Basket Case ~ How To Make A Bag From A Baobab

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I could have written about my compost heaps, and repurposing of fallen foliage into leaf mould, but I’ve already done that HERE and written the poem. Instead, I’ve chosen an example of some traditional Africa repurposing – far more interesting and pleasing to look at.

Kenya is famous for its string bags or kiondo. These days they are usually woven from sisal string, the sisal grown on vast plantations. But in the past the twine was much finer and fabricated from baobab and wild fig bark. One of my treasures from our Kenya days then (and as far as the Team Leader is concerned, I have rather too many such treasures) is this more traditional bag made from baobab fibre.  I bought it from a curio seller at the annual Nairobi Agricultural Show in 1997. I think I paid 500 shillings for it, around five pounds at the time.

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Baobab trees may appear impenetrable entities with iron-like skins, but their trunks are deceptively fibrous, and especially so in old age and after elephants have done some determined shredding work on them.  Even so, the twine to make a bag like this would have taken  much preparation. The main process involved chewing the fibre until it could be rolled out to the required thinness. Two strands would be worked one after another, and then twisted together to produce the final cord. This was then dyed using natural pigments, the cords cut to suitable lengths to create the warp threads, and work begun from base of the bag, moving outwards as the weft thread spirals round.

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Whether or not the materials have changed, methods of construction  remain much the same. I have seen women striding out along the Mombasa highway, their work in progress flowing from their arms like some giant deconstructed spider’s web. You will see what I mean in the next photo. It was taken in the early 1900s and shows a young Kikuyu woman at work:

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Both images are from what I feel is the inappropriately titled 1910 monograph With A Prehistoric People  by W Scoresby Routledge and Katherine Routledge.

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And there you have it – a beautiful, but eminently useful bag, painstakingly constructed from baobab parts. I consider it a work of most artful repurposing and, as with many traditionally crafted everyday artefacts, it also strikes  me how  people untouched by western mass-production, daily and routinely  made art out of necessity and utility. There is an intrinsic aesthetic here, which is why I take issue with the term ‘prehistoric’ used in this early twentieth century context. People who work with their hands in this way continuously nurture and exercise  their creative intelligence and powers of discretion and visualization. This also makes me think that one day we technophiles might wake up and regret the loss of such facilities and skills; we might recognize, for instance, that their passing signals a lack of general competency?

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Photo Challenge: repurpose

Unnerving ~ Being Judged By A Sheep

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It had never occurred to me until last week that sheep might have opinions. Being brought up within the purlieus of a Cheshire farm and on a picture book diet that included many iterations of Little Bo Beep, I knew they could be wayward. Also a close confrontation with a lamb in my formative years was the source of one of my first big life lessons: disillusionment.

That is to say, it was the moment when I found out for myself that things aren’t always what they seem. This revelation was unexpectedly visited upon me around the age of two. I had tottered determinedly across the field near our house, intent on grabbing a lamb. I had not encountered one at close quarters before, and I was spurred on by a sense of eager expectation that I still recall. Capturing one took a little time, but oh, woe. Where was the warm, cuddly creature I had imagined it to be? What was this clammy, rubbery thing I had grasped so firmly by the neck ? I was not impressed, and quickly abandoned the enterprise, feeling very let down. There was also some inkling, for which I had no words at the time, that I had been somehow  set up by my parents. Didn’t they know how lambs actually felt?

Then last Wednesday, after a good tramp around the Wenlock countryside the tables were turned: I found myself the object of ovine scrutiny.  I stared back, fully expecting the sheep to shy away as they usually do, but no, it went on giving me ‘the look’. In fact it gave me the distinct impression it was not impressed by what it saw. I felt quite self-conscious. Hmph, I muttered. Who’d’ve thought it, being made to feel sheepish by a sheep; clearly more to them than meets the eye. And so followed another important, if belated life lesson, and one of the hardest to grasp: do not be quick to judge. Or even better, Mrs. Farrell: do not judge at all, lest the boot ends up on the other foot.

On the other hand, perhaps the Wenlock sheep somehow divined a closet lamb strangler when it saw one.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Frosted Apples ~ Thursdays Special

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This first photo was taken in December before the blackbirds had begun to feast on the stash of windfall apples out in the field. My last post featured a shot of how the apples look now. Yesterday when I was passing by, there was a whole flock of blackbirds pecking away – at least four and twenty. I’ve never seen so many all once that weren’t in a pie or singing song of sixpence! They didn’t stay to have their photos taken.

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Paula’s prompt this week is seasonal. Please take a look at her inspiring photography:

Thursday’s Special: Wintry

Changing Seasons ~ January To And From The Allotment

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The field path behind the house is littered with skeleton apples – windfalls thrown out from a neighbour’s garden. The apples were whole, if a little bruised, back in October when they were tossed there, but it is only this month that the birds have been truly feasting on them. Blackbirds mainly. Little by little the flesh is being pecked away until all that is left is the thinnest skin, and perhaps some fibrous filaments around the core.  I was thinking of fellow blogger, Sue Judd at Words Visual as I shot and edited this ‘still life’. She captures beauty in decay with great flair. Anyway this painterly edit sums up January for me.

But then today I decided to go the long way round to the allotment. There was misty sunshine, and so the chance to get enough shots to make a gallery in line with Cardinal Guzman’s  alternative version for his monthly challenge. Pay him a visit to find out more.

The long way round involves going up Sytche Lane that skirts the field behind our house. In the top corner Shropshire Council is busy digging us an attenuation pond to slow down the flash flooding when a storm hits our catchment. The town has a long history of flooding, and the Sytche Brook, a generally nondescript trickle of a watercourse, can become treacherous, and has been known to add considerably  to the deluge that hits the town centre from neighbouring hillsides. Another pond is being built at the other end of the town. Neither are seen as total solutions, and some would argue that these measures are not suitable in a steep catchment such as ours. Only time will tell. In the meantime, the big digger driver posed to have his photo taken before I trudged onward through the mud.

The path behind the excavations then wends on along the field boundary and into a wood. You are right above the town here, so in the gaps between the trees are some good viewpoints for photos. From the wood I can then drop down to the allotment.

The following gallery shows all the things that caught my eye today. These include – apart from the ‘views’, Jenny’s watering can hung in a cherry tree, Simon’s wheel barrow, Phoebe’s budding rhubarb, my leaning shed with globe artichoke, and Ron’s much smarter blue shed. On the way home the sun was setting in the wood.

 

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copyright Tish Farrell 2017

Foxgloves Over The Garden Fence ~ After And Before

 

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This Sunday at Lost in Translation, Paula asks us to show her a black and white version of a colour original. This summer shot was taken from the back of our house looking towards Wenlock Edge as the sun  was going down.

Just over the garden fence we have a strip of ground that grows itself each year – mostly self-seeded foxgloves, columbine, corn cockle, moon daisies and opium poppies along with some perennial lemon balm, spearmint and oregano. It’s a treat waiting to see what will happen there every summer. Just thinking of this brightens a rather gloomy January day here in Shropshire.

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And now I can’t resist posting some more transformations in and around Much Wenlock. Clearly, some work better than others, but in any event, as Paula says, it helps one to see with fresh eyes:

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Giraffes And Other Animals ~ Graceful In Their Own Unique Way

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This week’s Daily Post photo prompt induced a ‘long ago when we lived in Africa’ moment, and thus a nostalgic trawl through the old photo files. It was giraffes I first thought of. They may seem an ungainly composite of various creatures, but to see them moving across the plains is a sight that cannot be forgotten. They lilt in time to some inner rhythm of their own. This is more apparent when you see several moving together. And you wonder what is this giraffe music, beyond your hearing, that they stride forth to with such synchronicity?

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Some of the plains’ song you can hear of course – the wheesh of dry grasses, the ceaseless koo-kroo-ing of collared doves, the crickets’ whine. And as you scan the bush country, looking for any signs of wildlife, these are the sounds that fill your head. The sun is hot on your scalp, the light too bright, and the spicy scent of thorn trees too rich for the over-sensitive. But just when you think all the game has gone and there’s nothing more to see, magic happens:

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This cheetah mother with six half-grown cubs, walked out of the undergrowth beside the park track. When we stopped the car to watch she didn’t so much as blink at us. It seemed we were the least of her problems. She was trying to make the cubs stay in one place while she went off to hunt. But they were not having it.

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No sooner had mama parked them and moved out sight, than one (there always has to be one) goaded the obedient ones out of the cover that had sheltered them until they all decided to follow.

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In the end, mama gave it up as a bad job, and gathered the offspring and disappeared into the bush. It is a mystery how she had ever managed to rear so many teenage cubs.

These photos, sadly ageing, were all taken in Nairobi National Park, a gem of a park that borders the city. It covers only 46 square miles, but when we lived In Nairobi during the 1990s the wildlife corridor to the south was still open, allowing for seasonal migration. Today there are all kinds of pressures from one of the fastest growing conurbations in Africa – the need for farm land and for better transport links. It’s a thorny issue however you look at it – wildlife versus humans: probably no happy solution; gracefulness seems not to be a natural human trait.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

Daily Post Photo Challenge Graceful

Meet T’owd Man ~ AKA The Old Man Of Wirksworth

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He is said to be 800 years old, or thereabouts, this mythic little figure of a lead miner with his pick and kibble (basket). He is presently to be found embedded in the wall inside St. Mary’s Church in the Derbyshire Peak District town of Wirksworth. But this was not his original home. He once lived in the nearby village of Bonsall, where he was found during the restoration of the 13th century  parish church of St. James. This was in 1863, and it was then that T’owd Man found his way (along with other pieces of interesting medieval stone work) into the garden of one Churchwarden Coates.

This highhanded commandeering of the local lead miners’ talisman did not please the general populace, who wanted him restored to sacred territory. Somehow in the argy bargy he ended up being firmly mortared into the wall of St. Mary’s Church in Wirksworth instead – where he has remained ever since for his own good and general safekeeping. He has also become the town’s ‘unofficial’ symbol, so you can pay him a visit, AND get the tee shirt.

But this story of general displacement is making me wonder. What  if T’owd Man is a good deal older than is currently thought.  I’m assuming his 13th century date was given him because he was found in a church of 13th century origins. But to my eye he could easily be a Saxon carving. What if the medieval builders of the Bonsall church had also recycled him?  (There are in fact many examples of Saxon carving within St. Mary’s, all re-deployed from an earlier church. See my post Expressions of Power  ~ Secular and Spiritual? for more of the background history).

Lead mining was a key industry in the area from at least Roman times. There is also documentary evidence of its importance in Saxon Wirksworth. In 835 the township was ruled by Abbess Cynewaru, and in a missive of that time she states that she was every year sending a gift of lead valued at 300 shillings to Christ Church, Canterbury. Much later in the Domesday Book of 1086 the entry for Wirksworth includes 3 lead works.

Wirksworth was in fact the centre for the trade. It was a hard and dangerous business. The miners were also a maverick lot. Many were yeoman farmers who combined hill farming with lead working, and some grew extremely rich on the trade, although many died from explosions in the mines, and the general toxicity of working with lead.

All the miners’ activities were subject to a system of rigorous rules and regulations overseen by the Barmaster of the Barmote Court. This court was held in Wirksworth for at least 7 centuries, and had its origins in Saxon Burg Moots (moot is Saxon for gathering or assembly). The last version of the court or Moot Hall still survives. It was built just out of the town centre in 1814 to replace a grander Moot Hall that stood in the Market Place. It seems the noisy behaviour of the miners, and the congestion they caused in the town centre, led to the earlier building being demolished.

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Wirksworth is a fine town for a visit. Its many surviving seventeenth and eighteenth century houses attest to the general prosperity of the place over many decades.  When the lead ran out in the 19th century, limestone quarrying replaced it. Rivers were harnessed to power cotton mills, and so the industrial age kicked in. And if this smacks too much of ‘dark satanic mills’, don’t you believe it. The town sits in glorious countryside, in the heart of England, in fact at ‘its very navel’ as one-time resident D.H. Lawrence put it. Here, then, are some more views from England’s very green and pleasant navel:

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Thursday’s Special ~ Traces of the Past Check in here to see what Paula and other bloggers have posted.

Ambience ~ Come Right In, Make Yourself At Home

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We don’t know a great deal about the history of our cottage. It seems it was built around the 1830s, and this room, with its large fireplace may have been some kind of workshop. The window was added in the 1980s after the place had been condemned, and then pretty much rebuilt. Originally, the back of the house was butted against the field bank – without footings or a proper floor. The privy was at the top of the bank beside the field, and to reach it you had go out of the front door, round the house and up the garden.

Back then, too, the house was basically a barn, the upstairs subdivided into two rooms with thin boards, and downstairs probably one open space. The owners who did the restoration work turned it into a two up, two down, and added a small upstairs bathroom. The next owners built on another room up and down, and installed the spiral staircase which featured in an earlier post. When we moved in ten years ago, we turned the new downstairs room, which hadn’t been used for any particular purpose, into the kitchen. The heart of the home of course. Which reminds me – I’d better scoot back there. I left some stock cooking on the stove about an hour ago.

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On Top On Llanddwyn Island ~ Black & White Sunday

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Here’s another view of, and from Llanddwyn Island, taken on our recent trip to Anglesey. It was snapped on high zoom in high wind and thus has pixilation tendencies, much like the snapper, some might say. So I edited it to exaggerate the silhouette effect. I anyway like the stance of this unknown man on the cliff top. He is so well rooted against the gale; so absorbed by the seascape.

I’ve written more about the island’s story at To the Isle of Dwynwen, Welsh Saint of Lovers.

Now please visit Paula at Lost in Translation. Her rendition of this week’s ‘on top’ theme is stunning.

Moving Pictures ~ Wales Through The Windscreen

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Nowhere does brooding gloom like Wales on a wet winter’s day. This happenstance shot was taken on New Year’s Eve as we were motoring home from Anglesey. I’d propped my camera briefly on the car dashboard as we’d headed through the mountain pass to Capel Curig. Then randomly pressed the shutter and so caught the cyclist.

This week at Lost in Translation Paula asks us to show her ‘unfocused’. She kindly says she doesn’t mind ‘happy accidents’, so here is mine.