Monday, 31 May 2010

A sunny box of treasures

I'm back again to give a link to an Etsy Treasury that I have put together - "Sunshine".

It's a mixture of Irish crafters and from further afield, but all with a lovely summery feel.  The screendump above doesn't show all of the items so click on Sunshine to have a closer look.

words that speak to me

"Vision and Verb" (click on the button to the right of this post - or left if you're behind the monitor!) is a blog that I have come to relatively recently, but that has brightened my mornings with the various posts and photographs it contains.  

At the weekend a post asked for our favourite quotations - the intention is to use these on Sundays throughout the summer to "hold space and give vision to the voices of others".  

I thought that this was a wonderful idea - the quote that I posted was from John Muir (visit the John Muir Trust here) 

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn."

Freedom in open spaces, fresh air, energy, peace and strength to face whatever comes next - these are the thoughts that come into my mind when I read this quote.  

The more that I thought about quotations after this, the more I realised that throughout my adult life I have had certain quotes that have stayed with me and that pop into my head in a particular set of circumstances.  

Not just the kind of inspirational quotes like the one above, but more practical descriptions like Chaucer's  "The smiler with the knife under his cloak".   This has stayed with  me since I studied english at university; it's a description that works either literally or metaphorically - sadly I've worked with people who fit this description perfectly, whose weapons were words to be used when your back is turned.

In a previous post I mentioned Tony Hancock's take on elections - "I'll....cross both their names out and write "get knotted" in!"  It would be a wasted vote, but how tempting!

Others that leap out at me are:

"Peter, you've lost the news!!" from The Day Today (The Day Today You Tube)  a programme that was almost prophetic in imagining how ridiculous some of the news programmes (and presenters) would become.

 "Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."  Mark Twain.  I realise that some politicians are good people, but I find it hard not to replace "congress" in this quote with Northern Ireland Assembly!

"I'm going to memorize your name and throw my head away"Oscar Levant.  Not that I would ever use this, but it's useful to remember just in case.

These, of course, are mostly for laughs and are getting further and further away from the kind of quotation that this post started off with.  I like them because they make me laugh and I do believe that laughter and healing are closely linked.

I'll finish with two that have been with me for a long time, and that speak to me loudly, giving comfort during really difficult times and instilling hope that things will get better. 

The first is  
  "Human pain does not let go of its grip at one point in time. Rather, it works its way out of our consciousness over time. There is a season of sadness. A season of anger. A season of tranquility. A season of hope."  
Robert Veninga

The last quote is about the strength of the human spirit, about how and why we can find it possible to carry on during the worst times. 

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." 
Albert Camus

I have thought of this often over the years, and the thought of that spark of summer that exists deep down in the cold and dark has, at those times, kept me moving forward, when it would have been all to easy to go no further.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Common Cold??

I'm with Ogden Nash on this one....

By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever's hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!

Subsitute woman for man in the last line and you'll get the picture.  The handkerchiefs have (by neccessity) now been replaced by kitchen roll.         
Anyway, we've all been there and I guess it's more of an inconvenience than anything else so moving on.  I'm not spending too long typing today, but I did take some pictures in the garden (fresh air to try to clear the head a bit) and as the rain has moved in there were plenty of raindrop shots to choose from.  The shot above has been cropped as I really liked the yellow rim to the droplet.      
The red leaves above belong to a plant related to St. John's Wort (I can never remember which variation) and they measure about two inches from leaf tip to leaf tip.  It is a plant that has, by turns, these lovely red leaves, yellow flowers, beautifully shaped seedheads that are dark brown/black and berries that change from green to black.  It has an unlimited number of photo-opportunities.  I took the picture below in January of this year, showing the opened seedheads balancing snow.    
The plant below actually is (I'm almost sure) St. John's Wort.  These droplets on the back of the leaf were really defying gravity in the breeze.    
You may realise from this small bundle of photographs, that I spend quite a lot of time in the back garden taking pictures.  I'm not a gardener by any stretch of imagination; I may do some weeding from time to time and I try to keep it tidy, but otherwise the plants are left pretty much to themselves.    There are always things to discover and new plants that have self seeded - we discovered a very young rowan tree growing in one of the containers which has clearly been left to us by a passing bird (the tree, not the container obviously....).  
I'm off now to go back to mooching around, snivelling and reading stories by Mark Twain and James Thurber to try to cheer myself up :)  If this doesn't work, I'll dip into the Laurel and Hardy dvds that were given to me at Christmas.  I'd have to be dead not to laugh at L & H  - actually, that might be a good test to make sure that I've really gone!  I must tell Mr. Pugh......

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Snail's pace

I've been messing about with....sorry, sorting out my photographs all evening, and not really getting very far, because I keep getting distracted by shots that I have forgotten about, or that I think I'll be able to do something with some day.  I've realised that my photograph folders on the computer are very like other parts of our house - cluttered with bits and pieces that I truly believe will come in useful some time, but of course not just at the moment.

I rushed out into the garden after work this afternoon, immediately after a really heavy shower of rain, to try to get some shots of raindrops in the sunshine etc - but after taking a few, my camera battery died.  Of course that is the time that you spot all the possibilities for great pictures. However, I managed to get a few shots, including the snail shown above (not the same one that I saw the other day) being very brave in the sunshine after the rain, in full view of any birds that were passing.

His/her friend was being a bit more cautious, tucked away in the leaves.  I could only get the shot below by contorting myself into quite an undignified position.  Luckily our garden is quite private :)

I've also been really pleased to see that we have Honesty back in the garden again (this is not metaphorical, but a plant).  It didn't appear last year, after being quite rampant in previous years, but here it is again. 

I love the flowers but I love the seedpods even more, especially at this time of the year when they have that lovely purple stem and edging.  This one had saved some of the raindrops, perhaps for any passing snails.

Oh well, back to the messing around (damn - that Honesty gets everywhere!)

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Getting the hang of this blogging lark.

Having now got a few posts completed I decided to explore a little further to find a template that I like and feel comfortable with.  And here it is!  I like the look of it and it's clearly set out for my old(ish) eyes that have never really functioned very well - I began to wear glasses when I was seven!

Any way this is a short post just to explain to those (anyone?) who may have stopped by and wondered how come the pages looked  different everyday for a couple of days. It was because I was feeling intoxicated by being able to change the template without resorting to either my son or my husband for a simple explanation.  (I can understand most technical matters - I just don't want to!)

Just a couple of pictures today - at the top a dandelion from our little part of the earth (our backgarden) and below looking over at one of my favourite places in Northern Ireland, the Mountains of Mourne - you know, the ones that sweep down to the sea.

Let me know what you think of the new layout :)

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Clear blue sky and a camera

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds,  I would pick more daisies.
 Nadine Stair

Over the last few years, I've that found looking into a blue sky is the surest way to help lift my mood if I'm feeling low.  

The last few days have been gorgeous and have been heaven for me - the same day to day niggles still crop up, I still worry about my teenage son and his exams, work carries on with all the little petty annoyances that can arise when you're working closely with other people - but being able to look out and see blue skies, or go out with my camera and be under the blue sky means that none of those things weigh heavily on me .  I feel that I can face anything, go anywhere, do anything!  

Here are a couple of  pictures I took in the garden today, while making the most of the weather.

A snail safely camouflaged in a shady spot 

3 Cornered Leek looking good enough to eat

And to finish as I started, with bright blue sky
A sparrow looking for insects in the Buddleia.

Of course reality and cloudy weather reassert themselves, but the memories of blue skies and photographs that I 've taken can be almost as good, until the next blue sky appears, and my energy levels, enthusiasm and enjoyment of everything around me surge again.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Restored to gilted glory

part of the nineteenth century wall for the walled garden

One of the places we like to spend some time at weekends is a local Country Park - it's close to family if we have to return quickly and there's not a lot of driving involved in getting there. There are walks, woods, a maze, plenty of wildlife and birds; there are beautiful views over the North Channel and the Antrim Coastline.

There is also a 19th century walled garden which is now laid out in flower beds, trees, benches and a collection of sundials, both freestanding and placed on the old wall. The wall is the original one that was built for the estate, and the brickwork is weathered, mellow and has a lovely mixture of colours throughout it.

It's a tranquil, beautiful place to spend some time. This is one of the more complicated sun dials, displayed there. As you can see it's a highly decorative piece of work as well as a practical instrument.

Over the last few years, my favourite sundial has been a much simpler one - it's round with a clown's face in the centre. The clown is playing a flute and it's the shadow of the flute that tells the time. I've always loved it for the details in and the expression on his face. Not clowning at all, he has a quiet dignity.

Inevitably over the years he's become weathered and at some stage his nose disappeared as well as his left hand, so he looked a little the worse for wear - but none the less dignified throughout.

On our last visit about two weeks ago we found that the clown had been restored, and not very sympathetically. He's been given a replacement nose and a (bad) paint job.

I find it hard to believe that this was how he was originally meant to look, gilded like a piece of very cheap jewellry, with a nose that has been carelessly stuck on and the cracks simply painted over. It made me wonder where the value is in restoring something when after restoration it actually looks worse and in the end loses the character that the years have given it.

I really hope that this will weather down as the time goes on and will begin to fit into it's surroundings a little more sympathetically. The picture below, showing the path in the walled garden, with the sundials on the left wall, shows how it fails to blend in at all at the moment.

I'll continue to pay my respects when we visit, after all underneath the badly applied make up is the same face that I've come to love; perhaps he'll reappear once again when the autumn and winter winds and rain have had their way.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

We've always had cats

all of the photographs in this post are of Alex carrying out her daily tasks

The first photograph that I remember having taken of me (I was about four years old) included our black and white cat, Mitten. A couple of years later she was killed by teenage boys with their dogs, and I'm thankful that I have no real memories of that happening, although my mum and dad remembered it with horror.

As I was growing up, we had other cats; the longest lived and the most loved was another black and white Mitten (we were a fairly traditional family in many ways!). She would greet my brother and I when we came home from school, often having run down the street into the house when she saw us arrive.

She loved people and it was not unusual to look out of the window and see someone passing (a workman perhaps) with Mitten sitting on his shoulder like a parrot. That was an adorable habit when she was a kitten, but balancing a fully grown cat on your shoulder when you are trying to work around the house is something else.

Another habit that became more difficult to cope with as she grew was her tendency to think that if you were in the kitchen you were going to feed her. This would cause her to leap onto your back and claw her way to your shoulder - again fine as a kitten but a fully grown cat is a different matter.

At that time our phone was in the kitchen - this meant that you would be in the middle of a conversation, with leaping cats the last thing on your mind. Then - SHRIEK! Trying to dislodge a hungry cat from your back is not easy. Recovering from the shock also took a little time.

Mitten lived until she was 15 years old, and although she's been gone for about 20 years, I still miss her.

However, we now have Alex, who is a very fine replacement.

Constantly hungry, very curious, much fonder of Mr. Pugh than she is of me (he seems to be more comfortable to sleep on), casting millions of white hairs all over the house and us, she's charming and we wouldn't be without her.

If only our letterbox was in the middle of the front door rather than at the bottom....Since she learned that a paw can fit through and make a very satisfying rattling noise that attracts her humans, we now have the privilege of opening the front door after our cat has knocked! I think, though, that in a cat's worldview, that is probably the proper order of things.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Sunshine and rain

We got back on Sunday after having a couple of days away on the east coast of Co. Down. It was a lovely weekend!

When we arrived on Friday evening the sun was still warm and the shadows were long -

That evening we ate (and drank) in Grace Neill's -

"Grace Neill’s is listed as ‘the oldest pub in Ireland’ in “The Guinness Book of Records”, it was almost four centuries ago in 1611 when “The King’s Arms” first opened its doors for business in Donaghadee, Co. Down."

It was very comfortable, with excellent service and the food was great. I felt as if I had decided to have a meal in the TARDIS. The front entrance is tiny and the little bar just inside holds three people (four if everyone breathes in), but as you walk back through the building, there seems to be more and more space. It was a very relaxing experience, just what we needed to start the weekend.

The sunset was golden and wonderful

On Saturday morning I went for a walk along the beach, which was 100 yards from where we were staying. The sun was bright and the sky was blue; there were about four people (including me) on the beach. I had a lovely walk for an hour and got back loudly demanding breakfast!

In his poem MCMXIV Philip Larkin wrote of the men and boys shown in the photographs of the lines outside the recruiting offices at the outbreak of the 1st World War:

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

They had no idea of the horrors that they were going to have to face. On Saturday afternoon we visited The Somme Heritage Centre, commemorating a battle that was bloody (5,500 men died on the first day) and sadly unneccessary, one which my grandfather survived and in which my husband's great uncle died (he had lied about his age and was probably around 16).

The tour is well organised and very informative, ending with filmed footage of the battle and images of men and boys who fought and died at the Somme. The bravery shown by these men was unimaginable, given the horrors that they were living through. It was a very emotional experience, especially as we could have been seeing our relatives in the battle footage - we can never know.

On Sunday morning, I was back walking on the beach. Once again the sun was shining, although this time there were a few more clouds around, as showers had been forecast and as we all know, the weather forecast is never wrong!

There were less people on the beach this time, although there were a couple of added onlookers, just chillin', thinking about the cud and whether they would chew some.

The clouds were gathering as the promised showers made their way towards us

and yes, it all ended in rain!

That didn't matter though, because we had a lovely, relaxing weekend throughout which we could take our time and didn't have to hurry on to the next task. And to make it complete, we arrived home to find that our teenage son and his friends had not only left the house intact, but had actually tidied it!! Sometimes everything goes your way :)

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Nostalgia makes me ramble

Looking out towards the Mourne Mountains from the shores of Strangford Lough

I was reading this article on yesterday's Guardian website Best Children's Books Ever

I have a great interest in children's books - I read so many growing up and then spent ten years as a children's bookseller. I have to admit to being a bit behind the times with some of the newer authors, but a list like this will always be interesting. Not just because of the nostalgia it can create when you come across a book that you loved as a child, but also because of the disbelief when you realise that your favourite book isn't included! Have a look and see if any of your favourites are there.

It made me think about one of my favourite books while I was at primary school. The Bell Of Nendrum by J.S. Andrews was first printed in 1969. Here's the blurb:

Sailing his dinghy among the tiny islands of Strangford Lough in County Down, Niall Ross is caught in a freak storm which hurls him back nine centuries to the monastic settlement of Nendrum. Gradually, he comes to understand and love the monks and novices and their simple, gentle lives - lives soon to be ended in a ruthless viking raid. Moving swiftly against the well-researched background, this is a fascinating reconstruction of a crucial period in Irish history, as well as a vivid, exciting story.

A wonderful sky over Strangford Lough in Summer 2009

In fact I loved it so much, I think I set a record for the number of times a book was taken out of the library!! It is unlikely ever to appear on one of these lists, however, as it has been out of print for a long time and was set very firmly in Northern Ireland. It was reprinted in 1985 and available for a time then - I bought a copy and usually have it somewhere close.

One of the great treasures held by the monks of Nendrum is a chalice. The wonderful thing about this book (apart from being very well written with a great story and sympathetic characters) is that it's possible to visit (as Niall does at the end of the story) a reproduction of the chalice in the Ulster Museum (the original is held in Dublin).

This book brought history alive for me in a way that is still very strong today. I visited the Ulster Museum recently (the first time for a long time as it was closed for three years for refurbishment) and there was the chalice making me smile (as always) in the hope that at least one of the monks escaped the brutality and survived.

The obelisk raised for the millennium in Delamont Country Park
on the shores of Strangford Lough

Ah well, enough maundering on! The pictures that I have chosen today tie in with "The Bell of Nendrum". They were all taken in Co. Down on the edges of Strangford Lough in Summer 2009 when we spent some time there.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

More for the wish list......


I found this article on the Guardian website and it seemed appropriate to link to it after my last post, which discussed a book set in China.

I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read ANY of the titles listed in the article, although at least two were already on my Wish List. Oh well, the shame of not having read any is far outweighed by the excitement of a whole new list of books to explore! I hope that you find something of interest in the list. Let me know if you do :)

Still reading Dracula by Bram Stoker and if you haven't already read it, I would highly recommend it. There seems to be such a huge interest in vampire stories at the moment and so many of the vampires in films and books seem to be very.....pretty, so it's good to re-read a story in which the vampire and his flock are clearly evil and scary. And yes, I can still sleep after reading it.

Anyhoo, the image at the top is the dandelion and daisy again, but this time rather more dramatic.

The photograph below was taken on the Antrim Coast Road, and shows part of the amazing geology of the area. It's a wonderful, beautiful drive to take and the adrenaline surges caused by the number of weekend motorbikers whizzing past soon settle again.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Elections, seriously

In honour of the election I give you my favourite political quotation, taken from Hancock's Half Hour of March 1958 - "The Election Candidate". Discussing the two contenders for the seat of East Cheam, Tony says

"I shall show my contempt by going down to the polling booth, taking my form, crossing both their names out and writing "get knotted" in."

Tempting, no??

Hancock's Half Hour, The Classic Years has eight scripts from the radio series, including "The Poetry Society", "Sunday Afternoon at Home" and "The Diary", part of which is better known as the "test pilot".

Incidentally, "The Election Candidate" also has one of my favourite bits of dialogue involving Griselda Pugh. Griselda is Tony Hancock's secretary, a woman of forceful personality. During the episode, Kenneth Williams comes to see Tony to invite him to stand as a candidate for the East Cheam Liberals! Kenneth rings the doorbell and the door is opened by Griselda:

Kenneth Oh good morning, are you Mrs Hancock?
Griselda Do you want a punch in the nose?

Only Hattie Jacques could be rude so politely!

I've included some images that I've made from photographs that I've taken at different times. At the top of the page you'll find the imaginatively titled
DandelionDaisy. I find it hard to think of either as weeds as they can both be so lovely.

Below is a celebration of all the cats that we have ever owned called
we've always had cats

Moving on, I just wanted to mention another book that I've read recently. Very far removed from Hancock and light years away from election or democracy,
"Colours of the Mountain" by Da Chen is the memoir of the author's childhood in rural China in the 1960's and 70's.

His family were landlords and following the revolution they were treated as outcasts by the other villagers. As a description of childhood and adolescence it is eloquent and remarkable. As a description of growing up in the midst of a harsh regime, in which humiliation and fear are often present, it is truly inspiring. Da Chen gives a wonderful picture of his family, communicating the love and strength he gained from his parents to us through the strength of his own character.

Throughout the book Da Chen describes some truly savage treatment at the hands of the Communists in the village, and gives a clear idea of the grinding poverty that his family was forced to live in for much of the year. He also tells stories of bravery in the face of cruelty and of adolescent misbehaviour that clearly is common to teenagers all over the world.

Da Chen's lack of self pity throughout is remarkable and he is so likeable that it is easy to warm to him and to share in his (and his family's) joy as he leaves to take his place in Beijing's Language Institute, in the English department.

I think it is probably easy to tell that I enjoyed and admired this book. I was sorry when it ended, and was delighted to learn that there are sequels which continue Da Chen's journey. That will be part of my holiday reading this year and I look forward to becoming re-acquainted with Da Chen.

Give it a try, or if you have already read it let me know what you think. :)

The last image is of a feather that landed in our garden called, curiously,

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Well, I've done it now!

I've read blogs, and commented on blogs, and admired blogs but for a long time I've resisted the temptation to join in by writing a blog. So, what has changed my mind? Two thoughts immediately spring to mind -
  • I take a lot of photographs and whilst my family and friends are sympathetic, they are really at the point of viewing overload, so thoughts of a new audience are very persuasive (I also have a flickr page).
  • I'm getting older and consequently the number of things I want to draw to the attention of others, express an opinion about, become sentimental about and just plain rant about is growing larger by the day
Actually the two main interests I have are reading and taking photographs. So really these will be the subjects that will be mentioned most often in this blog.

As this is the inaugural post, I will make it relatively short and just mention that currently I am reading Dracula by Bram Stoker for what is probably the third time. The first few chapters build up tension, suspense, anxiety and fear of a nameless terror - it's a great, great read.

For the photographic theme, here are a couple of pictures I took this weekend at Carnfunnock Country Park in Co. Antrim:

And one from my in-laws garden:

PS - to clear up any misunderstandings, my real name is not Griselda Pugh. This is the name of the secretary in Hancock's Half Hour radio show. She was played magnificently by Hattie Jacques. I chose the name because I love the character, however, as a recent photograph of me proved, it is growing more apt with every passing year!