Saturday, 30 March 2013

Blooms and Bunnies

Something a little different from me for this week's Saturday Snapshot, because it's Easter, and I've been crocheting some decorations. I only started a couple of weeks ago, then I was at Mum's for week, and I couldn't get on with them until I got back home, so nothing is quite finished, but I'm quite pleased with what I've done.
First up is an Easter wreath, made from a polystyrene ring which I covered with a strip of crochet - I tugged and pulled and stretched to make it fit, and stitched it together on the back (where no-one can see the worst of the lumps and bumps).
The next bit was the fun bit, creating flowers, and little ball shapes which look a bit like eggs, and spirals, and leaves, and pom poms. I've added beads, bows and buttons, and some feathers and miniature straw bonnets, and it's all very colourful, and definitely a little over the top. But it's just the thing to cheer one up during the latest spell of bad weather, as once again we've had snow, ice and gale force winds.
 At the moment all the bits and pieces are held in place by pins, which can be seen if you look closely at the photo, and I'm in the middle of making some dangling twists and spirals, decorated with more buttons and beads, and some little charms shaped like crosses,which can be attached when I hang the wreath on the wall. 
I got the idea from Lucy at attic24 who has one of the best crochet blogs around, and I used a lot of her patterns for the flowers, because her instructions are so clear and simple. She used a slightly larger ring than I was able to get, and has done a lot more things to put on it, and stitched them all into position properly, and made it look very professional- but she is something of an expert where things like this are concerned.
And I enjoyed myself so much I've done an Easter bunny(from a pattern at Planet Penny, who is another talented maker). I couldn't produce satisfactory whiskers, so I gave my rabbit a little spotty, pink bow instead. Then I realised she wouldn't stand up (maybe she's been at what's left of the Christmas ginger wine!), so I crocheted a little basket to stop her falling over. She got her tail tangled up in the first basket I tried, and still toppled sideways, so I made a shallow dish, with a frill around the edge, and that seems to have done the trick.

I really wanted to do a garland of flowers, but I seem to have run out of time, although woollen crochet blooms don't take long, so maybe I'll give it a whirl and see how far I get... Meanwhile, I've bought some tiny, fluffy Easter chicks, and some little eggs, and some small Easter crackers, which I snaffled when I spotted them in the £1 Shop, and I'm going to get a nice candle, and one of those plants that look like primroses, and make an Easter display. I may not have completed everything by Good Friday (yesterday) but it should be more or less ready when our Younger Daughter visits us on Sunday - and I may even bake a cake!

Happy Easter everyone - and if you want to see more Saturday Snapshot photos from other participants, the weekly posts are hosted by Alyce, over at

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Signs To Make You Smile...

Right folks, I'll start this week's Saturday Snapshot with a huge 'thank you' to everyone who commented on my duck pictures in last week's post. The response was tremendous (as I keep saying, the Internet is a wonderful thing), and I am so grateful to the knowledgeable people who were able to identify my mystery water fowl. They turned out to be mallard hybrids, rather than a rare and strange new species, but I'm glad I know what they are, and I am still watching them when I walk by the lake.

I only have a couple of photos today, but they both made me chuckle. The first is of a sign on Bridge 74 on the Coventry Canal at Tamworth, where Tamworth Cruising Club is based, and many narrow boats are moored. It's very blurred, because there's no towpath or public access on that side, and I was balanced on the very edge of the water on the towpath (opposite the sign)trying to get a shot!I have cropped the photo, but it's still not very clear. Basically it's asking boaters to slow down, so the wash from their craft doesn't disturb others, and it's a little rhyme which says:

If you slow down when passing through
We will smile and wave at you
But thrash on past without a care
And all you'll get is a stony stare.

It made me wonder if people would pay more attention if all public notices were poetic!

059.JPG (1600×1200)And I couldn't resist taking a snap of this sign stuck on a glass bus shelter in the town centre, because it seems to be a case of health and safety gone mad - stating the obvious I think. Why warn people that there are moving buses at a bus stop? What else would anyone expect to find there? I just hope time and money won't be wasted putting them up on any other bus shelters. 

You may notice (it's hard to avoid really) that the blog has a new look - I wanted something cheerful and uplifting to make me smile when I look at it, but I do wonder if this is a little over the top! I did it last night, and it took me hours - at one stage I ended up with gobbledy gook appearing on screen, then the blog disappeared completely when I tried to get it back to normal, because I'd forgotten to save the original template! It's still a work in progress, but I'll attack it again later on, and see if I can remember how to put borders back on photos.  

I'm not sure if everything that was there before is still here, and I'm not sure if the comments will work - last time I tried to be clever and put a different background on no-one could comment, so if there is a problem please leave a message on my other blog, which is where I originally started blogging, and it got overtaken by this one!

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at where you can see photos from other participants all over the world.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Small but Perfect - a Gem of a Book

At some point, I don’t know where or when, I read a favourable review of JL Carr’s A Month in the Country, and it obviously made an impression on me, because I remembered it when I came across a copy while I was sorting through donations in the charity shop, so I had to buy it, and I’m very glad I did, because it’s an absolute gem.

This is a very slender novel – just 111 pages in my 1982 Penguin edition – but every word really counts: it’s a beautifully crafted little masterpiece, which should appeal to anyone who loves those understated, between-the-wars, English novels, where the focus is on thoughts and feelings rather than action. In fact, if the words ‘Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1980’ hadn’t been printed on the front cover, I would have assumed it was from that earlier period but, surprisingly, it was written in 1980.

But it’s set in 1920 as Tom Birkin, his marriage on the rocks and his nerves shot to pieces by the war, arrives in the Yorkshire village of Oxgodby to uncover and restore a long-lost medieval wall painting in the small, unassuming church. He sleeps and cooks in the historic building, while in the field next door Charles Moon, another scarred survivor of the conflict, has set up camp while he searches for a long-lost medieval grave. Both men are damaged, not just by their experiences in the war, but by life and love, and they seek healing from the horrors of the past.

They are being paid thanks to bequest left by a local spinster – though the Vicar, the chilliest clergyman I’ve encountered outside the pages of ‘Middlemarch’, is less than enthusiastic about the projects, believing the money could be better spent. And, just like George Eliot’s narrow-minded, mean-spirited Casaubon, this cleric also has a beautiful, young wife who is warm and caring, full of life and laughter, who befriends and beguiles Tom.

Gradually he makes friends and gets sucked into village life when the stationmaster (a leading light in the local chapel), his wife and their young daughter take him under their wing. But he becomes more and more obsessed with painting, which turns out to be a huge mural of the Day of Judgement, and is of the very highest quality. As he uncovers the picture, the vision of hell reflects the horrors and carnage he saw on the battlefields of Flanders, and more mysteries are revealed, for it was painted over within a few years of its creation (long before the Reformation) and one figure – a man with a crescent scar falling into hell – was covered earlier than the rest.

The painting inside the church becomes more real to him than life outside, and there is a link between the mural and the skeleton found by Moon, but when his quest ends Tom must move on – and, as you might guess from the title of the mural, there can be no happy ending, although he dreams of reaching an understanding with Alice.

He never returns to Oxgodby, never knows what happens to the friends he made while he was there, but many years later he looks back on the long, hot, golden summer, recalling the heat and the haze, the lazy days, the sights, sounds and smells of the English countryside. It was perfect, a rural idyll, and Tom remembers this period in his life as something whole and good, when he was happy and at peace with himself, while the village remains unchanging.

But there is nostalgia and regret for missed opportunities and a life that might have been different. In the end he makes to move to move his relationship with Alice beyond normal friendship – due, perhaps, to a kind of inertia or fear rather than any conscious desire to ‘do the right thing’.  And if things had been different, would he have been happy? That we will never know, but there is also the possibility that Tom has misread the situation, so by not acting or expressing his emotions he cannot be rejected.

In some ways ‘A Month in the Country’ reminded me of LP Hartley’s ‘The Go-Between’. There’s the obvious parallel of an older man looking back on his younger self, but I think it’s more to do with the feeling of nostalgia that suffuses the novel, and the sense of loss - loss of a place, and a time, loss of a more innocent past, and a future that never was. We never really learn what Tom makes of his life after Oxgodby, but you get the impression he is not happy, and that he never fulfils his potential.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Unidentified Flying Ducks...

The animals came in two by two... A pair of mystery water birds.
Right folks, I’m after some help from anyone who knows anything about water birds! I'm posting these photos of birds that are geese or ducks for my Saturday Snapshot in the hopes that someone can tell me what they are. This area is full of water – rivers, canals, streams, lakes, and pools left from old industries, like mining and quarrying. Consequently, there’s a wealth of wildlife, and I can recognise most of the birds, but currently there are three strange ducks or geese on Borrowpit Lake in Tamworth which I’ve tried, and failed, to photograph over the last couple of months.

Anyway on Wednesday, two of them were stood on the grass, outlined against the water, so I crept up on them, and managed to get one shot before they jumped into the water and swam off. 

Oh bother, I thought, missed again... BUT, just out of view was the third bird, sitting on the bank, happy as Larry, so I crouched down, and kept as quiet as I could, and managed to get a few pictures before he (or she) rushed off to join the others. 
Sitting pretty... This stayed here long enough for me to get a
few pictures and as you can see, she's not black at all.
From a distance they look black, but if you get close enough you can see the most beautiful iridescent dark green feathers on the head, body, and parts of the wings. The rest of the wings are shaded in browns and greys, and there are splodgy white patches on the front of the neck. They’ve got bright yellow bills, with a black mark at the front, and the feet are a pinky colour. 
In this photo the bill and the white throat markings are clearer.
 Size-wise, they’re bigger than mallards, but smaller than Canada Geese, and I’ve not seen them feeding or flying, and they don’t seem to dive. Whatever they are, I assume they can’t be all that common, because they are the only three I’ve seen – there are none on the Coventry Canal, or the Anker, or the Tame. 
A close-up (well, as close as I could get ) of the foot, but it's
more pinkish than it looks here.
I’ve looked online, and in books, but I’m as mystified as ever, because nothing seems to match, so please, if anyone out there can identify them, could you let me know?

And meanwhile, here are two exotic-looking Muscovy Ducks pictured on the muddy towpath alongside the Coventry Canal at Polesworth when I went out for a walk this morning. They are there most of the time, and I think they must be escapees from a local house, or descendants of escapees! At any rate, they add a nice splash of colour to the scene.
I love these Muscovy Ducks - they look so exotic.
Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at where you can see photos from other participants all over the world.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Well Wishing where a Saint Stood...

St Chad's Well, at St Chad's Church, Lichfield. I'm sure it is
much nicer in summer, when the vine growing over the roof
is green, but at the moment it looks like a haystack on legs.
Today is the Feast of St Chad, so for my Saturday Snapshot I have some photos of his well, and a couple of old photos to show what it used to like in the past. Before moving to this area I’d never heard of Chad, but it’s difficult to live here and not stumble across him somewhere, for he was Bishop of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Tamworth, where I live, was the capital of this realm, and St Chad established his Episcopal seat at Lichfield, where I once worked on the local paper, and now volunteer in the Oxfam book shop.  

 I think about him sometimes when I’m on one of my daily walks because, according to Bede in ‘A History of the English Church and People’, he went about on foot rather than on horseback,  and was  reluctant to change this ‘pious exercise’, which he loved. His archbishop considered it more fitting that Chad should ride, and on one occasion insisted on helping him on to a horse, but I like to imagine the saint flouting the order when his superior was out of the way, and continuing to stride about the countryside. 
St Chad's Well, drawn by William Stukeley in 1736. 
He became Bishop of Mercia in 669 and immediately made Lichfield the centre of his see (rather than Repton, in Derbyshire). He built a house near the church and close by a spring fed a pool where, according to 16th century antiquarian John Leland, ‘St Chad was wont naked to stand in the water and pray’.

There is still a well in the churchyard at St Chad’s, presumably fed by the spring, but its location and form seem to have changed over the years. In 1833, local physician James Rawson described it as having ‘degenerated into a most undignified puddle, more than 6 feet deep’ and said it was choked with ‘mud and filth’. Thanks to him, the water supply was improved, and a protective octagonal building erected, which must have been far more attractive than the lacklustre garden feature erected at the end of 1940s, when the well seems to have been moved. There’s a small square of water set into drab paving slabs, covered by an unimaginative tiled roof, which perches on top of four wooden supports.
The 19th century building which covered
the well.
 St Chad died on March 2, 672 . Bede, writing some 60 years later, tells us that the burial place was covered in a wooden tomb in form of little house, with a small opening, so people could put a hand through to take some of the dust. “They mix this in water and give it to sick men or beasts to drink, by which means their ailment is quickly relieved and they are restored to the longed for joys of health,” he adds - but doesn’t say whether they used water from the well to create this macabre medicine.

Bede also describes how a wandering ‘madman’ spent a night in the church where the body was housed, and was miraculously found to be ‘in his right mind’ the following morning!
The well: people thrown coins into the water, and make a wish,
but my wish would be for it to look more like a well!
 During the Medieval period, pilgrims flocked to Lichfield Cathedral to see Chad’s shrine, but his relics were moved during the Reformation, although you can still see the Chapel of St Chad’s Head, where the Saint’s head was once displayed to the faithful, which strikes me as being a particularly grisly custom. Bones now housed at St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham – the Gothic extravaganza created by Pugin – are said to be those of the saint.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at where you can see photos from other participants all over the world.
A statue of St Chad stands in a niche
above the door to St Chad's Church.
 Sources: (an excellent site on Lichfield’s rich heritage); (St Chad’s Church has a website and a fascinating guidebook);  (report of archeological dig at the well site)