Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Introducing...

Back in May, I introduced Lily to you all. Lily is only two-and-a-bit, silly, and could make a toy out of most mundane household objects. She squeaks like a rusty gate and could lick water from a dripping tap for hours. But it would be misleading of me to let you think that Lily is the only cat who graces myself and my boyfriend with their presence...

Meet Clio...

 ...and Shere Khan...

Mercifully, Clio and Shere Khan allow us space in their busy schedules in which we can happily procrastinate with them. No task is too small to be beneath Clio's notice. All chores and work fall under her jurisdiction, overseen with the wink of a bright blue eye and the swish of a fan-like tail. As far as Shere Khan goes, work of whatever kind, be it manual or academic is to be pitied. He considers it a millstone and a bothersome burden, and is more than happy to educate the ignorant in the ways of a true sedentary connoisseur (as befits a man of leisure) Clio's mantra for daily living: To see all is to know all. Shere Khan's mantra for daily living: To see all is but to concern oneself unduly with the mundane.

So there you have it: Three cats, two people, one happy understanding and an incredibly good vacuum cleaner.

Photos by André.

Monday, 28 June 2010

In The Garden

Apologies for the lack of posts this past week. Unfortunately, I haven't been in the best of health these past few days. But having said that, the lovely weather in this part of the world has meant that I've been able to enjoy the garden; actually being in the garden rather than contemplating it through the windows. It seems in the past few days, the flowering plants have literally burst into life. I was getting a little concerned that plants which should be flowering with abundance were somewhat slow to catch onto the idea, but I needn't have worried.


The roses are in their first flush of flowering; beautiful flowers of varying sizes and types, like this full-petalled old English variety, Brother Cadfael. I bought this a couple of years ago at the David Austin Plant Centre in Albrighton, Shropshire. It's well worth a visit if you love this kind of old English style rose as much as I do. The flowers are so full and heavy, they gently bow the stems and nod benevolently in the breeze. I can't walk past this part of the garden without stopping to breathe in the heady scent and brush my hand along the velvet petals.


Earlier in the year, my brother planted these Sweet Peas for me from seed, and has subsequently built a wigwam from pea canes in order to let them climb and grow. I have no idea what variety this Sweet Pea is, but it has the most delicate blushing lilac flowers, darker around the edges and seeping inwards until there is only the slightest suggestion of colour there. I love to watch the way Sweet Peas thrive and grow; the way their curling green tendrils cling and wrap around the canes (and around each other) as they stretch on upwards towards the sun.


This straggly looking thing is the Courgette plant. I know, not much of a looker at the moment, and not a very elegant pot either, but I've grown courgettes before and am always amazed by just how quickly they grow. It's a few days since I took this photograph, and it has already doubled in size, with new leaf growth and the promise of some flowers too. Those bright yellow flowers signal the beginnings of the courgette itself, and I confess that I've been feeding this bad boy like an old gent entering the prize marrow contest at the village show.


The poor Thyme plant looks totally lost next to the Oregano. When I originally planted these two they were the same size, and there they sat in perfect equanimity for a little while until the Oregano decided it was time to grow like mad and shove the Thyme up to one corner, where it now trails miserably over the side. Oregano seems to be the only herb I can grow with any kind of success. Attempts at growing Coriander, Parsley and Basil have fallen under the fatal munchings of slugs and snails. This two-herb pot sits by the side of the back door, for easy reach when there is the need to grab a handful to throw into whatever is cooking.

My favourite time of a summer's day in the garden is when the twilight is just beginning to creep across the sky. It seems that at that time, everything is still and calm. I can hear the blackbird singing from the chimney top, and the garden smells come alive. The fragrance of roses mingle with the Sweet Peas, Lavender and herbs, and as I water the pots of summer bedding, the smell of wet soil and geranium leaves joins them. This is the time to breathe in the summer, to be as still as the soil beneath your feet and just be.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Cloche


There was a time in the not so dim and distant past when a well-heeled lady would  not step foot outside without handbag, lipstick, gloves and hat. These days, we still embrace certain aspects of this, but it's incredibly rare to walk down the street and see a woman decked out in all these items at once. Winter hats and gloves are excluded, because this bygone style isn't about keeping warm (except for possibly an exotic cigarette, as pictured above)...it's about the look.

In the 1920s, the wide-brimmed and expansive headwear of the 1900s gave way to the above close fitting syle: The Cloche. Not only did the silhouette of a woman's body change with the adoption of the dropped-waist style dress, but so too did hair, and consequently hats. 

Elaborate buns, knots and piles of long hair pinned extravangtly atop the head were chopped into the now famous bobs and crops of the period. The whole look was sleek, streamlined and strikingly severe. An arrogantly positioned Cloche hat added perfectly to this. Quite literally bell-shaped, they were made of soft materials like felt or fine straw so that they could be pulled right down onto the wearer's head. Brims, according to the slight changes in fashion during the period, were either worn down or turned up. Pulling the hat right down over the forehead meant that the wearer's eyes could rarely be seen, and thus adding mystery, appeal and a greater sense of femininity to a style that must have seemed a million miles away from the hourglass corsetry and embellishments that had gone before.

I confess that I don't do hats, (save for the ones I wear in winter) but the beautiful photograph above by George Hoyningen-Huene gives the Cloche a siren-song appeal that makes me wish I had a frivolous hat collection...

Image courtesy of Retrogasm.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Happy Fathers' Day

Homer once said, "It is a wise child that knows his own father." Shakespeare once replied, "It is a wise father that knows his own child." I have spent twenty seven years both knowing and getting to know my own father, and the simple yet truthful fact of the matter is this:

I am lucky. Thank you, Dad.

Niamh and Cyril Cusack (actors) by Mark Tillie, 1986. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Things To See: The Staffordshire Hoard

"This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England..."
Leslie Webster, Former Keeper, Department of Prehistory and Europe, British Musuem.

 Cloisonné garnet and gold hilt fitting with interlocking design.

Ever since I found out about metal detectorist Terry Herbert's discovery in a field near Lichfield, Staffordshire last July, I have been completely enchanted by The Staffordshire Hoard. Subsequent archaeological exacvations have uncovered over 1,500 items from the field; a vast gold and silver treasure emerged from the dirt, once more seeing the light of day after so long spent in the ground.

Gold strip bearing the inscription, "Surge Domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua," ("Rise up Lord;  may your enemies be scattered and those who hate you be driven from your face.")

The Anglo-Saxon period is often called The Dark Ages. 

Gold zoomorphic mount (fish and eagle).


 What this amazing and unprecedented find proves is that this time was anything but gloomy and uncultured. The pieces are examples of remarkable and skilled craftmanship; a glittering window into a world long ago lost. 


Folded cross with interlocking design.


The reasons behind such a large deposit are now being picked over by experts, but the truth of the matter remains that nobody will ever know for sure. Interpretation of artefactual evidence is important, but in this respect I feel that the hoard speaks for itself with a strong and clear voice of it's own. 

 The complete hoard has been valued at £3.285 million.

After a successful appeal to keep the hoard in the West Midlands region, the collection has been bought by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Currently on display in Birmingham, the hoard is awaiting the creation of it's permanent home there. I can't wait to visit myself and admire these beautiful items up close.


All images courtesy of The Staffordshire Hoard's Flickr page. For more wonderful images of the collection, click here.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Culinary Inspiration

Looking back at my posts today, I realised that since beginning this blog back in March, I haven't mentioned food once (apart from a very brief mention in my previous post).

I think it would be fair to say that I eat well. That's to say, I don't eat stupidly, but I do enjoy myself. Between myself and my boyfriend, we're on the quest to find the perfect 1. Burger. 2. Houmous and 3. Falafel. (Tried making Falafels at home...unfortunately disastrous). We both love to cook at home, and between super-sharp knives and a huge and unnecessary collection of crockery, we work as a very efficient team. The food we cook is nothing overly elaborate or stupidly fussy, but it's tasty and we enjoy what we eat together. We've cooked up batches of pasta and gnocchi, deliberated over the potential contents of our fail-safe chick pea stew, stoically dealt with disappointments and smugly congratulated one another on our successes. 

Recently, I've been turning more and more to food blogs. They are largely a new discovery for me, and that's not to say that I had no idea they were out there, but that as I read more of them, I appreciate more and more that most of us are not Marco-Pierre White or Gordon Ramsay. We're not Martha Stewart. Real kitchens are smaller; we make do with the equipment we have...we make mess, things go wrong, but it's fun all the same.

Some favourite food blogs of mine are:

Smitten Kitchen- Deb cooks beautiful food from her kitchen in New York and puts it into a really easy to navigate index. I've never had a S'more, but wow do I want to make this S'more Pie. It would make me feel sick as a dog in the end, I know, but still...

Traveler's Lunchbox- Melissa's blog is well established and has a huge following (and a not-to-be-sniffed-at mention as one of The Sunday Times' best food blogs). For me, Melissa's writing causes me to want dishes that really, I know I wouldn't like. But that's the beauty of a well-written food blog; inspiring you to try (or at least consider) food that you wouldn't usually give the time of day to. 

A Wee Bit Of Cooking My most recent discovery. Here, Wendy combines simple, lovely food with photographs of the stunning area she lives in. I found a recipe here for Baked Honey and Mustard Butterbeans and I really want to try them.

I hope these give you some inspiration for your own experiments, and long may honest cooking prevail!

Image courtesy of Retrogasm 

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Happy Days


Here's some silliness for a Saturday evening. You know, while you're waiting for the football to start...

Two places I have been:

Turkey
Malta

Two favourite drinks:

Tea
Tonic water, chilled so it's very cold.

Two summer jobs I have had:

Working at a global pizza establishment.
Working in a school uniform shop.

Two TV shows I watch:

QI and Gok's Fashion Fix. Yes, Gok's Fashion Fix. I know it's rigged, but I like to watch him make dresses out of coats, tutus and curtain rings because I can't sew. (Unless buttons count in any way).

Two places I would like to visit:

Hawaii
Versailles

Two fave retro TV shows:

Happy Days
Blackadder

Two places I have lived:

Where I'm living now.
Bangor, Gwynedd.

Two fave dishes:

Fajitas
A really good pizza with a beautiful, crispy base.

Two things I am looking forward to:

Seeing my boyfriend.
Seeing my boyfriend.

And finally, as England prepare to play their first World Cup match against the USA, and as the usual nailbiting rollercoaster for England fans begins, I give you the best football song. (If you can forgive David Baddiel and Frank Skinner singing off key), and as Karen reminded me yesterday, I give you the absolute worst football song ever. Ever. New Order, what were you thinking? You let John Barnes rap. You let Gazza tell us all to express ourselves. You let Lily Allen's Dad cavort like an idiot in the video. There are copious slow-mo shots of Chris Waddle's mullet. Ouch.

Altogether everyone...you've got to hold and give...

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Austen In A Landscape

"Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains?"
(Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice).

 
Thinking about Jane Austen's literary landscapes brings about a wider variety of settings than you might first think, and were chosen with very definite and deliberate care and reasoning. On the tip of it, there are genteel "shire" settings in all of her works, to some degree or other. This is where the day to day minutiae of the characters' lives play out, from the gossipy streets of Meryton and Highbury to the sweeping grandness of Mansfield or Norland Park. 


As well as this though, Austen takes her readers on various journeys around the country, giving us glimpses and insights into her characters. In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwoods are uprooted from Norland Park to the Devon countryside. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion take us to the diversions of Bath and beyond, but my favourite of Austen's stop-offs has to be Elizabeth Bennet's trip to Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle in Pride and Prejudice.




The wildness of The Peak District, with it's vast, lonely spaces, otherwordly rock formations and sweeping views fit perfectly with Lizzy's exploratory, wayward nature. And, what better place for Austen to showcase Lizzy's love of long walks  than in the peaks? Of course, Derbyshire is also where she meets Darcy on his home turf, realising that he is not distant or snobbish, and promptly falling in love with him, and that's another reason why I love this particular part of the story so much.




All the photos you see in this post are actually taken at The Roaches in Staffordshire. This also forms part of the Peak District National Park, which encompasses the counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and South and West Yorkshire into its spiny shape. I've walked many, many times up in The Roaches, admiring the beauty of the area in the same way as Elizabeth Bennet. Nothing makes me feel quite as small and nothing calms me quite like sitting on these ancient rocks and breathing in the magic of a view like this.*

*Both the 1995 BBC adaptation and the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice have filmed Lizzy's Derbyshire journey in The Roaches.

Images 1 and 2 courtesy of André. Image 3 by me.

I'd love to know your favourite literary landscape; Austen or otherwise, what settings or journeys do you like the most? 

Saturday, 5 June 2010

True Beauty


Even the most famous...


...most elegant women get shampoo in their ears when their hair is washed.

Even the most polished star...



deserves a break for ice-cream.

Even the most practised of smiles...


sometimes slips...

And even the most superbly poised and stylish icon...


...can be completely...


...and joyfully silly...

Audrey, Bette, Marilyn and Grace; proving inner beauty reflects outward radiance.

Images courtesy of Retrogasm.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Visions & Dreamscapes


 One of Louise Bourgeois' Maman series sculptures (bronze and marble), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Louise Bourgeois, artist and sculptress died, aged 98 on the 31st of May. Creator of strange and abstract visions she may have been, but her work reflected her essence; her fascination with female strength, maternal instinct, nuture and reproduction. Of her original steel and marble Maman spider-sculpture, she said,

"The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever...spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother."

In her final years, finding that her body was failing her, but her imagination as razor sharp as ever, Bourgeois filled sketchbook after sketchbook with bizarre drawings. She called them her dreamscapes, and drew them in a kind of halfway state between sleep and awake, in a place where she could recall her fantastical dreams and sketch swirling, alien landscapes onto her paper. Memories were important to her; their collection and catergorisation. Whatever category you choose to place Bourgeois' art into, her visions, both startling and wonderful, will never be forgotten.


"I need my memories; they are my documents."

Louise Bourgeois
1911-2010

Maman image courtesy of André

Louise Bourgeois portrait courtesy of Centre Pompidou