Monday, September 19, 2016

Where are we now?

Just back from a little break.  So where can this be?  We travelled by Eurostar and high speed train.

We had never been to this country before.  Despite some intensive practice on Duolingo, I found my fifty year old O level was not even up to the details on menus, let alone the longer words on museum displays.

We did not actually try the Currywurst, but we certainly ate a range of other types of sausage, some of it what we would have called luncheon meat - which, I suppose, made it eminently suitable for the lunches when we ate it.

We had one night in Cologne en route, and had already decided that the cathedral was all we could manage.  It did not disappoint.

Flying buttresses and Gothic arches.  It was only completed in the nineteenth century, but to the original design.  Miraculously, it survived World War Two with only some windows lost.

The exterior is clearly being renovated piece by piece.

This piece of scaffolding, high up on one of the spires, seems to defy gravity.

Many of the figures have been restored.  But the real wonder was to hear the great bells reverberate thrillingly across the whole square.

We watched the play of light on the stonework of the façade as we ate our supper at a pavement café opposite.  (Bacon, egg and Rosti, since you ask.)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Swallows and Amazons

About this time last year, we stayed at a cottage near Ambleside.  On the bookshelf was a copy of Arthur Ransome's "Secret Water", a later title in the "Swallows and Amazons" sequence, but which got me reading all the others, cycling out to the Shotley peninsula, reading Jennifer Jones's homage and generally following a trail.

This year a film has been released, so of course we had to see it. It's rare, these days to see a film aimed at children without animation or obvious CGI, so that was the first oddity.  Press coverage seems to have been obsessed by the change of name, from Titty to Tatty.  Given that the actress playing the part was a very sweet little girl, and not an adolescent, this name change was hugely irrelevant and as nothing to all the other changes, which were legion.

Maybe we do now suspect that Ransome himself may have done more than research folk tales and escape his failed marriage in revolutionary Russia, but was it really necessary to start the film with a direct rip-off from John Buchan?  Every key moment in the story was then hi-jacked by this spy-story, not just using it to add motivation to the burglary of the houseboat.

But then, the costumes.  They may have used vintage fair isle pullovers or had them custom knit for the boys.  But did the girls really need to wear bits of old tray-cloths made up into blouses and dresses?  The scale of the embroidery patterns cannot have been intended for children's clothes.

So, having bothered to establish "period" in this way, why bodge it with the updating of attitudes?  The Swallows all form a crew for their boat in which naval discipline is established by rank, and they all obey the captain with very little demur. But not in this film, where they argue and question his decisions.  The eating of "pemmican" (corned beef) in the book is all part of their extended role-play as explorers; Ransome goes into lots of detail about how they cook it in various ways or eat it straight if time is short.  In the film, they are shown losing a picnic hamper of more interesting food and turning to corned beef as a last resort.  The film makers appear never to have been camping for days on end, or indeed, hungry after a hike.

As for the Amazons, it is hard to say which decade these two girls belong in, but it certainly isn't the late Twenties.  The supremely over-confident Nancy of the book has been transformed into a troubled teen, searching for a father figure.

We did marvel at how Derwentwater, clearly identifiable from a view of Catbells in the background, could appear so deserted.  Why are there no other boats on the lake at all?  And how did they manage this?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Gosforth Show

Gosforth is a small village in west Cumbria, usually seen briefly by those passing through on their way to climb Scafell from Wasdale Head.  It is worth a detour because of the very fine Viking cross in the churchyard.  But that was not the purpose of my visit this time. 

Every year Gosforth, like many other small communities, hosts an agricultural show.  When we were children, at school in a neighbouring village, the whole school had a half-holiday in order to "go to t'show."  Now, the show is held in August, presumably to maximise the chances of fine weather.  Some irony there, I feel.

My eldest cousin has been associated with this show for over fifty years, faithfully entering her baking and craft items in the Industrial sections and now presiding over this part of the event.  Most of the others taking part have similarly been part of this rural community all their lives.  Each year they bake scones and gingerbread, make lemon curd and rum butter, pick out six eggs from their laying hens in order to compete against each other in the many classes.  And they bake constantly, not in a Post-Modern reaction to the ills of the world, but to fuel the relentless toil on the land.  Just the names on the silver trophies for the most points in each section is like a roll-call of the farming wives of the past, women whose baking was legendary, or who could knit a pullover out of ravelled out yarn, or make a pegged mat out of old serge suits. 

Some years ago sociologists from Newcastle University conducted a research project into Gosforth and its people.  A defining characteristic of conversations at social gatherings, particularly of women, seemed to be "Claiming Kin" ie tracing who was whose second cousin twice removed. Hours could be spent on this activity.  "Ah, but who was she afore she were wed?"   Within minutes of arriving at the show tent I found myself engaged in this activity .

My role at this year's event was to judge the knitting.  Now, I did have some qualms about this when my cousin asked me to do it.  Personally, I like to see knitting as a collaborative activity where we can all be inspired by each other's work, and can enjoy learning new skills. I don't enter competitions myself.  However, my cousin convinced me that I had the one essential qualification: I live "Down South", and am therefore not part of that close community.  To that extent, I would be an objective judge.  Weeks before the event, I was sent the schedule of classes: a scarf, an item to be donated to the Special Care Baby Unit, a knitted plate with four knitted cakes, an item in four-ply or finer, and an item in DK or heavier.  No judging criteria, of course.

At the event each item is ticketed, the name of the entrant hidden on the reverse.  Each judge is accompanied by two Stewards, there to ensure fair play, and to record the judgements, writing out the coloured cards for First, Second and Third.  Apparently, the ladies on the committee horse-trade, so that stewards are allocated to crafts which they will not enter themselves.  We began.  A class of scarves, in which at least five were made of that ruffle yarn which produces a wearable scarf, but is hardly recognisable as knitting.  So, how to decide between an airy cobweb lace stole in feather and fan and a bright lace triangle in a more modern idiom?  In the end, I went for the one which displayed a wider range of knitting skills. 

But then, the plate of cakes - how to decide between two very similar efforts?  Later, it was revealed that these were both the work of the same knitter, so it hardly mattered. 

By pure chance I gave first prize in the baby section to my cousin's exquisite little lace matinee coat, not least because it was small enough to fit a new-born.  And so we went on.

Now, all this sounds like a civilised way to spend a morning, weighing up the finer points of craft work.  But that is not what will be memorable about the event.

The day before, it began to rain.  Nothing very spectacular, but enough to dampen the ground.  On the day of the show it set in with a vengeance, dumping huge quantities of water out of the sky, and keeping it up for several hours.  Gusts of wind threw the rain over anyone venturing out of a tent.  Underfoot, vehicles rapidly churned the grass into a quagmire, ankle-deep.  An impressive amount of tractor power was in attendance at the show; soon, it was being deployed to rescue cars stuck in the mud.  The Grand Parade of cattle was cancelled.  The cattle tent itself was blown over.

We waded back to our car, soaked to the skin despite anoraks and waterproof trousers.  I've rarely been so wet. My second-best trainers have been through the washing machine but still have a distinctive swampy smell.

Gosforth Show 2016 - one to remember.

And, for the Show Committee, work will soon start on organising the 2017 event.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Great Gable

I know that it might look as though we moved straight from one holiday to another, but in fact weeks of normal life happened between the two.  We travelled north, hoping for some walkable weather. 

On our last visit we had seen Great Gable but set it aside for another day.  This was to be that day

We drove up to Honister Slate Quarry and parked.  This has the advantage of several hundred feet of ascent for no effort at all, provided that the driver has nerves of steel.

You walk out up this paved path and across a couple of  miles of moorland.  On our right, Innominate Tarn and Haystacks, both favourites of Alfred Wainwright.

We passed this wonderful heather-filled basin. 

Soon, we looked down into the top of Ennerdale and the Black Sail Pass.

Ahead, Great Gable began to loom.  It is one of the highest Lakeland tops, up there with Skiddaw and Helvellyn.

You walk out along a path to the ridge on the right.

Then you climb up a scramble of boulders to reach the summit, which is a rock-strewn plateau.

At the top, a very moving memorial to the early climbers who died in the First World War.
You can look down into Wasdale from the top.

Then down a very steep path on the other side and up to reach Green Gable and the ridge path back to the car park.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sir Benfro 4

Our last day in Pembrokeshire, and we were determined to make it memorable.

Note the old boat used as a flower bed - and the mill-stone.
We drove to Abercastle, and picked up the bus for Trefasser.  The bus driver was a trainee, with a supervisor in attendance.  Suddenly we found ourselves detouring via Mathry as the driver had missed the turn.  Managing a full-sized single decker through these very narrow lanes must take some skill. 

We walked across fields to the coastal path, with seven miles ahead of us.  More diverse terrain here, with more heathland flora.  Then down to a beach where we ate lunch.

Here, a really unusual rock arch, showing sedimentary layers.

Suddenly, a youngish woman appeared on the path.  Amazingly, she was walking this path, full of sharp, slatey rocks, in bare feet.  Further along we climbed a hill on a path full of sticky mud.  That too must have been fun in bare feet. Someone later suggested that perhaps it was a penance or pilgrimage of some sort.  Who knows?

Eventually, we arrived back at Abercastle where parties of young people in wetsuits were being led into the sheltered waters of the long harbour for coasteering.  A mini-bus was off-lading kayaks and the whole place was buzzing.

The knitting done on the holiday, including the two long and tedious journeys.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Sir Benfro 3

Wednesday was the day of our wedding anniversary, so we went out to dinner.  My husband had booked the hotel on-line, without looking at it in any detail.  Consulting our "Lonely Planet" guide to Wales from five years ago, we got the impression that the hotel had a casual, surfer vibe and that we might be overdressed. 

We might have known something was adrift when we saw the car-park.  Pembrokeshire has a distinctive style of field boundary made of stone, but topped with turf.  In this spanking-new car-park, field boundaries had been tastefully reconstructed.  We were shown into a dimly-lit dining room, the walls of which were lined with huge paintings.  The whole thing had been reinvented as an "Art Hotel", a term I don't recall hearing before.  Facing me were three pictures showing Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor in a stylised image, each with a massive tear-drop running down from one eye.  One of these was red, so that it looked for all the world like someone bleeding from the eye.  Nice.  The artist calls himself "Pure Evil"; this makes sense.  As for creating a comfortable ambiance for a relaxed meal, it did not work for me.

I could go on.  Of course, we were then treated to that kind of "Fine Dining" where everything tastes very nice, but there is nowhere near enough of it, and the idea of just serving potatoes with the main course seems to break a rule of some kind.  At least we had plenty to talk about.

The following day we went back to
Porthgain, where there is a restaurant called "The Shed".  Here we ate the most delicious haddock and chips for lunch, sitting outside on their terrace.  We had a side dish of fennel and apple salad - what more could one ask for?

From there we drove on to Fishguard, where there is a delightful, sheltered harbour, ice-creams, places to sit...idyllic.

Up in the town, I walked out of the car-park to find this - a very well-stocked woolshop.

In the centre of town is a fascinating exhibition of a tapestry, memorialising the attempted invasion of Britain by the French in 1812.  They landed at Fishguard and the tapestry shows how it all went from there - local heroes and heroines, including a lady called Jemima who single-handedly rounded up twelve French soldiers.  Later, two local lasses  helped a batch of French prisoners to escape and eloped with them on their ship.  It is a dramatic story, and the tapestry is very well-designed and executed.

Next stop was Melin Tegwynt, another of those working woollen mills, this time famous for bedspreads and throws.  It was a grand day out.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Sir Benfro 2

With the weather continuing uncertain, we decided to risk a boat-trip around Ramsey Island, choosing the most staid of the many options available.  You embark from the lifeboat station. and are soon speeding along.

This is not the time of year for the breeding guillemots and shearwaters, but fulmar chicks were still in evidence on the cliffs.  The guide told us a great deal about how fulmars are oceanic birds which cannot walk easily on land.  The chicks are reared to adulthood on the cliffs, then fly straight out to sea, not returning for several years.

A group o seals on the bachelor beach, awaiting the return of the female seals and the breeding season.

All round the island are rock arches and caves where the breeding females can shelter.

The next day it was walkable weather again, so we drove to Porthgain and caught the little Strumble Shuttle bus to Aber Castle.

Then we walked back to the car along the cliff path. Sections like this certainly give you pause.

From time to time, the path dips down to cross a beach or  stream.  Here, the ruin of an old corn-mill.

Once, these were found wherever there was water power, as all corn was milled locally.  It's a fascinating coastline.