Saturday 16 September 2023

Art and fun with friends

 Ages ago, I saw that this year's Manchester International Festival was to include a installation / exhibition by Yayoi Kusama, whose work I love, so I suggested to some friends that we book to go.

We did, and went a few weeks back.(OK, in August!) We went.

lots of yellow tentacles with black dots on them. LOTS of tentacles.

And it was great fun. Other than the initial tentacle room, all the pieces were in one big space - a giant pumpkin, a big mirror, pink and black tentacles, big spotty dogs, big doft pebbles to lie on and look at the big beach balls hanging from the ceiling. 

Giant yellow pumpkin with lines of black spots, above it to the left, a big pink ball

Pink and black tentacles
More tentacles!

It was all gloriously lighthearted and satisfying, and fun.
Afterwards, we went for a very pleasant Lebanese meal, (and I got very confused since we wound up in the middle of my old stamping ground, around the courts in Manchester centre, and it's all changed  almost past recognition!) 

Then I got to spend the rest of the weekend with my friend J and her family, (and their gorgeous goofy dog!)  
brown and grey cocker spaniel jumping from one stepping stone to the nest in a shallow river
It was a very nice weekend. 

Saturday 8 July 2023

What I did on My Holidays - Isle of Skye

Skye is one of those places that I've wanted to visit for along time, but never have, so I decided that this was going to be the year!  I invited my parents to join me, and we settled on the last week of June as being outside of (Scottish and English) school holidays, and as having a reasonable chance of good weather while avoiding peak midge season! 

My parents, being retired and with time to spare, decided to drive up to Scotland, taking their caravan and taking 10 days or so to do the trip. I, not being retired, had to travel more quickly, and decided to get the Caledonian Sleeper overnight train, mostly on the basis that I've never travelled on a sleeper train (and the alternative was EasyJet) 

Sleeper Train
Since this meant leaving London at 9.15 in the evening, I booked the full day off work and spent the day in London, lunching with a friend and going to the British Museum to visit an exhibition. 

Then to Euston Station and a visit to the First Class Lounge, before heading to board the train. Which is very very long - it splits up part way through the journey with sections going to Inverness, Fort William, and Aberdeen, but starts out with about 15 or 16 carriages! 

a small cabin containing bunk beds
My Cabin

The Inverness section, in which I was travelling, was at the front, so a long way up the platform.  However, I found my cabin, and dropped off my bags, then headed back to the 'Club Car' as I'd read reviews that suggested it gets full, fast, and it's sensible to grab a seat early! It paid off, and I was able to order some macaroni cheese with haggis crumb, and a mini bottle of wine, and to dine as the train pulled away from Euston. 

After which I headed back to my cabin and to bed. It's not the best night's sleep I've ever had, (in oart as the door to my en-suite loo didn't close proper;y, and as the light inside came on automatically when I opened, I was disturbed until I worked out how to use a coathanger as an improvised latch!  but it was an interesting experience and some wonderful scenery as we reached Scotland - there are some compensations to waking up at 4 a.m.! 

Once I reached Inverness, I picked up a hire car and headed to Skye, only a little intimidated by the car hire place telling me that they had not only upgraded me to a larger car (Which I'm not sure was necessarily an advantage given the narrow roads) but that the car they were giving me was brand new, that I was only the second person to drive it... (It only had 170 miles on the clock when I picked it up!) So no pressure!!

I had planned a break in my drive, to visit Urquhart Castle, on the shores of Loch Ness, which is now a ruin, but was fortress from the 12th to 17th Centuries, before being blown up by Jacobites in 1688. 

It started to rain quite hard as I arrived, so I didn't stay long! 

Urquhart Castle

I then moved on, pausing (once the rain stopped) for sandwiches on the lochside, before crossing the Skye bridge and driving to our rental cottage. The last 7 miles of the trip were very narrow, single tracks roads, with passing places, which was quite challenging as by this stage it was pouring with rain, so visibility was poor and there was a huge amount of surface water - it was a great relief to arrive ! 

The house we rented was in Gen Brittle, under the Black Cuillins and about 1 mile from the sea. When we arrived, the rain meant that the mountains were completely hidden, and a walk down to the beach was not appealing.

The following morning was still rather damp, but we went out to visit Portree, and then later, as the weather continued to improve, walked down from our temporary home to the beach.

View of a meadon, a low white house can be seen  in the sdistance on the right, and there are mountains behind the house
view of 'our'house

The beach is stunning, almost empty, with views out to the Isle of Canna. For the most part, the beach is black shingle and sand, but towards the farther end it has some white sand, where the outgoing water leaves patterns like water in the sand.

Glenbrittle beach, this is sand, not water.

Glenbrittle Beach

view of mountains in the distance, and green fields and a narrow road in the foreground, all against a blue sky with white clouds
The Cuillins

After the rain, the evening was clear, giving us amazing views as we walked back to the house.

Over the next few days, we took a fairly relaxed approach to things. We did not climb any mountains.

The Old Man of Storr, which we admired, but did not climb!

We did, however, go to admire several lochs and places with beautiful views - we went to Portnalong, which is a pier with lovely views, and where we saw, in the distance, a group of about 3 or 4 dolphins (or porpoises) on the far side of the loch, leaping out of the water. 

We took a trip on a boat - it was advertised as a 'whale trail' and  having a very high chance of seeing dolphins / porpoises, and maybe minke whales, and 'almost guaranteed' seeing seals and Sea-Eagles, but sadly on our trip, we didn't see any of them! 

It was a nice sunny morning and the was lots of lovely scenery, but I was a little disappointed, especially as I would love to see whales or dolphins up close, as I never have.

I did see a herd of wild Red Deer, near the house one evening, though.

3 red deer does, facing away from the camera and showing their creamy white bums., staning in long grass
Red Deer

We took a walk up to visit the Fairy Pools, one evening - they were only about 3 miles from where we were staying, they're very popular so we decided that going up in the evening might be a bit quieter. It was, but it's obviously been a dry Spring, as the pools were not very full. I'd been thinking of taking a quick dip, but none of the ones that looked like you could safely get in and out  seemed to have enough water to swim in! Obviously I need to go back another year! 

We had one extremely wet day, when my parents very sensibly stayed in the house and read, and I went on a very wet and exhilarating walk at the Fairy Glen
The Fairy Glen

We visited Staffin beach, where there are fossilised dinosaur footprints, and, (like practically everywhere else on Skye), glorious views.

Photo of a three-toes dinosaur footprint
Fossilised dinosaur footprint

view of a calm, blue sea with rocky shore in the foreground
Lovely view, from Staffin Beach

We also went for a walk at Neist Point, where there is a lighthouse.

Low, white Lighthouse on a grassy cliff, blue sky and blue sea in bakcground.
Neist Point Lighthouse

We went to Dunvegan, where there is a castle, the ancestral home of the MacLoeds. 

Photo of a big, grey, castle, against a blue sky
Dunvegan Castle

The Castle was originally built in the 13th Century, although it's been extensively extended, rebuilt and restored and it mostly Victorian Gothic now (although parts of the older castle are still there) 
the same castle from a distance, behind the castle is a steep hill covered in pine trees, n front and to the right, a calm blue loch
Dunvegan Castle and Loch

The castle has been occupied by the MacLoeds for around 800 years, and the castle holds some of their treasures, most famously the Fairy Flag, which is a flag or banner which was (depending on which version of the story you prefer) either found when a passing fairy wrapped the infant son of the chief in it, or given to a  MacLoed passing through the Holy Land on Crusade, by a hermit in gratitude for slaying an evil spirit, or given to a MacLoed as a farewell gift by his fairy lover at the end of their relationship. The V&A, who examined it back in (I think) the 1920s, concluded that it have been woven on Syria, possibly as far back as the 4th C. There are various legends about he banner giving the clan protection or victory when unfurled in battle.

They also have various relics relating to Bonnie Prince Charlie, as Flora MacDonald, (Who famously helped him escape to Skye after his defeat at Culloden) was the mother in law of the chief of the MacLoed clan, and lived there in her old age, and the castle has retianed, and displays, a set of her stays, as well as a waistcoat which is said to have belonged to Charles Stuart, and a pincushion made by Flora. 

view over the loch from the castle

After out visit to the castle, the finished the day with a visit to the Three Chimneys restaurant , where we had an excellent meal, and some rather nice drinks (I certainly enjoyed my marmalade martini!) 

The restaurant specialises in locally sourced ingredients, cooked with huge skill. I've never had pickled herring icecream before, nor, for that matter, mussel ketchup, but they were both part of my pre-starter, and were delicious, as was my main of local venison! 

rocky shore, blue sea/loch and moutains on the far side grey against a blue sky
View of the shore outside the restaurant 

Sadly, all good things come to an end so we found our week drawing to a close. On our last day, in between packing up, we went to Kylerhea, where there is a tiny car ferry to the mainland, as well as a wildlife walk from which we were able to see seals and otters in the water (they were too far off for photos, but did see more seals from the ferry!) 


We didn't take the car over on the ferry, not really having any need to cross to the mainland, but we did decide to take a ride over and back as foot passengers. The ferry is very small, and has a very clever rotting deck to allow vehicles to get on and off using the old slipways and regardless of the state of the tide.(apparently it is the  last manually operated turntable ferry in the world!)  


We saw seals swimming along the ferry as we crossed, and also spotted the Sea Eagle which nests nearby which made up for not seeing one on our earlier boat trip! 

Old and New bridges at Glen Sligachan

I was sorry to leave, although the fact that the last morning was grey and wet helped a little!  After dropping my hire car back I had a little time in Inverness, and then caught the sleeper train again - my cabin this time was set up with the top bunk folded away which made it seem more spacious. 

Homeward bound on the Caledonian Sleeper

I spent the first part of the journey in the 'club car' enjoying a cheese board and a G'nT, and watching the scenery go past, then headed to my cabin - I enjoyed a better night's sleep than when going the other way - possibly in part due to the G'n'T! 

The train back from London to Bath was a little less exclusive, but I was home by late morning, so had plenty of time to unpack and face up to the fact the holiday was over! 

I definitely want to return to Skye... perhaps at a different time of year next time, I believe that it can be a good place to see the stars and the Northern Lights, in winter.

Wednesday 21 June 2023

New, Shorter Hair

 I am a skilled procrastinator, and I may have been putting off getting my hair cut, for a while. I had been at the point of making an appointment when the first lok down happened, and then after things re-opened, I kept putting ot off  . . . after it gets past a certain point, it's easy to look after...

woman (me) in a blue and white dressing gown, with a long braid down her back to below her hips

So, I finally got around to it. Took myself to the local salon, convinced them that yes, I really did want it all off, and we got going. 

Woman in a hairdressers chair, from the back, with loose, long brown hair down to just below the seat of the chair
before #2

picture of three long plaits of hair lying on a countertop in front of a mirror

Since there is so much of it, I decided to donate it, so it was put into three plaits which were then cut off to go off the the little princesses trust, which makes wigs for kids with cancer, and then once that was done, it was a case of shaping and tidying. 

picture from the back, of a woman with bobbed (jawline) hair

I like it. Although I suspect I will be wasting a fair bit of shampoo in the next week or so...

Friday 9 June 2023

The Red Dress at Tyntesfield

I've been aware for a while of the Red Dress Project for a while - for those whose aren't familiar with it, it's an artwork consisting of a dress which has been made / embroidered by over 350 people (mostly women) in 15 countries, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and professional and amateur needleworkers.

a heavily embroidered red, full length dress on a mannikin, in a large timbered hall
The Red Dress

It's been turned into a touring exhibition, and has been at Tyntesfield for the month of May, so I decided to take the opportunity to go and look at it. (Also, despite it being fairly close by, I've never visited Tyntesfield, so that was a bonus!)

The front of the embroidered red dress can be seen reflected in a full length wooden framed mirroe

I was slightly frustrated that the dress was displayed in a room where it's not possible to walk round it to see it from all angles, and on a red carpet which didn't do it any favours! I think had I been organising it, I might have tried to find a different place to put it! 

It's fascinating, and there must have been so much work done by so many people to create it.

After seeing the dress, I spent some time looking round the rest of the house

There is a rather nice library (with a rocking horse which has escaped from the nursery) and the house has it's own chapel (there were members of the Oxford movement, so very High Church), and the chapel has some  mosaics...

three stone arches, containing blue and gold mosaics of saints and horticultural patterns

And also some rather nice mock-medieval stained glass! 

WIndow, divided by leas into diamonds, in the centre is painted yellow bird

I also went for a short walk in the grounds, but it was rather hot and getting busy, so I decided to head home for lunch.

Nut I enjoyed my trip and I'm glad I got to see the dress! 

Sunday 21 May 2023

Fun with Friends - Farleigh Hungerford and Wells

 I had visitors last weekend, which was lovely, and also the first non-family guests I have had for a while.

We were lucky with the weather, so went out to be proper tourists . We started with a trip to Farleigh Hungerford Castle, which is quite nearby, and met up there with another local friend.

Photo of a stone gate house with tall, crenellated wall each side,
Gatehouse, Farleigh Hungerford Castle

There's been a castle on the site since the 14th C. Walter Hungerford, who fought at Agincourt,  and became a Very Important Person, extended it , andalso ordered wall paintings for the Chapel - these were completed in about 1440 and have survived (Although damaged by some unfortunate attempts at renovation in the 1930s) 

A faded (medieval) painting on a plastered wall, depicting St George as a Knight in armour and a white tabard with a red cross on it, wielding a spear. No dragon in sight
Medieval wall painting of St George

Sadly, St George's dragon seems to have been lost, but there are other paintings, of the coat of arms, for instance, as well as some rather nice (and naked) cherubs painted on the beams.

So far as I can gather, the fortunes of the Hugerfords peaked with Walter  - a few of them picked the wrong side during the Wars of the Roses and lost their heads and the castle, but then another Walter sucked up to Henry VII and got it back. 

THen there were a few murders - one Lady Hungerford was executed for having murdered her first husband (I suspect her error may have been getting the servants to help burn his body), but she survived for a quite a long time and did not get 'caught' until her second husband (the HUngerford of the day) died and she had less power. 

Another Lady Hungerford was imprisoned and starved by her husband, in one of the towers, surviving through the help of village women passing food to her through the windows. She wrote to Thomas Cromwell about it (He did nothing, but the letter survived as a record of her claims)  Her husband wound up being executed by Henry VIII for treason, witchcraft,  homosexuality and, probably, being too closely associated with Cromwell. He was the first and only man to be executed for homosexulaity in the Tudor period, and was executed with Cromwell, so it seems likely that his being Cromwell's agent and associate may have had more to do with his fall than his sexuality.

Photo of a half stone ruined tower - one sire is completely missing

Yet another Walter bought back the castle and improved it again, in the 1550s, then a little later, two Hungerford half-brothers picked opposite sides in the Civil War (and their fight over it resulted in the only military action associated with the Castle, since presumably Farleigh Hungerford is devoid of any real military or strategic importance)

Edward 'the Spendthrift' Hungerford sold the castle to pay his debts in 1686, so after nearly 4 centuries, the family left, and the castle went downhill.

THe tower fell down after Victorian teen tearaways set fire to the ivy covering it, which, it turned out, was all that was holding it up.

It's now a nice site to visit, there are lovely views, and we enjoyed it a lot. 

After sustaining ourselves with ice cream, ands buying some English Heritage wine to take home, we headed across to Wells, as it's a cathedral my friend hasn't visited  before.

It's my home town, of course, and so familiar to me, but we dis more touristy stuff, ate lunch outside the Bishop's PAlace, admired this season's new cygnets on the moat (and one of last year's cygnets, near the path, channelling Hot Fuzz)


Swan and 5 small fluffy grey cygnets, swimming on the moat

Then we went round the cathedral, admired the clock and the Doctor Who locations, (There  was a rehearsal going on for a concert at the time)

And of course also admired the Anthony Gormley statue and  Vicar's Close

Rust coloured geometric sculpture of a man, in a niche on the front of the cathedral

very picturesque cobbled street, with stone houses down both sides and the cathedral visible at the end

A very nice day out , I thought!

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Paterson Joseph at the Bath Festival

 Five years ago, I went to Wilton's Music Hall in London, to see a one-man play, Sancho, an Act of Remembrance, written and performed by Paterson Joseph and learned for the first time about an extra ordinary man named Charles Ignatius Sancho, born enslaved in around 1729, who , after being brought to the UK eventually ran away, and, with the help of the Duke of Montagu, an abolitionist, learned to read, was employed by the Duke (eventually as butler) before starting his own business, owning property and therefore,  entitled to vote,  becoming the first (known) Black Briton to vote in an English General Election. He was also active in the abolitionist movement, a musician, composer, and writer. His portrait was painted by Gainsborough.

2 years after his death in 1780, a selection of his letters was published, making his the first published collection of letters by a Black British writer.

I Enjoyed the play, and was fascinated by his story, so went out and bought a copy of the letters, which were interesting.

Paterson Joseph has now written a novel,  The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho

He came to Bath, as part of the Bath Festival, so I went along.

It was an excellent evening - given that Paterson Joseph is a professional actor, it's no surprise that his readings were excellent, and the conversation, including a Q&A, very interesting. He explained that he'd become interested in Sancho partly because he wanted to be in a period drama and kept getting told that "there were no black people in England then", so started looking for a real person who it might be possible to use, which led to his one-man paly about Sancho, and on a more serious level, wanted an answer to the question he, and other black britons get all the time 'but where are you really from?', and to be able to look at  history in England, and how black people fit in, and have always fitted in. 

It was very interesting, and I'm looking forward to reading the novel (although I hope that he isn't planning to give up acting!), and I enjoyed getting to say hello when I got my copy signed! 

Sunday 7 May 2023

Man in Hat sits on Chair - Charles is Officially Blinged

I have mixed feelings about this Coronation marlarkey. 

I'm not a Royalist, and the fuss and public expense of the thing, (which has apparently cost us around £100M)  at a time when record numbers of people are relying on foodbanks, the NHS is on its knees,  and with all the other issues we have,  grates somewhat, as does the sycophantic approach of the media and the assumption that this is something we are all excited about or united by. 

I happened to be on London the weekend before the coronation, and the displays seems a bit excessive and slightly embarrassing.

photo shows a London street, Union FLags and one Coronation flag) are hung above the road
View from Piccadilly Circus along Piccadilly

That said, my tolerance for small, locally sourced events is rather higher.  Partly, I think, because it mostly (At least where I live) to be small scale and to be things which local people have organised, rather than anything imposed from outside, and they have a slightly endearing amateur flavour. 

I like that it is giving people the opportunity to make their own art and celebrations - we have a group in the village who make knitted / crocheted  displays for the bridge over the stream, and while I liked the little crocheted chicks they did at easter best, they have clearly enjoyed themselves with their coronation display!

Cardboard and crochet fence decoration

Equally, I don't begrudge the fact that the Parish Council has spent a little money on some bunting (and hideous banners featuring poor choices of font and and a more-than-usually unflattering photograph of the king) - there seem to be a fair number of people who want to go to the coronation picnic, even if they would probably be equally happy to go to a non-coronation picnic with bouncy castles and cream teas. I don't have the slightest desire to join in, but I don't mind others doing so! 

Photo showing the coronation parade, golf coach, white horses with blue trappings, lots of people wearing extravagant red and gold costumes
Not excessive at all, obviously...

I was visiting my parents, and we did watch most of the ceremony.  I have to admit, the sheer ridiculous theatricality of the actual ceremony, and the history of it, is quite interesting. It hadn't occurred to me that he would actually sign the coronation oath, for instance, and the solemn presentation and return of things such as the spurs, the swords and so on was quite bizarre. (Apparently no one knows, any longer, what the origin of the armills (bracelets) is, and although they were remade for Charles II's coronation as (like most of the regalia, the originals were lost after the civil war) they weren't actually used then, or at any further coronations until now, although they are apparently mentioned in the traditional service!) 

It's all totally bonkers.
THe King is sitting on athrone, wearing gold vestments and a crown, flanked by bishops. It's all a bit bling, frankly. DId I mention he's holding a sceptre?
Man in hat sits on chair

 My parents continue to be active bellringers, and I do it for special events like family weddings. As with the Queen's funeral, there was an intention to have as many churches as possible have ringing for the Coronation, and as, unlike the funeral, there was time to plan, the Central Council of Church Bellringers ran a campaign 'Ring for the King' to try to attract new ringers for the event, so lots of people have been learning to ring for the first time. 

Logo - a royal blue circle containing a gold bell, and a crown, andand text reading 'RIng for the King'

In my parents village, the ringing was scheduled to be at 3 p.m., partly as the church had been set up with a big screen so that those who wanted could watch the coronation there, with refreshments, and partly as at least one of the regular ringers wanted to join in but had to work. Which worked out quite well, as it meant that we had plenty of time to watch the show, have lunch and then amble down to the church. 

Photoc shows a small grey stone church with a tower, in front of it there is union flag bunting over the road, and several large union flags attached to a fence in theforeground
Decorations outside the church

The church and church hall had been decorated (I think there was going to be street party, and the regular pop-up pub, on the Sunday, hence all the bunting) - I particularly liked the efforts made in the church by the flower arrangers!

Photo chows a crown made of white and purple flowers, on a windowsill in the church. BAckground is a leaded window. A small union jack flag hangs over the crown. ,
Flowery crown!

We rang Rounds and Call Changes - including the 'Coronation Peal'  (Not an actual peal, but a specific set of calls designed for the coronation) 

Which went pretty well.

After which , we went back home and, a little later, enjoyed some home made scones and cream, purely on the basis that a member of the family commented on FB that they'd done so, and it seemed like a good idea!

My parents, both of whom are old enough to have been around for the last coronation (and had comments to make about the commentators wittering on about 'once in a lifetime' events) did have a few comments to make about their memories - both were pretty young - my dad remembers going to a neighbour's house to watch it on television, (And the television, rather than the event, being the exciting part!) and then being taken to the cinema to watch it in colour a few weeks later.  He also did rather well on the souvenir front, being bought a die-cast model of the coach and horses (it apparently came in different sizes and prices, depending on how deep the pockets of your friends or family were - his was the smallest size, and is now rather battered, having been played with over the years!)  and also a souvenir commemorative coin, with a rather less flattering portrait than the one on the real currency! 
A souvenir coin with a rather bad picture of the Queen on it, from the 1953 coronation
My mother was given a souvenir bible, although whether these were given to all children, or if it was through her local church or Sunday School, isn't entirely clear. It was  certainly presented, rather than being bought as a souvenir like the things my dad has, as it's definitely not  the kind of thing which my grandparents would have bought for her!

All together, a rather odd day, to say the least!