed that other mecca for children (boys and this Mum particularly) Insects.

There was a cornucopia of creepy crawlies, all sizes, shapes and colours.  They have magnifiers in the cases to enlarge the tiny members of this family.  Interspersed with the specimens are the living versions: cockroaches, a magnificent spider, stick and leaf insects and glorious beetles.  

As with the London Natural History Museum, the building itself is a thing of engineering elegance.  The roof vault arches above you, decorated with Victorian design and the pride in craftsmen ship.  I love the Victorian treatment of public building spaces,  They built cathedrals to industry and science.  This building is no different

When two very tired boys were asked what the best bit of the day was:
 " The dinosaurs, no the shields and spears, actually the bees..................ALL OF IT!"

Monday, 22 August 2011

Bringing a little bit of magic home

We have been travelling and exploring for a couple of weeks; from the flattest of places (Suffolk) to the peaks and troughs of Yorkshire.
Whilst we were in Suffolk I added to my collection of pebbles.  I love the infinite variety of shape and colour you  get in sea washed stones.  East Anglia is particularly good for searching out beautiful patterns, as the sea fetches and carries a treasure trove every day.

I now have my very own "ness" on the desk, in a truly appropriate bowl found in a local charity shop.

After a brief sojourn at home, to give our cat time to decide he had forgiven us for abandoning him, we set off to Ilkley, to spend time with Tim's brother and his family.  We had a lovely weekend, visiting Harewood house: with it's beautiful Himalayan Garden.  Here we had the privilege of seeing the A Level work of the local Grammar School Children.  The craft work was truly impressive, although sadly no pictures to share.  But this will linger in the memory as new talent with incredible potential and an eye for beauty.

We also drove across the truly stunning moors from Ilkley to Tupgill House; here we took the children to Forbidden corner.  What a fantastic folly this is, the children loved every minute of the exploring, strange doors, rooms, underground tunnels and statues we encountered.  An afternoon of entertainment of the really interactive kind.  This too will leave me with magical memories.

We are now in the last two weeks before reality kicks in and school starts.  I have valued the time with the boys and Tim, I have valued the time to paint, more colour has been put onto paper in the last three weeks than in the whole year put together.  I have treasured the chance to have a holiday with my family.  

I plan to keep up the painting discipline over the next year, school notwithstanding, so will leave you with some idea of the works in progress.

Reynard in his castle sketch (only the castle is not finished).

Prepared sheet of wood, found on a particularly enjoyable walk.
I am not sure what this will be yet.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Adventures in an English Coastal County part the last.

I have blogged about this holiday as much to retain my memories of it (whilst they are still fresh) as to share it with others.  I hope you enjoy reading about the places we have visited and the things we have done.  My other intention was to entice you to visit some of these magical places for yourself.

We spent the week visiting Churches such as Blythburgh, Iken, Southwold and others; there you find the wealth of mans interpretation of the mystery of God, along with his hankering after the old traditions.  Where green men and animals mingle with saints.  Sadly we took few photos of the churches to share.  The Suffolk Churches website will give you some idea of the treasures the county holds.

The site offers wonderful photos of the interiors: These are the Blythburgh angels.

Our final days were spent in Aldeburgh and the surrounding areas:  We looked at the wonderful work in the local galleries, there are a great many talented printmakers and sculptures who exhibit in the area.  We visited Snape Maltings, and wandered around the sculptures, galleries and shops there.

We encountered more ladybirds this year than I have ever seen, everywhere we went there were hundreds of 7 spot ladybirds.  The boys were fascinated, they tried counting the ones on this wall but had to give up as there were just too many.

We also encounterd a lovely spider, that I have now discovered has a nasty bite that causes swelling and blisters.  It's a good job I didn't know that at the time as I was holding back the grass so that Tim could get these pictures.

Argiope aurantia

I love insects, and am always turning over stones and logs to see whats underneath.  I have passed the fascination on to my eldest boy, although the youngest is less keen.  Matthew likes his insects in the pages of a book rather than in the flesh.

The final day of the holiday was spent at Thorpeness.  What an incredible place this is, everything there feels slightly staged, as if it is a movie set for a film.  When you know a bit about its history all becomes clear.  The town was built by a wealthy Scott (Mr Ogilvie) as a holiday home for friends and family.  He was friends with JM Barrie, loved Peter Pan, so he excavated a 40 acre, 3ft deep, boating lake.  This lake has islands, forts, Wendy's house, and ample opportunity to play pirates.  
The town itself is built in a mock tudor style and has some wonderfully mad buildings, like the above "House in the Clouds"  Which apparently was the village water tower.  It is worth enlarging the picture to read the sign.

This was also our final day on the beach.
Thorpeness beach is a mix of pebbles and sand, with a lovely long shelf in the sea, so that swimming is fairly safe for children here.  It is also pretty deserted, we had most of it to ourselves for the afternoon.  The boys played in the sea, jumped waves, collected stones, made sand pictures and shivered in towels as they dried off.  Mum also made sand pictures:

This years holiday has been quite a departure for us, I have missed the Finnish Forests, the beauty of Helsinki Market, the delicious pleasure of having our own private sauna and lake in the woods.  I have missed seeing family and the genuine freedom the kids have when we are at Sigurds.  But I have also really enjoyed my children experiencing the kind of holidays that I had.  Son number one told me he didn't want to go home and could we move nearer the sea, I knew exactly what he meant.  

 Classic Suffolk, we enjoyed sharing you.

Apologies, something funny has happened with my post, I can't bear to retype it so am leaving it in this odd state.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Adventures in an English Coastal County part three

The ancient and the modern.
Sutton Hoo, the site of one of the most amazing burial sites in Britain.  The picture shows Edith Pretty's house, a beautiful arts and crafts style building, neat and well built.  Nearby is one of the mounds on the farm.  In 1937 Edith Pretty contracted an archaeologist, Basil Brown, to investigate the mounds.  I don't think anyone was prepared for what they found and the sense of wonder must have been incredible.  For Basil unearthed a complete ship burial, probably one of the Anglo Saxon Kings of Anglia. The king was buried along with his horse, his armour and wealth, there were also sites of condemned or sacrificed men and women nearby.  

The ship remains discovered at Sutton Hoo in 1939.
Click on the picture to visit the NT site.

The site is now home to a reconstruction of the burial, and a complete exhibition of the finds; the originals of which are now in the British Museum.  The learning about the culture of the period is fascinating, sword and metal crafting technology on a par with the Samurai of Japan.  Jewelry work of exquisite beauty, along with minted coins and silver-smithing on the helmets and shields.  Each piece of information was gripping in the stories that it told. 

The place of women in the society was also interesting,  They were of great importance, for cementing alliances between tribes and kingdoms.  So still chattels in that sense, however they also held the roles of wise women and Councillor.  With respected opinions and a role as adviser   

After spending the morning with the Anglo Saxons, we thought a change of period was in order.  So we headed up the road to the Suffolk Punch Trust.  The center is a charity devoted to the preservation of the wonderful breed of heavy horse.  They are less heavy than the full shires, without feathering on the fetlock.  
"The legs of a chambermaid and the backside of a cook"  the old countryman's description.

The center has several exhibitions: one is of life in horse powered rural Suffolk, with pictures, tools, and film; one is of the vehicles pulled by the horses and the last is of the horses themselves.  They are gentle giants with beautiful faces, the mares in the above photo had a foal each; they could smell (on my hands) the apple I had eaten for lunch and spent 5 minutes nosing all over me to see if they could find it.

The following day we spent time in Southwold, it is one of the busiest of the coast towns, very pretty and with a lovingly restored pier.  The boys enjoyed the sand and the sea, Tim enjoyed the Under the Pier Show, designed by the incomparable Tim Hunkin.  I thought it was a lovely town, but was put off by the sheer number of people there.  It is a place marred by second home owners, and there were far too many voices with out hint of a Suffolk accent. I have no problems with locals renting out houses for tourism and the much needed income but I am not a fan of the weekend country house brigade; they push up prices and cause the demise of local amenities.  How is it possible to sustain your business' income on a population that is only there 2 days a week and brings most of the food from home! (Soapbox duly stood on and ranted over).

We dropped into Leiston Priory on the way home.  This is the ruined remains of an enormous abbey, priory and settlement.  There is quite a lot of the building left and lots of evidence of the layout and rooms used by the inhabitants.  Attached to the ruins is a music school for talented youngsters,  they were rehearsing for the forthcoming Aldeburgh festival.  This takes place over the end of August, when the population of the area swells with music lovers from the world over. A glorious place for music.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Adventures in an English Coastal County part two

Suffolk is perhaps best known for it's beer (Adnams and Greene King) it's nuclear power station (Sizewell, it dominates the landscape) and it's churches.  The area was one of the earliest Christian strongholds in the newly established Anglo Saxon kingdoms and the sites for the churches of Suffolk are some of the oldest in the country- hence the predominating Saxon square towers and lack of spires.  They have some of the finest misericords, pew end carvings, grotesques, gargoyles in East Anglia. We had a wonderful week visiting some of the churches in the area; thankfully the boys are not bored by this, they really enjoy looking for funny carvings, window pictures, little stairways and hidden rooms.

Iken Church is one of the oldest churches and has the remains of a cross, carved with curving and twisted patterns common to both the Celtic and Anglo Saxon craftsmen.
Saxon cross shaft
Thank you to Suffolk Churches site, Matthew's photo was blurry.
 It sits on a little spit of land in one of the mud flat estuary channels.  The air echoes with the sounds of curlew's lonely and eerie crys .

After we had visited the church we drove round to the other side of the estuary for a walk through the marshes and mud flats.  This area of Suffolk is typical of East Anglia. A tidal estuary, bounded by reed beds and marshy fen, the mud flats are rich in foods and attract a phenomenal range of birds: egrets, dunlins, avocets, curlews, bitterns, reed warblers the list is endless.  We were lucky to see egrets and dunlins feeding and two magnificent avocets flying along the shoreline.

Not only is the bird life rich, so too is the insect and others, we watched a freshwater crab bury itself into the mud and then snap at passing small fry.  We lost count of the lizards basking in the sun.  These were hilarious to watch.  Either still as statues or skittering for the safety of the reeds.  
Their colours ranged from blacks through blue flecked to brown and gold.  Most were shy and ran off the minute our shadows crossed over them.  One however, was quite different, flirting with the Camera and showing off her best side.
"I'm ready for my close up Mr de Mille!"

After all these sites, as well as a range of flowers, bees, butterflies (sadly too few, but autumn is coming early this year) we returned to the carpark.  Here there is a replica of the cross that is on display in Iken church. On this sculpture we found the most magnificent moth, about the size of an adult thumb.
 We had mainly good weather all day and the walk was varied and interesting.  The boys loved picnicking on the bank of the Estuary.  The opportunity to get very dirty was just an added bonus.  There were sticks to collect and pretend were everything from swords to wands (Harry Potter being Matthew and John's current passion), there were insects and small creatures in abundance to ferret out and watch.  There were lots of flowers to find and photograph.
They seek him there, they seek him there...

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Adventures in an English Coastal County part one.

We have been exploring Suffolk, a county I have never visited before but have long wanted to.

Last Saturday we packed up our sturdy (and now very elderly) car: bikes, food, clothes, swimming trunks, boots, waterproofs, umbrellas (British summers being unpredictable at best).  Being the type of family we are this took us a fair while; with a generous amount of colourful language;  double checking of things, last minute trips to bathroom, bedroom, etc...
    "I've forgotten: Tiger, bear, book, batteries etc!"
Eventually we set off, it was so reminiscent of my family holidays as a child and so different from anything my boys have experienced so far.  We are lucky as we spend our summers with family in Finland each year, however this means we rarely take the boys away on our own.  Anyway, digressions aside, we set off, east and south, past Melton Mowbray, Oakham, Stamford, Stilton, stopping off in St Ives for lunch.  What a lovely town, with the most fantastic bridge, along the middle of which hangs a chapel.

After a quick exploration of the town we got back in the car and set off again. Past Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds and on down into Suffolk; until we reached the little village of Friston.  One of the great pleasures of travelling along minor A and B roads is the collection of wonderful town and village names; each one laden with the history of its settlement and founding.  Our home for the week was to be in a village with a long history, and a name generally believed to mean "Settlement of the Fristans" (Fristans being an ethnic group of tribal Germans from the coast of the Netherlands).

Over the course of the week we explored the local area, by bike and on foot.  The boys loved cycling on the quiet country lanes, although they were less keen on the sandy and rutted bridleways.  We took a late evening walk with them, each evening the weather allowed it.  John map read, using a local walks map from the community centre, Matthew played at different games as they entered his head.  Suffolk is immensely flat, having been scraped over by a glacier, it is therefore a lovely place to cycle with children as there are not too many hills for them to negotiate.  The same holds true for the walking, there are also a number of windmills, churches, trees ideal for climbing and fields to run through.

One of the true joys of this holiday (for me especially) was the absence of games machines.  I did a deal with the boys that we would manage with out for the week, they were allowed some TV and a film on the day the weather was truly awful but otherwise we went without electronica.  Instead we taught the boys to play scrabble, read stories, walked and played on the park with them.  The local park was on the village green, safe enough for them to be able to go to on their own; we could see them from the garden but they could not see us. A taste of the precious freedom from adults they are deprived of at home (main roads, badly controlled dogs and inner city teenagers mean our park is out of bounds with out an adult).  They were able to play as Tim and I did when we were young, grab breakfast then out the door to explore.
Having said that being chased by daddy in a game of dobby off ground/big bad troll/obstacle course/kick daddy on the bottom is immense fun, the giggle factor for this was massive.

Our first full day brought a mix of clouds and sunshine, so we thought we would explore the local town of Aldeburgh, just before the start of its festival season.  This is a truly pretty seaside town, with an impressive church.  It is picturesque and full of galleries, old inns, a martello tower and some architectural gems.   The beach is a ness (a bank of pebbles swept in by the tide each day) these ness give their name to many coastal resorts in the area, they vary in size and length and are ever changing.  Aldeburgh was once on the mouth of the Alde estuary; changing tides and weathers have moved the ness over the years and now the river mouth is far away from the original town.  The beach is not sandy at all, but full of an infinite variety of flints and stones, polished and shape by the sea.  But that doesn't matter...