‘Having a wonderful time’. That’s what you say on postcards, isn’t it? But it’s true. Here we are in Dumfries and Galloway. This is Mossyard. Near Gatehouse of Fleet. Stories later, once we’re back home.
In her Photo Challenge this week, Jude asks us to look upwards, and shoot our subject from below.
Somehow this instruction reminded me of the first period of lockdown, when staying isolated and close to home was fresh and new: when we country-dwellers had the small pleasures of watching the spring unfold. Each day’s main event was watching the subtle changes in the nearby verges and fields, and in the trees and clouds.
With no job-plus-childcare to juggle, no worries about actually losing an income, this simple period, when the spring weather was almost unfailingly sunny and warm, was a time of some happiness.
Since then, things have fallen apart somewhat. Compliance, and confidence in the government’s competence and probity plummets, and nobody regards the prospect of a long hard winter ahead with anything better than disaffected resignation if they’re lucky, real fear if they’re not.
For one day only then, let’s look upwards – and backwards – to the spring 0f 2020.
For fun, let’s enter a world of shadows, and while we’re about it, complete Jude’s photo challenge this week, where she invites us to do just that.
The red tops blazed next week’s news: ‘A September Scorcher! 30º!’
Anyone living north of Watford Gap, or west of Slough knew better than to believe it, because only south-east England counts if you’re a London-based hack. We Yorkshire types needed to read the small print to discover that northerners could merely expect pleasant warmth, a gentle breeze and no rain whatsoever. Which was fine for a Sunday walk in Wensleydale.
On the way over there, it rained. Getting ready for the walk, it rained. The wind snatched urgently at our waterproofs and blew our hair in our eyes. Mist rose from the valley bottom. Grey cloud descended and thickened.
We didn’t mind. The rain soon stopped: it was warm, and those grey skies made for moody, atmospheric scenery. But our friend Gillian, who’d planned the walk, doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘stroll’ and had us battling boggy paths, and huffing up rough pastureland on semi-vertical hillsides. We took it in good part.
But what rewards. We had the constant backdrop of the Wensleydale hills. Semerwater glittered at us from a distance: but close up, insistent waves rushed constantly towards our toes.
We had a march along a Roman road. And at the end, blue skies, sunshine, and a relaxing cup of tea on the village green at Bainbridge.
This week’s photo challenge is to make use of empty, unoccupied space in our pictures : to make it part of the story. As I walked yesterday, I tried to use negative space: in this case, mainly the sky.
And another walk for Jo …
This is not the week to get out and about with my camera looking for Unusual Points of View for Jude’s Challenge. Here’s why: *
She’d like us to shoot something often photographed, but choose a less usual point of view. I thought I’d combine it with a mini-break for us all.
Let’s go to Bamberg. The old town there, a UNESCO World Heritage site, largely built on the rivers Regnitz and Main, between the 11th and 19th centuries can easily keep you busy and charmed for several days. You can visit the main sites here.
But we have a job to do – Jude’s challenge.
This week's assignment - take a picture of a frequently photographed subject like a flower or a person's face from an unusual POV. How can you create an out-of-the-ordinary shot?
We’ll wander along the river to get a different view of the much photographed Old Town Hall.
Then we’ll stroll about in Little Venice.
In the afternoon, we’ll go out of town and take a trip to Schloss Seehof . It was built as a palace and hunting lodge for one of the Prince-Bishops of Bamberg between 1684 and 1695. I wanted to capture the idea of this stylish palace being very much a place-in-the-country.
A short trip, I’m afraid. But with travelling being so difficult nowadays, short, sweet and virtual is probably the way forward.
* To be fair, it’s no longer raining. But it was then …
I was casting around wondering what to post for this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge, Labour of Love. And I remembered a wonderful experience I had when I lived in France, when I was part of a small team invited to cook an English school dinner for a local primary school. Truly, the experience was a Labour of Love, as it was for the charismatic school cook, each and every day. My memories of this special day are entirely positive and happy.
September 26th 2012
‘School dinners, school dinners….
‘School dinners, school dinners.
Iron beans, iron beans.
Sloppy semolina, sloppy semolina –
I feel sick, get a bowl quick.’*
Do you remember this cheery ditty from your days eating school dinners? Only if you’re British, I suppose. And most right-thinking French men women and children would be quite prepared to believe that all English food is just like that.
Not the mayor of Villeneuve d’Olmes, where Découverte de Terres Lointaines has taken its Yorkshire exhibition this week. Back at the planning stage, he’d told us about their school caterer, M. Feliu, who uses almost entirely organic or local ingredients, and who likes to introduce the children to the cooking of other countries every time the excuse arises.
We met M. Feliu at La Freychède. We worked together to produce a menu (Cheap. Tempting to the young French palate. Three courses that work with the kitchen facilities to hand. Conforming to nutritional standards).
This is what we came up with:
Crudités with beetroot chutney
Macaroni cheese with green salad
Blackberry and apple Betty with custard.
Yesterday was the day. I turned up at 10.00 with my English friend and colleague Susie to find the work almost done. All we had left was to churn out batons of carrot, black radish and cucumber for the first course, which was not, let’s face it, Awfully British. But it had to fit in with other considerations as above.
11.00: The prepared and cooked food was heaved into insulated containers, and transported by van to one of the local schools.
11.30. Ditto with van number 2. This batch was sent off to Villeneuve d’Olmes, with me following.
12.00. Children arrived at the canteen. One of the helpers, Pascale, spoke good English. ‘What’s your name?’ she’d say to each child in English. When she had her reply, they could go in, and sit down at one of the circular tables, tinies in one room, and juniors in another. I joined a table of lively 7 year olds.
One of the staff told me the rules that the children expect to follow:
- Take turns to serve the dishes of food to everyone at table.
- Wait till everyone’s served before beginning to eat.
- Try everything.
- You can have the portion size you choose. Once it’s on your plate though, you have to eat it.
Everyone accepts this and we all sat together, eating and chatting. The children chomped their way through all the crudités, they even enjoyed the chutney, whose sweet and sour taste is not an automatic choice round here.
Once cleared away, bread appeared on the table – this is France after all.
Two more children served the macaroni cheese and the salad. Most of us came back for seconds.
We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ – in English – to a birthday girl.
I gave an impromptu talk on the food on offer.
The blackberry and apple Betty was served. Yum! How could it fail? Gently cooked fruit with a crunchy crust of soft breadcrumbs crisped in golden syrup and butter, with obligatory custard, of course.
Then the children cleared their tables, stacking dirty plates and glasses neatly for washing up, before going off to play.
I was so impressed. The children here learn that the midday meal is so much more than a pit-stop. The expectations, reinforced daily, are that this is a moment to spend with friends, a time to share, to think about the needs of others, and to appreciate the food on offer. The occasion lasted well over an hour.
* To the tune of Frère Jacques
I’ve woken up feeling unaccountably gloomy this morning. Is it the fine but insistent rain? Is it the spike in Covid figures that seems to presage what this winter may be like? I don’t know, but Positivity seem to be called for, and a Virtual Day Out in the Sun.
Let’s go to the seafront in Barcelona, and have a look at a very up-beat window with varied viewpoints.
When I first joined Six Degrees of Separation last month, I was quite delighted at how far my chain of books stretched from the original. This time, I’ve gone on a changed journey. Each of my books links together. And yet they are all so different. Have a look.
I haven’t yet read Rodham. I’m a huge fan of Sittenfeld’s writing, but the reviews for this latest book, featuring Hillary Clinton, are very mixed. Kate, who hosts Six Degrees wasn’t all that keen. This book is a re-imagining of a life, that of a known individual, so that’s my starting point.
Here’s another re-imagining, this time from Greek mythology: Circe, by Madeline Miller. Immortal Circe tells her story through the hundreds of years of her life. She’s known Prometheus; Daedalus and Icarus; Ariadne and the Minotaur; Jason of Golden Fleece fame, and most importantly, Odysseus, and has stories about all of them. Over the years – the centuries – she develops her skills as a witch, We witness her growing independence; her satisfactions as she develops her spells; her joys and loneliness. She takes lovers as they come her way, but never abandons herself to them: until Odysseus .. and Telemachus …
Next is another strong, independent woman: A real one, telling her own story: Stories of the Sahara. The writer Sanmao was a Chinese/Taiwanese woman married to a Spaniard, who realised her obsession to live in the Sahara desert. She was feisty, opinionated, driven, and made it her business to get to know the locals and understand their lives in a way no tourist can.
It dawned on me that there’s a theme developing here. These are all stories of women, by women. So let’s stick with it, and look at another independent woman’s story: Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path. It’s the account of a long distance walk undertaken by Ray and her husband when everything that possibly could go wrong in their lives had gone wrong. They’d lost their home, their livelihoods, and in her husband’s case, his health. In one sense they walked away from their problems, spending a year living rough and walking England’s South West Coastal Path. It became their journey towards a new life.
More strong women, more sea, more difficult times: the diving fisherwomen – haenyo – of Jeju Island, South Korea. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See tells an involving story following the story of two women whose lives develop through their membership of the haenyo culture, as they live through a twentieth century defined in Korea by occupation, internal conflict, deprivation and rapid change.
Over to Russia. Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina. This story, with a young uneducated Tatar woman at its heart, does much to bring to life the gulags and their unhappy part in Soviet history. Zuleikha is the young wife of a prosperous young farmer. After his murder she’s taken prisoner and survives an apparently endless train journey and real physical, emotional and economic hardship, into a previously unpopulated part of Siberia where against the odds, she builds a life.
Gina’s life is very different. She’s a spoiled, headstrong, privileged 14 year old Hungarian who for her own protection during WWII is sent away to a puritanical isolated boarding school where she has some hard lessons to learn. But what has Abigail, a classical statue in the school’s grounds, and who will receive messages from the pupils got to teach her? Read Abigail by Magda Szabó to find out.
We’ve been to three continents and six countries, gone back in time and remained in the present. We’ve met rich women, poor women, privileged women, and those who often feel without hope. Here’s a chain with six strong links.
Way back in what we no longer call the Dark Ages, this part of the world – north east England – was overrun by Vikings. They came, they saw, they settled. They left their mark on the language: villages such as Thirn, Thrintoft, Skeldale, Kirkby, Slingsby, Ainsty all betray their Norse ancestry. Vikings have a reputation for ravaging and plundering, but in fact many of them and their families made their lives here.
And settlers need some down-time in among the hard work of clearing and working the land and looking after stock: pursuits like this forerunner of the board game, which was played throughout what is now Scandinavia. We found one while walking the Howardian Hills last weekend. It looks like a maze, and it’s called City of Troy.
It’s one of only eight still left in England, and this one is the smallest- barely bigger than a large picnic blanket. There used to be one near Ripon apparently, but it was ploughed up in 1827. Nobody any longer knows how to play this game. Why City of Troy? Well, it’s thought that it refers to the walls of that city, which were apparently built in such a way as to prevent unwanted intruders finding their way out. I’m astonished by the idea that the average Norseman (or woman) was up to speed with Ancient Greek history and myth, but what do I know?
It’s related though to labyrinths found all over Europe. Every ancient culture: Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Indian, Native American – had their own take on this one-way-in and one-way-out puzzle. The labyrinth made its way into mediaeval churches. There was even one in the cathedral local to us in France, in Mirepoix.
To Christians of those days, it may have been a symbol of wholeness, and an aid to reflection and prayer. That spiral path within a circle may represent a meandering path, leading us to our very centre, then back out into the world.
The maze game probably doesn’t run so deep. But what its rules were, and when and how it was played, out on a hillside some distance from any known settlement is a mystery that will almost certainly never be solved.