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!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Just because I can!

I had hoped to use a page on this blog to share my unfolding 365 project; however, Flighty pointed out that there was no comment facility on the 365 page.  

Having tried to work out how to enable comments, I realised that it was probably easier for me to begin a new blog - I was feeling drunk with my power over technology, apart from the comments enabling of course - the title of this post should actually be Just because I CAN'T.

So I have started confidence in nonsense, a title taken from an anonymous quote which appealed to me because nonsense really does occupy a large part of my day.  Really.

I hope that you will visit my new blog and let me know what you think. 


Sunday, 4 July 2010

365 - minus one

I've thought about it for some time and now I have finally  started.  You'll see in the list of pages at the top of this post that there is one for the 365 Project and my first picture is now posted!  It seems strange to deliberately start something that will last for a year - I tend not to think that far ahead most of the time, at least in terms of what I'll be doing.  

I hope that you'll have a look at the pictures there as time goes on and as always, comments are very welcome.  

Have a look at the Treasuries page too.  Etsy is a wonderful place for imagination and creativity, and the treasuries that I've put together are some of my favourite things that have appeared in various searches.  It's almost like challenging people - I searched using the word "silence" for example and was amazed at what appeared. 

Ok, you'll know where to find me for the next 364 days :)

Friday, 2 July 2010

a new affair of the heart.....?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a comment on Flighty's Plot,   in which I said that I wasn't a great fan of roses.  

That seems to have made fate or karma or the Great Rose God smile in a mischievous sort of way.  Not long afterwards, we went away for the weekend and stumbled on a small rose garden.  I can't remember exactly how many photographs I took there, but it was a clatter (Northern Irish for more than a few and less than loads).  

I realise now that I have never really appreciated the variety of shapes, colours and general beauty that roses can assume, but my education has started.  The collage shows a few of the roses on display - two of the shots have been processed (bottom left corner and top right corner). 

If anyone can help out with the varieties here, I'd be very grateful.  I have the RHS Encyclopedia, but there are so many variations it's difficult to identify them when you're starting from scratch.

Now, the image at the start of the post!  This is a piece of public art in Coleraine.  It stands at a waterbus stop on the River Bann, on which Coleraine is built. 

It's quite a striking work and I think it's a dragonfly, which may be a reference to the river.  Frustratingly, I haven't been able to track down any reference to it on the Coleraine Council website or public art in Northern Ireland websites and so I have no idea who created it or when it was set up.  It looks to me as if it may be made from recycled materials, but that may not be the case.  Anyhow, I'll keep trying and may end up contacting the council to try to get some info.  It actually looks a little bit confused to me, as if it's not sure how it ended up on the pole or what to do now!

I realised that with one thing and another, Creativity Boot Camp had come to an end all of a sudden.  We had exam fever in our house for a while there, with AS levels going on, so I fell a little behind with some of the prompts.  I still have one more to do, but here are the last few to complete all the images.

Full bodied - this is my favourite jug, from the Iveagh Pottery in Co. Kerry.  I LOVE the shape and the colours.

Smooth - the first image for this was hurried and also betrayed the fact that I was thinking about food

The second image for smooth was much more refined!!

The final prompt was Smile and I'm afraid that things became a little silly

The only one that's left is Hush; I intend to post an image for that, but am not hushed at all at the minute and so will wait a little before deciding what it's going to be.

The Boot Camp was fantastic - I felt that it gave the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and start to do things differently to the way I had been used to.  I'm continuing with Sunday Creative, which will be a little more leisurely.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Men with forward facing haircuts....

This is a day or two late but I was really sad to hear,  on Friday 25/6/10, of the death of Alan Plater.

He has written many, many programmes for television as well as plays, screenplays and books.  I remember watching his Trinity Tales in the '70's and the wonderful Beiderbecke Affair in the 1980's, plus the two follow up series, The Beiderbecke Tapes and the Beiderbecke Connection.  

It was in this Trilogy that he referred to "young men with forward facing haircuts" - a description that may be difficult to explain but which gives a very clear picture of the type of person being described!  I still use that phrase (in my head) when dealing with cold calling sales types.

 Barbara Flynn and James Bolam in The Beiderbecke Affair

Alan Plater also adapted Fortunes of War for BBC and wrote the screenplay for A Very British Coup.  A recent very fine episode of Lewis was written by him.   If Alan Plater's name was in the credits then I would watch whatever it was because the quality of writing was guaranteed. 

I hope that some of his programmes will be repeated now to give those who missed some of the early ones a chance to enjoy them.  Personally,  I'm going to watch the Beiderbecke Affair again, enjoy the partnership of James Bolam and Barbara Flynn for the umpteenth time and remember a very, very fine writer.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Not here today......

.......but find me here! 

The guest post that I have written for Vision and Verb is published today and I'm very proud to have been asked. 

I've just got back after spending a couple of days away and will catch up very soon.  Just one quick picture from this weekend - the colour of this flower does my heart good :)

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

by the way

While I was answering Flighty's comment on my last post, I was reminded of one of the most fearsome places I have ever been.  I have a terrible fear of heights and when we visited the North Antrim coast a few years ago I decided to "face my fear" and go across the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge.

 image from wikipedia

We (my husband, son and I) got across, but I was only able to come back with my eyes tight shut holding on to Mr Pugh's coat, with my son behind me encouraging me on!!  I actually had flashbacks about being on the bridge for days afterwards, especially when drifting off to sleep at night.  Being a rope bridge, it moves you see, and people in front of you make it bounce and then stop to take photographs leaving you in the middle of a moving few pieces of rope and planks!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Optical Illusion

I've used this title because I can't think of a better way to describe the National Trust house that we visited at the weekend.  We spent Friday - Sunday afternoon on the North Coast of the province, near Bushmills.  The weather was GLORIOUS and on Saturday we walked for miles.  It was the mix of weather and location that can make you feel glad to be alive and to feel that you could do anything.

We went to The Downhill Demense and the walk through the estate itself is lovely.  To reach the remains of Downhill House you follow the paths cut into the meadow upwards towards the cliffs overlooking Downhill Strand.  Firstly you pass the Mausoleum, the top part of which was blown down in the Night of the Big Wind in 1839.

The views are beautiful.

You can see by the grass in the photograph above that there was a very strong breeze and it got stronger the higher we went.  Some of the pictures might be a little fuzzy - at one point the breeze was blowing straight on, making me take a step back as I tried to take a picture!

Approaching the house, this is what you see -

It looks as if there's just a shell of the front left and although it is very imposing, looks as if it will take maybe 15 minutes to see all there is to see.  

This is the house from the side -

My jaw dropped as we went through the front gate.  Because of the slope at the back you have no idea from the front of how large it actually is - the people in the picture above give some idea of the scale.  From the front entrance you walk through the centre down through to where the courtyard and stable yard were towards the back.  

The back looks like this

And a path from the rear entrance leads to the Mussenden Temple, possible the best known landmark in N.I after the Giant's Causeway.

This is on the edge of the cliffs looking over the strand at Downhill.  The picture below was taken from the side of the temple (you can see the wall on the left).

Again, for scale, the shapes on the beach in the distance are cars.

Most of the way round the estate, the wind blows off the ocean and you can see how it has affected this tree!

A lovely day!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

holy crunching wasps, Batman!!??!!!

Sneaking around the Euonymus shrub in the garden, as I do, looking for hiding snails, I was a little puzzled to hear a scratching noise - quite a loud one at that.  

I finally realised that it was a wasp scrunching on the dead fennel stem (I leave it because the snails seem to like it, and the new growth isn't tall enough yet). There are creepy crawlies that I don't like to go near, but I am actually scared of wasps and forget that I am hundreds of times bigger that they are.  They make me leap away and poise myself for panic stricken flight with a bit of hand flapping in case one is near my head.  I did steel myself to take a picture

at arms length, so that I couldn't even see if it was focused.  It wasn't!    Apparently wasps chew wood to make pulp to build their nests - the amount of chewing needed must be intense, and after reading about them I've gained a little more insight into the benefits of having wasps around to prey on other pests.  Mind you, they really do bring out my flight reflex, and fighting is forgotten about completely.

Having survived that encounter, I carried on with some work for the Creativity Boot Camp.  There are not many more days to go, which is kind of sad because I really feel that I've been able to try different things and be inspired by other people's work.  

Day 9's prompt was drizzle.  I immediately thought of rain - this is Northern Ireland after all - and this was my image

We were also challenged to try something in a medium that we don't normally use, so I had a bit of fun with soft pastels and did some leaf prints.  

I won't give up the day job just yet :)

Just to prove that snails love fennel, dead or alive (the fennel that is), here's an example.  His/her shell looks a little the worse for wear, but still climbing that fennel stalk like a champion.


Sunday, 13 June 2010


I learned a valuable lesson yesterday - if you would like to take good photographs, in fact ANY photographs, make sure you put the battery in your camera before leaving the house.  Imagine my surprise when, having arrived at our destination,  the camera wouldn't switch on.....now imagine what was said when I realised why!

Oh well, as Homer says, "I am so smart, S.M.R.T, d'oh, S.M.A.R.T."

To catch up on previous posts, I have finished reading Dracula and am kind of in between books at the minute.  There are quite a few on the bedside table which are on the must read list, but I can't really settle to any of them at the moment.  Instead I've been dipping into essays by James Thurber which have been known to make me cry with laughter.  If you haven't come across Thurber, I highly recommend his stories and cartoons.  Here is a list of Thurber's books on Amazon.

Creativity Boot Camp is still going strong and there have been some challenging prompts!  My brain is starting to hurt a little, but that's because parts of it are being used that have been inactive for a long time.

Anyway, the prompt on Day 6 was fluid.  This is my image

Day 7's prompt was fly.  This became a little more difficult because of the no battery situation when we were out!  However, I collected some fallen petals, leaves and flower heads and for the first time in YEARS made a collage.  This is it (after messing about on picnik)

Day 8 has been much more fun.  The image came much more easily this time, because the prompt was ornament - there are such a lot of different bits and pieces that I have collected since childhood that have enormous sentimental value, even though some are a bit the worse for wear.  The finished article 

was so much fun to do and of course took much longer because of having to look through EVEYTHING, and remember where I had got them.  Look here for a list of what the different items in the collage are.