Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Wild Side

Man, oh man! Was it ever a wild and windy week in the jewel of the north! As we crouched in the path of Thursday's storm I thought of those people who live on the wild side of the USA, the hurricane corridor that runs up the south east coast from Florida to the Carolinas. When a big one is brewing, they board up and retire to their cellars to hold hurricane parties while the winds rip through overhead. I can understand why they do it. I tried to shake off the effects of Storm Doris with a pizza and a couple of bottles of Birra Moretti (brewed in Italy since 1859)! Not quite the same, somehow.

It got me thinking back to the first proper party I ever threw, my first big walk on the wild side. I was still living at the parental home (but not for much longer). My mum and dad  and younger brothers had gone away for a fortnight in the summer of 1971 and I had elected to stay behind. With the house to myself for a couple of weeks, cue a party. On the first Saturday my girlfriend helped me carry all the furniture from three downstairs rooms and stow it carefully in the garage. We even rolled up the carpets (they were not the fitted variety). I warned the neighbours on both sides in advance, bought in beer and wine and probably a few bags of peanuts, replaced all the light bulbs with coloured ones, borrowed a few extra LPs and waited for the witching hour and the thirty or so friends I'd invited to roll up and have a good time ;-)

It was a fine summer evening. By 10pm about twenty people had arrived, the ones who don't care if they're the first to get there. I knew them all. By 11pm there were fifty people. I knew most of them. By 11.30 the road was lined with parked cars, the kitchen had never seen so much booze - both my parents were tee-total - the party was in full swing across all three dimly-lit downstairs rooms and was spilling out into the back garden. They kept on arriving. By midnight there must have been two hundred happy souls grooving all over the house and I'd never laid eyes on half of them before, but hey, it was a great party.

My girlfriend was pretty much the first to leave. She had to obey a parental curfew to be home by 1am. The revellers started to drift away some time around 2am, but there was a hard core who kept dancing, drinking, smoking and saving the world until 4am when I made coffee and ushered them off into the dawn. It was only after I'd locked up and headed upstairs that I discovered the couple fast asleep in my parents' bed. I woke them up with the bad news that it was time to go - they were very understanding! (I think I even made them coffee and toast as well. They seemed like nice people, very touselled.)

Over the next couple of days, with the stoical help of said girlfriend, we cleared up all the empty bottles and cans, over-filled ashtrays and odd spot of vomit, gave the house a good airing, washed the floors and the bed-linen, and then we moved everything back in from the garage to its proper place. The house was as it had been, only cleaner. It was as though the party had never happened, except we had enough wine and beer left over to last the two weeks.

Of course I hadn't asked my parents' permission. They would have said 'no!' Of course they found out... one of the neighbours told them how thoughtful and organised I'd been about it all and the noise really hadn't been too bad - so many young people just enjoying themselves. When confronted with my wickedness I lied about the numbers and spared my parents the details. Hadn't I ever thought that it could all go horribly wrong? There could have been fire, theft, drugs, illicit sex. Oh, a cup did go missing (we never found it) and my copy of Neil Young's 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' suffered from having a cigarette stubbed out on it (side two, track two "Running Dry").  But hey, it was a great party.

In memory of great parties we have known, I've attached a link at the end of the blog to a fabulous song by the very talented Dar Williams. It's called "Party Generation". It's a killer tune and it's got some great lines. Do listen.

Back to Storm Doris and the wildness of Thursday's weather bomb. It was actually quite exciting and not a little spectacular (see below). It didn't inflict any damage on the house on the strand (unlike previous storms which have trashed fences and roof tiles) but it left all west-facing windows coated in a salty residue.

The Wild Side - the jewel of the north takes a battering!
This week's poem is something that began life last month in a workshop that Lancashire Dead Good Poets ran for people with memory issues (including dementia). It is based loosely on a list of onomatopoeic words for sea sounds thrown out by the group, but it chimes so nicely with the arrival of Storm Doris that I just had to favour it with a weather bomb and finish it for inclusion here.

The Big Bad Sea
Who's not in awe of the turning tide?
The churn, the spume, the thrash, the roar
of urgent waves racing up the shore
fleeter than a galloping horse?

Who's unsure of the undertow?
the violence of this ebb and flow,
the foaming explosion then tingling jag
of turbulent water's gritty drag
as it sucks the strand into its maw?

Blame it all on the pull of the moon,
working twin elements to a rage.
Once Westerlies have stropped their foil
and ocean's cauldron commences to roil,
then who's not afraid of the big bad sea?

The pleasure beach is closed for business,
shorefront shops adopt a siege mentality,
assume the brace position,
boarding plate-glass, bagging doorways
in readiness for a weather bomb -
and here it comes, full force.

Balustrades and lamp-posts quiver,
uncommonly, gulls huddle and shiver,
not a squawk to be heard for once,
just this unremitting howl.
Only mad dog walkers
and photographers, it seems,
elect to brave the gale.

The river, caught up in all the madness,
flecks and froths at its mouth,
starts flowing backwards,
while in the harbour boats at anchor
rise and fall in frantic dance,
tossed around by feisty swell
and some will end up smashed to matchwood
before this storm crest's ardour is past.

At the height of the battering
waves smash across the promenade,
with crash and swirl, whip and boom,
they lash the length of the golden mile,
salt water pouring into town.

In the face of such fury as a winter storm,
who's not afraid of the big bad sea
when it tries to tear our funhouse down?

Listen here to Dar Williams - Party Generation

Thanks for reading. Have a peaceful week, S ;-)

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The wild side - try it but come home safely.

I am listening to Lou Reed's lyrics with born again hearing.  I can honestly say that I never realised that it was all about drugs and prostitution. And they refer to black American women as 'the coloured girls.' I have to say that it all sounds really outdated now.  But back then...

Last week I went to the movies. This is Academy Award season - the Baftas having already been presented, Hollywood is bracing itself for big night.  Over the last few years, much has been said in the press about the lack of awards for black actors, film-makers and films about the lives of black people.  Strange really when there was a black President in The White House. 

The film that I went to see, 'Hidden Figures' focusses on the lives of three Afro-American women working at NASA during the early part of what we call The Space Race. The Russians made the first manned space flight, returning Yuri Gagarin to earth as a Soviet hero, much to the consternation of Kennedy's administration.  The impending struggle to get John Glenn safely up and down was a numbers game. The story of black/white segregation, the failure of the USA to acknowledge talent if the colour of someone's skin was different and the fight for equal rights by determined black, female, mathematicians began right there at NASA headquarters, Langley.

The film is incredibly moving, to women empowering and it is also true. Why it has not been nominated for an Oscar is beyond me. Perhaps only films that highlight the negative side of being black and American are Oscar worthy.  Personally I believe that a black, heroin addict mother is just the same as a white, heroin addict mother and I would rather not watch a movie about it. Seeing the positivity of those who strove to be more than previous generations had ever believed they could be, I have little sympathy with those who give up, hit the bottle, take drugs or stop fighting for their children.  Shame on them.

Anyway, back to the wild side. I like being out in the countryside, love walking up hill and down dale, but only if I have the right footwear with me.  I spent a week in Kefalonia with huge blisters after walking down a steep hill on the first night, wearing shoes that rubbed my toes. Oh the price of bad planning.  I did still manage a few long walks but with sore feet they were not as far as I would have liked to go.  Not much wildlife over there and I really enjoy a bit of bird watching, red-squirrel spotting, deer stalking etc. When we went to South Africa, I was lucky enough to see hippos, giraffe, wild dogs and a pair of young twin Cheetahs. They appeared just at the side of the road as we drove through the Pilansberg National Park.  It was wonderful to see them in their natural habitat and brought home how sad it is that we only usually see wildlife that is contained.

I am always sad to see healthy birds of prey used as pets. I know that they were used for hunting but to import a magnificent Harris Hawk to the UK as a pet is does not seem natural to me. Allowing the import of Northern European eagle owls is a complete travesty. They are very aggressive, kill our native birds and have even attacked people. When my kids were young we spent time at Muncaster Castle, where the World Owl Trust has its headquarters. Most of the owls that they house have been injured or imported and abandoned. The trust has a captive breeding programme but until recently DEFRA would not allow them to release barn owls bred in captivity into the wild.

Our poor British barn owl has been suffering the effects of warmer, wetter Summers attributed to global warming.  Barns owl evolved, surrendering their feather waterproofing in favour of silent flight. This is essential if they want to catch small voles, their main diet. Unfortunately, if a barn owl gets wet, it cannot fly and once floored they die from the cold. If the climatic predictions are correct, our beautiful 'white ghosts' will be consigned to history. Unless they adapt.  Wild creatures in cages are not my thing, unless they are there as part of a breeding programme that helps to ensure their future survival.

Growing up in the early sixties, a caged bird in the house was a normal thing and there were many budgerigar breeders.  My grandmother had a beautiful bird, he moved with us to two new homes, travelling on our laps in the front seat of the car, cage covered by a tablecloth. He was her pride and joy because he talked ...

The Ballad of Billy the Budgie

My Nan had a beautiful budgie.
An eloquent talker was he,
As blue as the sky in the Summer,
With a very accomplished vocabulary.

He called himself, ‘Best Boy in Blackpool’,
He invited us all to have tea,
He knew his address, he was nobody’s fool.
He knew all the names in our family.

For Nana had schooled him since chick-hood,
Repeating each phrase patiently,
And Billy her brightly plumed student,
Imitated her perfectly.  

One terrible day, Billy snuffed it
And fell of the perch in his cage.
Nana would take his loss badly
It’s hard to make friends at her age.

So Dad hurried off to a pet shop,
And brought home a look-a-like bird,
Its feathers were very convincing
But this one did not say a word.

Nan told him that he must return it,
This Billy Mark Two wouldn’t do
This was a female imposter,
The crest on the beak must be blue.

He bought her a bright yellow beauty,
But Nan didn’t teach him to talk
I taught him to fly to my finger,
And from one to the other he’d walk.

I made him a circus performer,
I taught him a special new trick
By sitting him on the turntable
and spinning it round very quick.

And sometimes I would find Billy
On top of our house cat’s head,
Curled up with our huge German shepherd,
Three unlikely pals in one bed.

But one day the window was open,
And my Billy boy flew away,
I searched in the garden and called him,
I looked for him every day.

Then one day,  the weather was warmer,
I sat by the village green,
There up in a tree was a bright yellow leaf:
All of the others were green.

I couldn’t believe it was Billy,
I thought he was lost in the wild,
And when he flew onto my finger,
I was the happiest child.

He’d been on a week-long adventure,
Up with the crows, in a tree,
Our feathered, intrepid explorer.
Billy the Budgie,  Mark Three.

(A completely true story) Feb 2017
Hope you all have a wild week.  Thanks for reading.  Adele  

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Wild Side - Red Kites

15:05:00 Posted by Pamela Winning , , , , , , , 2 comments

     One of the things I like so much when staying in the lodge at Dumfries and Galloway is the     abundance of woodland animals. It’s so relaxing to watch the rabbits at play or the birds that come to the feeders we provide when we are there. Foxes and deer tend to keep their distance, too timid to roam close to the buildings. Usually, its night time when we might be treated to a glimpse of one or the other, caught in our headlights as we drive slowly along the narrow lane. Deer tend to be in pairs or small groups. They leap into the hedges or bushes as we approach, but not before we’ve had a brief moment to admire them. A fox will hunt alone, stalking rabbits and rodents to catch to feed his family.  Once, I was horrified to witness a fox snatch a rabbit from close to the lodge and run towards the woods, carrying the lifeless creature. It is nature, prey and predators.

The lodge is close to Galloway Forest Park. Within the huge expanse of carefully  managed woodlands, there are conservation areas for otters, red squirrels and deer. And lots of birds, especially the red kite. The first time I saw one, we were sharing binoculars focussing on a herd of deer, willing them to come close enough for a photograph. The red kite swooped to the ground in front of us, black tipped white wings and forked tail with the distinctive rusty-red colouring across the body and into the white feathers, spanning about two feet. I was fascinated. I’d never seen a bird of prey close-up in its own environment before and this was beautiful. They are protected and looked after. I found information from the RSPB and this paragraph from the Galloway Kite Trail.  

“Red kites have been congregating at Bellymack Hill Farm since 2001 when they were reintroduced to Galloway. This is partly due to the prevailing SW winds which create updrafts from the hillside, enabling kites to ride effortlessly over the farm. Since 2003 the feeding has allowed visitors to get close firsthand experiences of these gregarious birds when they come in to spectacularly snatch food provided for them.”

Our visit to the farm was breath-taking and a haven for proper photographers with sophisticated equipment. My shots are a combination of Olympus compact and mobile phone.

     Going on safari is not my thing. Galloway Forest is as wild as it gets for me.  
 Thanks for reading, Pam x


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Masonry - Best Left to the Experts

17:14:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , , 2 comments

There's only one topic I can possibly write about under the heading of Masonry, and that's the husband and his DIY skills.  I use the word 'skills' very, very, very loosely.

I think I might have mentioned previously that Dave makes Frank Spencer (King of the DIY Disaster) look like Barry Bucknall (Google him if you're under fort) on a good day.  In the past, friends have looked at me with indulgent disbelief as I've regaled them with tales of the husband's attempts at even the most basic of DIY tasks.
'But surely he can....?' they begin, with broad smiles and encouraging nods.
'No,' I say firmly with a shake of the head.
'Not even.....?'
'Nope!' I respond with more vigorous head shaking.
Unless you've been married to a Frank Spencer (to the power of 10) you've no idea of the disasters that could befall you.

When we got our first house forty years ago I was quietly confident that I could knock the husband into DIY shape.  I'd always been a pretty practical sort of person, sorting out broken hoovers, building makeshift shelves from bricks and planks of wood, upholstering furniture etc.  I was sure I could talk the husband through how to tile a bathroom or put up a curtain rail.

After all, as a wedding present, we'd received a giant tome, covering everything from roofs to flooring, which hammer to buy and how to use it most effectively (by the end of our second year of marriage I was considering writing to the authors to dispute their most effective use of a large claw hammer....)  Admittedly, the book had been propping open a door that annoyingly swung shut every time you wanted to leave the room; and the huge toolbox my parents had optimistically bought us as a moving in present had been stuck under the stairs beneath a pile of old picture frames, shoe polish, light bulbs and redundant rolls of wallpaper.  Nevertheless, hope still sprung eternal in this naive twenty four year old head.

That is, until the day the husband decided to replace the bathroom tiles.  

When your two year old comes running into the kitchen to ask why his bedroom wall is falling on to his bed then you know there is a problem.  Taking the stairs two at a time, a worried toddler hot on my heels, I hear the unmistakable crashing of mallet on wall.
'It's fine,' is the calm response to my frantic questioning yell.  The banging continues,
'Mummy, wall - on Dan's bed.' says the child plaintively, pointing to the chunk of crumbling masonry that has exploded over his pillow.  I look up at the huge hole in the wall just as the mallet makes its trajectory past the opening towards the next disaster.

The plumber we employed to fix the bathroom sucked in air through his teeth, shook his head with a sigh and got on with filling in the hole.  He made no direct comment to us although I'm sure he and his mates lived out for weeks on the buffoon who tried to remove tiles with a mallet and ended up knocking half the wall down.  The toddler has finally got over his PTSD and now, thirty odd years later will sleep happily in a bed again. I, meanwhile, have lived through another three decades of disasters.

There were minor ones such as the time I made the mistake of complaining that the wallpaper in the attic was beginning to peel off the walls.  The next time I ventured up there to prepare the room for guests I was greeted by the sight of several dozen large headed masonry nails knocked haphazardly along the joins.  And the relief map of Africa that mysteriously appeared on the boys' bedroom ceiling after the husband had been despatched with a trowel and a bucket of plaster to fill a small hole.

Then there was the brick built barbecue that resembled a mausoleum.  That was one project I decided I would roll with.  I knew full well that the job would never be completed singlehandedly, and with a bit of luck the husband would accidentally entomb himself in the middle of this circular design and at least be out of action for any further projects in the near future.  At the end of three days, he stood back to admire his handiwork.  As if in slow motion the gigantic structure began to tip like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. For a few seconds, Dave stared, open mouthed as bricks and mortar parted company and fell to the ground in an undignified heap.  The next time I looked out of the window he was sitting head in hands, on the rubble.  I put the kettle on, fired up the computer and ordered a portable barbecue from Amazon.

These days the husband is much safer laid on a beach

There were numerous incidents over the years, most of them more annoying than disastrous, but nonetheless the husband, much to his delight, was soon banned from opening either the DIY manual or the toolbox.  One of the more serious incidents concerned a blowtorch, a four year old and several glasses of water (which I later heard - from the child - was to put out the fire between floors). Oh, and Dave up a ladder.  It's too long a story to retell here but suffice to say the four year old saved the day.

There was the performance with the curtain rail (the smashed window, broken table, injured husband) but as I've already written about that in an earlier post I'll leave you with another abiding memory of when DIY goes wrong.  Picture the scene: I am in the kitchen, cooking tea, the husband is upstairs, and has been quiet for a while. I'm guessing he's fallen asleep on the bed (this is pre children or I might have been alerted earlier). There is a knock at the door, I answer and find a strange woman on my doorstep.  Looking puzzled, she points up towards the front of the house, where the husband is standing on the flat roof, above the bay window. In his hands he holds a paint scraper and a blow torch.  Behind him are the scorched remains of some paintwork.
'I was passing,' she says, apologetically, 'your husband waved me down. He's stuck.'
I thank her as if this is a normal occurrence.  Ignoring the husband's cries I close the front door, ascend wearily to the attic, open the window and look down upon the top of his head.

'Put down the blowtorch,' I say patiently as though talking down a terrorist.  The husband obliges, looking sheepish. 'And the scraper,' I add. It clatters to the ground.

'How the hell....?' I begin.
'I jumped out the window,' he says, 'I was going to - '
'Never mind,' I hiss, 'jump up and I'll pull you back through the window.'
The husband crouches, stretches his arms above his head  and jumps.  I grab his hands and, feeling like the Incredible Hulk, hoist him back through the attic window.

'What about the blowtorch?' he asks.
'Leave it.' I command, 'you'll not be needing it any time soon.'

If I Had a Hammer by Jill Reidy, with apologies to Pete Seegar

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer off the tiles
I'd hammer down the bricks
I'd hammer up the wallpaper
I'd hammer and I'd hammer
All over this house

If I had a blowtorch
I'd blowtorch off the paintwork
I'd blowtorch through the gaps
I'd blowtorch till the flames come
I'd blowtorch and I'd blowtorch
All over this house

If I had a scraper
I'd scrape off last year's paint
I'd scrape at all the wallpaper
I'd scrape off every mark
I'd scrape and scrape and scrape
All over this house

If I had a toolbox...

The wife says I'm not to open it
Anywhere in this house.....

Thanks for reading        Jill

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Masonry: Everything Is Illuminated (Sort Of)

We're into the weird and wonderful world of masonry this week. I was going to attempt a potted explanation of all things masonic - origins, intentions, even conspiracy theories, but initial research has revealed it to be such an extensive and esoteric subject that I'm only going to be able to scratch the surface, so to speak, rather than deliver an elegantly chiselled whole.

Masonry is self-evidently stone worked by stone masons. Stone was chosen for its durability. Life is short but stonework could provide a lasting memorial, whether as statue, temple or tomb, so great men saw it as a totem when all else turns to dust, as close an approximation to immortality as could be achieved with the materials to hand.

Of course, being a durable material, stone requires skill to fashion it. Therefore the role of mason acquired considerable prestige. In the ancient world (Middle East, Egypt, Greece, Rome) masonry became as much a science as an art and was on a par with the practices of astronomy, medicine and the priesthood.

After the Dark Ages, as Christianity gained prominence in Western Europe, there was a gradual move to legitimise the provenance of masonry, retrofitting back to Old Testament biblical times (the temple of Solomon) and the rise of Euclidean geometry. Stone masons, like many other guilds of skilled artisans, formed societies of brotherhood and mutual support.

The Regius Poem (some of which I have quoted below) is widely held to be the first extant masonic work in English, dating from the late 14th century. The manuscript is in the British Museum and sets out in 794 lines of rhymed verse the 'history' and fifteen principles of masonic life as devised allegedly some time in the late 10th century during the reign of King Athelstan.

Masonic organisations are fond of mottos and insignia, the former usually in Latin, for instance: morte ad ignoratam (death to ignorance) or lux e tenebris (light out of darkness). The intention is usually to advance the common good by education (and to benefit the masonic brotherhood in the process). Apprentice stone masons would receive a good education at a time when the majority of the population was still illiterate. Algebra, Geometry, Greek and Latin were acquired alongside the principles and skills of working stone. That is why the compass and set square are standard insignia of many masonic groups along with the all-seeing eye and the book (see the image below).

Carving above the entrance to the masonic lodge in Yeovil, Somerset
The symbolism of the all-seeing eye with its rays of enlightenment probably harks back to the worship of Ra in Egypt and gives a flavour of the quirkiness and multiple layers of this retrofitted tradition.

The Knights Templar from the period of the Crusades are so named for the link back to Solomon's Temple and the link between Templars and Freemasonry is well-documented. Increasingly diverse and divorced from a direct connection to stonemasonry, guilds or lodges became more symbolic than actual after the dissolution of the monasteries and many often assumed secret or subversive overtones as religious persecution became rife.

Those on the inside preserved the secrets of their brotherhood. Those on the outside speculated about corruption and influence in both secular and religious life and conspiracy theories about a New World Order of masons continue to this day. Maybe Putin and Trump have a special link! (only joking, folks).

There's so much more to unearth here. I consider it just a start and will continue to research as time allows.

The Regius Poem: a poem of moral duties

Excerpts from the Regius Poem
In that time, through good geometry,
This honest craft of good masonry
Was ordained and made in this manner,
Counterfeited of these clerks together;
At these lords' prayers they counterfeited geometry,
And gave it the name of masonry,
For the most honest craft of all...

He learned best, and was of honesty,
And he passed his fellows in curiosity,
If in that craft he did him pass,
He should have more worship than the less,
This great clerk's name was Euclid,
His name it spread full wonder wide.
Yet this great clerk ordained he
To him that was higher in this degree,
That he should teach the simplest of wit
In that honest craft to be perfect...

Furthermore yet ordained that he,
Master called so should he be;
So that he were most worshipped,
Then should he be so called;
But masons should never one another call,
Within the craft amongst them all,
Neither subject nor servant, my dear brother,
Though he be not so perfect as is another;
Each shall call others fellows by friendship,
Because they come of ladies' birth.
On this manner, through good wit of geometry,
Began the first craft of masonry;
The clerk Euclid on this wise it found,
This craft of geometry in Egypt land.

(This is a 'translation' from 14th century English. The full 794 lines can be read online if wished.)

Thanks for reading. Have a 'be good, do good' week, S;-)

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Masonry - towering inspiration

I love masonry. To me large, stone buildings are a constant source of pleasure.  I never tire of looking at them, marvelling at the inspiration of people who took on projects that would take decades to complete.  I used to look at the incredible St George's Hall in Liverpool and swoon.  Then I went on a school trip to London and fell totally in love with St Paul's cathedral, Westminster Abbey and The Royal Albert Hall. 

As I grew and travelled, there was St Mark's Basilica and the Rialto Bridge in Venice,  The temples at Karnak and Luxor, The Aswan Dam, the three storey library at Ephesus and most recently the palace at Knossos in Crete. People have always had the vision to build incredible monuments. They signify power and the need to show how clever they are. The skill of the stonemason is to be celebrated. 

I haven't been to Rome or to Athens (still on the list) and much my own disgust, I missed out on seeing Gaudi's creations in Barcelona because I could not interest my teenagers in a day trip when we spent a week in Salou. I know that I will get there one day. 

La Sagrada Família attracts around 3million visitors a year, whose entrance fees pay for most of the €25million a year cost of continuing its construction, with gifts from private donors making up the rest. Construction began in 1882, with Gaudí's involvement commencing the following year when he took over the project and radically transformed it's design with his distinctive Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau style. 

Problems have dogged work on Barcelona's second cathedral, with Gaudí neck-deep in the project when he was killed in 1926 after being run over by a tram.  The architect's body was not identified for several days because the impoverished 74-year-old was mistaken for a tramp. He lived long enough only to see a quarter of his masterwork completed. It is said that, when the building is finally completed it will bear little resemblance to his original design but hey - it is incredible.

Six new towers will be added the tallest of which, the Tower of Jesus Christ will measure over 172 metres and make the Sagrada Família the tallest religious building in Europe. Chief architect Jordi Fauli said the structure is on track to complete in 2026 to coincide with the centenary of Gaudi's death. Gaudi's plans for the vast basilica, with its numerous towering spires, were destroyed by anarchists opposed to the Catholic church during the Spanish Civil War. Much of its design since has been based largely on guesswork. Packed with symbolism, La Sagrada Familia will eventually have 18 spires - one for every evangelist, one for every apostle and two, towering above the rest, representing the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

It isn't the religion that attracts me.  I would love to see the Blue Mosque.  It is the inspiration and determination, the skill of the workmanship but above all the belief that it can be done. When I see a magnificent structure, I too am inspired.

Ken Follett's book, The Pillars of  the Earth was made into a TV series and I lapped it up.  The story centres on the construction of an abbey. It had everything. A great cast, intrigue, corruption and the creation of a magnificent building. It was a poem about masonry that first opened my mind to the power of descriptive prose. Today, in the absence of my own poem, I defer to the master and share it  with you.

The Lighthouse Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882

The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
  And on its outer point, some miles away,
The Lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
  A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

Even at this distance I can see the tides,
  Upheaving, break unheard along its base,
A speechless wrath, that rises and subsides
  In the white lip and tremor of the face.

And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,
  Through the deep purple of the twilight air,
Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light
  With strange, unearthly splendour in the glare!

Not one alone; from each projecting cape
  And perilous reef along the ocean's verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
  Holding its lantern o'er the restless surge.

Like the great giant Christopher it stands
  Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,
Wading far out among the rocks and sands,
  The night-o'ertaken mariner to save.

And the great ships sail outward and return,
  Bending and bowing o'er the billowy swells,
And ever joyful, as they see it burn,
  They wave their silent welcomes and farewells.

They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
  Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
And eager faces, as the light unveils,
  Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.

The mariner remembers when a child,
  On his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink;
And when, returning from adventures wild,
  He saw it rise again o'er ocean's brink.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
  Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
  Shines on that inextinguishable light!

It sees the ocean to its bosom clasp
  The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace;
It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,
  And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.

The startled waves leap over it; the storm
  Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,
And steadily against its solid form
  Press the great shoulders of the hurricane.

The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din
  Of wings and winds and solitary cries,
Blinded and maddened by the light within,
  Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.

A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,
  Still grasping in his hand the fire of Jove,
It does not hear the cry, nor heed the shock,
  But hails the mariner with words of love.

"Sail on!" it says, "sail on, ye stately ships!
  And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse,
  Be yours to bring man nearer unto man!"

Hope you have a magnificent week.  Thanks for reading.  Adele


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Masonry - Let's go to Lancaster

12:31:00 Posted by Pamela Winning , , , , , , No comments

There’s something special about Lancaster. When I think back to my early childhood, that’s where I am, in Williamson Park running down the hill by Ashton Memorial for my dad to catch me and swing me round. Sunday afternoons meant picnics in the surrounding areas, Glasson Dock, Crook o’ Lune, Littledale, Hornby and Ingleton, or a run out to Morecambe sands. Pubs had Sunday opening times in those days and were closed from lunchtime until evening, so it was family time with those who lived nearby. My auntie and uncle had a pub a short walk from ours, Nanna and Grandad had to drive as their pub was further away. We would all meet somewhere, usually with friends as well. It was the late 1950s and cars frequently broke down, though it might have just been us. Sometimes my afternoon would be spent playing in the sun with the ladies, enjoying the food and getting spoilt by my nan while the men twiddled under car bonnets or changed wheels. It always ended in a rush to get back for opening time. I started infant school there. My sister was born there. Then we moved again.

As an adult I became more familiar with the city. I had work connections and looked forward to my visits. It was sad that by this time, our pub had been demolished. That once fabulous building, half pub and half water board offices (It was either the water board or Ministry for Health) had been bulldozed out of the skyline and landscape, leaving just empty space. I liked to visit Lancaster’s historical places of interest, the castle, the priory, the Judge’s Lodgings and I was fascinated by tiny stone-built cottages hidden down old narrow lanes. I was interested in all the buildings, the architecture and the masonry.  I like the terraces of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian houses. Down at the dockside of the River Lune, the empty, neglected warehouses of a bygone era still stand proud at the edge of the city. I hope they can be saved and used for something else. The Portland stone structure of The Ashton Memorial was and is my particular favourite, probably because it was such a focal point of my childhood. I look out for it every time I travel north on the M6 and feel comforted to see its light grey form and the verdigris of the copper dome standing majestically above the city.

We once took our children to visit Lancaster Castle. I pointed out the basic stone structure, the thickness of the walls, the steep spiral staircases and the slit-like windows for shooting arrows through. My enthusiasm for decorated masonry was greater than theirs, which was to be expected, but a good day was had by all.

Our son was about seven years old, and as we talked about buildings and construction, I asked him if he’d like to grow up to be the man who could build a wall or the man who passed the bricks to the man who could build a wall. Straight away he replied he would be the man who designed the wall. Stunned, I shut up.

Lancaster is a gem of a city. I’m overdue another visit.
My family photo from 20 years ago, at the Ashton Memorial.
I've chosen 'Lancaster Castle', a poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon.

Dark with age these towers look down
Over their once vassal town;
Warlike—yet long years have past
Since they look'd on slaughter last.

Never more will that dark wall
Echo with the trumpet's call,
When the Red Rose and the White
Call'd their warriors to the fight.

Never more the sounding yew,
Which the English archer drew,
Will decide a battle-day
Fast like its own shafts away.

Never more those halls will ring
With the ancient harper's string,
When the red wine pass'd along
With a shout and with a song.

Trumpet, harp, and good yew bow
Are so many memories now,
While the loom, the press, the gun,
Have another age begun.

Yet that old chivalric hour
Hath upon the present power
Changed—and soften'd and refined
It has left its best behind.

What may its bequeathings be?
Honour, song, and courtesy.
Like the spirit of its clay,
Yesterday redeems to-day.
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Sunday, 12 February 2017

If Only I'd Known

14:51:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , , , 1 comment
'If only I'd known.....'

It sounds so poignant, so full of longing and regrets.  And yet I think life should be lived with as few regrets as possible. After all, every experience, good or bad, makes us what we are.  Would we have done things differently if 'we'd known'? Maybe we do regret choices we've made, but then it's up to us to learn from those mistakes.  They're all part of life's rich tapestry. 

I'm not into religion or psychic phenomena or paranormal practices, but I've always been a big believer in fate, in terms of how one event might be the catalyst for a further string of happenings.

If only I'd known….
……when I hid round the back of that building to avoid a first date with a new boyfriend, that he would wander round that way, without thinking, link my arm and lead me, smiling and chatting, into the coffee bar - and still be by my side forty five years later, would I have done anything differently? Would I have hidden more carefully? Covered my tracks? Unlinked my arm? It's unthinkable now that our lives might have veered off in different directions.  I didn't know, but now I do.

We made it....

If only I'd known….
….last year, that using Dave's car to nip to Cleveleys and pick up a few bits for our weekend away would result in a severely broken arm and two operations (for him), a missed wedding and a cancelled holiday.  Would I have been more organised and had everything ready, so no last minute trip was necessary? Would I have left the car and jumped on a tram? Would I have warned him not to hang a carrier bag from the handlebars of his bike? If only I'd known.....but I didn't. The experience was tough but we got through it and I'd like to think it made us both stronger.

If only I'd known….
…..when we booked our joint 60th birthdays celebration trip to Cuba that the husband was about to injure himself skiing, Cuba would be postponed, and having left insurance till the last minute we wouldn't get a penny back. If only I'd known......but I didn't. We went later in the year and met some lovely people, I took some interesting pictures and that led to my first exhibition.  My first exhibition led to meeting more lovely people, gaining in confidence, becoming part of the Blackpool creative set, getting commissions and starting a new career at the grand old age of sixty.  Things really do happen for a reason.  Or is it that we make the reasons after the event?

If only I'd known.......
…..when I thought I had food poisoning that I was actually in labour, and only an hour from giving birth; that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, however distant it seems; that sometimes being good enough is all that's needed; that my babies wouldn't always be tiny and cute; that teenagers grow into adults; and that, even if they don't tell you so often, your children do still love you; that dieting for fifty years wouldn't make me thinner, just hungry and miserable; that people are unreliable; that things aren't always black or white; that failure is as important as success; that marriage isn’t always easy, but it sure is worth battling on; and that family, friends and, above all, love are all that matter.

But I did know that, yes, I really did know that.

If only I'd known by Jill Reidy

That dress did nothing for me
My hair was so brash
The shoes far too high
The rum and coke was a bad idea
He was as nervous as I was
He wasn't worth it
He didn't love me
My tears would eventually dry
My dad was right
In the grand scheme of things
None of it
None of it
Not one little bit of it

Mattered at all

Thanks for reading         Jill

Saturday, 11 February 2017

If Only I Knew Then...

Hindsight is a troublesome thing and no one has perfected 20/20 retrovision yet. The best we can do is learn valuable life-lessons from our mistakes.

That's all I've got to say on the subject. This week, the poem is the thing and it hinges on mishearing and the limits of experience. It also features bad knitwear. You have been advised...

Old Cardigan
This the bench
facing steadfast out to sea
on which we sat, old man,
watching the sun shiver
and slip beneath the waves.
You, the stranger
with friendly face
and rasping breath
who gripped my sleeve and said
'My old cardigan's in fashion'.
I, the indulgent one
responding to your imploring eyes
with 'Yes, it looks fine'.
A fairisle knit with leather elbow patches,
for goodness sake!
You slumped your fatherly head
as the last light faded.

If only I knew then
what I know now.

One hears what one expects to hear
and to the ear, context is everything;
your dying self-diagnosis -
'myocardial infarction' -
both absurdly misheard
and utterly misunderstood
by my green self.
Had I but been trained in CPR,
I might have tried
with pressured chest and rescue breaths
to save your life.

And yet,
this the bench
facing steadfast out to sea,
on which I sit reflecting now
that perhaps in truth your old cardigan
told me all that I needed to know...
you were comfortable at the end,
realising it was time to go,
grateful that you wouldn't die alone.
I have to think so.

Thanks for reading. Stay warm and have a great week, S ;-)

Thursday, 9 February 2017

If I knew then...things may not have worked out so well.

This weeks' blog will be a blog of many parts. This morning I am heading to The Lake District for two days of unadulterated luxury.  I have got through another Winter and that is cause for celebration. The cold, wet and windy weather that usually knocks me flat during October and November has stayed away (at least for most of the time) and the weather in January was very kind. February is the month of my birth and is always the month of my emergence from the depths of despair into the light.

Last weekend was The Winter Gardens Film Festival. This event is cementing itself firmly into my social calendar. Spending an evening in the company of people who love to dress up and dance to swing and jive music is a great way to shake off the Winter blues. The Art Deco surroundings lift my spirit and make me feel decadent and pampered. I love the Billionaires who play two very energetic sets after the movie.  Watching Fred Astaire on the big screen again, takes me back to afternoons with my Dad, the bar was closed, everyone else at work and me, standing on his feet was he taught me to Slow Fox. If I knew then ...

Anyway, my Birthday falls bang smack in the middle of February, on the day that many people send each other anonymous, flirtatious notes, hoping perhaps to surprise a partner or begin a relationship. My birthday is the day when many chocolate companies sell their biggest boxes by the millions.  Three years ago, Thornton's had a special offer at a local outlet: A large luxurious box, labelled in beautiful red metallic letters, "..And then there was you". The offer caught my eye and my imagination: It said 'buy one, get one half price!' Was that one for his wife, one for his lover? Or even worse, one for the girlfriend and one for his mother?  I won't admit to being cynical about Valentine's Day but I resent the fact that prices in restaurants are hiked, flowers cost a fortune and I have to share my birthday with every cow-eyed dreamer on the planet.  Every year until he died, my Dad sent me a Valentine card. If I knew then ...

Anyway, the Showzam Carnival Ball falls this year on the Saturday before my birthday. It promises to another evening of circus performance, raucous music and maniacal dancing that typifies my home town. Blackpool Tower Ballroom will ooze party people, decked out in outrageous costumes, determined to burst into Spring with a bang. I love it and have made many wonderful, lasting friendships at the carnival ball. People lose their starch, let their hair down and just dance. It is a revitalising experience and definitely not to be missed.

The Tower Ballroom is my second home. I probably took my first walking steps on the wonderful sprung, maple floor while my sister Lesley rehearsed for the Tower Children's Ballet in the late 1950's. Mum tells me that as a toddler, I danced every routine and sang all the songs. My sister's ballet mistress Elsie Bradley told Mum that as soon as I was five she wanted me at her school. Dad took his first pub in 1962 and we moved away from Blackpool for a while. Ballet was not to be my destiny. If I knew then...

When I was six, I was invited to attend a Ballroom Dancing class in 1963 by the father of a little girl called Lynne Jones. Her family lived across the road from my father's second pub in Maghull. We danced together at The Alex Thompson School of Dance in Aintree, every Saturday morning. My teacher Muriel was great, she also trained young deaf people how to dance and often asked me to dance with them. I loved dancing but was not content to dance with another girl. There was a young teacher called George and a brother and sister who danced together, just like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. That was my dream. Dad danced with me at a parent and child Cha Cha competition at The Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool when I was seven.  Muriel gave him a couple of private lessons before the event. We won the trophy and it still sits in pride of place in my cabinet at home. I liked winning and although I didn't know it then, that trophy was to be the first of many. But often in life, a disaster has to happen before things change...

One minute, I was cycling around the pub car park with my brother, then a whole day disappeared. I remember waking up but still dreaming. There was a long skipping rope, stretched down the length of a long room and it was beating, steadily as it turned. As I began to recover, faces would appear at the side of the bed, lots of people came. When I felt a little better, I got up from bed and went to say hello to a boy in pyjamas with a plaster cast on his leg, in a bed on the opposite side of the ward.  When I approached he screamed. I was shocked by his outburst. A little while later, I went to the loo and then, seeing my face in a small mirror for the first tine, I understood. With my front teeth shorn across, my whole face covered in scabs, eyes both black and swollen, I was like a character from a horror movie. 

Lynne Jones and her parents came to visit me in Ormskirk General. They sat beside the bed, full of sympathy until Lynne suddenly looked at me, pointed at my face and pronounced, "That's what you get for telling lies." I had been concussed for three days, my face was scarred forever, my second set of teeth all broken and I had no idea what she meant.  I never spoke to her or her family again. At eight years old, I learnt my most valuable life lesson. Jealousy is terrible thing. I didn't think I would ever be brave enough to dance again and I was desperately unhappy for what seemed an endless time. Despite visits from Everton FC football players armed with expensive boxes of chocolates, I was really down in the dumps.

During the Easter holidays, Dad and Mum brought me to Blackpool and we came to The Tower Ballroom. The place was packed with young couples dancing in a competition to a live band. It was the British Junior Dance Festival: still held here every Easter week. Eventually a man came to speak to my father and he asked me to dance. He took me in his arms and danced me around the floor. It felt amazing. At the end of the dance, he took me back to my parents and said, "I will be in touch."

My father dedicated every Saturday to taking me across the Mersey to Seacombe for lessons with his friend and former World Ballroom Champion, Eric Lashbrooke.  I danced with an eleven year old boy called David Hogan and within 6 months we were winning trophies all over the country and in Europe. Oh I still encountered jealousy but most of the time, I was incredibly happy. I forgot the scars on my face, the too short caps on the tips of my teeth and my crooked smile. When I danced I was invincible. I still feel it too, whenever I put on a sparkly dress, a pair of dance shoes and step into the centre of the floor. Play the music bandmaster. I don't need to look back, what will be will be  and I am ready for whatever life may bring.

The Sandgrown’un  

The name Blackpool runs through me
Like lettering running through rock.
I toddled out of the of the windswept sea,
On the vernal equinox
With a bucket and spade held tight in my hand
Wearing a sun-suit of deckchair stripes,
And pockets filled with sand. 

I took my first steps on the ballroom
Under the mighty Tower,
While Cairoli chased Paul with a broom,
I would giggle and chuckle then sleep for an hour
In a seat on the balcony
Dancing in my dreams
While gilded cherubs watched over me.

High in the roof garden menagerie,
Tiger and lions and chimpanzee
Prowled while we ate afternoon tea.
As darkness fell to the big band sound
Daddy took me onto the floor  

I stood on his feet while he twirled around.

Up in the lift to the very top
To gaze at the wonderful sight
Of fairy lights that never stop.
And in swirling aquarium light
To Debussy's haunting tune
We’d say goodnight to the turtles
And tell them we’d be back soon.

So I’m what they call a ‘sandgrown’un’.
True Blackpool to this day from that.
I’ve a golden mile of secrets
Kept under my ‘kiss me quick’ hat.
Have a great week.  Hope to see some you at The Carnival Ball.  Adele