The Matter of Magpies

I am returning to one of my favourite subjects, and certainly one of my favourite places, for today’s blog post ~ Benhall woods.

According to records, there have been woods of some sort in this area since at least 1230. But the woods that we see today are much more recent. I have lived opposite Benhall park and near the woods, for almost 40 years now.  It is a delight to have such a wild and wonderful place in the heart of our residential area.  It is filled with Silver Birch, hazel and oak trees as well as blackberry bushes.

I used to bring my children here to play when they were very young.  Then, as teenagers, they would play endlessly among the trees, riding their bikes (BMXs in those days), over the natural obstacle course formed long ago by the spoil from the construction of the railway that runs alongside.  The bumps, dips and trenches make a perfect playground and the fallen trees add to the excitement and interest, providing endless hiding places and material for dens.

These days I bring my grandchildren to play in the woods and they love it just as much.  There are always squirrels to spot and birds galore, including owls and woodpeckers that nest high up in the trees. The woodpecker even has a tree named after him as he has pecked so many holes in it. Smaller birds then nest in these holes. We regularly see a very arrogant Buzzard sitting on the ground, or pestering the life out of the other birds who angrily chase it off.

There is a stream running alongside the woods through the park.  In the stream there are ‘millers’ thumb’ fish, and sometimes a heron or a great egret fishing for them!

In spring there is a carpet of snowdrops growing around the edges of the wood, followed later by banks of bluebells in wild areas where nettles flourish.

But I want to focus on a strange event that I observed recently in the woods.

Even when I do not have the grandchildren, I have to take my dog for a walk, and she loves the woods. We go in all winds and weathers and always feel relaxed and at ease among the sturdy trunks.

But one day recently the woods seemed different, darker, and more threatening. I have heard of the mysterious event referred to as a, ‘parliament of magpies’, but I had never experienced it before now. The canopy of every tree in the woods was literally alive with magpies. I have often seen one or two and sometimes up to 12 in the nearby fields, but I have never seen this many all in one place. There were dozens of them and they were not happy to have me and my dog wandering about in the woods. I clearly felt as if I were interrupting them by my presence. They grew very agitated flying from tree to tree, swooping and squawking loudly, as if to scare us away. And, I have to say it worked! I felt most uncomfortable and was worried in case they attacked my dog or me! So, we hastily left the woods and I swear that I heard a sigh of satisfaction as we did.

There are all sorts of folk tales, superstitions and nursery rhymes about birds in general and magpies in particular. As a child I would hold my collar if I saw a magpie until I saw a second one, to avoid bad luck. And I still remember the old rhyme

One for sorrow, Two for joy

Three for a girl, and four for a boy

Five for silver, six for gold

Seven for a secret never to be told ….

You may know more verses and I’d love to hear your tales about magpies. Meanwhile enjoy my photos of the woods throughout the year.

 

For those of you interested in history and heritage ~ When I first arrived in my little corner of the Cotswolds 50 years ago it was a very rural scene.   I lived on the edge of the countryside with farms and fields all around. There was some post war prefabricated housing nearby, and a few ancient cottages such as Redgrove Cottages and Arle Court Lodge. All of these still exist. There was one unobtrusive industrial area with factories linked to the aviation industry, and their offices were in a manor house known as Arle Court. The manor was built in the mid1800s to replace the Butt family’s original Elizabethan house of the same name. In 1935 Sir George Dowty purchased and restored the house, and it became the heart of the Dowty Aircraft business. You can read more about it here

https://www.dowtyheritage.org

A Final Flood of Colours

autumn blog best

I was saddened to hear this week of the death of the brilliant, and very amusing writer, poet and critic, Clive James.

I have only one link to Clive James, and that is our deep love for Japanese Maple trees!  I wrote the following post some time ago and rather eerily, I was rushed into hospital with pneumonia and sepsis on the day that Clive James died.

Drained and sitting weakly by the window, I feel a cleansing warm breeze waft through the open door, cooling me down. I hear the maple tree shiver to the chinking of delicate chimes. That tree is my pride and joy, a foliate friend, a deciduous delight. At 12 feet tall it is unbridled and bushy. It is not like those at garden centres. This is a thoroughbred tree, the debutante of the Acer world, a Palmatum in its prime. Grown from first generation seed gathered at Westonbirt Arboretum, I have nurtured it for years.   It started life in a humble yoghurt pot in the dark. It progressed to a plant pot on the windowsill then a tub on the patio. At three, petite and pretty, it seemed perfectly happy in its miniature world. But, by the time we moved house ten years ago, I felt it was ready for its own space in the earth. I was careful to plant it in a sheltered spot as Acers hate wind on their leaves. And, judging by how it has thrived, it seems to have found its niche. It has grown and thrived with masses of branches forming arches and tunnels. I’ve had to sacrifice a conservatory for my maple tree as I couldn’t bear to risk damaging the roots by digging foundations. So, my maple and I will just have to sit together in our shady spot growing old together. But it is worth it just to look forward to autumn when it will be glowing red and gold.

When Clive James discovered that his illness was terminal, he too found solace in a Japanese Acer that his daughter had given him.

He wrote a beautiful poem about it which I have memorised and reproduced for you here, called simply Japanese Maple If you click on the link you can hear Clive read the poem himself:

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.

So slow a fading out brings no real pain.

Breath growing short

Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain

Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

 

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see

So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls

On that small tree

And saturates your brick back garden walls,

So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

 

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends

This glistening illuminates the air.

It never ends.

Whenever the rain comes it will be there,

Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

 

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.

Come Autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.

What I must do

Is live to see that. That will end the game

For me, though life continues all the same:

 

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,

A final flood of colours will live on

As my mind dies,

Burned by my vision of a world that shone

So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

 

It is comforting to know that Clive James saw 5 more autumns with his beloved maple tree. As I recover slowly from pneumonia, I hope that I see many more with mine.

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Were you happiest at 16 or 70?

Were you happiest at 16 or 70?

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There has been a lot in the UK press recently about the newly published results of a study into happiness.  Called the ‘Happy now report’, it suggests that the happiest ages are 16 and 70. 

I’ve written before about when I was 16, “Back in ‘63” and it certainly was a good year for me.

And, now that I’m just over 70, I have to say that I am happy more often than not.  Like everyone, I’ve had my share of ‘ups and downs’ over the years.  I have grieved for family members and close friends who have passed away.  I live with chronic illness and pain.  I worked hard for most of my life and I have a very simple home.  But my happiness is not based on anything physical, financial or material.  It is based entirely on spending time with friends, family, or my dog, and as often as possible, being surrounded by nature.  I think being over 70 brings a certain acceptance and resilience that enables me to set aside any niggling fears, anxieties and disappointments, and just ~ be happy!

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared with what lies within us.”

This weekend for example has been wonderful.  I met 2 dear friends for a walk amongst the snowdrops in Painswick Rococo gardens.  We do this every year around this time and it is always a joy whatever the weather.  Friday was perfect, cold but sunny with no wind. You can enjoy our photos below.

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Then, on Friday evening I met another dear friend to celebrate her birthday, with a simple fish and chip supper.  The company and conversation were more important than the food, although the fish and chips were divine too!

Lastly, on Saturday I had an impromptu ride on a big wheel in Cheltenham with 2 of my wonderful grandchildren and their mum and dad to see the town lit up.

Simple pleasures but honestly, they made me extremely happy.

 

 

 

A Floral Dance

 

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St Lawrence Church at Sandhurst

One of the lovely things about the UK is the number of old churches that still exist at the heart of many communities.  And, now that we are experiencing the longest heatwave since 1976, they are literally and metaphorically the coolest places to visit.

Of course, congregations are shrinking and ageing.  Many people, today either don’t go to church at all, or, they go to the more vibrant ‘evangelical’ churches, of which there are many.

However, there is something quintessentially English about a country village church.  I have written previously about the Ivy Church at Ampney St Mary.

Congregations have an uphill struggle to maintain and repair these old buildings and are constantly putting on events to raise the necessary funds.  It is really hard work for small communities.  And, Sandhurst is a small village; but it has some rare treasures and a wealth of history within the grounds of its beautiful church.  So, this week it was a pleasure to support them by visiting St Lawrence Church For their flower festival. 

The festival was entitled, “Strictly Music and Dance”.  All the floral displays were based on the theme.  There was an amazing variety of music and dance styles represented from the old playground song, ‘Oranges and Lemons’ to Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’.

There has been a church on this site since the time of Henry 1st (1100-1135), when it belonged to St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester.  The present church is partly 14th century but was mainly rebuilt in 1858.  It has some impressive features.

Outside there is a lychgate which was decorated with flowers, then at the entrance to the church the porch was surrounded by them.  Inside the porch was a magnificent display of sunflowers.  Once inside the door there is a truly remarkable baptismal font made of lead.  It is thought to have been made around 1135 near Bristol, out of lead mined in the Mendip hills.  It is beautifully engraved with scrolls and figures.  My favourite was the figure of Jesus.  Apparently, there are 6 fonts of this type in Gloucestershire so I must find the other 5.  It is exquisite.  This font was surrounded by flowers ‘A La Ronde’ to remind us of country dancing round the maypole on a village green.

There is also an antique carved oak pulpit from the time of King James 1st (1603-1625) which was surrounded by a sparkling floral display showing the glitz and glamour of Ballroom dancing.

One of the features of any old church is the stained glass and this little church has some beautiful examples.  But for me the most moving were a fairly recent one to commemorate the local men who died in WW1, and one to honour a young man from the village, Frederick Watts, who died in WW2.  I was very moved to meet an elderly lady at the church who knew this young man.  She told me that he was her brother’s playmate from childhood and she remembered him well.

It was quite difficult taking photos because of the backlight from the stained-glass windows but I hope you enjoy those I managed to take:

 

Time and Tide

boat in mud at Burnham

I am so disappointed to discover that the weekly photo challenge has ended.  I found it a really helpful lead-in to expressing myself in word and picture.

 When I started my Blog I had no idea how I would find people who would be interested in reading it. But, through Haiku Heights and WPC I found my voice – and my audience.

My initial intention was to write about my thoughts and experiences so that one day, if my children or grandchildren were curious about my life and me as a person, they would have an original source to go to for information and insights.  It was a delight to find that the world is full of people who are as interested in other people’s lives, activities and thoughts as I am.

It is a sad fact that when young, children do not see their parents as people in their own right, with feelings, needs and hopes.  Parents are at best a support network to be available when required – when hungry or in need of shelter, money or clean clothes.  At all other times parents are expected to be silent and preferably invisible.

This can lead to feelings of isolation and insignificance, especially when the parent is coping alone and does not have a network of family and friends to turn to.

When my parents were young they lived within walking distance of most of their living relatives.  They could turn to each other for advice, help, or just a supportive chat.  But times have changed for most of us.    Extended families who once would have lived in the same streets, villages and towns became scattered and lost touch.  As older relatives and friends died, our own children grew up and moved away following their dreams across oceans and continents.  The casual, comforting chat became logistically impossible. 

When communication is reduced to a few lines in a text or email, it is hard to express what one is really feeling.  When contact is via social media like Instagram or Facebook it is unlikely that anything deep or authentic will be revealed because it may be widely shared.  WhatsApp and Facetime have helped, but even those channels of communication seem strained.   The person you are talking to sometimes seems more concerned about their image in the little box than in what you have to say.

I hope that I can find a new outlet for my posts in the blogosphere.  I will continue to write my blog, but that weekly challenge did give me the push I needed to post regularly and share my world.

The photo I have posted to illustrate my feelings was taken some years ago in Burnham on Sea.  It is a boat stuck in the mud at low tide.  When the tide was in the boat was essential to the fisherman, providing a job, a purpose, an income, food and pleasure.  Without the tide it is just a hulk.  Sometimes I feel like that boat ~ until the grandchildren turn up ~ they are the tide that keeps me afloat these days.

IMG_7796 (Edited)

 

 

 

What brought me to Adlestrop?

What brought me to Adlestrop?

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I recently started my second free course with the Open University at futurelearn.com

The first course was “Start Writing Fiction“, which was a hands-on course focused on the central skill of creating characters.   My current course is “Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing.”  The course aims to explore how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with deep emotional strain.

Readers who were used to following my blog weekly will have noticed that I have written nothing since I lost my little Dachsund, Dayna, who was the subject of my last post.  Maybe other pet owners, especially dog owners, will understand the depths of my despair at losing Dayna.

I am blessed to have a husband, adult children (albeit three of them live abroad), supportive friends and adorable grandchildren.  But, although I love them all dearly, after losing Dayna I was inconsolable.   I gradually slipped into a downward spiral of despair and lost interest in going out, seeing friends,  talking to people, cooking or even eating.  All I wanted to do was stay at home and curl up under a blanket wallowing in my misery and solitude.  I felt bereft and ridiculously lonely.  Hence my interest in finding ways to cope with ‘deep emotional strain’.

All of my children are dog lovers and my eldest daughter volunteers at a rescue centre in California.  They recommended that I get another dog – not as a replacement because my precious Dayna is irreplaceable, but as a companion.  So I started to search.   How I found my new dog is a long story which I will save for another day but suffice it to say she is NOT Dayna

My new puppy was 10 weeks old when I got her, and supposedly a Corgi crossed with a Dachsund.  However everyone including the local vet is convinced she is a Beagle cross.  I personally think there is a bit of shark in her too.  She is very cute and slightly crazy most of the time but totally adorable of course.  My grandson, Stanley, christened her Toffee and instantly fell in love with her.  Well who wouldn’t?

 

Anyway, I started the course and I am finding it very  stimulating.  It is brilliantly put together with input from poets, authors, doctors, psychiatrists and research scientists, as well as the wonderful actor Sir Ian McKellen, and the amazing Stephen Fry who defies categorisation!

There are countless opportunities for online discussion with other course participants and it was a discussion about the poet Edward Thomas that led me to drive to Adlestrop today.

Edward Thomas was primarily a nature poet and he wrote his famous poem Adlestrop when the train he was travelling on stopped there unexpectedly on 24 June 1914, just before the outbreak of WW!.  Instead of getting irritated, he used all of his senses to take in his surroundings and wallow in the details.

Edward Thomas joined the Artist’s Rifles in 1915 and sadly was killed in action in France in 1917.  Interestingly, his widow, Helen Thomas wrote two books after his death reportedly to help her recover from her deep depression.

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas 1878 – 1917
Of course Adlestrop Station is no more although the railway line still passes through nearby fields.  Today the fields and the railway line were underwater, flooded after the week of heavy rain we have had in Gloucestershire.  But there is a wonderful bus shelter at the entrance to the village where the old station bench and sign is preserved and a brass copy of the poem displayed.
I went there today as I live just 20 miles away.  It was a cold, cloudy day, and the rain was drizzling down.  But the journey was worth it.  There were swathes of snowdrops by the roadside and in the churchyard.  There is a Yew tree shaped like a cross by the gate to the church.  The writer, Jane Austen was known to worship here when she visited her uncle, the Reverend Thomas Leigh.   There is a beautiful Cotswold stone manor house and a thatched village shop housing the ‘new’ post office. There were young riders in red jackets exercising the racehorses from the beautiful Adlestrop stables.
Here are the photos from Adlestrop

Kew dinnertime

Kew dinnertime

My photos for the weekly photo challenge come from my visit to Kew Gardens.  The weather was so glorious that visitors and school groups chose to eat outside in the beautiful surroundings.

Kew Gardens are in Richmond, London and we went there yesterday for a Spring time coach trip with Carers Gloucestershire.  This is a wonderful charity that can be a real lifeline for both carers and the cared-for.  For myself it provided a very rare opportunity to go somewhere beautiful with my husband and enjoy a stress free day.  The volunteers and staff of Carer’s Gloucestershire did everything they could to make the day as relaxing as possible.  I am deeply grateful to them for their organisation, their practical support and the funding that subsidised the trip.

The weather was glorious with blue skies and warm sunshine ~ just perfect for seeing the abundant cherry blossom, exotic magnolia and camellia, fabulous fritillaries, drifts of daffodils in the gardens, and woodlands blanketed in bluebells in this glorious and historic park.

Apart from the beautiful plants and impressive landscapes at Kew, we saw some lovely lakes with swans nesting, ducks flying or ambling about, and grumpy geese arguing with each other.  We also saw Jays, peacocks, and lots of noisy green parakeets, which have taken up residence in the trees and are the cause of lots of damage to fruits and buds we were told.

We loved the historic buildings and mock roman ruins situated near the gateways, which also sport beautiful sculptures.  My favourite was the Unicorn near the Victoria Gate.

There are some truly enormous glass buildings, including the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse, which was closed for restoration while we were there.  I can’t wait to see it when it opens.  But the Palm House, Orangery, and various conservatories were open to view.

Sadly, it was impossible to see everything in just one afternoon.  I walked miles as it was and only managed to see about a quarter of the gardens.  There is a road train which does a tour taking an hour and a half which would have been a good idea, but there is nothing better than just walking around soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful park.

I really hope to be going back!

I have posted just some of my photos below, but if you want to read the fascinating history of Kew Gardens and how Henry V111 was involved in it click on

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/8301243/A-history-of-Kew-Gardens.html

or http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens

Landscape ~ For ever, for everyone

Landscape ~ For ever, for everyone

 

Tailor of Gloucester Shop on left

The Tailor of Gloucester’s Shop recreated inside and out as illustrated by Beatrix Potter

Landscape is the theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge and it inspired me to get out and about on a literary trail with my little Panasonic camera.

So many of our great writers were, and still are, inspired by the landscape.  I know I have previously blogged about Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, and I have probably exhausted my readers with photos of Shakespeare’s Stratford on Avon, so just for a change, I set off for Gloucester, and The Tailor of Gloucester’s house in particular.

I chose this because 2016 marks the 150th birthday of Beatrix Potter who wrote a delightful story about the Tailor of Gloucester following her success with The Tale of Peter Rabbit and the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. I am auditioning this month to be part of a community choir that will perform in the Everyman Theatre’s professional production of The Tailor of Gloucester and I could not be more excited.  The theatre, in my home town, is putting on the play to celebrate the 150th anniversary, and to celebrate the fact that a new Beatrix Potter story has been discovered. The new book, called The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, is to be published on 1 September 2016.

Beatrix Potter was passionately interested in conserving and protecting the landscape to be enjoyed by everyone.  She was a great supporter of, and benefactor to, what is now the National Trust, whose Motto is the title of this blog~ “For ever, for everyone”.  She was so generous to the trust in fact that when they moved their headquarters to the site of the Steam Museum in Swindon, they named it Heelis, which was Beatrix’s married name.  Altogether Beatrix bequeathed to the nation the 15 farms she had bought in the Lake District comprising over 4000 acres of land, farm buildings, cattle and flocks of rare Herdwick sheep.

The building which now represents the Tailor of Gloucester’s house and shop can be traced back to 1535.  It is in a historic cobbled street which leads through an ancient archway into the cathedral grounds.  Having been through many changes, the building was eventually bought by Beatrix Potter’s publisher, Frederick Warne and Co Ltd in 1978.  Using the illustrations which Beatrix did for the story, they replicated her vision of the inside and front of the building.  

While in the shop I read an account of the remarkable background to the story:

“The inspiration for this story came in May 1894 when Beatrix Potter was staying with her cousin, Caroline Hutton.  Whilst at the Hutton’s home, Harescombe Grange, which lies 5 miles South of Gloucester, Caroline told Beatrix the curious tale of a local tailor.  Closing the shop at Saturday lunchtime with a waistcoat cut out but not sewn together, he was surprised to discover when, on Monday morning he opened the shop again, that apart from one button hole, the waistcoat had been sewn together.  A tiny note was pinned to the button hole which read, ‘no more twist’.  Beatrix requested that they visit Gloucester the next day when she saw the tailor’s shop and sketched some of the city’s buildings.”

Spoiler Alert!

The actual event did of course have a much more logical prosaic explanation than the wonderfully magical one imagined by Miss Beatrix Potter.

There was an actual tailor in Gloucester called Mr Pritchard who worked in a building at the end of the lane leading to the Cathedral.  He was young and very keen to succeed.  He did have an order for a very important client which he had not managed to complete.  He left the garment all cut out when he closed up his shop on Saturday lunchtime ready to be finished on Monday.  However, his two assistants, knowing how worried he was about the garment, came back over the weekend and finished it beautifully for him.

Poor Mr Pritchard, who had obviously been worrying all weekend was amazed when he found the garment completed so beautifully.  In fact he was so surprised that he put a sign in the shop window saying he believed fairies had sewn the garment.

It was some time later that his assistants admitted their part in the mystery and his wife eventually broke the story.

But of course Beatrix had elaborated on the event as only she could, making it Christmas and the poor tailor ill.  It is believed that she actually used her Gloucester friend’s coachman, Percy Parton, as the model for her illustrations of the tailor.  Her other illustrations were drawings that she had done in and around Gloucester and Harescombe Grange.  The most identifiable picture is of College Court, the lovely old lane leading from Westgate Street to St Michael’s Gate, an ancient entrance to old Abbey, now the Cathedral precincts.

Beatrix chose number 9 College Court as the setting for her tailor’s shop and this is the building which Frederick Warne and Co Ltd purchased and restored just as Beatrix had imagined it in her illustrations.

Below are some of my photos from the actual shop.

 

Do enjoy some landscape photos from around the Cathedral Grounds and the Gloucester Docks close by the Tailor of Gloucester’s shop.

Age of Kings

Age of Kings

Age of Kings Tibor Reich Red

Age of Kings Red

This is one of the most vibrant pieces of printed cotton I have ever seen.  It was made by Tibor Reich and I have one of the original panels, which were made for the opening of the Shakespeare Centre at Stratford on Avon in 1964.  The Centre was opened to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.

Tibor Reich was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1916.  His father was a wealthy businessman who had a factory making decorative braids, ribbons and haberdashery for military ceremonial uniforms and folk costumes.  Here, the young Tibor learnt about textiles and colour.   As a child he visited the factory and was spellbound.  He once said, “Here I noticed cerise, kingfisher, very bright emeralds, flame reds and deep oranges…”

Following his parents’ divorce, Tibor went to live with his grandmother and immersed himself in drawing, painting and photography.  Until, in 1933 at the age of 17, Tibor went to Vienna to continue his studies.   Already artistic, his talents blossomed in the creative atmosphere of pre-war Vienna.  He studied textile design and technology as well as architecture and poster design.  But as Nazism spread, Tibor left Vienna for England, where he went to Leeds University to continue his studies in textile technology and woven design.

Tibor brought the vibrancy and colour of his homeland, of Hungarian folk music and peasant costumes, as well as the beauty of nature, to the UK in his work.  And, not long after leaving Leeds, he moved to Warwickshire and set up his own woven textile design business in Cliffords Mill using old hand looms that he repaired and renovated.

Being totally original, he quickly established a good reputation, and worked on the highest profile contracts.  In fact it is true to say he revolutionised textiles in post war Britain with his use of colour, pattern and texture.  By the 1950s Tibor’s textile weaving business was well established and he expanded into printed designs.  His projects included the Royal Yacht Britannia, Concorde, The Festival of Britain and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre as it was then called.  Here he designed and created curtains, wall hangings and carpets each named after a Shakespearean character.

He also produced his own range of pottery called Tigo ware and designed a most unusual house for his family which was very innovative and modern.  I visited him here in the 60s as a teenager, with my mum who was in Stratford art circle and seemed to know everybody!   I was amazed by the huge onion shaped open fire which stood in the centre of the room and went right up through the house to the roof.  I had certainly never seen anything like it.  I visited again last week and took some photos.  I believe the house has been renovated and I didn’t see inside, but the garden with its earthen embankment is established now and the fir trees are huge, providing a very useful privacy screen.  Tibor did not like the idea of fences and walls, preferring natural boundaries.

In 1964 he helped to furnish the brand new Shakespeare Centre, which is in Henley Street adjoining Shakespeare’s birthplace, for its opening to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.  And this is where our paths crossed.

I have written before about the 1964 celebrations, which were undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life.  I worked at the Shakespeare Centre and the sights and sounds produced there I will never forget.  Shakespeare’s plays on a loop, pomanders and dried petals creating the perfumes of the Tudor age, all brought Shakespeare to life.  Added to that was the music of the age and Tibor Reich’s exquisite carpets, curtains, textile panels and wall hangings, some of which are still there today.

The tapestries and wall hangings evoked so brilliantly the scenes from the plays I loved, especially the Age of Kings panel.  This material, showing the kings from Shakespeare’s plays, was produced as stage curtains.  Panels of it were created in several vibrant colours, red, gold, orange, blue etc.  I am lucky enough to have the original red version as a wall hanging.  It was designed by Pamela Kay and made by Tibor Reich in 1964.  I also have a detail from A Tournament and an original of “garrick Jubilee”.

Recently, a new gold curtain was put up in the historic Becket chapel at Holy Trinity Church.  The chapel is dedicated to the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

I went to see it last week.  The golden fabric was commissioned for the chapel by The Friends of Holy Trinity Church and comes from the Tibor archive of 20th century design stored in Stratford and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

If you would like to see Tibor’s textile and pottery work for yourself there is a retrospective exhibition on from 29 January – August at the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER.  www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk

And you can even see a clip of Tibor Reich and see him at work here.

More of his work is on display at the Gordon Russell Design Museum in Broadway until 12 October, and at the V&A Museum in London.  The Tibor Reich family, son Alex and Grandson, Sam hold an archive too which they are currently using to relaunch the Tibor Ltd brand.  They are lucky enough to still live at Tibor House in Avenue Road, Stratford on Avon.  It is a beautiful tree lined road near the open countryside on the way to Warwick.

This year, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  I know that the whole town of Stratford on Avon is busy preparing for the massive celebrations in April.  I can’t wait to be there to join in the festivities and see what Stratford can do to match or better the celebrations of 1964.

 

 

 

Catching up

Reunited Arthur Beadle, Hugh Bradley and Me, 2015

I have never been to a reunion before but this gathering was one I could not miss.  It was to celebrate the 40 years that St Thomas More Primary School has been open.

Having worked there for 16 happy years, I was keen to meet up with old colleagues and past pupils.  I left in 2001 so I was also interested to see how much the building had changed to accommodate all the educational innovations that have taken place.

And change it had!  The entrance hall which used to be a small library, is now like a hotel lobby with a rather swish curved desk where the secretary works in an open plan office.  The hall and kitchen have not changed at all, but the classrooms were very different.  There seemed to be fewer desks and chairs for pupils and no large desk for the teacher.  But the biggest change for me was NO BLACKBOARD!  On the walls were white screens/boards, which presumable are linked to the bank of keyboards below.  No huge computers now either, just small tablets (of the electronic kind) for every child.  What a transition!

I was flooded with nostalgia at the memories of chalkdust, board rubbers and metre long board rulers, protractors etc.

In the corridor, there used to be a small special needs area for individuals or group who were struggling to keep up, or needed to be stretched.  Now, that area is used by language specialists to help the many children for whom English is not their first language.

Of course most of the old team who worked at the school still get together now and again for coffee mornings, walks and meals out.  But we don’t often get to see past pupils.  It was a revelation and a joy to see so many of them there.   Most of those who attended are now in their 30’s with careers and children of their own.  Without exception they all had many happy memories.

The highlight of the evening for me was being back together with the A team ~ The first Headteacher, Arthur Beadle, his deputy, Hugh Bradley, and myself, who made a great trio even if I say so myself. I followed Arthur to become the second Headteacher in the school.  Other highlights included seeing old photos on display, and being hugged by a tall handsome 36 year old man carrying his child.  He, who shall be nameless, apologized for being such a naughty boy when he was a pupil.  He remembered spending a lot of time outside the Head’s office door!  He now has his own business and is very successful so he must have learned something!

 

Victory

 

Oh my goodness I know I should be writing a learned and worthy post on the theme of remembrance for this week’s victory prompt, but I just have to diverge.  I beg your forgiveness for the poor quality of my photos but I was laughing so much as I took them.

This sequence took place on Tuesday morning as I looked after my adorable one year old granddaughter.   The lounge, hall and bedrooms were filled with toys for her to play with, but now that she can walk the kitchen is her favourite place.   For the kitchen is where my little dog hides in her bed when grandchildren appear.

There truly can be nothing more amusing than watching a one year old negotiate with a dachsund.  It was clear the poor dog had no chance of winning and eventually she had to give up her bed, which she did very reluctantly.  Then it was blankets out as soft toys and granddaughter moved in.

If there is such a thing as a saintly dog, my little dachsund truly is one!  She is so good natured and patient under severe provocation.

 

 

A fruitful season

A fruitful season

My apple and pear harvest 2015

My apple and pear harvest 2015

In the UK Autumn is well underway.  The trees have been turning all shades of gold, orange, amber and red for some time.  But now that the rain and wind has come, the leaves are blowing horizontally off their branches to cover the pavements, fields and gardens.

My precious Japanese maple tree, sheltered from the weather between the wall and the fence outside my window, is absolutely aflame with red leaves. While those at Westonbirt Arboretum are sensational as always.

But my fruit trees are now just skeletons of their former selves.  The apple trees look so ordinary and drab there is no hint that 2015 was the best apple season for 20 years or more!  We had perfect conditions for them due to the mild winter and warm spring.  Spring was followed by gentle rains then a gorgeous hot early summer.  This weather combination produced masses of blossom very early and with plenty of bees around to pollinate the seeds, an abundance of fruits developed.

In my garden the apple trees are trained in the ancient way, horizontally along wires beside a fence.  It’s called Espalier and makes picking the fruit very easy.  It also helps with pruning which I do quite drastically each year because the best fruit grows on the older branches.

I think these apple trees must be over 40 years old.  The thick trunks are gnarled and misshapen, but the fruit is fabulous.  One of the trees is a local early eating variety called Worcester Pearmain.  The apples are small, crisp and wonderfully juicy.   They taste sweet but not cloying, almost with a strawberry flavour.   I haven’t managed to store them well so I use them all up in desserts, cakes and picnic boxes.  The grandchildren love them and eat them straight from the tree.  When I have a glut of apples, like this year, I put a big basket outside on the garden wall with a sign saying ‘help yourself’.   It would grieve me if any were truly wasted, but of course there are always damaged windfalls.  The birds and squirrels love those and feast on them.

My other tree is a Bramley apple tree.  This is by far the best cooking apple around.  It has been grown commercially in the UK for over 200 years but probably a lot longer in orchards and country gardens.  The fruits grow really big, firm and juicy.  They are tart to taste but when cooked they have a sensational flavour.  I make lots of Dorset Apple Cakes, Blackberry and Apple Crumbles and Apple Charlotte.  For my Charlotte I just slice up the apples then drizzle them with lemon and lay them in a deep ovenproof dish.  I then melt some butter, and whizz up some breadcrumbs in my grinder.  I mix brown sugar into the breadcrumbs and maybe a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg.  Then I just sprinkle the breadcrumbs and sugar over the lemony apples, and drizzle them with melted butter (quite generously!)  I repeat these layers a couple of times and finish by sprinkling lemon rind and brown sugar on top of the last layer of breadcrumbs.   Pop this in the oven until it looks golden brown and the smell is mouth-watering.   Then eat it with loads of cream or custard or icecream.  That’s a real treat!

The apples that are left over, I cook down and freeze for apple pies or apple sauce, which will keep us healthy over the winter.  Enjoy the life cycle of my apple trees through my photos ~

Happy with History and Heritage

In previous blogposts I’ve described my love of water and written about days at the seaside, by rivers, or admiring springs and waterfalls  and lakes that are special to me.  I could be happy near any of them.  Beside water I can relax and be at peace.  I am often inspired to write by the sheer beauty and elemental power of water.  But today I would like to bring canals and docks into the mix.

Being born near the great River Tyne, I have been fascinated from the earliest age by ships, bridges, and the industrial buildings that line the banks around docks, ports and quaysides.  Of course many have now been lost to us through disrepair.  Others have been restored as wonderful museums, like the Gloucester Waterways Museum, or art galleries like the Baltic Mill in Gateshead.  Many have been converted into luxury homes and offices like Butler’s Wharf on the River Thames in London.  But some have just aged gracefully, and stand majestically observing the changing world around them.

One such building, close to where I live, is the old ‘Llanthony Provender Mill’ or ‘Foster Brothers’ Oil and Cake Mill’ on Baker’s Quay.  It faces the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, which is served by Gloucester Docks.

Opening in 1862, the 6 storey warehouse played an important role in the industrial development at the docks in the late 19th century.  In fact it is listed by English Heritage because of its important place in Gloucester’s history.  Originally, the mill crushed linseed and cottonseed, extracting the oil from the seeds and then forming the remainder into seed cakes for cattle feed.  According to the civic society, the business remained in the hands of the Foster family for 4 generations, until 1945, when it was sold to West Midland Farmers as a storage and distribution depot.  In the last two decades much of the area has been bought up by developers and some areas have been dramatically changed by the building of the shopping centre and the College on opposite sides of the canal.  However, so much is unchanged, that the area has become a magnet for film makers who use Baker’s Quay as a film set.

Last year Tim Burton’s film, ‘Through the Looking Glass’, was filmed there.  It starred Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter.  It was an amazing sight with Tall Ships in the misty docks ~ very atmospheric.  Sadly I was not invited to be an extra on this occasion, disappointing as they filmed on my birthday!

The warehouses at the docks are all built of red brick several storeys high.  Inside there are wooden beams and cast iron pillars.  Outside they look very impressive with lots of small windows covered with metal bars.  Many of the warehouses still have faint painted signs showing their original dates, names and uses.  They were mainly for storing grain or salt and had wooden loading bays facing the quay.  Some have very impressive covered areas supported by pillars jutting out to the canal or quayside.

The docks area, the bridges, and the warehouses are utterly fascinating to me.  I have delighted in taking my grandchildren over there by car, bus or train over the years, then going on boat trips down the canal to Sharpness.  Thankfully I have taken lots of photos too as last weekend (3rd October) there was a dreadful fire which partially destroyed this wonderful historic building.   The local people are devastated by the loss of this much loved building, and local photographers and artists have been sharing their thoughts and feelings.

One local artist, Claudia Araceli was drawn to go over to the docks and paint that very building on the day that it was destroyed.  She was there until early evening completing a beautiful painting before leaving at 6.45pm.  The fire caught hold at 9pm and took fire crews all night to extinguish.

The photos at the top of this post show before and after the fire.  One was taken a couple of years ago when I took my grandchildren on a boat trip along the canal.  The other was taken this week after the fire.  Here is Claudia’s stupendous and serendipitous  painting IMG_8623

The gallery below is a general view of the Gloucester Docks area and some of the boats and buildings there.

Rhyme first published in 1844

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,

In a shower of rain;

He stepped in a puddle,

Right up to his middle,

And never went there again.

Thomas the Tank Engine ~ Boundaries

IMG_3244

Boundaries

The word Boundaries conjures up all sorts of ideas in my head.  The obvious are fences, hedgerows and walls round private property or land, to define ownership and maintain privacy.  Then there are those railings around parks and public buildings to regulate or restrict access.  Some boundaries are essential for security such as round airports, government or military buildings.  Then there are the barriers around areas of danger, like deep water, rock falls or steep cliffs.  These would all provide super subjects for this week’s photo challenge.

But, having looked through my photos I selected an emotive photo of my little grandson standing by the boundary fence at a recent steam railway event.  He could easily squeeze through the gap provided by the missing paling, but of course he doesn’t, because, at the age of 2, he already setting himself personal boundaries.

The object of his interest is Thomas the tank Engine, which, although it is incredibly old fashioned, seems to appeal to most children, and especially little boys or children on the autistic spectrum.

The stories of Thomas and his friends were actually published 70 years ago in 1945 under the title of The Three Railway Engines, and Thomas wasn’t even in the first book.    It was about Edward, Henry and Gordon.  Thomas didn’t come in until the end of book two.  If you are really interested in  the history of Thomas I recommend this site, pegnsean

I spend a great deal of time with my grandchildren and I have been through the Thomas phase a couple of times.  Personally, as an adult, I prefer Chuggington with its exciting storylines and more contemporary language.  But I can see the appeal of Thomas for very young children.  The island of Sodor, where Thomas lives and works, is an idyllic setting, safe and stable, where nothing much changes.  Whenever problems arise the little engines sort everything out slowly and surely with hard work and co-operation.  This is reassuring for children making them feel safe and comfortable.

There is something about Thomas as a character too that is deeply comfortable.  It could be the chubby cheeks or the big eyes.  He just looks like the archetypical train engine.

Children when asked to draw a house will draw a rather square box with a chimney, windows and a door, whether they live in a semi or a flat.  I read that a recent survey found when children were asked to draw a train, 95 per cent of them drew a steam train!  This is surprising when trains these days are so different.  Virgin Trains are running a competition at the moment to design a Christmas Train.  I do wonder how many of the entries will feature a steam chimney or funnel!

Sea Fever and Moon Madness

There was not a cloud in the sky on Sunday evening.  As I stood gazing upward the only sound I heard was the plaintive hooting of an owl in the woods opposite my house.  It seemed to me that every star was visible in the blackness, and I was mesmerised as the shadow of the earth started to creep over the moon, gradually changing its shape.  I watched and waited and tried to take photographs but soon abandoned that and just enjoyed the spectacle.  This was the perfect end to a wonderful, and surprising, spontaneous day out.

I often get the urge to be near a river, a lake, a waterfall, or the sea.  Any body of water will do.  I assume this attraction is because I grew up by the River Tyne.  I have the North Sea in my blood.  Although I love the rolling hills, golden fields and honeyed stonework in the ancient villages of the Cotswolds, which is now my home, I do miss the coast.

One of my favourite poems remembered from schooldays is Sea Fever by John Masefield (1878–1967) and it sums up my feelings perfectly:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

This particular Sunday the pull of the sea was stronger than usual so my husband and I set off for our nearest quiet coastline, which is at Burnham on Sea.

 I love this little town so much; the wide sandy beaches, the working boatyard, the Victorian parks, the holiday camps,  the seaside cafes and ice-cream sellers, the long flat promenade, the shortest pier in the country ~ and the Rivers Brue and Parrett that meet the Severn in the estuary that stretches between England and Wales.  When we arrived it was lunchtime and the tide was out, so the beaches were almost deserted.  But there was plenty to do.  Apart from the usual things to see, there were assorted cowboys and cowgirls to be seen.  Luckily for us it was Country and Western weekend in nearby Brean and you simply can not imagine how seriously the fans take this event unless you have seen it.

It is literally like walking through a goldrush town in the wild west of the 1850s.  The men all look like cowboys, prospectors or sheriffs, wearing the regulation jeans, boots, fringed jackets and hats while toting holsters and pistols.  The women are something else!  Many were wearing very beautiful long dresses of the sort well to do wives of the wealthier businessmen or successful prospectors would wear I guess.  They carried parasols and wore shawls.  It was amazing ~ like walking into a Disney set, or being transported back to a totally different place and time.

The afternoon raced by, helped by fish and chips on the shortest pier in the country and a whippy ice cream by the slipway.  The town started to get really busy and there was an air of expectation.  I noticed that there were lots of jet skis down on the beach and a convoy of boats on trailers pulled by tractors heading for the boatyard.  The coastguard was around and there was a lifeboat ready prepared for action.  I was walking my little dog on the sea wall when I noticed the tide was coming in rather quickly.

The River Severn has the second highest tidal range in the world and I am used to seeing very high tides in Spring.  But little did I know that this weekend was expected to be even higher due to a rare set of astronomical events happening together.  Everyone knows that the tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon.  And this weekend there was an extremely rare ‘super blood moon’ eclipse.   The tide on the Severn was expected to be about 12 metres and it was coming in fast.

So after taking a few more photos, we reluctantly headed for home determining to set an alarm for 2.30 in the morning to watch the total eclipse of the moon.  I noticed on the way home that the tidal River Avon, which meets the Severn at Avonmouth, was almost up to the top of the banks under the Clifton suspension bridge.  I have never seen it so high.  And the moon seemed much larger than usual.  It looked golden and reddish at sunset, like a huge 3D ball suspended in the sky.

It reminded me of the paintings my pupils used to do to illustrate the C S Lewis story of The Magician’s Nephew.  They used to put a plastic circle on their art paper and paint a colour wash all over the page.  When the circle was removed it left a beautiful full moon that stood out from the background in 3D.  Simple but effective!

My photos aren’t brilliant as I took them with my phone but they do show the changes that occurred during the day due to the tide.

Empuriabrava on the grid

Well September, always my favourite month, has been particularly exciting this year.  I was lucky enough to take a trip to Empuriabrava in Spain with some of my family, to celebrate my daughter’s 40th birthday.  My photos come from there.   Thanks to WPC, I became obsessed with grids and spotted them everywhere in the old town!

Empuriabrava is a wonderful place, especially in Autumn, when the vast majority of foreign tourists have gone home.  It is built around national parks ~ lush and green thanks to the fresh water springs, and there are magnificent views of the Pyrenees in the distance.  The beautiful beaches are deserted except for fearless young windsurfers.  The parks are left to local children and older folk who make good use of the play and exercise equipment freely provided.  The seemingly endless footpaths are given over to dog walkers, runners and cyclists.   While walking along the footpath, I was surprised and delighted by a herd of extremely well-behaved goats following a farmer.  They stopped occasionally to feed or explore the hedgerow, but were easily coaxed onward by the goat at the rear with a bell round his neck.  They seemed happy and even managed what looked like a smile for the camera.   The wide river Muga flows along one side of the footpath on its journey from the Alberes mountains of the eastern Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea at the beautifully named Gulf of Roses.  The bamboo, rushes and trees beside it were filled with birds and butterflies while the steps leading up to the path were dotted  with sunbathing lizards.   Nearer the town, the fig trees were filled with the sound of squabbling parakeets.  There seemed to be masses of these bright green birds with grey breasts nesting in every palm tree, which delighted my little grandson.   They are feral monk parakeets apparently and they are quite common.

The new part of Empuriabrava is often referred to as the Venice of Spain.  However, it reminded me strongly of St Petersburg.  There is no Hermitage, and no Palace or fort, but the whole town is criss-crossed by canals, just like St Petersburg.  Many of the luxurious white houses, villas and apartments back onto the canal and have their own moorings.  Sleek boats of all shapes and sizes can be seen everywhere and they can be hired quite cheaply.  It is such a leisurely way to get around.

The old town of Castello d’Empuries is only about 4km from the new town and is connected to it by the footpath that we walked each day.  It is so quaint that if it were possible to remove the occasional car and delivery lorry, it would be easy to imagine yourself back in the Middle Ages.  There are unspoilt historical monuments, including roman baths, and a fascinating Jewish Quarter.  But the most exciting place for me was the restaurant in the Gothic Portal de la Gallarda.   It is sited over the Gallard gate, which was the fortified entrance to the old town.  There is an ancient moat around the wonderfully conserved walls, which extend to the Basilica of Santa Maria.  We had a superb meal there, contrary to negative TripAdvisors’ reviews ~ and lots of lovely Cava!

My trip was the perfect restorative holiday, and it was rounded off at the airport in Girona when the Spanish ‘Red Arrows’, known as the Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Patrol), flew in.  They had been performing a display in Mataro near Barcelona at the Festa al Cel.  The display team is normally based at San Javier in the Murcia region so we were very lucky to see them. This was a week earlier than usual to avoid the regional elections for the government of Catalunya which take place this Sunday.  These elections are hotly contested and there were flags on many of the houses displaying their allegiances.

Below you can see some of my photos.  They are all connected with my trip and some are in monochrome.

Summer surrenders

Fruit falls from burdened branches

September sweeps by

http://www.castelloempuriabrava.com/en/natural-park.html

Close up and personal

Close up and personal

In 1994 we took the trip of a lifetime to the North West of America and into Canada.  It was a self-drive trip lasting 3 weeks and covering up to 350 miles a day of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen.  I have rather craftily used my memories of this trip to illustrate both the Half and Half prompt, and the Close Up prompt for the Weekly Photo Challenge.

Here I am standing at the North American Continental Divide in Yellowstone national Park which is part of the Rocky Mountain range.   The Continental Divide is the separation between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean drainage systems.  In Spring, rain water and melting snows flow into the Isa Lake which sits astride the divide and it overflows.  Oddly, the water that drains to the East eventually flows into the Pacific Ocean through Shoshone Lake and the Lewis, Snake and Columbia rivers.  The water that flows West, eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean via the Firehole, Madison, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  So I think that qualifies as half and half!

Our round trip started off with an exciting few nights in Seattle, Washington, followed by a flight to Vancouver in Canada and a ferry trip to the gorgeous Vancouver Island.  From there we drove to Jasper National Park in Alberta and on to Banff.  The drive between Jasper and Banff taking in Lake Louise has got to be the most beautiful stretch of scenery in the whole world.  It just took my breath away. From there we drove back into the USA to Glacier National Park via the ‘Big Sky Country’ of Montana.  I absolutely loved everything about Montana, the wide open spaces and the Rocky Mountains, but especially Yellowstone National Park.  There are no adjectives extravagant enough to describe the Natural Wonders of Yellowstone.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.  It is simply other-worldly.  The bubbling geysers and hissing hot springs remind visitors that they are walking on an active supervolcano!   The pastel colours of the thin crust over the volatile earth are tempting to walk on but treacherous. The lakes, rivers and waterfalls are spectacular, while the fireholes and popping mudpots are what I imagine hell to be like!  Everything about the wildlife in Yellowstone is remarkable.  We watched soaring ospreys carried by the thermal currents in deep canyons.  We saw petrified trees, herds of bison, families of elk, prowling black bears and yellow bellied marmots, all reasonably close up!

http://www.yellowstonepark.com/natural-wonders/volcanos/

Victor and Vanquished ~ Symbol of The Battle of Tewkesbury

Victor Victor

This weekend there is a Medieval Festival taking place in the nearby market town of Tewkesbury.  It is an annual event which commemorates the Battle of Tewkesbury which took place here on 4th May 1471.  The main event is a very realistic re-enactment of the battle on the actual site.

The Battle of Tewkesbury brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York whose symbol was the red rose, and the house of Lancaster, whose symbol was the white rose.  The Yorkist King Edward 1V, was victorious while Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry V1 and last Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed.  His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with an inscription which reads,

“Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth, Anno Domine 1471, May fourth. Alas the savagery of men. Thou art the soul light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”

Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a magnificent Red Rose carved, which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sun in splendour’.

Fittingly, both the victor and the vanquished are remembered in the Abbey.  They are also remembered by an impressive sculpture, which was installed on the Stonehills Roundabout at the Tewkesbury end of the A38 road to Gloucester last year.  The sculpture is called ‘Arrivall’ and consists of two timber framed horses 5m (16ft) tall.   One is a mounted knight, known as Victor, which is a symbol of the victorious Yorkist forces of King Edward IV.  On the opposite side of the roundabout stands the other sculpture, the riderless horse Vanquished, which is a symbol of the beaten Lancastrian forces.  His head is bowed in defeat and exhaustion from the battle.  The sculptures, made by Phil Bews from the Forest of Dean are of green oak, and the work took 2 years to complete.  Local schoolchildren and members of the community were invited to carve poppies on the horses’ legs in remembrance of the centenary of WW1 in 2014.

Both of the horses have lances with pennants which swing in the breeze.  These were made by a local company and donated free.  In fact the local people and business community raised almost all the £65,000 needed for this magnificent sculpture, which rather eerily faces the original battle site.

I took my life in my hands on this busy roundabout to get some photos.  I am looking forward to going back and getting more photos at different times of the year and in different weather conditions, at sunset and in moonlight.  But even in daylight I found the sculptures very impressive and strangely moving.

Doors Painted by Fr Stephen Horton OSB of Prinknash Abbey

Today I took my grandson to Prinknash Abbey for a snack in the wonderful café, and to play in the beautiful grounds of the Monastery of Our Lady and St Peter. I have written about the abbey several times before as it is a very special place for me.  I was thrilled to meet Fr Stephen Horton again, who painted all the beautiful doors above.

The Abbey is set high in the Cotswold Hills near Cranham and Painswick so the views are spectacular.  There is ancient woodland behind, and to the front, a clear view towards Gloucester with its magnificent Cathedral.  On a clear day you can see May Hill with its crown-shaped clump of trees on the summit.  They were planted in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and are visible for miles around.  Beyond that there are the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.  Having observed that view on a daily basis, the monks are very good at forecasting the weather merely by looking at May Hill.  If the hill looks a misty blue they know there will be rain at Prinknash later.  If the crown of trees is lost in cloud, there will be a storm.

I discovered while working in the old ‘St Peter’s Grange’, which is now home to the monks again, that it was built in this position, sheltered by the hills and trees, as protection from the plague!  There is documentary evidence, as well as evidence inside, that some parts of the Grange were built in the 14th century.  In 1339 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence “For the Abbot of Gloucester and his fellow monks to celebrate Mass or to have it celebrated by a suitable chaplain in an oratory within their manor of Princkenasch.”  So we know that there was a chapel on the site then.  By the time the Grange was built the Black Death had already swept through England and people thought it was carried on the wind.  Wealthy people therefore built their homes on the side of a hill sheltered from the wind in the hope that this would protect them.

One of my jobs at the Abbey was to polish the Parker room.  This room was named after William Parker who was Master of the Works in the Abbey before he was elected Abbot in 1515.  He was responsible for many improvements to the building.  In July 1535 Abbot Parker entertained King Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn for a week.  They used St Peter’s Grange as a hunting Lodge because there were many deer around – as there are today nearby.  One fascinating snippet that appeals to me is that Abbot Parker had windows put into positions from which he could watch the monks about their work.  He used to spy on them.  I believe, contrary to what Wikipedia states, that this is where the phrase “Nosey Parker” comes from.

At Prinknash the monks have long been known for their art and craft work.  Vestments and stained glass were early specialities. They also made beautiful pottery for many years from the local clay.  The monks still make Incense that is exported all over the world.  One of the monks. who sadly passed away. created a huge wonderful painting for the millennium which was displayed in the Abbey Church.  He also painted and created stained glass.  Many of his pictures were made into lovely cards which were sold in the Abbey Shop.  The abbey’s walled garden is still growing a variety of fruits.  Today there were ripe raspberries to pick.

As I said, we met Fr Stephen Horton OSB who is the Prior and Novice Master.  He is a prolific and very talented painter.   I was fortunate enough to buy some of his original water colour paintings while I worked at the Grange.  They are my pride and joy.  The one I love especially is a watercolour of the Vale of Gloucester as seen from the roof of the Abbey.   When inspiration struck him for this painting he had no suitably sized paper on which to paint the panorama.  Being a monk and used to making use of whatever is available, he used two pieces of A4 paper side by side.  This painting speaks to me of so much more than the view.  It is creativity at its most basic, I feel.  The painting had to be painted there and then using whatever was to hand.  The muse could not wait for a trip to the art suppliers!  It also speaks to me of the way of life of the monks.  They waste nothing and ask for nothing.  They live such a simple life yet produce beauty all around them from whatever is there to be used.

Apart from being a brilliant painter, Fr Stephen is also a great thinker who gives wonderful sermons.  He says that “the one journey that really matters is the journey inwards”.  On occasion I have asked him for copies of his notes as I want to study his words deeply.  He says monastic silence is, “an inner stillness like at the bottom of the ocean, where the force eight gale might be going on, but deep down you do come to a stability, an inner anchoring”.

One of the saddest things that happened at Prinknash was the theft of a statue of Our Lady of Prinknash in 2002.  There are many statues at Prinknash but this one was extremely beautiful and so special.  It was about 20 inches tall, carved of Flemish Oak, and had belonged to St Thomas More. After the Reformation, it was taken abroad but returned in 1925 when the Benedictine monks founded their new abbey at Prinknash.  Of course this means it was hundreds of years old and priceless in the truest sense.   The Abbey Church was always open for visitors and those who wished to pray, and the statue used to stand on a shelf to the left side of the church.  One day it just disappeared while the monks were at tea, stolen to order presumably as nothing else was taken.  It devastated the community in the abbey and the wider community, including myself, who attended Mass there.  I almost believe it took the heart out of some of the monks and the community itself.  I have a picture of that statue and I often think that one day it will return to its rightful home.  Maybe when the current ‘owner’ dies he will leave it in his will to be returned to Prinknash ~ after all he can’t take it with him!

This coming Saturday, 11th July is the Feast Day of St Benedict who lived in the 6th Century.  I have no doubt that the monks at Prinknash, who follow the rule of St Benedict, will be celebrating with a special meal and maybe a glass of wine.

Below I have added some of my photos of doors for the weekly photo challenge