Sunday 24 July 2011

Five unknown children

This photograph is taken from H’s paternal grandmother’s photograph album.
Unfortunately we do not have any idea who the children are.
It is a delightful image in a studio setting, realistically set up with foliage and flowers along with a pretty lace curtained window as a back-drop.  It is interesting how much detail has gone into the studio setting, and how lifelike it looks.
On closer inspection there is an air of seriousness about the children’s expressions, and they do not look as carefree as children would today.  The eldest girl seems to be offering reassurance to the little blond girl, by placing her hand in a motherly way on her shoulder.
We question whether or not they are actually wearing their own clothes, and did the little boy really wear those spectacles?  The two girls sitting on the bench are holding a cat and a doll, which presumably belonged to the photographer.  May be all of this is the reason that they do not look entirely comfortable.
We should love to know more about them, who they are, and what became of them.

Saturday 23 July 2011

The Green Man

Green Man at Derby Cathedral - photo courtesy of Duncan via flickr
Once upon a time there was a young man living in a mobile home 
photo courtesy of  alicepopkorn via flickr
On the top of his home he built a small wind turbine to give him all of his energy needs
Eventually he became the Lord of wind turbines in the whole of the kingdom, supplying green electricity to thousands of homes
He is now moving to this castle on a hill
The outside of his office is almost completely covered in a green Union Jack flag 
His original and quirky style continues in his showrooms where the windows are covered in cartoon graffiti illustrating green issues
The graffiti on the windows is changed every few weeks
The windows are difficult to photograph due to the showroom inside, and the buildings across the road being reflected in the glass. They are, however, great fun.
The moral of this story is - 
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

Tuesday 19 July 2011

The Garden

Time to to take a break and have a cup of coffee
Living on land that was once a Roman camp, we are surrounded by dry stone walls, beyond which is part of a prehistory ditch.  We entertained the thought that we might find buried ancient artifacts in our garden. 
When we moved here, the garden was a blank canvas with lawns and mature trees. However, once we started digging, the idea of discovering anything soon became short lived.  As soon as we put a spade in the ground, we hit oolitic limestone and fossils. We had barely 10cm of soil, and no idea how we could establish any shrubs in such shallow earth. 
We decided to visit the internationally renowned gardens of the late Rosemary Verey at Barnsley House. She was a gardening guru to Prince Charles at the time that he was laying out the gardens at Highgrove House. On arrival at Barnsley House we had the garden to ourselves, but soon came across Rosemary tending the borders. H mentioned to her our problems with so little soil on top of limestone, and her reply was “go through it with a pick axe, my dears, make a large hole and fill it with compost”.  She then proceeded to take us to her huge pile of compost, invited us to come at any time, fill our bags full of it and take it back to our home. H duly bought himself a very large steel chisel, which he painstakingly hammered into the ground, in order to carry out Rosemary’s instructions.
We split the garden up into rooms, being the catch phrase at the time, but we have actually found it easier to work with separate areas, all of which have been given a different theme. Most of the things that we have planted have flourished really well, and now after 15 years the garden feels well established.
Walled garden with pool
Lilium African Queen Group

Lilium Regale

Saturday 16 July 2011

Philippe Starck

I like to open the doors of the human brain 
 Philippe Starck

Philippe Starck – Architect, Interior & Product Designer is the enfant terrible of the design world

He was born in Paris in 1949, and founded his first design firm specialising in inflatable objects, in 1968. 

Many of his products are readily available and affordable to the general public, being mass produced consumer goods such as toothbrushes, chairs and even houses.

For more than three decades,  Philippe Starck has been creating unique objects, many of which have a fun or a humourous element to them.
Salif Juicer
His iconic Salif Juicer for Alessi is instantly recognisable to many. The citrus juicer has a sculptural feel while the grooved aluminium spider head neatly funnels juice down into a container.  It remains unparalled in its ability to generate discussions about its meaning and design.

His chairs were some of the first to make use of transparent polycarbonate including the well known ghost chair.  
La marie was designed in 1998, and is made from a single mould of polycarbonate.  It has an exceptionally tough structure, is resistant to scratches and bumps, and easy to clean.
The Dr Skud Fly Swatter has elements of fun and a joke.  At first glance it appears to be a swatter with an assortment of pierced holes. Look more closely, and at a certain angles a face appears, many people do not notice it, but they are looking at Starck's own face.

Starck has indeed made a significant impact on the world of design

Friday 15 July 2011

Remembering Vera Maschova & Oreste Fisanotti

As a newly married young couple living in Scotland we were introduced by our landlady to a lady from Russia called Vera. 
We learnt that her husband had been an Italian internee during World War II, and that he had been shipwrecked following deportation from Britain. His body was washed up on the Isle of Barra in the Hebrides.
I had been watching a TV programme called Island Parish which was filmed on Barra. The programme vividly brought back memories of Vera and her contact with the island.  
I decided to do some research, and very quickly came across her husband's name, Oreste Fisanotti, on a website about the SS Arandora Star, a ship carrying refugees & internees to Canada from Liverpool. The boat set sail from Liverpool on the 1st July 1940 and was torpedoed off the north-west coast of Ireland by a German U-boat the following morning at 06.15. Oreste was amongst more than 800 who lost their lives. I also discovered that, subsequently, following her own death in 1975, Vera had been taken back to Barra to be buried beside him.

Vera's life was a sad one. She escaped from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) during the 1917 Revolution, where she was studying to become a doctor. Because of his contacts, her father, a sea captain, smuggled her on to a boat in Odessa bound for Constantinople (Istanbul). He gave her a small leather pouch containing precious stones.  When she arrived in Turkey it was very frightening for her, and she decided to try and make her way to the UK.   Eventually she arrived in London, where she got work in an hotel as a chambermaid. It was in London that she met and fell in love with Oreste Fisanotti, who was also working at the hotel as a waiter, and they married.
From the day she left Russia to the day she died she had no idea what had happened to her family. She tried to find information about them from the Red Cross, but she was very wary of giving away too much about herself as she still had a great fear of being found by the Russians. In the 1960s, when we first met her, Russia was a closed society.
When Oreste, her only friend and her beloved husband died, she left London to live on Barra to be near his body, she had nobody else in the world. She stayed there until the late 1950s until the doctors told her that the island was not a suitable place for her to reside. She was suffering with rheumatism and respiratory problems, so reluctantly she left Barra and moved to Glasgow.
We had a bedroom, a living room and shared a kitchen with our Landlady in Glasgow. Our landlady had befriended Vera at her church. When we first moved into the apartment and met Vera she was very cold towards both of us during her visits. As time passed she opened up and became friendly. Later she told us that she was, understandably, jealous and anxious that we would take our landlady's love away from her.
Her very sad life made a lasting impression on both H and myself.
Vera & Oreste Fisanotti's graves on the remote Island of Barra 
On her gravestone, I was pleased to see that Vera was finally able to publicly acknowledge her Russian origins by using her Russian name, Vera Maschova. 

Monday 11 July 2011

R.I.P. Habitat

Habitat store in the city of Bath
The ‘credit crunch’ has brought to its knees one of my favourite stores.  Over the past 50 years the Habitat store, Sir Terence Conran’s baby, and arbiter of contemporary style in the 1960s has gone into liquidation.

In the first instance a friend, an architect, introduced me to a style of decorating the home that did not have to consist of chintzy curtains, floral carpets, and dark, nondescript furniture.

Around that time a Habitat store opened on the Tottenham Court Road, London. They introduced a completely new way of furnishing the home.

I was captivated by their products, and have purchased lots of things over the years. I liked their clean cut lines, and use of light coloured wood. The curtain fabrics were influenced by Scandanavian designs, i.e simple patterns in muted colours. The cutlery was stainless steel with a sleek but functional style. Habitat sold a lifestyle.

Since Sir Terence sold the business several years ago, the world of contemporary furniture has moved on, and sadly they no longer stood out from the crowd.  

Saturday 9 July 2011

Swiss Family Holiday

The boys in Switzerland
When our sons were young we holidayed in the mountains at least once every year.  We visited many European countries, Canada, USA, and of course here in the UK. Sons and H would wear corduroy knee trousers, and a nice pair of red wool socks in their walking boots.  We would set off from the hotel in the mornings with our rucksack packed with bread and cheese, chocolate, fruit and a drink.  Other items we always carried were binoculars, wildflower/butterfly books, and the boys had their walking sticks covered in medallions purchased from the various mountain huts and villages visited over the years.
A very essential item was youngest son’s Action-man doll, which travelled to the peaks of many of Europe’s highest mountains.  Youngest son could climb like a mountain goat getting far ahead of the rest of us.  I always straggled along at the rear.  When he made a good margin of distance from us, he would set up Action-man on a boulder, or rock and strategically position him in a suitable pose with gun in hand or grenade ready to be thrown.
One of the hotels we stayed in has special memories.  It was a very old wooden chalet in Les Mar─Ścottes, Switzerland.  We flew to Geneva and then caught the train that goes past Lausanne.  At the station in Martigny we alighted, and crossed the line to catch a little cog railway train that ran up through the mountains to Chamonix, stopping on the way in Les Mar─Ścottes, our destination.  The hotel was a very special place, and had a fresh milky smell about it.   Our bedrooms also had a distinct scent of the countryside which we discovered to be caused by the mattresses.  The bedding was brilliant white and crisp, but on getting into the bed, it was really spongy and soft.  On inspection we discovered that the mattresses were made of newly mown and dried alpine grass, strewn with wild flowers.  The smell was delicious.
Each week in the hotel, one evening was allocated to a Fondue Night.  Our first week was a cheese fondue and the second meat.  The boys and ourselves loved it, we had never tried a fondue before.  Of course, the outcome was that we came home armed with our own Swiss Fondue set, which has remained in the cupboard and has been very infrequently used.
The other thing I remember were the lovely little gardens in the village, and the rich black soil.  Something we saw growing that was completely new to us was Swiss Chard.   In the late 1970s the variety of vegetables available in the stores back home was not like the array today.   The chard looked  wonderful growing out of the soil with its white, yellow and ruby stems topped with shiny, curly,  leaves.
Swiss Chard