Happy Times Past

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. — Goethe

tile-spirit-squared-for-abw

The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘Nostalgia’ and my friends and I are certainly feeling nostalgic today.  We had some truly upsetting news about our old school. The huge tile frieze that we created in 1999 to mark the new millennium, was destroyed in a fire.

It is hard to imagine today just what a big deal it was being on the threshold of a new millennium.  There were all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about power failures, planes falling out of the sky, computer systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really knew what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 or what the new millennium would mean for civilisation.  So, as St Thomas More School was such a huge part of my life, I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent.

In the early 1970’s I watched the new school building rise in the middle of an open field that had once been farmland and an orchard. There was an ancient hedgerow all around the site and just one magnificent old oak tree in what would be the playing field. When it was opened in 1975, I was having my third child so was not available for teaching. But, as I drove past the school every day, I vowed that one day I would work there.

I got my wish in 1984 when my youngest child was ready to start school. I was offered a job and jumped at the chance. The next decade was a time of great blessing as I worked in virtually every class, teaching all age groups, then became deputy Head.

In 1994 the original Headteacher was due to retire and, to my surprise, I was offered his job. He had been such an inspirational Head that the school was a joy to work in. Taking on his role, I tried to emulate him while making my own mark and bringing my own vision for the school into being.

Due mainly to the quality of the staff and their outstanding teamwork, the school became a strong and successful community, ‘an oasis of excellence’, appreciated by staff, pupils and parents alike.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, the staff wanted to mark the year 2000 with a special feature. We wanted the whole school community to be involved in creating something totally unique and meaningful. We came up with the idea of making a large tile frieze. Each year group was asked to brainstorm their favourite lessons, subjects, or topics, and represent their ideas on paper.

Reception class, the youngest children were just 4 or 5 years old and had only just started school. They had their photographs taken in their shiny new uniforms, so that was their contribution.

The Year 1 class had helped to build a pond and were raising ducklings which they had hatched from eggs in an incubator, so they drew pictures of that. I have a wonderful memory of the day the ducklings hatched out ~ the local policeman had called up to the school on a social visit and he watched as the first duckling struggled to crack open the shell. When it finally succeeded and out popped this beautiful and perfect little bundle of yellow feathers, he was overwhelmed by emotion and had tears in his eyes.

In Year 2 the 7 year olds made their first Holy Communion as it was a Catholic school so they drew a chalice and host. Being the most significant event in the year ~ yes honestly, not SATs! That was their contribution.

Year 3 was the first year of juniors and the children enjoyed learning about Vikings and the Human Body, so they drew lovely longboats and skeletons.

In Year 4 things got much more subject focused so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Creative Arts such as Music, Dance, Drama and painting were the main features, so a pot of paint and a brush was drawn. Science too was represented by the planets.

By Year 6 the children were getting ready to move on to secondary school. In order to give them a taste of independence and adventure, it was our tradition to take the class away to Shropshire for a week to stay in a Youth Hostel. Here, in the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we had a wonderful time. We visited the Iron Museum, The Jackfield Tile Museum, Blist’s Hill Reconstructed Village, River Severn Museum and of course the first Iron Bridge ever built. We also had amazing night hikes, midnight feasts and parties. Altogether it was an incredible opportunity for fun and learning. So naturally the Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale was the emblem of Year 6.  Yes, again it wasn’t SATs that featured large in their lives.  How times changed!

For our frieze the staff gathered all these pictures and images together and chose the ones that would be painted on to the tiles. The Year 5 teacher, Anne Bate Williams, a wonderfully creative artist and teacher, took on the challenge of putting all the ideas together and creating a design on tracing paper which could be transferred onto numbered ‘green’ tiles. It was agreed that we would go to Jackfield Tile Museum to create the finished work.

A representative group of staff, parents and children spent a weekend at the Youth Hostel and were each given a small area of the tile frieze to paint. Anne had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would truly reflect the life of our school.

It was agreed that the year 2000 would go at the top, as well as the 4 trees, oak, ash, poplar and beech, which were the school emblem.  In the top corners would be tiles depicting the Ironbridge itself.  The children’s artwork would go around the edge, and at the centre would be the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by flames.

We painted the tiles in coloured glaze.  I will never forget the atmosphere in that studio at Jackfield as we worked on the frieze.  There was a stillness and peace in the room which was truly sacramental.  While we worked, the Spirit moved in that place and heaven happened.

When we finished, the tiles were left at the Jackfield tile Museum to be fired.  A couple of weeks later they were collected and set into a frame made by Tony O’Shea, the reception class teacher’s husband.

Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton RIP came in the year 2000 to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and he blessed the tile frieze.

Although most of the staff who worked at the school have retired or moved on now, the frieze stayed proudly in the school hall for the last 16 years and with it, a little piece of all of us who made it.  And now it is no more.

Nostalgia  in my dictionary is defined as ‘a feeling of sadness mixed with pleasure and affection when you think of happy times in the past.’  I think this sums up our feelings today perfectly.

So here I go down Memory Lane…

 

Curve

This week I am just posting some photos that I love for WPC on the theme of curve

The first batch are from Stratford on Avon taken this April at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and along the curve of the River Avon looking towardfs Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare and Anne are buried.

Next are some exquisite photos of Calla Lilies taken by a friend, Anne Bate-Wiliams, in her garden.  The curves are delicate and totally unmatched in the manufactured world for beauty I feel.

 

Lastly, some beautiful curves both natural and man-made that I spotted in Dorset.  The Ammonite-like decorative lampposts are in Lyme Regis and reflect the fact that many fossils are found on the Jurassic Coast.

The other photos are from Abbotsbury and Bennets Water garden

http://abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk/gardens/http://www.bennettswatergardens.com/

 

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.

 

 

 

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 ~

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

“Today was a good day” or  “I wouldn’t start from here!”

In the woods with hubby and dog

There’s a well-known joke, which has been around since at least 1924 about a tourist in Ireland who asks one of the locals for directions. The Irishman replies: ‘Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’.

That’s the way I feel about today’s weekly photo prompt!

The prompt is “Today was a good day”.  But recently every day seems to present a challenge of almost unmanageable proportions so I am just going to imagine what ‘a good day’ would be for me.

I think my good day would start with a breakfast of fresh fruit with muesli and natural yoghurt.  I would eat this sitting in a Cotswold garden, by a stream with fish swimming lazily by.  To drink I would have fresh orange juice followed by the perfect cup of coffee.  I imagine it to be an autumn day, early September, when the trees are still laden with fruit, the harvest from field and hedgerow is in, and the birds are well-fed and singing happily.

I would be content for a while sitting with my husband and little dog reading a good book; I can recommend ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey; or doing the puzzles in my favourite daily newspaper.  But pretty soon I would want to meet up with my grandchildren for an adventure.

I would take them anywhere with trees and animals, a playground and a picnic area.  We are spoilt for choice in the Cotswolds with natural woods and ancient forests on our doorstep, as well as Burford Wildlife Park, Bourton on the Water Birdland, and Prinknash Bird Park, which are among my favourites.   Westonbirt Arboretum and Cotswold Wildlife Park are close behind.  There we would run free, or explore on cycles, skates and scooters with the youngest in her pushchair.  We would climb trees, collect berries, nuts and seeds, cross wobbly rope bridges, build dens, swing, slide, feed the animals, sing songs, take photos and make up stories.  Then we would have an enormous feast of a picnic washed down with ice cold spring water and followed by a soft whippy ice cream.

The children would have a nap on the journey back and wake refreshed to capture their memories of the day in collage, painting and drawing, or stories and poems illustrated with their photos.  Later we would bake yummy pies and crumbles with the fruits and berries they collected.  We would enjoy them with their parents before sending them home to sleep well and dream of their good day.

I would return to my seat in a Cotswold garden, by a stream with fish swimming lazily by.   My hubby would be there with our sisters and some special friends.  Someone would barbecue a perfect steak for me and serve it with a fresh salad from the garden.  I would have a large glass of beautiful red wine and watch the hot air balloons float overhead as the sun set.  No doubt one of them will be pig shaped!

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.