I am very late in joining Jude’s Photo Challenge #51, but here I am. She invites us to make a collage of images, some of which have strong geometric shapes, others of which are organic in form. I had fun looking back though my collection. And what I soon realised was how hard it is to determine what makes a good photo when those images are so bound up with the memories they represent. I suppose that’s what makes me a snapshot-ist rather than a photographer.
I also found myself choosing photos which were primarily geometric – of buildings and so on, but which were enlivened in some way by more organic forms. So Jude, I may not have quite stuck to your brief (again!) but you’ve made me think (again!)
The featured photo shows Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire. Nobody could accuse them of being geometric.
It’s been a strange Not-Quite-Christmas – in our case quite an enjoyable one, and today I’m going to offer a Not-Quite-Monday-Window. Why not? Eyes, it’s said, are the windows to your soul, and we saw plenty of eyes when we visited Knole Park the other Christmas with Team London. Those eyes belonged to some rather over-friendly sika deer. I’m not clear about whether deer have souls, but they they certainly provided a different sort of window through which we could remember our visit. Here’s a picture of me with my son and his son, as seen through the eyes of a passing deer.
I keep on referring to myself as Country Mouse. That’s because I am, and have been for the last thirteen years or so. But it’s not always been like that. Here’s my back-story, written during our last weeks in France, back in 2013.
We were Christmas shopping in Toulouse yesterday. A day in this, the fourth largest city in France, is always a treat. And yet….By about half past three, we’re footsore, weary and confused like Aesop’s poor dear Country Mouse who decided the simple, yet safe country life was preferable to the riches and dangers of life in the city. We want to go home.
I was nearly always a city girl. Raised in London, after pre-school years in rural Yorkshire, I had a childhood enriched by Sunday afternoons at the Natural History Museum or frenetically pushing buttons at the Science Museum. We’d go to watch the Changing of the Guard at Horseguards Parade, nose round hidden corners of the city, still scarred in those days by the aftermath of wartime bombing. We’d go on our weekly shop to Sainsbury’s: not a supermarket then but an old-fashioned grocery store, with young assistants bagging up sugar in thick blue – er – sugar paper, or expertly using wooden butter pats to carve up large yellow blocks of butter. If we were lucky, there would be a Pearly King and Queen outside collecting for some charity.
It was Manchester for my university years. I loved those proud dark red Victorian buildings celebrating the city’s 19th century status as Cottonopolis, as well as the more understated areas once populated by the workers and managers of those cotton mills, but developed during my time there as Student Central. I loved the buzz of city life, the buzz of 60’s student life.
Then it was Portsmouth. Then Wakefield, and Sheffield, and Leeds. City life meant living with up to 750,00 neighbours. And I thrived on it. I never felt too far from wide open spaces, yet a short bus ride brought me theatres, cinemas, exhibitions, shops, choices of schools for my children. When we moved in 1997 to Harrogate, with a mere 75, 000 inhabitants, it felt small.
In 2007, we came to the Ariège, to Laroque, population just over 2,000. The largest town in the whole area is Pamiers, with a mere 19,000 inhabitants. How could we still think of Harrogate as really rather tiny? So we needed to change the way we saw things. We’re accustomed now to at least recognising most of the people whom we see round and about. We enjoy the fact that we count many people in the community as friends, and that we all turn up to the same events. We relish the space, the more relaxed pace of life, the sense of belonging that we have here.
Now, as we plan our return to England, the idea of the clogged roads of the Harrogate rush hour is unattractive, the busy streets unappealing. Ripon, where we more recently lived is much more like it: 14,000 people. But we ask ourselves – is even a town this size too big and scary for Country Mice? Should we continue as we’ve started? Perhaps we should look at Galphay, Gargrave, Greenhow or Grewelthorpe, average populations about 400? Or Masham, about 1,250? All of these are near our centre of gravity, Ripon.
So much to think about. But wherever we end up, we’ll still want the odd sortie to The Big City. Toulouse hasn’t seen the back of us yet.
And reader, we did end up in a village near Ripon. North Stainley. Population 700
Photos 4, 5, 6 0f the Toulouse series; the Pearly Kings and Harrogate’s Valley Gardens courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
It’s time for our day out again. Let’s go to Liverpool. Jude’s asked us to look for patterns, and to show them in black and white. Its public buildings, galleries and maritime landscape make Liverpool a good subject, so as it’s lockdown again tomorrow, let’s be off soon.
At about 6.00 in the morning, a van trundles down the track you can just see at the bottom of the featured photo. It’s the milkman, and he leaves us our pint of milk. If we leave an empty egg box out, he takes it, and replaces it with one full of eggs from the farm in a nearby village. Perfect.
The empty glass milk bottles we leave out go on being used and used. They travel sometimes too. Today’s comes from Southport, 90 miles away. We love this blast-from-the-past daily delivery. During lockdown, milkmen like ours became so busy that they had to close their books to new orders. Let’s hope this sustainable form of shopping continues, even when (if?) the pandemic abates.
It’s time for our weekly day out. We’ll stay in the UK this time, but I’m going to whisk you from destination to destination – ones that aren’t at all crowded, and where there are all kinds of shells and stones and rocks and seaweed and birdlife to enjoy, whatever the weather turns out to be.
When I was a small girl in London food was a big part of my life. I don’t mean eating, but shopping for food and cooking it – I’d made my first Christmas cake when I was four after all. It’s possible I had some help. And I certainly licked the bowl.
This Sainsbury in 1950’s Streatham is a close cousin of the one we visited in Victoria (sainsburyarchive.org.uk)
Because my mother taught all week, weekends meant a Saturday morning trip to Sainsbury’s in Victoria. I would watch as the shop girls reduced large yellow slabs of butter to half pound blocks using large wooden butter paddles – look, we still have some domestic-sized ones –
while others weighed sugar into dark blue paper bags. I looked on impressed as the man on the bacon counter turned the whining, shining wheel of his slicing machine – ‘Thick or thin madam?’. After she’d bought all we needed, my mother joined the queue for the cashier’s window and fumbled in her purse to find the right change.
This is the kind of sight that greeted us as we shopped for groceries – counter service only (sainsburyarchive.org.uk)
It was the greengrocer’s stall on the market next. I liked collecting the decorated tissue squares that oranges and tangerines were wrapped in.
This is a market stall in Cádiz 2020, not London in 1950-something. But you get the idea.
I liked helping to choose the weekly vegetables, and learnt when to expect the different apples coming into season. Discoveries came first, even before the autumn term started. Then James Grieve, Worcester Pearmain, Laxtons (Supreme and Superb), and round about Bonfire Night, the brown-skinned Russett. Oranges and tangerines were for Christmas time. I always hoped that there might be enough money left to buy a seasonal treat – perhaps a single peach.
Ellison’s Orange (all three photos were taken at Harloww Carr Gardens Harrogate, where they have a splendid collection of traditional English apple trees).
Best of all was the delicatessen. This shop wasn’t at all the preserve of the moneyed middle classes, reviving holiday memories by buying exotic food stuffs. Instead it was a refuge for the stateless, rather rudderless foreign populations of shabby 1950s Britain. There were huge numbers of Poles who’d served out the war in the UK – my father was one; Italian ex POWs; Hungarian Jews – all the flotsam of Europe.
A cheese counter, probably in present-day Germany. (Waldemar Brandt Unsplash)
Here we’d buy Polish boiling ring, cooked simply in water and eaten with buttery mashed potatoes and sauerkraut or cabbage. I loved the wizened dried sticks of kabanos, a thin sausage that my school friends assured me was made from donkey meat. There was Polish rye bread, speckled with caraway. It was at the delicatessen that my mother learnt about pasta. We started eating spaghetti bolognese in about 1954, long before it became a British standard. We bought Samsoe from Denmark which makes the best toasted cheese in the whole world. My school friends found our food odd. That was alright. I found theirs odd too.
A selection of sausage, quite possibly from Argentina (Edi Libedinski, Unsplash)
Very occasionally on Saturday afternoon we would catch the tube all the way to Trafalgar Square and walk into Soho and the Italian store there. Those impossibly long packets of spaghetti! Those solid piles of Italian sausage: pink fat-studded mortadella; Neapolitan salamis the colour of dried blood! A great wheel of parmesan from which some cheery Italian with lots of smiles but little English would hack crumbly fragrant slices with a seriously stout and heavy knife! Aromatic roasted coffee beans clattered into special scales used for nothing but weighing coffee! And Italian voices, laughing, chatting, shouting and thoroughly at home. I don’t think we ever bought a great deal here. We were there for a spot of sensory overload, and a few small treats.
Impossibly exotic in the 1950s: pasta neither hoop-shaped nor in a tin with tomato gloop (Markus Spiske, Unsplash)
Many of my childhood memories centre around preparing the food that we bought. But that’s a story for another day.
Jude’s Photo Challenge this week invites us to consider texture: Smooth.
It immediately made me think of that English folk song, Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron – I’ve included a YouTube clip at the end just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about. But I’m so un-keen on ironing there’s no chance at all I could submit a photo of a pile of neatly ironed, beautifully smooth clean and dry washing.
Back to the archives then.
I’ve ended up choosing these: click on the images to see them full size and to read the captions.
These stones at Alnmouth aren’t yet particularly smooth, though they are weathered. But their reflection, and that of the blue sky emphasise what smoothness they do have.
My goodness, that was a gnarled tree that we spotted in Vic, Catalunya. But look what the shadow has done to it- flattened and smoothed it completely.
This is at the Leeds Recycling and Energy Recovery Centre. I like those strong smooth steel claws contrasting with the decomposing and disintegrating grot that it spends its life seizing and masticating.
A smoothly polished metal spherical sculpture near St. Paul’s Cathedral London provides perfect reflections, even on a rainy day.
Smooth flowing architectural lines, smoothly polished concrete, smooth mirrored reflections on smooth water: La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia.
The obvious one: a rose, but using a pinhole lens to direct attention to the only subject here: the smooth petals.
Grotty old tyres in a rather grotty farmyard. But years of use has made their surfaces smooth, as moving close in demonstrates.