Tuesday, 3 August 2010

aran knitting?

This is a very quick post to add a link to london daily nature photo.  I think that this is one of the best photographs I've seen for a long time, and made me think of this article on BBC NI recently discussing "yarn bombing". 

It would have to be done on four tiny, tiny knitting needles :)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

tick tock, tick tock....

sundial in Carnfunnock
 The days and weeks are starting to fly past in a bit of a blur - I can't believe that it's over a week since my last post.  Sometimes everything that is going to take up your time happens at once, so that things that have to be completed for work have the same deadline, or people that you want to see for different reasons are only available on the same day - last week was a little like that!

At least the weekend was very relaxing, and we were able to get away for a couple of days to Co. Down, where we visited Castle Ward near Strangford.

This was our first visit and  it was a day that we both really enjoyed.  The grounds are large and lovingly looked after and the house is both beautiful and extraordinary.  Unfortunately photographs aren't allowed inside the house, otherwise I would have had enough pictures for the next year, but hopefully these contrasting images of the outside will give some idea of the quirkiness involved in its conception and design.

The couple that built the house in the 1700's couldn't agree on the style.  The lady of the house (who brought a large fortune to the marriage) was very inspired by Strawberry Hill, the gothick mansion belonging to Horace Walpole and she wanted to build the house in this style.

Her husband was opposed to this idea and wanted to build it in the classical style.  So they compromised.  Here is the front facade, facing the entrance and the grounds, plain, classical and grand.

Here is the rear facade, facing out over Strangford Lough.

Gothic windows with a bit of moorish influence.  Inside the rooms are mostly classical except for milady's sitting room, which has a ceiling that is designed to replicate a moorish tent, and an incredibly busy wallpaper with matching soft furnishings. A striking room, but somehow not restful.  Apparently she had wanted to have all the rooms in this style - I can't say that I blame her husband for disagreeing!

The grounds are wonderful and although the Sunken Garden is not large, it's very beautiful and as we were the only people in it at the time, very tranquil.
sunken garden
The fountain has a statue of Neptune

Neptune reflecting 

and the garden is surrounded by a beautiful old wall, decorated with fabulous trees and plants.

detail from the sunken garden

There is a fourteen mile walk around the estate which you can complete (we didn't even try!)  and the lake has swans, 


and resting places where you can sit and contemplate the meaning of life...

My favourite place was Yew Tree Terrace.

Yew Tree Terrace
This is a stand of yew trees, forming a lane that takes you out of the sunlight for a little while, but never lets you lose sight of it.  Truly beautiful.

All in all a lovely day, and to finish it off perfectly, the evening sky was spectacular!

Monday, 19 July 2010

quick - make a list!

One of the constants throughout my childhood and adult years has been a need to make lists of books.  As a child, the lists involved the books that were in our house (and there were many, many books) that were used to play "library".

As I got older, the lists evolved into books that were to be read and books that had been read, as well as books that were for buying,  that were for ordering from the library or that were back catalogues of authors that I liked and were for exploring.  At university the lists of set texts were like manna from heaven and after university I became a bookseller for many years, which  was like being paid for something that you were doing anyway!  I worked in both a small independent and then a large national, both of which had their advantages and, sadly, neither of which exist any longer.  The large national was too much competition for the smaller shop and then, weirdly, proceeded to put itself out of business through over-expansion!  

Thankfully I had already moved on by then, onto a different career path, but still I have lists.  At the moment the lists are of the books that are to be read and also a list of books (both familiar and new) that I read throughout each year.  Looking through the list of books read so far this year, a couple caught my eye.  I thought I'd like to mention them; one of them is probably much better known than the other.

The lesser known title first.  If you have read Diary of a Nobody, the likelihood is that you will enjoy Augustus Carp Esq by Himself, being the autobiography of a really good man  (see the photograph above).

It was first published in 1924, and the copy I have is a reprint from 1985 - well read and rather the worse for wear but not for parting with!  Augustus tells his own story from the time of his birth to the birth of his first child.  To give an idea of the voice of Augustus, here is a quote from his description of his own beloved father, whom he resembles to an uncanny degree:

"...my father's eyes were of a singularly pale, unwinking blue, while in his massive ears, with their boldly outstanding rims, resided the rare faculty of independent motion."

A man of goodness - "sidesman, churchwarden, and President of the St. Potamus League for purity" - Augustus describes his childhood and adulthood in the voice of self-righteousness - "...when the heads of households, prefer the flicker of the cinematograph to the Athanasian Creed..."  in order to provide a moral example to an increasingly sinful world.

I think that the difference between this book and Diary of a Nobody is that while we have affection and some sympathy for Mr. Pooter, Augustus Carp is so priggish and morally certain, that we can laugh without feeling guilty.  The author has created the character very skillfully.  Augustus is not so obnoxious that we want to stop reading, but is too obnoxious to make us feel anything other than pleased when he gets his comeuppance.  

Robert Robinson called it "the funniest unknown book in the world".  It makes me laugh out loud each time I read it - it's a book that feels like an old friend.

The second title is "Collected Ghost Stories" by M.R. James.  A few years ago I went through a phase of reading lots of ghost stories and came across some that were excellent. Images from ghost stories by E.F. Benson are still in my head, and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill was incredibly spooky.  

Despite this, for me M.R. James is still the master of the ghost story.  Casting the Runes is  probably his best known story - it's terrifying and suspenseful, with a growing horror underlying the seemingly ordinary day to day activities of the main character.  It was filmed in 1958  as Night of the Demon, starring Dana Andrews and despite updating the setting and changing some of the story to include a romance, it is hugely suspenseful and manages to have me on the edge of my seat each time I watch it.

The Mezzotint, which is my favourite story, has images in it that can make it difficult to think of having any art work that has a "view of a manor house, early part of the century" in your home.  The gradual changes to a mezzotint aquired at auction spell out a horrific story, which is all the more frightening because the full story is never told, and the narrator remains rather distant.  It's like something only half glimpsed in a dream that's turning into a nightmare.

M.R. James' stories are very understated; there are no ghouls or bodies falling out of cupboards.  He creates a convincing place and time as a background and the characters are believable and ordinary.   There is also a surprising amount of humour in some of the stories.  But overall the suspense, fear and horror are like mist - they creep around you and envelope you as they grow.  

If you haven't read M.R. James, wait for a dark afternoon in winter, preferably with an open fire and a glass of wine or cup of tea, and most importantly, with other people in the house!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

a bloomsday haunting in smalltown USA about to be invaded by aliens.....

The title of this post is one that I may use now that I've been officially confirmed as writing like James Joyce, HP Lovecraft and Stephen King!   

This article in yesterday's Guardian gives the link to I Write Like, a very useful website (created by coding robots) that can confirm for you which famous writer your prose style most resembles.  So in my last post, in three separate paragraphs, I resembled (apparently) the three writers mentioned above.  Not bad for a rambling little post about headaches and flowers!!

Try it and find out if your prose style is that of a master - or a money spinner like Dan Brown.  I'm off to practise  my long stream of consciousness sentences, with ghostly overtones and a building sense of horror, set in a seemingly idyllic small town.....well you get the idea.   

Interestingly, THIS post is written in the style of Harry Harrison, a science fiction writer and author of The Stainless Steel Rat, so I'll have to add  some intergalactic Irishness into the whole thing.  Enjoy the website - I certainly am!!

Friday, 16 July 2010

A pain in the head

We are back to fairly normal routine now, after the holiday long weekend and unfortunately part of that routine recently has been a recurrence of migraine headaches.  These had eased off for me over the last few years, but recently they have increased in number and strength.  

Yesterday afternoon was a classic demonstration of how a migraine can take over your day.  I'm lucky in the respect that the migraines I experience don't have any visual disturbances attached.  The throbbing pain behind the left eye and the nausea that accompanies it are very unpleasant and there is no other option for me but to lie down and try to sleep.  Over the years (these began when I was about 9 years old) I've realised that there is no way of diverting a migraine once it has a hold.  Lying down in the dark is the only course and IF I'm lucky I won't get sick.  

Yesterday I just about made it home from work at 3.30 pm and lay down.  I finally surfaced at 8.45 pm feeling a bit woozy but ready for a cup of tea.  So much for all the plans I had for yesterday afternoon!  

I think that the reason I've written about this at length is that there is often confusion between a bad headache, which is very unpleasant and a migraine, which is often completely debilitating and in some cases can need hospital treatment.  Generally with a migraine it's impossible to do anything while you're suffering from it - light hurts your eyes and movement makes you sick.   I find it difficult to hold my head upright when in the grip of a migraine, because it hurts too much and makes me feel, and often be, sick  So, that was my Thursday afternoon!!  

There may be an upside to migraine for some sufferers, however, as this treatment has just been approved.  

Anyway, on to more pleasant things and while we were away at the weekend, we visited various places around the Antrim Coast, including the Walled Garden at Glenarm Castle.  It's a very peaceful, tranquil place to spend an afternoon - there's something about a walled garden that really takes you back in time and creates a sense of the rightful order of things.  The photograph at the top of the post shows one of the displays - I haven't identified all the plants yet from my trusty RHS Encyclopedia, but I thought the colour contrast in this part of the garden was beautiful.

There are wonderful borders of mint, which is quite rampant and attracting butterflies.  

The mint is also trying to invade the old greenhouses that run the length of the front wall.

The layout incorporates variations of themes that probably would have been seen in 18th or 19th Century gardens, including hedged walkways, water features, a herb garden and a sundial.

There's also this statue, which I loved.  I haven't been able to find out who the artist is or when it was made, but I'm still looking.

There are plenty of flowers, with many varieties of rose 

 and fruit trees which were producing fruits very enthusiastically.

We also came to the conclusion during that afternoon that slowly but surely we were turning into our respective parents!  How do you get from rolling your eyes at the thought of going out for a run in the car to look at a garden, to actively enjoying it?  We've become the people we never believed that we would be!  Thank goodness we're enjoying it.

Friday, 9 July 2010

It's a jolly holiday...

Yes, it's the holiday weekend in Northern Ireland and in honour of a few days off work, here's Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke at their finest!  

As children, a cousin and I used to have concerts for our parents and grandparents, and would sing all the songs from Mary Poppins, while standing on a couple of chairs in absence of a stage.  I LOVE this film :)

So, we'll be having a few days going hither and thither - I have a couple of new books to read, groceries bought and days off work.  I'll be off the radar for a few days, back again next week. I hope that you have a lovely weekend.

                                                                      forget me nots

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

And the (joint) winner is...

A blog that I love to follow is written by Heckety Beck (whispers -although I think that may not be her real name).   

A week or so ago, Heckety threw down the poetry gauntlet and challenged us to come up with a meaningful, relevant - oh alright a daft piece of doggerel.  I'm proud to say that Gran and I are joint winners of the Funniest Rhymes.  Luckily they were meant to be funny!  

If you follow the Heckety link above, you'll be able to read all the entries in their glory.  If you explore Heckety's blog further you'll also be able to admire the patchwork and crafts that she creates in between blogging.   

The image below is one of a series that I've been taking of the rocks, pebbles and shells that I've collected over the years. 

The picture at the top is the lady of the manor surveying her serfs.

By the way, check out this treasury on Etsy.  Balanced, who put it together, very kindly used one of my photographs as the starting point for it.  That made me smile VERY widely!