Musings in silence

Red Poppy field in Cotswolds

Red Poppy field in Cotswolds

This Weekly Photo Challenge. is the word Muse and it has given me a lot to think about.  On reflection I believe my muse is the natural world.  It provides memorable, magnificent moments when my spirit soars with the spectacle before me.  This is usually when I am on my own, in silence, in the countryside.  Wide open pastures, woodland filled with wildflowers and birdsong, snow-capped mountains, cool crashing waterfalls, tumbling streams and majestic rivers.  These are what excite me.  Acres of colourful, cultivated flowers, or a single poppy bursting into life uplifts me and carries me away from the mundane.  These are the moments that matter.  this is when heaven happens and I just have to capture it with my camera or with a blogpost.

These days I don’t do much travelling, but I am blessed to live in a beautiful part of the world.  Whatever the season there is always something sublime to see within a short journey.  And, if I can’t get out, I can always enjoy nature’s efforts in my garden.

In January there are snowdrops, crocuses and hellebores, and often snow on the Cotswold Hills. Then I take myself off to Painswick or Sherborne to enjoy them.

In February the first primroses and wild daffodils appear.  There is frost on the ground and skeletal trees when the first lambs and goat kids are born.  That’s when I go to the Golden Triangle.

In March the magnolias burst into flower and blackthorn gleams white in the hedgerow.  Hyacinths smells fragrant and frogspawn appears in the pond.

In April there are cowslips on the Common and blossom on the fruit trees and in hedgerows.  This is the prefect time to go on the Blossom Trail around Evesham.  By the time Easter arrives the new lambs and baby rabbits are out in the fields and the lilac trees are in full flower.

In May fields of yellow rapeseed sweep far into the distance, and yellow and orange poppies brighten up the roadside.  Self-seeded Lily of the Valley fill the border under my fruit trees.

In June it’s off to the woods to see the Bluebells and wild garlic which grows by the roadside.  Bright red poppies appear in the fields and roses fill the gardens

In July I go to Wick near Pershore to see acres of delphiniums, which are grown to be dried and sold as natural confetti.  On the way back I stop to admire the blue Linseed fields outside Elmley Castle.  Now is the time to pick cherries from the trees and strawberries from the fields.

By August I am picking apples, pears and blackberries daily and storing or freezing them for winter.  In Pershore the plum festival is held and there are sunflowers to see and lavender fields to visit!

But September is my favourite time. There are conkers and cob nuts to collect.  The Cotswold countryside is a giant nature table with a cloth of autumnal colours.

October means pumpkins, root vegetables, toffee apples and fudge.   It’s time to go to Westonbirt Arboretum for the best display of Maples turning red outside of Japan.

November means baked potatoes, nourishing soups and bonfires, foggy mornings and falling leaves.  Time to head to the park to watch them dance in the wind!

Things quieten down in December but there are fir trees and holly bushes to admire.  Christmas lights glisten in the houses, shops and streets. I head off to Stratford on Avon to see them at their best.

One of my favourite quotes is

Let thy soul walk softly in thee

As a saint in heaven unshod

For to be alone with silence

Is to be alone with God

ROY-G-BIV ~ Rambles and rainbows

Indigo denim jeans on  Jungle playmat

Jungle playmat

The differences between being a child in postwar Britain, a parent in the 1970’s, and a grandparent today are amazing to me.  When I was a child there were still shortages of food which meant essential supplies were rationed while luxuries were just none existent for the ordinary family.  This made for a simpler diet with few choices and little chance of overindulging.  However, undernourishment was such a big issue for children at the time that the government provided orange juice, cod liver oil, malt extract and often a tonic like Minadex for every school age child.  Babies and schoolchildren were given free milk.

Food was basic, grown, fished or farmed, and home cooked.  There was very little processed food and no such thing as ready meals!  Packaging was practical and simple too.  Butter and cheese was cut off a large block and wrapped in greaseproof paper then put in a brown paper bag.  Sugar, flour and dry goods were scooped out from large sacks, weighed and poured into paper bags.  Fresh fish was bought straight from the quayside or from a man who brought it round the houses in a horse and cart.  Bread and pastries were usually baked at home or bought from the local baker, while meat was from the local butcher and chickens were often still alive!  Every town had a High Street which had a selection of specialist shops and there were ‘corner shops’ in most residential areas.  In fact when my grandfather left the army in 1952, he bought a corner shop right next to the hospital off the West Road in Newcastle.  Some shops, like Woolworth’s, were quite large, but nothing like the huge supermarkets of today.

Women, and it was almost always women, had large sensible shopping bags, which were used over and over again.  Plastic bags had not been invented.   Often the shopping was delivered to the housewife in a cardboard box by a lad on a bicycle or a man in a van.  This was essential as working class women, or indeed men, would not have had a car.  We have gone full circle here as so many supermarkets deliver shopping now, but not for the same reason!

But to get back to childhood, babies as far as I remember were dressed and treated as babies until they were about 3 years old. They would be put in a big pram and stuck outside in the garden or yard, or often, on the street outside the front door.  Here the child would sleep or watch the world go by for hours between feeds with a few toys.  My soft toys would have been knitted by my mum while my dad would occasionally make wooden toys.  Toys, being few,  were treasured.  I still have the doll I had when I was 1 and the golly (sorry) my mum knitted when I was 4.  Boys would often have tin cars or lead soldiers, both of which would be considered dangerous now.

Today things are so different.  Babies are socialised and stimulated from the earliest age.  My grandchildren are taken to ‘bounce and rhyme’,  baby gym, play barns, swimming classes, baby massage  etc. etc.  It amazes me to see the speed of their development.  And at home the range of toys is breathtaking.  Everything seems to have movement, music, colour and lights built in.  Even books have appropriate sounds alongside the story.  And, before babies can even crawl they have play mats like the one in my photo.  This 3D mat has all the colours of the rainbow in it.  It is based on a jungle theme so there are animals adorning it.  It is soft, safe, supportive and stimulating.  It plays a variety of music, animal noises, and even waterfall sounds.  It has given my grandchildren hours of pleasure.  I chose this photo for a couple of reasons.  It shows  my two and a half year old grandson teaching his 8 month old sister how to roll over.  It is so cute and the clothes just tickle me.  Denim jeans on a baby I find hilarious and absolutely adorable.

So this week’s photo challenge was to illustrate the colours of the rainbow and I think this photo does that.  The denim jeans qualify as Indigo while all the other colours of the rainbow are in the playmat.  but just in case you want more I have added a little group of colourful shots below.

 

Cheltenham racecourse ~ off-season

One of several Statues of much loved horses

Driving past Cheltenham Racecourse the other day I noticed that the next Race Meeting is not until 23/24th October.  And, the National Hunt Season proper gets under way on 13/14/15th November. This seems such a long way off I got to wondering what happens there during the ‘Off-season’, so I decided to pop up there this Sunday and find out.  It was a revelation!

In the UK most horse racing is on turf although there are a few all weather tracks.   I guess the ‘going gets tough’ during the summer months when the ground is hard and dry, making it dangerous for thoroughbred racehorses to jump the fences.  Every racecourse is different whether it is for flat racing, National Hunt racing, or point to point.  Few are a regular oval shape and different horses run better on different tracks ~‘horses for courses’, as the saying goes.

Flat racing is run over distances between 5 furlongs (5/8 miles) and 2 miles with no fences to be jumped, while National Hunt racing, as at Cheltenham, is between 2 miles and 4 1/2 miles with challenging obstacles to be jumped.  At Cheltenham these include hurdles, fences and water jumps.  These races are strictly governed and the jumps, although terrifying, are built with safety in mind. Point to Point races on the other hand are much more ‘informal’ and for amateur riders.  I have only watched a couple of point to points and I found them terrifying.  The jumps are horrendous and riders often fall and end up covered in blood!

Cheltenham Racecourse is very special and world famous. The Cheltenham Festival is unmissable for any serious racing fan.  It is held annually in the third week of March around St Patrick’s Day.  The atmosphere is electric and the whole town comes alive.  Race fans come from all over the UK, Southern Ireland and beyond to enjoy the four day meeting.  There is a Championship Race each day, the highlight being the Gold Cup race.  This year the weather was perfect for spectators with early spring sunshine, although the horses may have found the ground a bit hard.

The Gold Cup is a Grade 1 race, run over a distance of 3 miles 2 1/2 furlongs. All the horses carry the same weight in the Gold Cup and the hill to the finish is a test of their stamina and courage.  Famous winners of the Gold Cup include Dawn Run (a mare, ridden by Jonjo O’Neill), Arkle (considered the greatest horse of all time), Golden Miller, Best Mate, Desert Orchid & Kauto Star.  Racegoers, and non-racegoers alike, grow attached to individual horses as they each have their own personality and style.  In National Hunt racing the horses do not have to be thoroughbred, which adds an extra twist to the races.  Of course there are lots of breeders, trainers and stables in the Cotswolds so it is possible to see these beautiful creatures out galloping occasionally which is wonderful.

So what is going on at the racecourse before then?  Well lots of things as I discovered.

There is an amazing building at the racecourse, appropriately called the Centaur (half man/half horse)!  This building seats over 2000 people (4000 standing) and has some beautiful spaces inside including the gorgeous Steeplechasing hall of Fame.  During the ‘off-season’ it hosts music festivals, craft shows, business meetings, seminars, conferences, graduation ceremonies for the local university as well as being a fabulous wedding venue.

Outside the Centaur in the grounds around the racetrack there is lots of activity too as you will see from my photos.  There is a permanent facility for Riding for the Disabled and the racecourse has its own railway station which still has steam trains running.  This is operated by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway GWR and is run mainly by volunteers.  The station, signal box and platform take me right back to my childhood and day trips to the seaside.  But now visitors can steam through the Cotswolds enjoying the scenery.  It is marvellous.

There are some great statues around the racecourse of Gold Cup winners Golden Miller and Arkle, as well as dawn Run, and Best Mate and of course the Centaur.  Some of these were removed while the £45million building work is going on but I did find one or two.  The fabulous new stand and walkway is due to be ready for the 2016 Festival and I must say it was looking great today.

Another permanent feature near the entrance to the racecourse is a veterinary block complete with tackle shop, offices etc.  And, in the car park of this building is a waiting area for emergency vehicles and responders.

Also in the grounds was a temporary ‘big top’.  This beautiful blue and white tent was the circus with a purpose, Circus Starr, a wonderful charity bringing fun and excitement into the lives of disabled and disadvantaged children and their families.  I was so jealous that I didn’t have a ticket as I stood outside and enjoyed the music from Frozen waft out from the big top.  I could hear gasps of pleasure at what I assumed were trapeze artists doing aerial dances to ‘Let it Go’.

Apart from this there were dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, and a young lad riding a motorbike as well as builders creating the new walkway.

Advertised events coming up before the season takes off included;

Sportive’s Cycling Event 15th August

Leap for LINC Charity bungee jump 23rd August

‘Frozen’ Cinema Screening 29th August

 

Cotswold Gold

Oilseed Rape Story

Oilseed Rape Story

As soon as we arrived at Church Farm for Open Farm Sunday I was captivated.  At the entrance there were Shetland ponies and goats to pet, as well as a great display of crops and posters giving information about oats, barley and oilseed rape.  It was like the best nature table you could possibly arrange!  As a primary school teacher many years ago, I would have loved to put on a display like this for my pupils.  But even as an adult I found it fascinating.  What appealed to me most was the opportunity to learn about the oilseed rape.

I love to see the fields of gold that stretch across the Cotswold in late Spring each year.  I go out and take photographs and take the grandchildren to admire them.  I usually say something simple like, “It’s used for cooking oil”, but I honestly hadn’t a clue what really happened to those gorgeous yellow plants.

Well, having chatted to the farmer and a seed merchant, I now know a great deal more.  Rapeseed belongs to the Brassica family of plants like turnips, cabbages, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower among others.  In fact the word Rape comes from the Latin, Rapum which means turnip!  Who knew?  Natural rapeseed has been grown, and used to produce fuel, for centuries.  In fact Brassica are some of the oldest plants around.  There are records of Brassica oilseed varieties being grown in India 4000 years ago, and China and Japan 2000 years ago.   It is likely that the Romans introduced it to Britain.  It was found to be a useful ‘break crop’, which means that it keeps down weeds and helps enrich the soil in between growing other crops.  By the middle-ages rapeseed oil was being used as fuel for lamps.  But it was not until the Industrial Revolution, when steam power came to the fore, that machinists discovered its suitability as a lubricant.

During the Second World War huge quantities of oil were needed to keep the engines of naval and merchant vessels seaworthy, but because of blockades it was difficult to source from Europe and the East.  So Canada greatly increased its rapeseed cultivation.

The original, natural strains of rapeseed had been used for centuries to feed animals, but not people.  It had a bitter taste and was high in erucic acid, which is toxic to young children.  However, following research and development in Canada, a strain was developed that had low levels of erucic acid and a pleasant nutty taste, making it suitable for human consumption.  The Canadian climate was good for growing it, so in 1978 a company was set up to produce Canadian Oil, Low in Acid, hence the name Canola!  Although this was a brand name it is now accepted as a generic term for oilseed rape.

I have used Rapeseed Oil for years at home for frying and roasting food, as well as baking carrot cakes and biscuits.  It is also suitable for bread and pastries, and of course, it makes delicious dressings, marinades and mayonnaises.   A knowledgeable doctor told me years ago that Rapeseed oil is high in Vitamin E and contains less than half the saturated fat of olive oil, which helps to keeps cholesterol down.  Rapeseed oil is also rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 and contains no preservatives or additives, making it a healthy alternative to butter or other vegetable oils..   I buy the locally produced ‘Cotswold Gold’ rapeseed oil as it is made in small batches by methods which preserve the goodness of the oil and it is not genetically modified as some mass produced or foreign oils are.

In recent years, celebrity chefs have made rapeseed oil very popular, which is one reason why there is so much grown in this country now.  Another reason is its use in the biodiesel industry.  In fact over 60% of the rapeseed grown in Europe now is used for fuel.  This would be a worry if it was taking up land which could be used for food production.  But apparently it can be grown on ‘set-aside’ land, which would otherwise not be used.

I was very pleased to learn that not a single bit of the rapeseed plant is wasted.  Once the oil has been pressed out of the ripe black seeds, the left over pulp provides a rich feed for the animals on the farm and the rest of the plant goes into the forage which provides food for the animals in winter.

If you would like more information or facts and figures, the website ukagriculture.com  produces a wonderful poster called The Story of Oilseed Rape.  And, you can watch a short video on the oil extraction process in Ireland here on youtube.

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Not you, nor I, nor anyone know,

How oats and beans and barley grow.

First the farmer sows the seed,

Then he stands and takes his ease,

Stamps his feet and claps his hand,

And turns around to view the land.

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Not you, nor I, nor anyone know,

How oats and beans and barley grow.

First the farmer sows the seed,

Then he stands and takes his ease,

Stamps his feet and claps his hand,

And turns around to view the land.

Vivid Blue

I am awed by stained glass windows, and have an enormous collection of photos from around the world. But very close to home there is a window that fascinates me. It is in Gloucester Cathedral. It is quite a modern window and from a distance with a cursory glance, it can appear to be simply random shapes of blue glass. On closer inspection though, this window draws the viewer in rather as an icon does. It is a meditative experience to sit and really look at this window. Soon the shape of a man appears then you are drawn to the face. It has a haunting expression of deep understanding and empathy. It represents the face of Jesus.

The window was created and installed in 1992 by Thomas Denny.  It is mainly in vivid blue and white with splashes of red and yellow.  It is greatly affected obviously by the light coming from outside but it does appear to be in shadow when the viewer is at a distance, then as you get closer it gets brighter and quite mesmerises me!   Doubting Thomas and Jesus are the central characters of the middle window and the two side windows are a song of praise for creation based on psalm 148.

Thomas Denny, was born in London.  He trained in drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art. One day a friend asked him to consider creating a stained glass window for a church in Scotland (Killearn 1983).  So began a remarkable career that has produced over 30 stained glass windows in Cathedrals and Churches of this country. (Visit http://www.thomasdenny.co.uk for the full listing.) Tom’s love for painting and drawing, especially the things of nature, is evident in his windows.   All of Tom’s windows depict biblical themes and encourage the viewer to sit in silent meditation.  Look closely, feel the colours, take the time to let the details emerge, then reflect.  It is a spiritual experience.

Even closer to home there is a simple parish church in Warden Hill called St Christopher’s, which has a set of 10 stained glass windows by Thomas Denny.   Each of them is based on a parable from the Gospels.  The windows are linked by colour too with the colours from one window flowing into the next.  They are simply stunning and anyone can visit the church to see them.  If you are too far away you can click on this link to enjoy photos of the windows  http://www.tciwh.org.uk/index.php?page=windows

I had a go at making my own stained glass windows for my summerhouse/sanctuary in the garden at my previous home.  It broke my heart to leave it.  You can read all about it here.

On The Way

P1090588

Looking back at my photos, I have discovered that I find boats of all shapes and sizes really fascinating.  Maybe this stems from my great grandfather’s life sailing tea clippers from the south China Seas around the world in the 1800s which fascinates me.  Or maybe it’s from my father’s early years working in the shipyards of the Tyne, or his wartime service in the Royal Navy.  But, as I can’t swim, however hard I try and however many lessons I have, boats are an unlikely interest for me to have!

My fear of deep water has several possible sources, the first being that I fell in the icy cold English Channel from a cliff when I was about 10 years old.  I vividly remember thinking as I sank into the murk, how dirty the water was ~ not at all like a swimming pool or the pictures of the ocean you saw on holiday posters at the railway station.

Secondly, where I grew up, my playground was the smoking sulphur heaps left over from the chemical factories, and the old mine workings of a very industrial Gateshead on Tyne.  I stand to be corrected but I never saw or heard of a swimming pool anywhere in the vicinity.  The Public Baths were for people to go and have a wash when they had no facilities at home as far as I knew.

Lastly, in the postwar years the River Tyne was a busy, noisy, dirty and dangerous river dotted with thriving shipyards.  It was not at all as it appears today, all cleaned up with its expensive riverside apartments, leisurely riverside walks, luxurious hotels, The Sage, The Baltic and the spectacular Winking Eye Bridge.  No, the Tyne was a marvellous, powerful river to be admired, respected and wondered at, but feared and kept away from for safety’s sake.

But as I look at my travel photos from Cornwall, Dorset and other parts of the world, there are a lot of boats that I snap on the way.

 

 

Enveloped by a Rainbow

Doughnut building enveloped in rainbow lights copyright GCHQ, used with permission

Doughnut building enveloped in rainbow lights
copyright GCHQ2015, used with permission

For this week’s photo challenge the prompt is the word “enveloped”.  I understand it to mean totally surrounded or covered, and as such I could only choose one photo as illustration.  I did not take the photo, the copyright belongs to the Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, but I was given permission to use it for this blog.  The photo shows the entire doughnut-shaped building, which is near my home, surrounded and lit up in the colours of the rainbow.  This occurred last weekend (17th May 2015) on Sunday evening from 9pm as the sun set.  It was to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.  It was amazing in many respects.  Firstly, that GCHQ would make such a public gesture of solidarity with these misunderstood minority communities; and secondly, that a large crowd of people, including myself, drove, walked, and waited there to see it late on a Sunday evening.  I know parents who kept young children up specially to see it and then took the opportunity to discuss the reason for the event.

Not so long ago it was illegal in this country for men and women to be practising homosexuals.  And it would have been unthinkable to get a job with the security and intelligence services while openly gay.  But of course many people did work in these fields while keeping their sexuality hidden.  One such man was the mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing.  He worked at Bletchley Park, which was the forerunner to GCHQ.  There he and a brilliant young team helped crack Germany’s Enigma Code, which certainly shortened the second world war by a couple of years thereby saving millions of lives.  But when his sexual orientation was discovered, Turing lost his security clearance and was convicted for gross indecency.  His life was ruined by this conviction and his reputation was destroyed.  He was subjected to ‘corrective’ hormonal treatment until, two years later it is believed, he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning.  In 2013 he was granted a posthumous pardon by the Queen and honoured for his work.

In 2014 the film The Imitation Game was made about Turing and his work.  The film is so good that it won an Oscar as well as 51 other awards.  Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, the acting is outstanding.   The truth may be stretched a little for dramatic effect, but the film is gripping from beginning to end.

My opposition to any form of discrimination and prejudice stems from my years in teaching when I observed the misery it caused to children.  During my 30+ years working in the field of education, I taught over a thousand primary school pupils in state schools.  It is reasonable to assume that they were a fairly representative sample of children raised during the second half of the 20th century.  The majority were from stable, loving and supportive families with parents who worked hard and were able to provide good homes, experiences and opportunities for their children.  But over the years I also worked with many children who were not so lucky.  Lots of families suffered from the negative effects of poverty through no fault of their own.  But in some cases families were dysfunctional due to addictions-to gambling, alcohol or illegal drugs.  There was also a criminal element including a small minority of parents who were actually dangerously antisocial.  Whatever the cause, the children suffered most.

In all those years I only encountered one child with what I would call a ‘wicked’ nature.  He took pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering on other children, animals and even his own family.  Every available agency tried to help him, his parents, and the school, manage and change his behaviour, to no avail.  In those years too I met many confused and unhappy children who had a poor self-image and little confidence.  There were as many reasons as children for this; inadequate parenting, poverty, social, emotional or physical issues, learning difficulties, and sometimes gender issues.

Someone once explained to me that the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us is crucial to our self-esteem.  School age children are social creatures.  They need to be accepted and respected by their peer group.  They are not born with low self-esteem.  It is an acquired condition.  If, for whatever reason, they do not ‘fit in’ to their group, their self-esteem suffers.  And they may become victims of bullying.  This is enormously important because research has shown that low self-esteem leads to unhappiness, ill health, and a less rewarding and successful life.  In extreme cases it can lead to suicide.

This brings me to the tragic case of a 15 year old boy who took his own life because he was being taunted at school for behaviour which ignorant bullies called ‘gay’.  The effect of this on his family and true friends was so traumatic that some months later his father took his own life and then one of his friends did the same.

This is why I am so proud of GCHQ for lighting up the ‘doughnut’ building in rainbow colours at the weekend.  In this country, and in many others I am sure, the past has been marred by intolerance bred of ignorance and fear.  People have been judged because of the colour of their skin; their accent, age, gender, beliefs, finances, job, clothes, or sexuality rather than their humanity.  There is no place in a civilised society for such prejudices.  Critics have denounced the gesture online as a political gimmick, but if it draws crowds of ordinary families who then discuss these issues with their children then it was a very worthwhile one in my opinion.

Read about a previous creative gesture by GCHQ in my blogpost Living Poppy in a Doughnut

The Boy

Fragile and different

Defeated by the bullies

He jumped to his death

 

The girl

Remnants of ribbons

And fading flowers weep, where she

Fell to her death

 

The Father

The death of his son

Drove him to despair.  Destroyed,

His life he ended.

 

The Cemetery

Lawned garden of grief

Compassion carved into stone

Too late to show love