Tuesday 28 January 2014

Gladstonbury Tor - was it an island?

The tales and legends that whirl around Gladstonbury Tor are countless going far, far, back into the mists of time. The slopes of its conical hill are terraced - the method by which they were formed being shrouded in mystery. 
Sitting on the summit, the solitary 14th century tower of St. Michael's Church ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries

Human artefacts have been found dating back to the Iron Age Celts and Romans. During the Saxon and early medieval periods it is thought that several wooden buildings were constructed on the summit interpreted as an early church and monks' hermitage.
The Tor is the subject of Middle Age legends in particular Arthurian tales of the Holy Grail. Then it was known as Ynys yr Afalon - The Isle of Avalon, it is where in 1191 Monks from Gladstonbury Abbey alleged that they had discovered King Arthur's and Queen Guinevere's coffins! 
The Last Sleep of Arthur - by Edward Burne-Jones 

From the top of the Tor, on a clear day, it is possible to see the Bristol Channel, but could it be that it was once the island of mythology? 
The ancients liked their islands; islands afforded them seclusion and above all protection. Think of St. Columba, who settled on Iona, Scotland. Having been exiled from Ireland, he travelled across the sea in a wicker coracle along with 12 of his companions. He founded a monastery there in 563 AD where it is thought the Book of Kells may have been produced or begun towards the end of the 8th century. Although the Book of Kells was started after the death of St. Columba, he was known as a brilliant artist, and some of his illuminations are believed to be in the Book.
The Book of Kells - Gospel of John

Remember Lindisfarne, Northumberland, also known as Holy Island, only accessible by a causeway when the tide is out.  It is where in 635 AD Saints Aidan, Cuthbert, Eadfrith and Eadberht chose to found their monastery. Home to the Lindisfarne Gospels, presumed to be the work of Eadfrith which he is said to have produced in honour of St. Cuthbert.
Matthew the Evangelist from the Lindisfarne Gospels
Could this have been Avalon, location of the Holy Grail, harking back to ancient times? Look at this photo, the result of recent storms that have flooded the Somerset Levels - I leave you to decide. 

Sunday 26 January 2014

An Icon of Today

William Henry Fox Talbot photo taken in 1864 (1800 - 1877)
Fox Talbot was an eminent mathematician, astronomer and archaeologist. He translated the cuneiform inscriptions (one of the earliest known systems of writing) in Nineveh - Nineveh being one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. 
So what is this icon of today? It is an object that many of us own, carry around in our pockets and which gives us endless pleasure? 
175 years ago a world changing event took place at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, the home of Fox Talbot. In 1839 William Henry Fox Talbot announced that he had created the first photographic negative taken of a window at his home in Lacock Abbey. This was to be an invention that would revolutionise the way we view and capture the world.
In 1833 whilst visiting Lake Como in Italy, his lack of success at sketching the scenery prompted him to dream up a new machine with light sensitive paper that would make the sketches for him automatically.
Thomas Wedgwood had already made photograms - silhouettes of leaves - but these quickly faded. In 1827, Joseph Nicéphore de Niepce had produced pictures on bitumen, and in January 1839, Louis Daguerre displayed his 'Daguerreotypes' - pictures on silver plates - to the French Academy of Sciences. Three weeks later, Fox Talbot reported his 'art of photogenic drawing' to the Royal Society. His process used paper that had been made light sensitive, rather than bitumen or copper-paper.
To celebrate this event the National Trust, who now own the Abbey, have illuminated the window used by Fox Talbot and transformed the façade of the Abbey, its medieval cloisters, and the trees that line the driveway with pools of coloured light.
The Cloisters
A positive from what may be the oldest camera negative in existence dating from 1835 - the latticed window at Lacock Abbey
My photo showing the outside of the same window - illuminated from within 
Eight hundred years ago Lacock Abbey was founded by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. She founded the Abbey in memory of her husband William Longespée, and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and St. Bernard. On the very same day, she rode 15 miles on horseback and founded a monastery at Hinton Charterhouse for Carthusian monks.
She was a powerful and wealthy heiress, inheriting the title of Countess in her own right, not through marriage. After the death of her parents she was placed under the legal protection of King Richard the Lionheart.
She married William in 1198. Together they were an influential couple; William was the illegitimate son of Henry ll and half brother of King Richard.
Whilst William was in the Holy Land on a crusade, Ela acted as Sheriff of Wiltshire in his place. The couple were also instrumental in the founding of Salisbury Cathedral. 
Ela later became Lacock's first Abbess and spent her last days at the Abbey.
The snowdrops, aconites, and these catkins were delightful little harbingers of spring to see on this January day
A section of the inner courtyard to the Abbey
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid 16th century Henry Vlll sold the Abbey to Sir William Sharington, who converted it into a house. The Abbey passed to the Talbot family in 1750, and it remained in their hands until 1944 when Matilda Talbot gave it, along with the village, to the National Trust.
Prior to the dissolution of the monasteries this 14th century Tithe Barn was part of the Abbey. At that time most of the inhabitants of the village would be tenants of the Abbey and their rent (i.e. their tithes) would be a proportion of their corn, and fleeces etc which would be collected in this barn - hence the name tithe barn.
Lacock village is filled with lots of interesting architecture and quaint shops. It is popular as a film location having been used in several of the Harry Potter films, Cranford, and Pride and Prejudice.

Friday 24 January 2014


Paisley is the generic term used worldwide to describe this pattern. Although the design was made popular by the town of Paisley during the 19th century it actually originated many centuries earlier in Asia, principally Persia now Iran, and Kashmir in northern India. The East India Company first began importing fabrics bearing the design during the 17th century to Britain.
This paisley throw is mine
It also became very popular in France and eventually the design was replicated by their own textile printers; in France the paisley design led on to the production of patterns such as toile de jouy.
During the 19th century soldiers returning from the colonies brought home fine cashmere shawls which became a very popular accessory, but to buy these shawls in Britain was incredibly expensive.  The Paisley weavers decided to turn their hands to producing similar patterns to those arriving from Kashmir, India, and hence the name Paisley became synonymous with the design.
Paisley is a town in Renfrewshire just west of Glasgow in Scotland. Every cottage along some streets had a jacquard loom operated by a family. They were very successful and were able to undercut the Indian imports by charging 90% less for their paisley shawls. Eventually mills were built to accommodate the Jacquard hand-looms which attracted many workers and their families to moved to Paisley. 
Regency Empire stoles and shawls in France 1888
Muslim shawl makers in Kashmir 1867
The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1866
This French painting shows the popularity of the Paisley style shawl in France.
Portrait of Fanny Holman-Hunt by her husband William - this painting is also dated 1866 and shows how the shawl was popular in both countries.
The awakening conscience - William Holman-Hunt
Paisley seems to have a perennial appeal and is just as popular today. It appears on ties, scarves, throws, dresses, blouses, curtain fabric, and even bedlinen.  

Monday 20 January 2014

Optical illusions

The Penrose Triangle in East Perth, Western Australia
The Penrose triangle. This triangle gives the appearance of being solid when viewed from certain directions, but it is actually made from three straight beams joined at two corners only.

Escher's Waterfall - Defying gravity the water apear to be travelling upwards
Escher's Sky and Water 1 & 11
According to Escher - "In the horizontal centre strip there are birds and fish equivalent to each other. We associate flying with sky, and so for each of the black birds the sky in which it is flying is formed by the four white fish which encircle it. Similarly swimming makes us think of water, and therefore the four black birds that surround a fish become the water in which it swims."
Three hares window at Paderborn Cathedral, Germany 
Three hares sharing three ears, yet each one of them has a pair of ears. This is my favourite illusion for its simplicity and effectiveness.
This circular image of the three hares symbol has been around since 600 AD and is widespread appearing in sacred sites from the Middle and Far East to the churches of southwest England. It seems to have a number of mystical associations with fertility and the lunar cycle. When used in Christian churches, it is a symbol of the Trinity.
Grid illusion - dark dots seem to appear and disappear at intersections
This horizontal grey bar is the same shade throughout. You can check this by covering either side of the bar with paper at the top and the bottom.
Move your head backwards and forwards whilst looking at the black dot - the two circles appear to move.

The three images below were created by Professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka from Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan.
Do visit his page to see more amazing illusions. He also has a book published called "Trick Eyes Graphics NEO".
I had concerns about using these images because of copyright. However, at the end of his page it says that it is possible to reproduce three of his illusions as long as full credit is given. 

WARNING: If any of the moving illusions below make you feel dizzy or sick, then please leave the page immedately. 
'The Autumn Colour Swamp'
'Rotating Snakes'

Friday 17 January 2014

Colour and 'Chicken - omics'

During the months of January and February I like to have plenty of colour around me in the house - plants and fresh flowers fulfil that need bringing some of their sunshine indoors.
Do you buy Marks & Spencer 'Dine in' for Two £10? It is great value and includes a main course, a side dish of vegetables, dessert and a bottle of wine. From the choices available I always chose the whole fresh chicken - look carefully as they vary in price from about £4 up to over £8 within the deal. It pays to search the cabinet for the big ones!!! You can then chose a dessert, we had New York cheesecake, a side vegetable dish - I chose mushrooms stuffed with soft cheese and herbs which actually made a meal in itself with ratatouille and crusty bread.  Then you can pick a bottle of wine from a selection of white, red, and rosé which are valued at around £7. Add all that up and you have got items which would normally cost over £20 in M & S. The great thing is that not only do we get a Sunday roast chicken dinner, but the two following days we have cold chicken with vegetables or salad and jacket potatoes.  The next two days the chicken becomes a curry to which I add dessert apples, sultanas, and toasted almonds. Following all these meals, the bones are made into a stock. This is made into a nutritious soup. By the end of the week the two of us have eaten all of our daily main meals from the £10 'deal' plus the extras we have in the store cupboard, fridge and picked from the garden.
Even if you live in a country without an M & S store, a large fresh chicken can work wonders all week long.
I prepare the chicken for roasting by making deep scores in the breast and legs then poking fresh thyme from the garden in some slits and slithers of garlic in the others. A twist of ground black pepper, a scattering of 'Maldon' sea salt flakes, then squeeze the juice of a whole large lemon over the lot, tucking what remains of the lemon inside the carcass along with some more fresh thyme. That is it, no need for oils or fats - the lemon, garlic, and thyme all flavour and perfume the meat delicately.
Hope Marks & Spencer don't see this - they might decide their 'Dine in' deal is just too generous.