Wednesday 28 November 2012

My Mother-in-Law (MiL)

More tales about MiL; some of you may recall that I have written about her previously
J's parents lived on a farm, because of this they did not travel very far and holidays were few and far between. Farming is a daily commitment, the animals have to be fed and watered, and the crops and fields attended to. Their view of the world was limited to what they knew around them. Twentyfour hour news from all over the globe did not exist, and people's lives were very localised.
If the truth be known, MiL would have loved her son to marry a local girl and live nearby in Surrey, not hitch up with someone from the middle of the country - the Industrial Midlands, and known to them from their school days as the 'Black Country'.
via wikipedia
Thorpe Cloud - Dovedale
Travelling to Derbyshire for our wedding was the longest journey they had ever made from Surrey. How surprised they were to find that the countryside was actually green and very beautiful.
Not only did J marry a girl from away, but following our wedding and honeymoon we moved to live in Glasgow, Scotland where J had been accepted at the university to do a PhD. MiL could not imagine anyone wanting to live so far away from Surrey and in such a distant cold place. Every Christmas my gift from them was a large mohair stole to keep me warm during the winter months.
Living in Scotland, it was necessary for them to visit us at some stage, and particularly after our son was born. This would prove to be a marathon undertaking involving a journey that took them 3/4 days. They travelled up in the month of June and arrived armed with their woolly jumpers and heavy sheepskin coats. Scotland was hit by a heatwave, and we spent most of our time at Loch Lomond, where MiL sheltered from the sun under the trees.
via wikipedia
Loch Lomond
MiL became very anxious and worried about the plants in their Surrey garden. If it was this hot in Scotland, whatever would the weather be like in Surrey!!! It was no use explaining that just because it was hot in Scotland it was probably raining and chilly in Surrey. To her it was black and white - the north was cold and the south was hot.
When J was just a young boy, his mother was repairing his father's working trousers. She picked them up and shook them into the open fire to get rid of the bits of straw. His father had been out shooting on the farm and had left live cartridges in his pockets. All of the family had to make a quick dive under the table to shelter from the firework display of sparks and bangs until it was all over.
MiL learnt to drive when she was in her fifties. She had  a profoundly handicapped road sense, everybody else was in the wrong but her. She took her driving test at least 8 times, finally passing much to the chagrin of the family.
When they retired, J gave his parents our VW Beetle. He wanted them to have trouble free motoring and hoped it would see them through their twilight years, which it did.  It was baby powder blue, and had not done a very big mileage. Poor old Beetle was really put through the mill, karate chops on the wings, scratches and bumps all over the place. The trouble was MiL had spent 40 years riding her bicycle in accordance with her own anarchic rules. Riding on the right instead of left, she believed that everyone else should make way for her. She was used to traffic free quiet country lanes. She took our eldest son for a walk in his pram and when I went to meet up with them I discovered her walking along the centre of the road!!! It was fortunate that she never had a serious accident. Eventually the car was returned back to us for our son's to use after J's father died and she became too ill to drive.
The VW resprayed and revamped following the removal of the scratches etc - (straw hats courtesy picmonkey) 

Sunday 25 November 2012

Amaryllis hippeastrum

I was growing this beautiful red Amaryllis for Christmas but it has already flowered and finished. Another stem has rapidly grown but it is now in bud. Sadly, I think that it too will be long gone before the festive season has even begun.

Friday 23 November 2012

The Decorative Art of Pietra Dura

During the 17th and 18th century the Grand Tour of Europe was principally undertaken by upper-class young men of means, primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry. The value of the Grand Tour, it was believed, lay in the exposure to both the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. It was normally taken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor. During the tour many works of art would be collected and sent back to the young men's stately 'piles' and country houses. One particular object of desire was invariably Pietra Dura. Often purchased to be inserted into cabinet doors or table tops on their return, or they commissioned the making of a piece of furniture which included inlays of Pietra Dura. 
Pietra Dura is a decorative art and a term used for the inlaying of coloured marble or semi precious stones to create images or patterns.
The finest example is the Badminton Cabinet auctioned in London eight years ago, and sold for £19,045,250 million pounds the most expensive piece of furniture ever sold.
The cabinet is huge, it stands 12.5 feet high (the height of two tall men) and 7.5 feet wide.
Henry Somerset, the third duke of Beaufort, was only 19 in 1726, when he passed through Florence on his grand tour of Europe. He stayed a week and ordered the piece, making a rare private commission at the Medici workshop. The cabinet required about six years and 30 expert craftspeople to make it. Documents record that the young duke paid £500, plus £94 in duty. A substantial sum of money in those days.
All of the following pieces are examples of Florentine Pietra Dura which I photographed in The Argory, Northern Ireland. 
This table top has rather lovely branches of olives intertwined with ribbon around its edge.
It was not unusual to have the families coat of arms incorporated into a table top or on one of the panels in a cabinet.
The following Pietra Dura pieces were photographed at Stourhead House, Wiltshire.
This is called the Pope's cabinet, because it is believed to have belonged to Pope Sixtus V. The stand for the cabinet was made for Richard Hoare when he returned home from his Grand Tour with the Pope's cabinet.
The carved gilded head of the pope reflecting that it had once belonged to him.
The village of Ashford in the Water is considered to be one of the most attractive villages in the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire. However its fame rests on more than its idyllic setting, as it will be forever associated with a remarkable rock, a jet black bituminous limestone known as the Ashford Black Marble which used to be found in the hills surrounding the village. During the early years of the 19th century, one William Adam, having it is presumed seen examples of Florentine Pietra Dura in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at nearby Chatsworth House, realised that the Black Marble could be employed as a suitable base material for inlay work. The work subsequently produced in Derbyshire  was considered equal to the finest produced in Florence, and examples were shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851.
The black marble eventually fitted in ideally with the sombre mourning period and mood of Queen Victoria's reign following the death of her beloved Albert in 1861.
Having my roots in Derbyshire, I own a piece of Derbyshire Black Marble Pietra Dura dating back to around 1850. An elegant black ebony box with an inlaid Ashford Black Marble Pietra Dura lid showing two white lilies. 

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Pastel de nata - Portuguese tarts

This week we lunched out to celebrate H's birthday. We like to go to one of our favourite little country restaurants. It wins lots of prizes for its food, this is not gourmet food, but good homemade delicious cooking. There is no use just turning up, a reservation is always required.
Choosing from the dessert cabinet, where everything is home made, is always difficult, but this week I spied something I have not seen in the café before - Portuguese tarts - Pastel de nata also known as Pastéis de Belém from their association with the parish of Santa Maria de Belém, and the renown Bakery in Belém. These small individual golden tarts immediately transported me to Lisbon.
The owner of our local café is an Austrian, and he often produces a wonderful Apfelstrudel for the menu. I asked him about the Portuguese tarts and how he had learnt the recipe, the answer 'Google'. He too had enjoyed them on a trip to Lisbon and wanted to replicate them on his return to the Cotswolds.
The Bakery in Belém where a continual stream of people trot in and out all day long carrying out boxes of the tarts. Behind the blue blinds there is a warren of rooms where customers can sit and enjoy a leisurely drink and a chat accompanied by a Pastel de nata.
It is believed that these sweet pastries were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks a the Jerónimos Monastery which lies a short walk from the Bakery.
During Portuguese medieval history, the convents and monasteries of Portugal produced large quantities of eggs, whose egg-whites were in demand for starching the nuns' habits and also in wineries where it was used to clarify wine, such as Porto. It was quite common for these Portuguese monasteries and convents to produce many confections with the leftover egg yolks, resulting in a proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.
Following the expulsion of the religious orders, and later closing many of the convents and monasteries in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the former religious clerics, in order to keep producing the secret and distinct recipe, patented and registered the confection. The secret was transmitted to five master pastry chefs who guarded this original recipe, under the Oficina do Segredo, which later passed into the hands of familial descendants.
Since 1837, locals and visitors to Lisbon have visited the bakery to purchase the oven fresh tarts sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
However, in this age of the internet, the religious clerics secret recipe has now spread to our little corner of the world, and I can confirm that they look and taste exactly like the ones we enjoyed in Lisbon.

The cloisters in the monastery - The monastery was designed in a style that later became known as Manueline: a richly ornate architectural design that includes complex sculptural themes incorporating maritime elements and objects discovered during naval expeditions, all carved in limestone.
Portuguese images and some information via wikipedia

Sunday 18 November 2012

A Final Rhapsody in Gold

These majestic Beech trees cling to the sides of the escarpments just a stones throw from our home.
They are so tall and straight that we wonder what sustains them growing on these steep Cotswold slopes made up of oolitic limestone.
Dotted around the slopes are homes, in the valley cows and sheep graze the meadows.
Village communities scattered below the escarpments.
Soon it will be time to close the gate on autumn.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Architectural quiz - the answer

The answer is a Carpet Factory.
The building was designed for James Templeton and Son, Glasgow, Scotland, manufacturers of spool Axminster carpets, and completed in 1892. 
The architect was William Leiper who modelled it on the Doge's Palace, Venice, but with a Scottish twist. 
Today it is home to 143 flats/apartments.
Doge's Palace, Venice
all images courtesy wikipedia
Four people got the correct answer - listed in the order that they arrived:-
1. Freda
2. Suzy at Rustic Vintage Country
3. Jane and Lance Hattatt &
4. the fly in the web

Friday 16 November 2012

Architectural Quiz

Here we go again......
What do you think the original function of this building was?
Where do you think it might be located?
What building may have influenced its design?
I shall reveal the answers tomorrow.
If your comment isn't shown, it is because you are correct. I will show your answer tomorrow to give others a chance.
via wikipedia

Stop Press
I have just received this lovely Country Living Christmas book from Jean in her giveaway.
Thank you very much - Christmas, this year, should be a glorious affair at our house.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Youngest son - Printmaker

Although youngest son is a Teacher of Special Needs pupils he is also a Printmaker. 
He has a studio at the bottom of his garden where he diligently works away making lino cuts and printing them off in limited editions during his spare time.
Recently he had a private view in a gallery along with three other printmakers.
Each print takes several linocuts to achieve the different layers of colour, all of which have to be meticulously cut out in a negative format. 
Every layer of colour takes time and care and has to hang on a line to dry.
Kerry Coastline
Gannets on "The Skelligs"
Obviously his linocuts feature extensively on our walls including these two views from southern Ireland. They are going to be included in a book called Irish Landscapes, he still has two more to do.
A collage of some linocut illustrations that were used to illustrate an Aesop's Fable of The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass. The book had 16 illustrations plus one each on the front and back cover. It was printed on handmade paper in a limited edition by a private press a short while ago.