Friday 31 October 2014

Ghastly creatures

I've mentioned the castle in our town before.  It's a Tudor castle, now a luxury hotel, but every year the doors are very kindly thrown open to everyone for a fantastic Hallowe'en party.  We went along.

First you pass the church and the graveyard.

The past the gatehouse.

This is the driveway, lined tonight with candlelit pumpkins.  On the left beyond the lamp post are grape vines.

Then round the corner to the castle.

The building began in 1511 for Edward Stafford, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham.  He was reputedly trying to impress his king, Henry VIII, so that he would pay a visit.  Unfortunately for the Duke, in 1521 Henry beheaded him for treason and confiscated the castle.

In 1535 Henry and his new queen Anne Boleyn spent ten days here as part of a honeymoon tour.  All of this of course makes it an excellent place for a Hallowe'en visit.  There are also stories of a child ghost who has been seen on occasion, and on a dark night it's all incredibly atmospheric.

The rooms are magnificent, all enormous fireplaces, huge tapestries and suits of armour.  There are spears and axes hung on the walls and portraits of long dead dukes.

In the middle there was a vintage car which was mysteriously enveloped in smoke, and a beast was being roasted.  There was apple bobbing and toffee apples, a quiz trail and a carved pumpkin competition and a cauldron full of dry ice that the boys had huge fun with.  I narrowly avoided stabbing myself in the throat with a toffee apple stick and the littlest boy tried leapfrogging something in the dark and failed spectacularly.  We heard the slap of small boy on stone as he hit the deck.  His little costume was a bit grubby, but I picked him up and dusted him down and he managed to soldier on.  Sometimes he reminds me so much of me.

Through the gateway in the wall is this view and the walled gardens.

The gardens are wonderful.  The sun had set by the time we arrived, so it was too gloomy to photograph well.  There are beautiful yew topiary walls with arrowslit shapes cut into the tops.  The children were welcome to play hide and seek and in the darkness there was plenty of squealing and jumping out at people.

It's an exquisite place, very popular for weddings because it's so photogenic, if a place can be referred to that way.  One day I shall try and take some pictures there in the light, although to be honest I don't naturally blend in at luxury hotels other than under cover of darkness.

Thursday 30 October 2014

The Colour Collaborative: October: Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en for me is a time when the blood quickens and the senses become more alive, as the temperatures drop and the darkness envelops us.  I occasionally mention here how I like to picture the past, and I often wonder what it was like to try and survive before this age of convenience and luxury.  I imagine there was fear in the darker months of autumn.  Ahead lay winter, with biting cold, food that might not last until spring and a chance of sickness and death.  No wonder then that as people faced this they turned to superstition and magic.

It is said that at Hallowe'en the souls of the departed and the beings from other worlds may cross more easily into our world.  The true origins of our modern festival have been lost in the mists of time, but the traditions we now have are doubtless directly descended from ancient folklore.  Feasting and bonfires to mark the end of the harvest, sacrificial offerings and homage to the dead.

I prefer a more natural Hallowe'en than the orange Chinese plastic one sold to us by giant supermarkets.  I like to walk in the countryside as the sun sets, always sinking faster than I expect, always with that feeling that maybe I won't reach the safety of hearth and home before darkness claims me.

These are shots of Puzzlewood, a strange and atmospheric wood not far from here.  The paths are sunken below the ground, so that you have to look up at the tree roots.  It is said to have inspired Tolkien in his creation of Middle Earth, and programmes such as Merlin and Dr Who are filmed here.  It is a unique and oddly unsettling place.  The light is low beneath the trees, down in the ditches where slippery tracks run between huge rocky outcrops.   The stone is covered with moss and ferns.  A witch lives in a cave deep in the heart of the wood.  I imagine she is the sort of person you would visit in the desperate darkness of winter when you had nowhere else to turn.

The colours of the witch's world are where I look for Hallowe'en.  The fathomless black of the stone shadow, the mossy greens of damp forest foliage, the chestnut brown of fallen leaves and acorns, the neutral beiges of toadstools, the occasional flash of a red berry or fly agaric.  Ingredients for potions to lift curses and cure ills.

When you consider the bleakness and danger of ancient winters, you can understand why people were happy to believe in the power of a witch.  In a time before supermarkets and hospitals, when it was just you and those you love, alone in the darkness, when hunger and sickness could finish you, how could you not believe in magic?

To visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

            Annie at Annie Cholewa                                     Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

            Sandra at Cherry Heart                                      Jennifer at Thistlebear

And October's guest poster, Steph at Woolythyme

What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff.  Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together?  Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts?  We think so and we hope you will too.  We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Blue and grey

A little half term treasure hunting by the sea.  We found sea glass amongst the pebbles and books in the community bookshop.  The littlest boy even found some actual money.  Treasure indeed.  I should just point out that the two younger ones aren't intentionally wearing similar clothes.  Although it does look like I've matched them.

The bird is a cormorant that had just caught an eel.  He was chased by gulls and I think he might have dropped it in the end.  It was lovely to watch him diving for fish so close to us.

I've been feeling a little unsettled for some reason.  Restless and anxious.  It will pass of course.  In the meantime I'm wishing I could just curl up with a book or some crafty type thing and enjoy this cooler season.  But instead I'm wandering around, never stopping but accomplishing very little.  I'm between knitting projects - could this be the reason?  Is knitting some tranquilizing thing that calms the fevered mind?  Quite possibly it is.

We haven't quite adjusted to the time difference either.  The boys and I were all awake far too early this morning.  Lying in bed with my eyes tightly closed should count as sleep shouldn't it.  Somehow it's just not the same though.

We don't have any fixed plans for the rest of the week.  We visited the allotment today and we've done the chores that we needed to.  If the weather allows we'll be out and about a bit over the next few days.  The smaller two would love to go to a skate park I think, but of course the biggest boy and his knee cap never want to see a ramp again.  No doubt a compromise will be reached.  The biggest boy will want to visit Slimbridge and look at birds.  I want to make a lemon meringue pie.  I'm not really sure why, but I do.  We'll probably manage all three.

I'm trying to stop myself from launching into any unrealistic projects.  Huge fancy advent calendars, vast crocheted blankets, complicated knitting patterns.  I know myself well enough to rein in these wild enthusiasms.  Although I do often waste time and money on things that I'm cross about later.  I've just finished knitting a really long sparkly scarf that I'm almost certain I'll never wear.  Each time I swear it will be the last.  Next time I'll be sensible.  But there's always one more mistake.  Let's call it education.  If I had any willpower I'd be finishing some of the things I've started, namely a cross stitch and a couple of quilts.

I'll leave you with a couple of conversations from around here.

Littlest boy:  Mum, this place is really boring it is.

Me: What place?

Littlest boy:  This place.  Our house.  It's getting a bit boring now.  Because I've literally done everything.

                                                                    *  *  *

Biggest boy:  Mum, did you know, X says you're not allowed to die in the Houses of Parliament?  If you even look sick you have to go out because it's so precious they don't want to clear a body up from there.

Littlest boy:  That is a good rule.  We should have that in our house.

Friday 24 October 2014

The end of the affair

The last of the pears, huge, heavy (fourteen ounces!) and for the moment, hard.  They will ripen in the kitchen to juicy perfection.  The last of the little Sungold tomatoes too, ripening so slowly in the cold wet garden.  Everything is reaching the end of the line now.  The daylight is waning and plants are ready for a rest.  I'm enjoying eggs from a local farm while they're still available.  In winter there are far fewer, sometimes we have to go without, and have supermarket ones.  Always free range though.

I tidied the garden up a bit yesterday morning while it was dry.  There are still a few flowers in the two older boys' raised beds, so I left them.  Cornflowers, cosmos and some other things I can't name.  The littlest boy's bed had run its course so I cleared it.  Over the half term I'll help him to plant some garlic there.  He will grow the things he loves.  Garlic, which he'll happily eat raw, French sorrel, which he declares to be his favourite vegetable, sugar snap peas, some more of that popping corn that was destroyed by the badgers at the allotment this year - no badgers in the garden - some onions which he also likes raw and maybe some spinach.

The little figs need removing from the fig tree.  It's a job to be done with gloves on, as the white sap is a real irritant to skin.  Ask me how I know.  How funny that the same tree can produce something so delicious, as well as something so painful.  Nature never fails to astound.

I've picked the last of the flowers from the allotment.  Pink roses and aromatic yellow fennel.  And some of the last courgettes and cucumbers.  There are one or two left, but not many.  I went to look at the shed today because there have been more break-ins and more damage.  Fortunately my plot seems unscathed.  Some people are targeted repeatedly, it's so frustrating.

I made a pear flan with some of the pears, with orange zest in the pasty.  I left the pastry thicker than normal in case it was delicious.   I use an old Linda McCartney recipe that has ground nuts, sugar and cinnamon underneath the pears.

We're happy to have reached half term.  No specific plans, just a little pottering at home and out and about.  The littlest boy has another football match on Sunday.  We shall all go and cheer him on.  I'm looking forward to not having to rush off on the school run in the mornings.  And those afternoons when we get home at about 4 o'clock and it's gloomy and everyone curls up with a book, and I make myself a rare cup of tea and sit down too.

Wishing you a lovely weekend.  CJ xx

Sunday 19 October 2014

A little taste of the big city

I took the biggest boy to London on Saturday.  It was his first visit, and apparently he was the only person in his class who had never been there.  He's quite often "the only person in the class who...".  Anyway, we had a clear itinerary.  Natural History Museum (Stuffed Birds Department), Stanley Gibbons (three million stamps) and a little bit of the iconic stuff.

How gorgeous are dodos?  (Or should it be dodoes, like tomatoes?)  It's a tragedy that we don't have these beautiful creatures any more.  Look at those wonderful tail feathers.  Of course it probably didn't help that people were capturing them and stuffing them.  Look at that face.  There's nothing even remotely like a dodo now.

We flew through an area about capturing images.  It was wonderful, I could have spent longer there, but the stamp shop was beckoning.

Look at these beautiful botanical journals.  Exquisite.

Outside there's a small wildlife garden.  Sheep and moorhens in the middle of London.

We ate our sandwiches sat on a bench overlooking the grass at the front of the museum, then set off on a trek.

I absolutely love this building covered in plants.  It's so lush and tropical looking.  I'm not quite sure how it's all done, but it's clever and I wish there were more like it.  It reminds me a little of a balcony near where I used to live in Bristol.  I always like to see plants squeezed into unlikely places.  Gardens created where before there were none.  Greenery for those in the middle of a city.  Love it.

It just so happened that there was a TUC march and rally in London on Saturday.  It meant that lots of the roads were closed.  It was great to be able to walk down the middle of huge roads that are normally so busy.

We only took one tube, and spent the rest of the day walking, walking, walking.  After the stamp shop on the Strand we headed for Trafalgar Square.  The biggest boy climbed up Nelson's Column a little and we took touristy photos and ate cookies by the fountains.

Then we went to look at the river.

We found more wildlife - a cormorant, enjoying the late afternoon light.

The sun came out and everything was just right for some pictures.

We found the London Eye (hard to miss!) which the biggest boy was happy to see.  We read The London Eye Mystery recently and really enjoyed it, so it was exciting to see the actual Eye.  We counted the pods and looked for the red VIP one.

We wandered down to the Houses of Parliament to end our trip.

I'd forgotten how beautiful and thrilling and tiring London is.  So much to see, it's hard to know where to start, which bits I needed to show him, which things are too wonderful to miss.  The architecture is stunning.  Left to my own devices I could spend days wandering the streets, taking photos of the amazing buildings.  Every type, every style, every period.

Another day I'll take the others, but this was just for the biggest boy.  A little treat to maybe make up just a little for missing his school camp because of his broken kneecap.  I bought him some stamps and an ice-cream and he declared the day to be pretty excellent.

By the time we left the sun had set and the lights were on on Chelsea Bridge.  It was a perfect ending.