30 Jan 2012

Plants and Places

Preface by
Angie Lewin
'When I look through my sketch books and prints, I find a record of past travels, places and plant studies.  Sketchy watercolours remind me of chilly autumn days by the river or on a windswept shingle beach; flicking through my pencil sketches with scribbled colour notes of common sorrel and plantain, I remember that they were made quickly by a hill track, the sketchbook's pages taped down against the wind.'

I first came across Angie Lewins' work when I bought some of her greetings cards in a little shop in Norfolk, not realising that she actually lived and worked not too far away.  I was so impressed with the simplicity of her work and her interpretation of the coastline that I knew so well.

I now have her book 'Plants and Places' which includes the original sketches she made prior to making the lino or wood cuts which are inspired by the natural environment and the images are based on plant forms found in the landscape, whatever the season - mainly flowerstrewn meadows, a Norfolk saltmarsh or a highland loch in the Cairngorms.

Tiny details are what make Angie's prints so full of vigour and beauty

Angie Lewin - Alliums

Her working life seems to be a balance between meticulous prints and an acute observation of nature.  She has an unmistakable style that has developed over the years.

green meadow

She says 'There's a craft to printmaking and a series of processes that must be worked through.  I enjoy these constraints.  I enjoy seeing the transformation from drawn line on paper to the cutting of a line in lino or wood and then the crisp line printed on paper; the challenge of positive and negative shapes and working with the image reversed.'

st. pauls - linocut

lichen and thrift
Printmakers inspire other printmakers, and none has inspired her more than Eric Ravilious who designed dinner services, cups and mugs for Wedgwood.  Like Angie, he also designed fabrics.  One of her favoured  objects is his coronation mug (originally designed for Edward VIII) who was never crowned.  It appears with dried seed heads in an early print.

Eric Ravilious mug
In 2010 she was asked by Coast magazine to produce a lino cut print to re-invent the seaside poster.   The print was auctioned to raise proceeds for the Marine Conservation Society and raised over £2,200.

The Norfolk landscape has been the strongest influence on her work for the last ten years and is the setting for 'Salt' the first novel by Jeremy Page.  Page grew up in Norfolk and he captures perfectly the haunting quality of this beautifully bleak landscape and its influence on the character of the inhabitants of this part of the country.

If you look deeper into her work a whole tiny world emerges, where even the most microscopic insect or seed is a marvel of complexity; where a miniscule crevice is as dense as a rainforest.

23 Jan 2012

Book Foraging

When I am on book foraging trips, mainly in charity shops, I always keep my eye open for any books by H.E.Bates.

I first came across his work in the 70's after watching a series on the television called Country Matters or was it Country Tales followed later by Love for Lydia, both of which I loved and remember to this day.  My collection is small at the moment, some half dozen books - I have a long way to go in collecting all his books as he was a prolific writer, mainly of short stories.

Herbert Ernest Bates was born in 1905-74 and his most famous books include The Darling Buds of May, My Uncle Silas (my personal favourite) and Love for Lydia.  He was born in Rushden, Northamptonshire and many of his stories depict life in the rural Midlands of England.  He was partial to taking long midnight walks around the Northamptonshire countryside and this often provided inspiration for his stories.

The Lily - from My Uncle Silas
"My Great-uncle Silas used to live in a small stone reed-thatched cottage on the edge of a pine-wood, where nightingales sang passionately in great numbers through early summer nights and on into the mornings and often still in the afternoons.  On summer days after rain the air was sweetly saturated with the fragrance of the pines, which mingled subtly with the exquisite honeysuckle scent, the strange vanilla heaviness from the creamy elder-flowers in the garden hedge and the perfume of old pink and white crimped-double roses of forgotten names.  It was very quiet there except for the soft, water-whispering sound of leaves and boughs, and the squabbling and singing of birds in the house-thatch and the trees.  The house itself was soaked with years of scents, half-sweet, half-dimly-sour with the smell of wood smoke, the curious odour of mauve and milk-coloured and red geraniums, of old wine and tea and the earth smell of my Uncle Silas himself".

Albert Finney as Uncle Silas
David Jason as Pop Larkin

His love of the countryside is exemplified in two volumes of essays entitled 'Through the Woods' and 'Down the River'.

He was 20 when his first novel was published and his most popular creation was the Larkin family in the Darling Buds of May who were inspired by a colourful character seen whilst he was on holiday in Kent.

In 1931 he married Madge Cox and they moved to the village of Little Chart in Kent and bought an old granary and this, together with an acre of garden, they turned into a home.

Bates was a keen gardener and wrote many books on flowers.  He and Madge had two sons and two daughters.  Bates died in 1974 a prolific and successful author.

The Fallow Land
"Abraham Mortimer and his son Jess were setting snares under the old hawthorn hedge that bounded their land on the north.  Haws were hanging in heavy crimson clusters among the shrivelling leaves and the pale October sun was dropping behind the line of willows skirting the west of the field.  ....
In winter the rains steamed down the slope, washing out the stones and silting the earth across the hollow in a smooth yellowish drift, and in summer the sun baked the drift to a white crust impressed with the iron-hard footprints of horses and men."

15 Jan 2012

Country Roads

Excerpt from Wild Flowers by Richard Jefferies

A friend said: 'Why do you go the same road every day?  Why not have a change and walk somewhere else sometimes?  Why keep on up and down the same place?' I could not answer; till then it had not occurred to me that I did always go one way; as for the reason of it I could not tell; I continued in my old mind while the summers went away.

Not till years afterwards was I able to see why I went the same round and did not care for change.  I do not want change; I want the same old and loved things, the same wild flowers, the same trees and soft ash-green; the turtle-doves, the blackbirds, the coloured yellow-hammer sing, sing, singing so long as there is light to cast a shadow on the dial, for such is the measure of his song, and I want them in the same place.

Let me find them morning after morning, the starry-white petals radiating, striving upwards to their ideal.  Let me see the idle shadows resting on the white dust; let me hear the humble-bees, and stay to look down on the rich dandelion disk.

Let me see the very thistles opening their great crowns - I should miss the thistles;

the reed grasses hiding the moorhen;

the bryony bine, at first crudely ambitious and lifted by force of youthful sap straight above the hedgerow to sink of its own weight presently and progress with crafty tendrils;

 swifts shot through the air with outstretched wings like crescent-headed shaftless arrows darted from the clouds;

the chaffinch with a feather in her bill;

all the living staircase of the spring, step by step, upwards to the great gallery of the summer - let me watch the same succession year by year.

All photos courtesy of Google

14 Jan 2012

St. Hilary's Feast Day

St. Hilary's Feast Day - 13th January

This Feast Day has gained the reputation of being the coldest day of the year due to past cold events starting on or around this date.

One of the most severe winters in history began around 13 January in 1205, when the Thames in London froze over and ale and wine turned to solid ice and were sold by weight.

"So began a frost which continued till the two and twentieth day of March, so that the ground could not be tilled; whereof it came to pass that, in summer following a quarter of wheat was sold for a mark of silver in many places of England, which for the more part in the days of King Henry the Second was sold for twelve pence a quarter of beans or peas for half a mark; a quarter of oats for thirty pence, that were wont to be sold for fourpence.  Also the money was so sore clipped that there was no remedy but to have it renewed".   Stowe's Chronicle.

In 1086, a great frost also started spreading over the country on St. Hilary's Day.

12 Jan 2012

Voyage of Discovery

Holy Trinity

I have a friend who has been delving into her family history for the last few years, very successfully, I might add.  She wondered if I would like to accompany her on a visit to Buckinghamshire where she was hoping to unearth some family burials (not literally).  So off we went to find a small village called Tingewick (sounds like something from a childrens' television programme, doesn't it).  The other village involved was Gawcott just a couple of miles down the road

 The Gawcott church was most unusual, erected in 1827 and Georgian in style designed by the Rev. Thomas Scott (father of the famous architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.  Rather plain in appearance, it was scathingly described as "hideous pseudo-Classicism" it was re-built in 1828 and restored in 1895.  Inside it is very stark and rectangular but the whole feel is of  the Arts and Crafts Movement.  With oak panelling and furniture it smacks of Shaker.  The windows are tall and narrow with no stained glass, very plain.  In the picture top left you can see the beautiful wrought iron chandeliers, which were candle lit originally, then oil, gas and now electric.  The ceiling is vaulted and painted a beautiful pale sky blue.  The altar in the picture top right was stark in appearance, the original wall painted freize has gone as have the embellishments on the arch above the altar (which were on a photo from 1909).The picture bottom left show the small but lovely organ and on the bottom right is a funeral bier that was used to wheel the coffins into the church.  The graveyard was full of corroded  gravestones that we had difficulty in reading, and my friend was disappointed that she couldn't find the relative she was looking for.

The church at Tingewick, St. Mary Magdalen, was much more traditional in gothic design, not as well cared for as the Gawcott one and much older, having a 12th century north arcade.  It had lots of artefacts inside, some of which are pictured above.  Also the cemetary was in even worse condition than Gawcott, with moss covering most of the headstones and totally illegible.  So no luck there either.

After a disappointing mornings work we had lunch at the Crown Inn, pictured below in Victorian times, and the landlord mentioned that Tingewick Mill, which was next on our list, still existed - so we set out to find it.  A friendly farmer showed us the way and there it was at the bottom of the hill, the mill wheel still in place over the mill race (River Ouse) and apparently some of the mill workings were intact in the house.  I didn't manage to get a photo as the house was occupied and it felt a little rude.

In the Domesday book Tingewick mill was recorded as being worth four shillings.  The Mill ceased working in 1966, but it is said that during the 1930's, eels caught at the Mill were sent to Billingsgate Market.

the Crown - present day

The third and final church was in Turweston and as we couldn't find the light switches in the church we had to call it a day.
We were, what you would call, 'all churched-out'.

You have to be pretty tenacious to follow your ancestors footsteps and sadly, after all that effort, we had no concrete evidence to show for it.

8 Jan 2012

A Symphony of Snowdrops

The Snow-drop,
Winter's timid child
Awakes to life
Bedew'd with tears

Mary Robinson

The white purity of the snowdrop brings the promise of new light, and the waning of winter.

Galanthus - Milk Flower
Most flower before the vernal equinox (21st March) but certain species flower in early spring and late autumn.

Although it is often thought of as a British native wild flower, or to have been brought to the British Isles by the Romans, it was probably introduced around the early 16th century, from Europe, where it is native to a large area.

According to legend the snowdrop became the symbol of hope when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden.  When Eve was about to give up hope that the cold winters would never end, an angel appeared.  She transofrmed some of the snowflakes into snowdrops proving that winters do eventually turn into spring.

Snowdrops are also known as candlemas bells.  "The snowdrop, in purest white array, first rears her head on Candlemas Day" (2nd February) which is the Christian festival of lights.  This marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox.

I began my story early, feeling as I fear, the weakness of a human love for days.  Disowned by memory, ere the birth of spring.  Planting my snowdrops among winter snows.
Wm. Wordsworth
Bank Hall, Bretherton, Lancs.
Celebrated as a sign of spring, snowdrops can form impressive carpets of white in areas where they have been naturalised.

The Snowdrop Fairy
The snowdrop,  said to resemble an angel on a snowflake, blooms in the bleak days of winter and gives assurance that the earth is still alive
Snowdrop Fairy Secret:  All white flowers have supernatural powers because they are inhabited by moon spirits that appear under a full moon.  Do not bring the snowdrop indoors lest you unleash the spirits in your home.
All pictures courtesy of Google

2 Jan 2012

The God of Beginnings - Janus

January was established as the first month of the year by the
Roman Calendar.  It was named after the god Janus (latin word for door).
Janus has two faces which allowed him to look both backwards
into the old year and forwards into the new one at the same time.
He was the spirit of 'opening'

The Anglo-Saxons called the first month
Wolf monath
because wolves came into the villages in winter in search
of food.

It was an old Saxon belief that 2nd January
was one of the unluckiest days of the whole year.
Those unfortunate enough to be born on this day could expect
to die an unpleasant death.

On this date in 1770 a huge Christmas pie was baked for holiday
consumption in London, according to the Newcastle Chronicle,
it was made of two bushels of flour, twenty pounds of butter, four geese,
two turkeys, two rabbits, four wild ducks, two woodcocks,
six snipes, four partridges, two neats' tongues,
two curlews, seven blackbirds and six pigeons.
It was nearly nine feet in circumference and weighed
about 12 stones.

Capricorn (the Goat) December 22nd-January 20th

Capricorn is represented by a Goat with crooked horns and the hind
parts of a fish.  The goat is Pan, the lusty and licentious god
normally portrayed as a bearded, curly-haired human with legs, tail and
horns of a goat.  On plunging into the Nile to escape from the
might Typhon, the father of dangerous winds, his upper part
became wholly goat and the submerged parts changed into those of
a fish.  The story is remarkably like that of Pisces.