Love and voyeurism among the thistles, and then some freshly dug potatoes

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This snapping of bugs is all Ark’s fault at A Tale Unfolds. For some time now he’s been showing us insect life in his South African garden. Then on Friday he set me a challenge to beat his dandelion with four bugs. So here I give you a ménage à trois with some longhorn beetles, caught on my way to the allotment, and as I was actually trying to capture some bee shots. I reckon it trumps Ark’s dandelion, and indeed his jackal flies, on grounds of raciness.

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But now here is the close up shot I really wanted to show you, and the reason why I was headed  for the allotment: my first main crop potatoes just released from the earth. These are Desirée, organically grown and most desirable, not only for looks and flavour, but for general resistance to drought, bugs and slugs:

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Close Up

Dandelion Globe: It’s A Small World

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Things are often small, up-close and entomological over at Ark’s place in South Africa. He’s always leading me up his garden path to take a look  at crab spiders and such like. At least that is his story, and I’m sticking to it. Now he’s led me to Kenneth McMillan’s blog where there are more close-up bugs, this time of the Canadian variety. That is to say in his latest post, Kenneth has a very fine shot of a Bald-faced Hornet heading for the cotoneaster.

I gather that fennel has been featuring in Ark’s and Kenneth’s recent photographic exchanges, but I have no bugs in my fennel, or even bats. Instead, as I was traipsing up the bean field to the allotment,  I caught these very tiny beetles in a dandelion clock. And since Ark said we could join in with the bug shoot, this is my effort. I hope I am not expected to know what these tiny insects are. They are rather cute though.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Bouquet of Barbed Wire

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I keep going back to photograph this  well crowned fence post. It is on the boundary between the allotments and the bean field. I first caught sight of it back in the spring when I was out using my Lumix on ‘dramatic  monochrome’ setting. Then it was surrounded by drifts of Queen Ann’s Lace. Now the dying grasses have a nostalgic end-of-season look, and all before summer has hit its stride. But either way, spring or summer, colour or black and white, I find myself captivated by the image. I cannot say why.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This post was inspired by Jithin at PhoTrablogger and his challenge: Mundane Monday #16 in which he urges to go out and find beauty in the ordinary things around us.

Seeing My Town In Black & White: 1

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In this week’s Black & White Challenge, Cee is asking us to focus on subjects that are more than fifty years old. I’m pretty confident, then, that my home town of Much Wenlock more than fits the bill. As a settlement, it has been continuously occupied for the last thousand years.

The town windmill (seen above) is not quite that old. I’ve begun with it because it is the oldest structure near my house. It  was busy grinding corn from around 1655. Then a lightning bolt struck it in 1850, and it has remained sail-less ever since – either a pity or not, depending on your views on historic conservation.

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On the other hand, I perhaps needn’t have gone as far as the windmill. You might say my own house is something of a minor monument age-wise, much like its inhabitants (?).  It’s original half dates from the 1830s. In the living room there’s a massive inglenook fireplace complete with bread oven that defies my attempts to photograph it well, so you’ll have to imagine it. Instead I’ll take you on a walk down Sheinton Street to see a few of the other sights.

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Heading into town, there are here-and-there signs of the medieval origins of many of the cottages, their timber frames concealed or disguised by brick and stone exteriors that have been added in more recent centuries.

Most of these cottages would have once housed artisans, their workshops opening directly onto the street to catch the eye of potential customers. The living quarters, and gardens would have been behind the workshops. In fact, the layout of long medieval burgage plots behind these Sheinton Street properties, and now pretty gardens, are still visible from the field path.

Today, Much Wenlock is a sleepy sort of place, much gentrified, and up-marketed. But step back a couple of hundred years, and much of it would have been grimy and industrial. Not only was there quarrying and limestone burning going on around the town, but within it were once the smoking kilns of the clay tobacco pipe manufacturers, stinking pits for the curing and tanning of hides for leather working, horses and carts churning up the dirt. Brewing was  also a big local trade, as were slaughtering, pewtering, smithing, weaving, and hat and shoe making. The unmade streets were alive with taverns to wet the throats of dusty quarrymen, and the final touch, ambiance-wise, would have been provided by the malodourous effluvia of the Schetbroke, an open sewer of a stream which ran through the town (but now happily culverted).

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I don’t know the particular history of this rather grand cottage seen above, but it’s a good example of a later stone frontage added to a much older building. Most of the town’s stonework has in fact been recycled from its medieval priory, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540.

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In amongst the antiquity we can also find more recent buildings. For instance, in the space between  medieval neighbours is this little set of picturesque alms houses built in 1810. They are known as Wolmer’s Alms Houses, a charity founded in the town in 1485. They are still operated on a charitable basis for the elderly. I love the brick ogival arches over the doors and windows.

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At the end of Sheinton Street is Brookhouse Farm. It is now a residential enclave of smart barn conversions, but until fairly recently was one of the last surviving examples of England’s town farms.  I can still remember it in the 1990s as a very rustic farmyard with cattle in the barns. The farmhouse in the foreground was stone-clad in the early 1700s, and is one of several Much Wenlock houses with a medieval hall concealed within it. You might call this the Chinese Box school of architecture.

Then on the opposite corner from the farm is the Bull Ring…

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…so named after the unsavoury pursuit of bull-baiting that went on here until the early 1800s. By then the timber-framed building  had stood for some 200 years, while Holy Trinity Church, seen behind and in the next photo, stands on the site the Saxon women’s church of St Milburga’s Abbey, founded in c.680 AD as a religious house for both nuns and monks. The oldest part of the present church is the nave which dates from 1150. Other parts were constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries.

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During monastic times, Much Wenlock was ruled by the Prior under ecclesiastical law. After the dissolution in 1540 a new civil courthouse had to be built. It stands just across the Church Green, and marks the centre of the town. These days the ground floor is the venue for our various markets, while upstairs houses the original law court (now a gallery) and the council chamber which is still used for all Town Council meetings, and has to be one of the most uncomfortable, if august, venues in the whole town.

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And now we’ll double back on ourselves. Please head under the arch (look out for the man with a camera) and cut across the Church Green for our last stop on this tour – a quick look at Much Wenlock Priory.

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This is the view from the lane, where the site’s perimeter is shaded by soaring Corsican Pines. We’ll need more time to make it worthwhile buying a ticket to go inside, so I’ll leave you with a photo from one of my earlier visits: a close-up of the monks’ lavabo where they used to wash before entering the refectory to take their meals.

The carved panel dates from c.1180, which is odd, actually. I could swear one of the saints is on his cell phone.  Not so much religious texts, as a direct call to the Almighty?

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In Part 2 I’ll take you on a black and white stroll up the High Street.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Related:

5 Photos 5 Stories Hidden Wenlock #1

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: over fifty years old

The River Runs Through It: Afon Mawddach Between Land And Sea

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I’m on the last lap of Ailsa’s current challenge with this post. These photos were taken last September when we were staying near Dolgellau in Gwynedd, mid Wales. The Mawddach (roughly pronounced Mouthack) Estuary is a glorious place -for mountains, birds and all round peacefulness. You can walk or cycle beside much of it, too, following the Mawddach Trail that was once the railway line from Dolgellau to the holiday town of Barmouth.

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The old toll bridge at Penmaenpool

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We followed the route to the most southerly point where the Mawddach meets the sea, at the bleak little town of Fairbourne. You could call this place a failed resort. In the late 1800s, and after the arrival of the railway, baking flour magnate, Sir Arthur McDougall developed it into a holiday destination for English East Midlands workers. These days, though, it has a desolate air, although it does have a magnificent beach. We bought an ice cream at the dingy seaside caf,  but when we broached the sea wall to see the sea, it was so windy it blew our ice creams away and all over us. That’s not supposed to happen when you go to the seaside. Nor did we have Mummy to wipe us down. What a pickle.100_6564

Fairbourne Beach looking towards Barmouth

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Related:

Now that summer’s done, we take the Dol Idris path

Thursday’s Special: Manscape to Landscape

 

Where’s My Backpack: Where Land Meets Water

Storm Poppies

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Last Saturday I somehow lost track of five whole hours. There is so much to do up at the allotment – weeding, picking peas, strawberries and raspberries, digging up the new potatoes, tying up the tomatoes in the polytunnel, watering, feeding, turning the compost heap, sowing more peas, constructing pigeon defence systems, wandering about neighbours’ plots, taking a few snaps.

But one of the nice things about having the polytunnel is that when a storm strikes, I can potter around in there until the downpour  passes.  As you can see from the sky, we were in for a deluge, and I caught these poppies just as it was arriving. There was something malignant, I thought, about their stance. Something a little predatory about those seed capsules. Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time in the garden.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Great Rift ~ Beneath The Skin, Our Common Humanity

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RIFT

Not homeland,

but sourceland;

scored in genetic code;

branded in bone:

thorn trees’ jasmine scent,

red pepper dust on the tongue,

sifted on skin,

while beneath our feet

obsidian’s glint,

shards of the earth’s dark heart;

the Rift,

riven,

wide

open

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Symbol

Timbuktu: doorway to the past

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I haven’t snaffled any of Graham’s photos for a while, but as doors go, both of itself and where it is located, and the fact that a Tuareg pastoralist happened to step into the frame, I thought this was one well worth posting.  It was taken on G’s Africa overland trip during a stopover in Timbuktu.

The plaque above the door marks the fact that French explorer René Caillié once stayed in this house.  The stay was brief, two weeks in April/May 1827, but he had apparently spent many months in preparation, staying with the Moors in Mauretania, learning Arabic, and converting to Islam so he could pass himself off as an Arab. His objective was to win a 10,000-franc reward offered by the Société de Géographie in Paris, and to do this he had to be the first European to see and return alive from Timbuktu. That he lived to tell the tale is recounted in his work Description de la ville de Temboctou. The rest of his life,  however, was sadly foreshortened by tuberculosis. He died in his homeland of Western France at the age of thirty eight.

Timbuktu of course has a long and illustrious history. From 1325 AD it became part of the immensely rich  and highly cultivated Malian Empire under the rule, Musa Keita I, also known as Mansa Musa (c. 1280 – c. 1337). He was probably the richest man who has ever lived, and it was he who developed the town, bringing in architects from Andalusia in Spain, and from  Cairo to build his grand palace and the great Djinguereber Mosque. He also had built in the town the University of Sankore, which attracted scholars from across Africa and Middle East. He brought in lawyers, mathematicians and astronomers to staff it, and so began the growth of the magnificent libraries of Timbuktu, and the town as a centre of learning and commerce.

Since that time, thousands of manuscripts had been gathered and cared for by individual Timbuktu families, and treasured as priceless family heirlooms. It is reckoned there are some 300,000 works held in such private family collections. They include not only theological texts, but works on geography and astronomy. Most are in Arabic script, but some are written in African languages of the region.

There was also in Timbuktu until recently, a state-of-the-art conservation library funded by the South African Thabo Mbeki Foundation. This held many thousands of manuscripts, and when Islamist terrorists invaded the town and torched the centre in 2013, it was feared that these works of international importance had been destroyed. However, the people of Timbuktu had seen the destroyers coming and, desperate to save their heritage, had been smuggling the works to safety in cars, carts and canoes, often hidden under crates of vegetables. It was a daring mission, and you can read  more of their brave endeavour in the BBC story HERE.

And so this brings me back to the title of this piece: doorway to the past, and to the question I feel bound to ask myself: Just how much of the history of the African continent has either been destroyed – wilfully by invaders, including slavers and European colonists, or lost through the relentless shifting of the Sahara’s sands, and other forms of climate change. The stories we mostly hear out of Africa are of conflict, corruption and poverty. Stories that celebrate the creativity, durability, ingenuity, culture and wisdom  of African peoples are not news. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that most of us in Europe were living in mud huts through the centuries when the great African kingdoms were thriving. Perhaps we should remember, too, that civilizations come and go, and our own Western Civilization is not immune from departure.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Door

Independence beckons ~ Evelyn taking flight

 

“These are the things that I want in life: 1. A library of my own; 2. All Rudyard Kipling’s Works; 3) lots of money so that I can make poor people happy.”

Evelyn Ashford aged 14, 1937

 

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I don’t know who took this photograph of my aunt, Evelyn Ashford. Probably it was my father. I’ve posted it before, but now we’ve cleaned it up a little. It was taken at Pitch Hill, Surrey in around 1937 when Evelyn would have been fourteen. This was the year when she was forced to leave school to both take care of an invalid mother, and then to start work as an apprentice in the local draper’s shop in Guildford.

Given the high hopes she had for herself, leaving school before sitting her Primary School Certificate would have been a deeply wounding blow. In an English exercise of that last year at school she wrote:

“These are the things that I want in life: 1. A library of my own; 2. All Rudyard Kipling’s Works; 3) lots of money so that I can make poor people happy.” She also wanted to have lots of REAL friends and play Madame Defarge in a stage version of Tale of Two Cities. The people she most wanted to meet included Jean Batten, famous New Zealand aviator, H.G. Wells and Alfred Hitchcock.

She did not achieve these ambitions, apart from the Kipling works perhaps. All her life she struggled to make up for her lack of education. All her life she did what she could to enthuse and encourage others to make the most of themselves in whatever community she found herself. She also survived being bombed on a train, breast cancer, and accidental attempts on her life through medical negligence. But she ended her days, cut off from all of us, her mind in another place: abiding in that state they call dementia.

I have written more about her life in other posts, but I always come back to this image of her, on the trig point at Pitch Hill. She died a year ago last October at the age of 90, but still her spirit survives in this photograph: a truly independent spirit I think; one that still has the power to move and inspire.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

The Many Faces of Evelyn Mary Ashford

Grand Girl, Great Prospects

 

Inspired by Ailsa’s challenge ‘independence’ at Where’s My Backpack  Please visit her blog for more interpretations of the theme.