Friday, 30 December 2011

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas in Norway

Norwegian flags on tree in Stavanger Cathedral
Night reflections Stavanger
Day reflections Stavanger
Normal service will be resumed in January

We mistakenly travelled to Norway with chunky boots and thick woolly coats expecting to see snow!!! - Just back briefly, suitcases to unpack and then quickly repack. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas Greetings


video
Church bells ringing out over the Julian Alps, Kransjka Gora, Slovenia - 2010.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

'Christmas Bells' poem by Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow 

1807 - 1882

Kransjka Gora church in the late 19th century.
Adoration of the Magi by William Morris - The original tapestry was commissioned in 1886 by John Prideaux Lightfoot, rector of Exeter College, Oxford University for their Gothic revival chapel designed and built by George Gilbert Scott. The overall composition and figures were designed by Edward Burne-Jones. In a letter, Morris suggested that the tapestry's colouration should be both “harmonious and powerful, so that it would not be overpowered” by the chapel's brilliantly coloured stained glass. The tapestry took four years to realise, including two years' work by three weavers at Morris's Merton Abbey Mills. Lightfoot did not live to see the finished tapestry.
Happy Christmas
 &
a Peaceful New Year

The family is beckoning.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Elizabethans

This is the second guest post done by H/first one here

via wikipedia
Elizabeth I of England, The Armada Portrait. This portrait was painted in approximately 1588 to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada which is depicted in the background. The location of the portrait is Woburn Abbey, home of the Duke of Bedford.
courtesy Bill Ingalls via wikipedia
Elizabeth II - picture taken in 2007 on a visit to USA
History provides innumerable insights into the English psyche. The declaration of war in 1939 in response to German nationalism amply illustrates doggedness in the pursuit of deep-felt conviction - obstinacy in the face of overwhelming odds. How well Prime-minister Churchill personified the national spirit.
More recently, Britain's decision to exercise its veto at the European Council meeting in Brussels on 9th December, is pertinent to the above characterisation of the nation. By blocking an attempt to bring the Euro-zone crisis within the EU's remit, Britain has inevitably been castigated by mainland Europe as beyond all reason. This should have come as no surprise! 
Because of its island status, Britain’s outlook has always been close, but not part of, that of mainland Europe. That twenty-two mile channel, even when spanned by a rail tunnel, has fostered an individuality and separateness of an infinitely greater dimension. This spirit is magnificently exemplified by A.N.Wilson’s recent book “The Elizabethans”. While ostensibly telling the story of the reign of Elizabeth I, the obvious parallels between the events of that time and those of today’s Elizabeth II, in terms of the “Englishness” that underlies these contrasting periods, is readily apparent.
The politics of Elizabeth I was driven by the split of her father – King Henry VIII – with the Church of Rome. At the time, religion in Europe was in turmoil. Nations following the religious reformers Luther and Calvin in the north were in conflict with Roman Catholic southern nations. England was also riven by the split between these two religious streams, but maintained a line between the two that satisfied (for the moment anyway) both sides of the divide. The Church of England, although reformed and separate from Rome, remained catholic in character and thus largely placated the die-hard Papists. At the same time the State’s brutal repression of extreme puritanism enabled a middle course to be steered, so largely avoiding civil disorder. England was under enormous pressure from counter-reformation forces in Europe to revert to Roman Catholicism, the failure of the Spanish armada being a turning point in this.
We see in this period the intellectual adeptness of Elizabeth the First’s reign to turn religious ambiguity into a national asset. Diplomatic relations with Spain were maintained while pretending that the pirating of Spanish treasure ships was not our business. Meanwhile, the perpetrators were showered with wealth and honours on their return home, thus rubbing salt into the wound. England turned from its squabbling neighbours in Europe to building a maritime capability, spreading its tentacles into the undeveloped world, leading eventually to a colonial empire.
Four hundred years on we have a Britain that wishes to be part of Europe, but not bound to it in every sense – the maintenance of the national currency being the principal divide. As we saw in the recent Brussels meeting, Britain was willing to be part of an EU pact to save the Euro-zone providing an exception was made for the City of London to remain outside of any new financial controls.
This should have come as no surprise to other members of the EU. The English believe that the country’s national interest (while remaining part of the EU Single Market) is best served by it not being part of a federal Europe, but free to pursue its international ambitions wherever this should take it.
This is the English character - the way we are – it is our roots. Nothing has changed! This is my personal view point.
A Happy Christmas to readers, wherever you may be - H      

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Paternal Grandparents

This first picture shows my grandmother along with my father, and his brother and sister. My father is the younger boy and was born in 1908.
My grandfather is absent from the family group because he was away serving in the Great War 1914 - 1918. He stayed in the army  until 1920. This photo shows him seated with a little dog, probably abandoned due to war, which became his companion whilst he was away. My grandfather was a Bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery and his companion a Lance-Bombardier.
This is a picture of my father as a teenager. He was a really keen sportsman playing both football and rugby. Sadly neither of his sons were keen ball players, and nor are my two sons. He does, however, have a grandson in Canada who is keen on ball sports.
This is a photo of H's grandparents with his father standing in the middle of the picture between his parents.
The interesting thing is that H's father was also born in 1908, and I suspect that in both photos my father and his father are roughly the same age.
My family are from a large town, and H's family are farmers living in the countryside. This makes for an interesting comparison particularly concerning the clothes they are wearing. My father wears a stiff collar, bow-tie, waistcoat, jacket, and trousers with long dark stocking socks and boots. H's father is casually attired in a crew necked jumper, and I am presuming ¾ stockings and boots similarly to his younger brother. The comparisons with our grandmothers too is noticeable. There is definitely a town versus country thing going on. My aunt is obviously the little darling of the family with her hair in ringlets, topped off by a bow, and wearing an embroidery-anglais dress. H's Aunt looks as if her hair hasn't seen a brush or comb for many a day, and the hair ribbons look to have been tied in by herself - however, I love her look. I think she has the look of the Pre-Raphaelites.
This is a rather poignant photo. The boy is the eldest son shown standing in the family group behind H's father. Sadly as was the way with many families pre modern surgery, immunisation, and antibiotics, his twin sister died from Meningitis shortly after this photo was taken. 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Spirits in the Sky

Midsummer sunrise in Tromsø, Norway
via wikipedia
Several years ago we travelled up the coast of Norway from Bergen to Tromsø to see the mid-night sun. The journey was partly by train, small plane and the Norwegian Post ship. The boat called in at the Lofoten Islands, where we stayed for a couple of nights. The pleasure of the post boat is that it is an ordinary working ship which visits many of the small outlying communities. It may drop off a piano, pick up a coffin or boxes of food, and of course leave and deliver sacks of mail.
The mid-night sun occurs in the summer months at latitudes north of the Arctic Circle. Given good weather, the sun is visible for a continuous 24 hours. We watched from a mountain top in Tromsø, it was wonderful being surrounded by daylight, seeing the sun skim down to the horizon, and then turn to climb into the sky without vanishing. As the sun travels down to the horizon it creates evening glows in the sky, but as it rides up again, immediately, dawn glows fill the sky, which are reflected in the water below.
It would be lovely to visit the same area and see the spectacular Northern Lights, aurora borealis, which this winter are predicted to be the best for many years.
On clear nights with a combination of the right atmospheric conditions, luminous, multicoloured shapes in the night sky are created. This has been happening ever since the earth had an atmosphere, so tundra trekking dinosaurs would have seen them. 
Many Arctic dwelling peoples, including the Inuit, have attributed spiritual feelings to the phenomenon, deciding that the lights were probably the ghosts of ancestors. The Vikings, given to more colourful explanations thought the ethereal reflections came from the armour of the Valkyrior - the virgin warriors of Norse mythology. The lights are at their most frequent in late autumn and winter/early spring; Between the autumn equinox and spring equinox.  

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Stormy weather

The Hurricane force winds and gales in Scotland and the north of England today, vividly recall for H and myself a time when we too experienced similar conditions in Scotland. We had a little chalet bungalow that was built on a rise with wonderful views to the Campsie Hills.
via wikipedia 
The Campsie Hills
We were woken in the wee small hours by a tremendous noise, it was like being cast on a ship in the middle of the ocean. We could hardly hear each other speak and had to shout to make ourselves heard. When we looked out of the windows, wood and debris was hurling itself around. Needless to say we felt worried, but did not really understanding what was going on. H was studying for his PhD so we had no spare money for newspapers or luxuries like phones and TV; the news didn't really figure in our lives, we were living in our own little bubble. In the morning when we looked out it was like a disaster zone. Our neighbours roof had gone because the builders had left roofing timbers opposite their house. These timbers had taken off, and smashed the windows, allowing the wind into the house. Another neighbour was surveying his drive, minus his timber garage, which he never saw again. One neighbour was trying to retrieve his car from beneath a collapsed garage.  We were so lucky, our little Mini car, which did not have a garage, was surrounded by tiles from the neighbours roof, but not one had hit the car. We only lost three tiles from our roof, and the builder kindly came and replaced them without charge. Our sons new swing for his birthday was in the corner of the garden and H was able to crawl on his hands and knees and retrieve it to safety (it was impossible to stand upright). In retrospect he probably should not have gone out in it.  Nearby Glasgow had 100,000 damaged roofs which needed tarpaulins to keep out the weather. Hundreds of vehicles were damaged by collapsed chimneys and falling trees, it was fortunate that it happened in the middle of the night and not during the daytime.
The experience unsettled us, and I believe was part of the reason why we eventually moved south. Every time the wind got up we felt insecure, and worried that we might incur damage to our little home, the expense of which we could not afford. 
images of the storms today courtesy Yahoo news

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Lavender (Lavandula)

courtesy Flagstaffotos
The herb lavender is a joy to behold in the garden. However, in order to keep it looking delightful for years, it is important to give it a good trim when it has finished flowering, preferably in a nice dome or ball shape. Neglect to do this, and it will end up looking woody, unkempt, and not very appealing.
You may have noticed that with farmers diversifying into other activities, many are actually now growing fields of lavender. The reason for this is that lavender is useful in so many ways. 
The Romans bought lavender to Britain. They recognised it for its healing and antiseptic qualities, for it usefulness in deterring insects and used it in washing. 
Lavender was little used in the so called Dark Ages except by monks and nuns. Monasteries preserved the knowledge of herbal law in their physics gardens. The herb experienced a renaissance in Tudor England after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and it was grown in domestic gardens. It was placed amongst linen, used to freshen the air, and mixed with beeswax to make furniture polish. It was planted close to the laundry room and clothing was laid over the plants to dry whilst absorbing the odour of lavender. Queen Elizabeth I loved lavender, and used it in tea to treat her migraines and as a perfume. Lavender began to be used in soap, potpourris, and water for washing and bathing. Hildegard of Bingen noted that oil of lavender was effective in the treatment of head lice and fleas.
Culpepper, the great English herbalist, wrote about lavender as being a cure all. Lavender sellers appeared on the streets during the  Great Plague of 1665, prices went sky high, when it was thought that it would protect against the terrible disease. Bundles were tied to the wrists to ward off the plague.
There were many superstitions surrounding lavender. Putting a bundle in a cap prevented a head cold, bundles tied above a doorway or poked into latch locks would prevent ghouls, witches, and spirits from entering the abode. Lavender under the pillow to induce sleep. Many of these persist today. I remember a physiotherapist suggested tying a bundle of lavender on the bed rail when H was ill.
courtesy Dave Catchpole
There are suspicions that lavender should not be used by pregnant women. There is no reliable study that shows lavender is safe or unsafe, since it has not been adequately studied. However, there is some evidence that lavender may have some effects on hormones, and it is possible that it could disrupt the normal hormone balance in pregnancy.
courtesy jeaneeem
It takes 5 large plants to distill a very small bottle of lavender oil.
Today it is used for a variety of purposes. In foods, beverages, cosmetics and various other products. It is also used medicinally by applying to the skin, or inhaled as aromatherapy, and it is still considered to promote relaxation. The dried flowers are used in ice cream, biscuits, scones and tea.  
courtesy Dave Catchpole
One of our lavender plants, clipped and shaped ready for next year
courtesy puliarf
Indeed the small flowers of the herbal lavender have a remarkable potency.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

As the old song goes - Lloyd George knew my father, father knew Lloyd George - UK Prime Minister 1916 - 1922

'
images courtesy BBC

courtesy Philip Halling via wikipedia
When H's mother was a teenager she worked for Lloyd George (LG) in his country house in Surrey. Many important people came to stay at the house, amongst them Mahjatma Ghandi. She was just a young country girl, not at all worldly wise, and had no idea of the significance of being in the presence of someone of his standing. In fact she dismissed him as - a strange little man who sat crossed legged in front of the roaring log fires wearing something like a nappy.
image via wikipedia
Picture of Ghandi when he came to England in 1931,visiting the textile workers in Lancashire - this was the visit when H's mother saw him at LG's.
Obviously LG only visited his home in Surrey when time permitted. H's father was courting his mother at this stage, and sometimes when they parted company at the big house it would be raining, so his mother would dash inside and come out with one of LG's famous black cloaks to lend to his father.
H's father farmed the land close to LG's farm. One day the land abutting both of them was sold to LG.  H's father knew what day and time the land transaction was to be completed, and decided to take advantage of the period before LG owned it by going with his shotgun to do a bit of shooting for the cooking pot.
As he was wandering back across the fields with his hands full of rabbits and his gun slung over his shoulder, who should he meet but LG. He was with Jennifer, whose mother was Francis Stevenson, LG's mistress, secretary, and eventually his wife. He was also accompanied by his personal Police Officer. Jennifer ran over to H's father to stroke the rabbits, and said she wanted one. LG chastised H's father for being on his land, and told him to hand a rabbit over to Jennifer. His father looked at his watch, pointed out that the land was not yet his, and that the rabbit was two shillings!!!! LG turned to his Police Officer, and told him to hand over the money. That evening in the local pub, H's father was enjoying a pint bought with the money, when in walked the Policeman. He came up to him, wearing a big grin on his face, and said "by golly George, you've got a cheek!"
An Italian out shooting for the pot in much the same way as H's father did.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Jet (lignite)

courtesy Detlef thomas via wikipedia
Jet jewellery

courtesy Graham Proud via wikipedia
Whitby Harbour
Queen Victoria took mourning to a whole new level with the death of her beloved Albert. Social occasions were cancelled at court and hushed voices became the norm. Laughter was banned and the nation became very black and gloomy. Black cloth was the order of the day, something that won the Queen few friends in the textile industry. However, one little fishing village, Whitby, in north Yorkshire, rich in jet flourished. It is found in Whitby estuary and for several miles along the coast. It became a rare beneficiary of the court mourning, where no coloured jewels were permitted. Queen Victoria, however, was known to wear a glistening jet tiara from time to time.
Queen Victoria with 5 of her children in mourning
Jet is a geological material and considered to be a minor gemstone. It comes from the fossilised trunk of the Monkey Puzzle tree formed during the Jurassic age. Many people imagine that it is a derivative of coal, which too is fossilised wood. However, coal was formed during the Carboniferous age. The jet found in Whitby is approximately 182 million years old. Why is it that there is Jet in Whitby?
During the mid-Jurassic period the British Isles was located further south in the latitude of Northern Spain and Portugal. It was, therefore, nearer the equator and had a climate to match. The dominant species of tree was the Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle tree), and very similar to the ones we see today.
Monkey Puzzle tree - Araucaria under snow in Kew Garden via wikipedia
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A few more gems from Whitby; Wonderful fish; Captain Cook learnt his sailing craft in Whitby and set off on many of his famed voyages of discovery in Endeavour, his Whitby flat bottomed  ship; Whitby Abbey founded in 656 by Oswy, the Christian King of Northumbria; Bram Stoker set part of his book, Dracula, in Whitby, describing Dracula's arrival on the Russian ship, Demeter,  which was shipwrecked, and washed ashore in the harbour.
courtesy J3Mrs via wikipedia
You can see the Abbey ruins behind the church, and if you click on the photo it is possible to see the famous 199 steps where Dracula ran up to the graveyard, in the shape of a black dog.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Bulgarian Cubbyholes

Insect Cubbyholes
When we travelled to Bulgaria in the 1970s, H had just started working at a Government Research Laboratory. When his colleagues knew where we were going, they suggested that we contact a Bulgarian, called Peter, who had spent several weeks working at the laboratory the previous year. They wanted us to visit him and take him a bottle of whiskey, a rare commodity in Communist Bulgaria at the time.
We telephoned the family on our arrival, and they arranged to pick us up from our hotel so that we could have a meal with them at their home. We were really excited at the prospect of  being entertained by locals. 
When they arrived, Peter's wife was driving a very old, enormous car. On the journey she seemed to have trouble climbing the hills, and the gear lever on the steering column was also giving difficulties.  As the journey continued we understood that the car hardly ever came out except to visit their vineyard in the countryside. 
The leafy streets where they lived in Varna were incredibly quiet, the roads were empty and nobody was around. We were told that it was because the British production of The Forsyte Saga was on TV, and everybody who could get access to a television was indoors watching it. It was then that Peter's wife turned to H and said she had been expecting him to be dressed and looking like Jolyon!!!  He must have been a disappointment wearing his smart but casual attire.
As we pulled up outside their home we were confronted with a large turn of the century double fronted house.  It had been in Peter's family for years. On entering the hall with its central stairway, it suddenly became clear that the house had been split up into many parts. We went up the stairs to their section, where under Communist rules they were allowed only 17 sq. meters each.  The rest of their home had been confiscated and given to other families to live in. This was a shock for us to discover, all they had was a living kitchen, and two small annex bedrooms for themselves and their  son.
In the kitchen one wall was given over completely to little cubbyholes. They must have had about a dozen each in which to keep all of their possessions and belongings.
The two dolls in national costume were very kindly given to our sons when we left after our visit. A happy reminder of our special time spent with them.
Further post on Bulgaria here