Dirty Dutch Coaster and Other Ships

Travelling from Rotterdam to Hull the other week, on a grey and breezy North Sea crossing,  I spent hours on deck, enjoying the busyness of the cargo vessels puttering back and forth, back and forth across the steel-grey waters.  I was reminded on John Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ – the last verse of it anyway:

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rail, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

My memories of our trip are of grey seas, grey skies, grey industrial coastal landscapes, grey wind turbines.  With red highlights –  those busy ships: the cargo of lorries on our ferry: and an almost lurid sunset.

Click on any image to view full size.

Linked to Debbie’s Six Word Saturday, which I’ve been following for a while.  Time to join in!

And also an entry for the Which Way Photo Challenge.

An Amateur Bird-Fancier visits Slimbridge

We’ve just come back from a long weekend in Gloucestershire.  The highlight was to spend time with William, Zoë and their parents at the home of Sarah (daughter-in-law)’s parents, who had invited us all: the highlight of this particular highlight was watching Zoë  discover strawberries…

Another highlight was to visit Slimbridge, the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust site founded and developed by Sir Peter Scott.

So much to see: water birds of every kind.  But I’ve come away with memories of three in particular: three species of wading bird who spend much of their lives fossicking in the shallows for the small creatures on which they depend for their diet.

All three of the birds that so engaged me shared similar characteristics.  Impossibly long, fragile-looking legs, giving them a delicate and graceful appearance: impossibly long, unmissable beaks.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you various varieties of flamingo…..  Who can fail to be entranced by their pink plumage, sometimes almost embarrassingly vivid, at other times delicately pale?

….black tailed godwits ….

… and the distinctively patterned black and white avocet.

Follow the links for a natural history lesson.  For now, enjoy as we did simply observing them.

 

Click on any image to view full size.

 

The changing face of the gardener’s toolshed

One of the pleasures of the garden is that it changes – every single day. Walk there daily, and you hardly notice as one plant quietly ends its moment in the sun, while another comes into vigorous life.

Visiting a garden less often, you notice those changes. Back in June at Harlow Carr, we walked among banks and beds crowded like this…..

A month later, they were gone. Instead, we meandered among beds thronged with these……

But I escaped the sights of the garden for a few moments in the Victorian potting shed. Looks at how these tools have changed over the years! Once sparkling and sturdy, now they’re dulled by rust and years of use. And yet ….. if I set out to buy a set of garden tools today, I’d be choosing ones that look very much like these. You can’t beat a functional design that’s stood the test of time. My plant labels might not look half so elegant though, nor my pots so characterful.

 

My contribution to today’s Ragtag Challenge: change.

Click on any image to view full size.

Annie, my Grandmother, c.1925

I never knew my grandmother, as she and my mother were estranged, and even though she lived until I was 14, she was never part of my life.  All I knew was that on the early death of my grandfather, my grandmother forbade my mother, then eighteen, to take up the scholarship place at Oxford University that she had been offered just before her father died.  She was to stay at home and keep house. In the end, my mother lived at home and went to Leeds University: but she never forgave my grandmother denying her the opportunity – still unusual for a young woman of her background – that she’d worked towards throughout her time at Grammar School. I grew up with no warm feelings towards this woman whom I had never met.  In this piece, I’ve tried to look at my grandmother with fresh eyes and to see the world as it might have seemed to her.

Annie, the Vicar’s wife: c. 1925

Annie, probably taken in the early years of her marriage.

She sat there: no thoughts, no plans. Just a fog of tiredness behind her eyes, gritty with exhaustion. A thin skin congealed on her breakfast cup of tea. Beside her, a loaded and overflowing laundry basket.

The children had long since disappeared to school. There was the Vicarage to clean.  Always there was the house to clean. Mouse droppings in the kitchen, little rodents scurrying behind the skirting boards, day and night. Bats in the loft. Buckets in the bedrooms every time it rained.

Charles didn’t mind. Charles didn’t notice. He’d been brought up poor, but his brains had propelled him through school, won him a scholarship to Cambridge, while his sense of duty and his love of God had sent him to theological college, then to failing parishes, where he preached, visited, networked, did whatever God willed to fill the pews and make the church and parish life the centre of the community.

Where did Annie fit in with this? Fifteen years ago, Annie had been dazzled by the handsome young curate: his charm, his popularity, even his clear-eyed faith. What a privilege when they began to walk out together, and then to marry!

But Men of God earn very little. Men of God live in draughty, ill maintained and ill-equipped vicarages with large unwieldy gardens. Men of God rely on the women in their lives to run their parishes with them. What’s a parish without its Women’s Sewing Group, its Mothers’ Union, its Young People’s Fellowship?  What’s a parish without a Summer Fair, a regular diet of church socials and a harvest supper? And who, unpaid and completely taken for granted, manages the fellowships and all these events?

Well, here in Morley, it was Annie, wife and mother. Mother of Betty, brainy Betty, hothoused by her father, top of the class in her grammar school in Leeds, and thinking of nothing but wanting to be the first girl in school to get a place at Oxford. Mother of Arthur, fumbling bumbling clumsy Arthur: a bit of a dunce really.  What would he be fit for when he left school? Such a worry…

And besides Charles hadn’t been well, though hardly anybody realised, because he worked every single day.  He said his was a calling, not a job: no days off for him. Only Annie knew that he had been diagnosed with diabetes.  Only Annie was allowed to help him with his daily injection of the new wonder drug insulin. But he was supposed to be very careful, eating regularly to a strict diet. He did neither. Annie knew Charles could – probably would – die. And Annie knew what happened to vicars’ widows. When the vicar of St Agnes’ died last year, Mrs Atkins, poor Mrs Atkins and her four young children were put out of the Vicarage within the month.

Whatever would she do?  Whatever would she, Betty and Arthur do when Charles passed?

How Not to Run a Cycling Race

Shock!  Horror!  Unheard of!  Today we could be found (a) watching day time television and (b) it was a cycling programme.

Today’s daytime TV.

The Tour de France, to be exact.  Normally we only display an interest in this or any other cycling event if it passes our front door: as it did twice when we lived in France, and once, in 2014, when memorably, the Tour began in Yorkshire.

The Tour de France goes through Laroque, 2012

Today however, stage 15 of this year’s Tour took place in the area we called home, the Ariège.  We had to watch.  The struggles of the cyclists passed us by as we grew nostalgic, even damp-eyed as familiar roads, familiar landscapes appeared on screen.

But as I watched, I was reminded of an incident that took place in Laroque, back in 2012.

Every year, just before the Tour, another cycling race takes place in the Ariège: L’Ariégeoise.  It’s divided into three levels of difficulty: the Ariégeoise itself (160 km,3,500 m. of climbing), the Mountagnole (118 km, 2,500 m. of climbing) and for wimps, the Passejade, a mere 68 km, and 750 m. of climbing.

That year, the route passed our way.  That year, the routes of the two main races parted company in Laroque.  And that year, there were no signs to say so….  and nor were there special marshalls for the Mountagnards.

The unsuspecting riders arrive at the parting of the ways….

As the riders arrived at the crossroads in town , they didn’t know where to go.  Ariégeoises  followed MountagnardsMountagnards followed Ariégeoises.  It was hopeless.  Riders tried to turn round, collided with those behind them, swore, and swore again as they saw their hard-won perfect timings being swallowed up in the chaos.  With extraordinary presence of mind, I shot some video footage.

 

I heard later that following the event, the race organisers used my little clip for  training purposes, to demonstrate How Not To Organise a Cycling Event.  I’m guessing it’s part of every year’s Tour de France training too.  That’s why it always runs so smoothly.

You can read all about it here.

A new angle on a ferry trip

Coming back on the overnight ferry from Rotterdam to Hull last week, I had a lot of fun playing with my camera.  Most shots celebrated the sea, the shipping, the grungy industrial shore side, and I’ll share some of those soon.

But as the sun was setting, my eye was caught by these passengers on the decks above.  They didn’t know it, but I thought they made quite fine silhouettes set against the angled railings of the deck.

My response to today’s Ragtag Challenge: Angle.

Click on any image to view full size.

Tabariane: New Light on the Dark Ages revisited

Which of my posts about our time in France to re-blog this month?  In the end, it was easy.  I fell to thinking about all the wonderful trips we had learning about the history of the area we’d chosen as our home, courtesy of  Pays d’art et d’histoire des Pyrénées Cathares.  Here’s a memorable day from July six years ago…

July 13th 2013

Tabariane: new light on the Dark Ages

When I was at school (back in the Dark Ages), we learnt in history that the Romans came after the Greeks.  They left us a legacy of Romance languages, our alphabet, Roman law, neo-Classical architecture, impossibly straight roads and under floor central heating.  As the empire crumbled, so we were told, the continent descended into the Dark Ages.  Barbarians, Vandals, and unpleasantly savage descendants of Asterix the Gaul ravaged Europe, raping, pillaging and generally leaving little time for culture and a settled everyday life.

I think we all knew it was a bit less straightforward than that.  The Frankish Germanic tribes entering the late Roman empire had a very different culture from that developed by the Romans, and it’s been much harder to research systematically because there are few contemporary written records.

This week though, we went to visit a Merovingian site, Tabariane, recently excavated and interpreted near Teilhet, not far from Mirepoix.  The Merovingians were an early Frankish dynasty established by Clovis, and they ruled an area roughly equivalent to much of France and Germany from the 5th to the 8th centuries, and are the kind of tribe that was dismissed as one of those from the very heart of the Dark Ages.

It was a burial site we’d come to see.  It has first been discovered in the very early 20th century by Captain Henri Maurel, and had been partly excavated according to the fairly invasive practices of the period.  War and economic upheaval meant the site became first neglected, and then entirely forgotten about until recently.

Recent research lead by Nicolas Portet has meant that the burial ground, now carefully excavated, is now, as it almost certainly was then, a burial garden.  It’s a large site, on a hillside overlooking the site of the now disappeared Merovingian settlement  on the opposite side of the valley.  The 166 tombs seem to have been arranged in ‘clans’: loose arrangements of extended families and friends, over a long period of time.  It seems to have been a burial ground which held a place in the life of the community for many years, rather than being a cemetery developed as a result of tragedy – war or plague say.  Most of the bodies were laid with their heads to the west, their feet to the east.  Originally they were clothed, but little remained apart from metal objects: belt buckles, brooches, jewellery and, with some of the men, weapons.

This is where ideas have changed. Early 20th century archaeologists sent excavated objects to museums far and wide, even to America: modern practice which encourages an area’s ‘patrimoine’ (heritage) to remain as far as possible intact did not then exist, but you can find examples of objects found here in the Museum at Mazères, and in Saint Raymond de Toulouse.

Now as then, the tombs are planted with local flowering plants: lavenders, marguerites, herbs.  It’s thought that locals would have visited the grounds with their families, spent time there, as we might in a modern park.  So it was important to both the living and the dead to make it a pleasant, calm place to be.  The burial ground overlooked the village. The village overlooked the burial ground.  Each had an interest in the other.  Each could intercede for the other.

It’s a tranquil, special place, surrounded by meadows and hilly countryside.  A circular walk of some two and a half kilometres , starting and ending in the village of Teilhet gives you a chance to spend a peaceful  hour or two exploring scenery that may not be so very different from the way it was when the Merovingian villagers first laid out their burial ground, some 800 years ago.  Excellent information boards will help you understand a little more about those Merovingian people who made their lives in this still rural area.

While you’re there, make time to enjoy the facade of the 14th century church at Teilhet.  Here are some pictures to whet your appetite.