Friday 31 October 2014


Yowling, prowling, growling cat
Why do you switch your tail like that?
Why do your eyes flash gold and green?
Could be--must be--Halloween!
Slinky, inky, blinky cat,
Why do you arch your back like that?
What scary creatures have you seen?
Could be--must be--Halloween!
poem via

Sunday 26 October 2014

Eye Glasses

A pair of French gilded scissor glasses in the Empire style c. 1805 



I was surprised to discover that the earliest historical reference to magnification for the eyes dates back to 500 BC where Egyptian hieroglyphs depict a simple concave glass lens. The earliest written record of magnification was during the 1st century AD, when Seneca the Younger, a tutor to Emperor Nero of Rome, wrote: "Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe or glass filled with water." Nero is apparently said to have watched gladiatorial games using an emerald as a corrective lens.
Has it ever crossed your mind how devastating it must have been in the past to cope with failing eyesight without any means of restoring it? For the common man and women no aids were available. Imagine being a skilled workman - jeweller, stonemason, carpenter, a needlewomen, or an artist relying on your eyesight to earn a living. We, on the other hand, can just pop into an Opticians on any high street and be examined for a pair of prescription glasses or even buy a pair of cheap everyday reading glasses straight over the counter. 
detail from a portrait of Hugh de Provence 1352

One of the panels from an altarpiece in Bad Wildungen Church, Germany showing an apostle using lenses to read - he is in the bottom panel on the left hand side.
Known as the "Glasses Apostle" and painted by Conrad von Soest in 1404. It is considered to be one of the oldest depictions of eyeglasses north of the Alps.
St. Peter reading - Friedrich Herlin - 1466
Seated apostle holding lenses in position whilst reading. Detail from Death of the Virgin by the Master of Heiligenkreuz 1400-30
Portrait of Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara by El Greco circa 1600 - the glasses are hooked over the top and bottom of his ears
Portrait of Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas circa 1580 - 1645
Today it is possible to wear contact lenses and have laser corrective eye surgery. However, glasses tend to remain the norm for most people, particularly as technology has improved. Modern glasses can be a fashion statement by familiar names e.g. Calvin Klein and Gucci frames. Frames can be made from memory metal alloys that return to their correct shape after being bent, and most are now made of light weight materials such as titanium and high tech plastics.
all images via

Thursday 23 October 2014

Days Decrease....

and Autumn Grows - Robert Browning

"Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower" Albert Camus
It was one of those perfect English Autumnal Days - 
P D James
"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
"Autumn is my spring!" August Strindberg 

Monday 20 October 2014

Nertera granadensis

Spotted in the florists, a Nertera granadensis, coral bead plant, pin cushion plant, a little jewel that to me is irresistible, so home it came
I rarely see them for sale, and I am hopeless at keeping them alive. I will just enjoy it for as long as it manages to survive. Looking after them is difficult and not recommended for beginners, perhaps having owned a few over the years I am now no longer a beginner? It should be kept in a bright but semi shaded position. A south facing window is ideal, but without direct sunlight
I dont know why I like it so much, its a curious plant - all those tiny orange succulent beads scattered amongst such diminutive leaves
It is a ground covering plant and has an unusually extensive transcontinental distribution surrounding the Pacific Ocean. I would love to see it growing naturally.
It should be allowed to dry out in the autumn and winter, but kept moist in the spring and summer. I had previously imagined that it required moisture all year round. Armed with some new facts - fingers crossed, it will be around for a long time.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

British Treasures - No.1

Mold, is an historic market town in Flintshire, North Wales. It sits in a fertile valley on the River Alyn between the Cwydian Mountains and the plains of Cheshire. The main street was once home to a Norman Motte and Bailey castle built in AD1093, and there is evidence of occupation by both the Romans and Saxons.
A Welsh legend speaks of sightings in the local hills of Bryn-yr-Ellyllon - Fairies' Hill or Goblins' Hill - a ghostly boy, clad in gold, a glittering apparition in the moonlight. Local citizens avoid the hill after dark, they have heard too many reports of sightings from travellers passing through their valley. 
In 1833, some workmen were digging a prehistoric mound to gather stones, and as they were working they uncovered a stone lined grave. In the grave were hundreds of amber beads, several bronze fragments, and the remains of a skeleton. Wrapped around the skeleton was a mysterious crushed object - a large and finely decorated broken sheet of pure gold.
Mold Gold Cape - British Museum, London
This stunning object is a golden cape decorated in a repoussé punched design giving the effect of strings of beads for the shoulders of a human being.  
Excited by the dazzling wealth of their find the workmen eagerly shared out pieces of the gold sheet. The tenant farmer, whose land it was on, taking the largest piece for himself. In 1833 there was little legal protection, and nobody would have known about the discovery if it had not been for the local vicar. Learning of the extraordinary find he wrote an account about it which in turn aroused the interest of the Society of Antiquaries hundreds of miles away in London.
The cape has been dated to the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago. It is not known who made it, but it was clearly made very skilled craftsmen. The elaborate design suggests a long tradition of crafting luxury items.
In the past it was easy to dismiss British prehistoric societies as primitive people existing before recognisable civilisations emerged; however, partly through the discovery of rare objects like this Mold Gold Cape, in recent years we have now come to view these societies rather differently.
information courtesy Neil MacGregor, Director British Museum, and wikipedia.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Autumn's Bounty

If you have a glut of tomatoes then turn them into a delicious soup
I never use precise ingredients for something like soup it all depends on how many tomatoes I have from the garden (roughly 1 kilo)
Halve and quarter tomatoes leaving the skin on (apparently the skin contains lycopene which protects our immune cells from destructive free radicals), chop red onions, a red pepper, a small red chili, press a couple of fat cloves of garlic, place everything in a roasting dish. Sprinkle all over with a little balsamic vinegar, a little sugar, black pepper, small pinch of sea salt flakes (optional), scatter with fresh thyme leaves, finish with a good drizzle of olive oil. 
Roast until ingredients start to turn brown and caramelise 
Place the roasted tomatoes etc in a saucepan adding ¾ litre of vegetable stock and a good squeeze of tomato puree. Cook for a further 20 mins and then blitz to a very smooth creamy consistency. This makes a richly flavoured, nourishing, thick soup
Garnish with Parmigiana cheese and basil leaves
I have shown this recipe before but it is so simple to make and very delicious

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Sculpture in the round at Gloucester Cathedral

Jubilee lV - Lynn Chadwick
The cathedral and its grounds makes a stunning showcase for a major sculpture exhibition of 100 works featuring 60 British sculptors including Henry Moore, Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Lynn Chadwick, and Eduardo Paolozzi. 
Sitting couple on bench - Lynn Chadwick
Lynn's works are in most major collections, MoMA, The Tate, George Pompidou. He owned an historic manor house in the hills near to where I live, and filled the park surrounding the house with his large sculptural works. It is now the home of his son, Daniel, who is also a sculptor  
H came home from a meeting last week having caught sight of this hippo and suggested that I might enjoy a visit - I wonder why?
The Thief - D.Mach
A close up of the above figure reveals that it is cleverly made out of chicken wire soldered together
Pomona - R. Brown
This cloister may be familiar to Harry Potter fans - it has featured in all the films
Constellation Mobile 2014 - Daniel Chadwick
Fallen Angel - Damien Hirst - taken from Antonio Canova's The Repentant Magdalene (c.1794-96)
No descriptions regarding the sculptures were given, and it was not until I was back home viewing the images on the computer that I realised the Fallen Angel was in fact a drug abuser
I wonder if it is made of solid gold? Hirst's platinum skull was covered in 8,601 diamonds!!! 
Working model for reclining figure: Bone skirt
Henry Moore
Breakout ll - B. Beasley
I leave you with what I consider to be two surreal heads by J. Humphreys
On the left Ipsius Imago a Letere Extensa and on the right Baby Jesus 
 I found these two heads slightly scary - was it due to their juxtaposition with John and Ann Bower's tomb?
The exhibition is free and runs until the 21st November. 

Saturday 4 October 2014

Interior of Gloucester Cathedral

Here, in Gloucester Cathedral, lies King Edward ll Born 1284 - reigned 1307-27
The holes in the King's crown once contained jewels -  the graffiti is thought to be the work of Kings School boys in the 1700s. Kings school exists to this day. 
Edward ll was murdered at Berkley Castle which lies just along the vale from Gloucester, his body was brought to the abbey precincts where it was received by the Abbot for burial
In the middle ages this tomb would have been a spectacular sight covered in colour and gilding. For about 70 years after the king's death it was a focus for pilgrims and travellers. In 1378 his great grandson, Richard ll came to the cathedral where he held a parliament - the pillar besides Edward's tomb testifies to this - painted traces remain of white harts, Richard's royal symbol. 
 This is the tomb of Osric - Prince of Mercia - he founded the first monastic house on this site during the year 678-679
Elizabeth Williams died in childbirth when she was just 17 years old. The baby probably survived for a short time as it is dressed in what is called a chrysom - a christening gown indicating baptism
The Latin inscription on the epitaph reads....
Elisabeth speaks
"Husband, you carved in marble here your wife; 
Thus you'd ensure her immortality.
But Christ my hope and trust was, all my life;
So God forbids that I should mortal be".
July 4th 1622
Wife of W.J. Williams
Youngest daughter of Dr. Miles Smith
Bishop of Gloucester 
Robert Duke of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror, and benefactor of Gloucester Abbey.
He died in 1134 at Cardiff Castle, a prisoner of his youngest brother, King Henry l
This oak effigy is a rare survivor from the 13th century
Thomas Machen, Alderman of the City of Gloucester and thrice Mayor with his wife Christian.
They were married for 50 years had 7 sons and 6 daughters and died within months of each other in 1614/15 
Around the tomb their children are shown as "weepers" - at the top 4 daughters and two that died in childhood
The next row four of their sons
The bottom row shows three sons who also died in childhood
A great deal of this Romanesque church survives including these great nave piers
The magnificent Quire and Presbytery were remodelled in what became known as the English style of architecture for more than 200 years
A beautiful and unusual lead Norman font
A pretty window made by Christopher Whall with assistance from his daughter Veronica - Christopher is my favourite Arts and Crafts stained glass designer.
This is just a tiny fraction of his wonderful windows in Gloucester Cathedral
Wall paintings in St Andrews chapel 
This fresco painting was carried out by Thomas Gambier Parry who lived locally at Highnam Court. He developed his own process of fresco painting and was a great philanthropist. He constructed a school for his workers and a church on his estate. He frescoed Highnam church in remembrance of his wife and some of his children who died at early ages. I  will try and revisit the church some time in the future as it is a feast for the eyes. 
  Window in memory of Ivor Gurney 1890-1937
Ivor was born in Gloucester and was a chorister in the Cathedral. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he began to write poetry. He enlisted in the Gloucestershire Regiment, was wounded and gassed. His first book of poetry was published in 1917. The following year he had a serious breakdown and was eventually declared insane and confined to a mental institution.
These windows were installed this year and chart his life.
Each light draws on a poem of Gurney's and reading from left to right reflect his troubled life. They show the Cotswold countryside he loved, through the terrors of war and his own despair.
This Crucifixion, 'Pieta', Resurrection is another recent work of art. The niches in which the paintings fit have been empty for over 450 years since the reformation
We actually visited the cathedral to see a huge exhibition of sculpture by many of the 20th century 'greats', but that will now have to wait for another time.