The Changing Seasons ~ September ~ In The Garden Early This Morning

Bright and early do not figure in my repertoire these days, at least not if it means vacating the bed. This morning, though, if there had been larks, I would have been up with them. Just before 7 am the light was magical. It was a case of grabbing cardie and camera, and setting off in my nightie (black silk in case you wanted to know, and so chic with scarlet woolly, motley scarf and green rubber clogs). It had to be done though, and just as well there were no neighbours to see, or early morning walkers on the field path. So here are the pix, hot off the memory card.

Out in the garden Teasing Georgia was all dewy buds and drooping petals. She’s having a second flowering, although this time round the roses have a slumberous air even when freshly opened. As if to say, ‘Don’t like us too much. We’re not staying long’.

Over the fence in the field the light is golden. For the first time I notice the change in leaf colour in the wood on the hill. I also notice that the farmer looks to have sown the field with a green manure after harvesting the wheat. If so, heavens be praised. It’s about time the land had a real nutrient fix along with the chemical cocktails. The speed the seedlings are growing I’m guessing it’s a mix of rye grass and mustard. We’ll see.

Our garden is long and narrow, and several steps up from the house. At the top corner we have a gate onto the field path, and just over the fence we have our ‘guerrilla garden,’ planted with insect pleasing plants in mind and to make some reparation for all the pesticides used on the far side of the path. I’m making a similar unofficial planting along the outside of our neighbours’ fence. A floral gallery approach to gardening. We could also call it a flood alleviation measure, given the field’s tendency to create run-off. At the moment it is the season of Michaelmas daisies and tiny russet crab apples, along with the last of the sweet peas, sunflowers, helenium and rudbeckia. Most of the year I leave the border to its own devices, apart from some thistle, nettle and couch grass removal. It gives us a lot of pleasure through the changing seasons.

Another summer-long feature that has dominated the garden chez Farrell is Project Shed. He who has been building it, aka Graham, has finally finished the job apart from having the electrics expertly checked. He has built it from scratch from his own design, including re-purposing  next-doors’ cast-off windows and door glass from another chum.  The curved railway truck roof is both a nod to the fact that the Great Western Railway, before Mr. Beeching killed it, once ran across our road, and also to reduce the shed’s height so it doesn’t loom over our neighbours. Now that he has practised I think I must insist on one for me – a cosy hideaway in which to muse and snooze, and write word or two. Beside the gate would be nice…I could watch the field grow, the bees in the guerrilla garden and the comings and goings of rooks…

The Changing Seasons: September Please visit Max to see his fab September gallery, and to share your own changing seasons photos.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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Views From the Morville Lych Gate

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The lych gate is of course the corpse gate, the covered entrance wherein the dead might be laid until a funeral could take place in the parish church. In the past there was often a several day wait for this essential ceremony, during which time the deceased must be shielded from bad weather, robbers and worse.

This particular lych gate stands on the path to Morville’s parish church of St. Gregory.  Morville, itself, is a small hamlet on the main road between Much Wenlock and Bridgnorth, and like Wenlock has a monastic past, although the church is all that remains of this period. I suspect that the fabric of the actual monastery may well have been re-purposed in the building of the next-door Morville Hall, which began hot on the heels of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s.

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In Saxon times the place was a thriving manor, and after the Norman invasion of 1066, continued to be so, its existing church and associated  lands bandied about as pieces of valuable real estate in deals between kings, earls and churchmen, its native inhabitants bound by fetters of superstitious dread and the obligation to provide wealth and labour for their overlords.

The Norman earl Roger de Montgomery took over Morville (along with most of Shropshire) in 1086. Here he had built a Benedictine monastery, an outpost for his more prestigious Shrewsbury Abbey some twenty miles away. He also had Wenlock’s Saxon priory remodelled on a monumental scale, and ordered the building of numerous other religious houses in every adjacent small community across the county.

I do not think this extensive building programme had much to do with piety. This was first and foremost about stamping Norman authority over the land. It was also an overlord’s means to control people, the wealth they created, and by the ordering of good works from the wealth accrued, so ensure his own place in heaven. It was his insurance policy in an era when everyone lived with a mortal terror of hell and the devil. As Baldrick in Black Adder might say it was a very cunning plan – political, physical and psychic control all of a piece – a top-down wealth management strategy.

If you go inside the church you may see, as you will in many old churches, the evidence of the psychic tyranny. The present building dates from the 1100s. Between the column arches on both sides of the nave, serpents slither down – an early medieval manifestation of ‘fake news’ perhaps? Imagine having them breathing down your neck every Sunday from infancy to grave. There was no opting out of the experience. Your very soul was in peril should you try to, and anyway this and the other snakes are endlessly hissing at the horrendous cost of becoming an outcast.

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Even when the service is over – the mysteries of it conducted in a language you do not know, you are sent on your way by this jolly trio, just to reinforce the sense of threat for the rest of the week:

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Today, the church in its country churchyard and the nearby hall  are quintessentially scenic. My senses tell me that this is a lovely spot. But I confess, too, that increasingly I struggle with the rustically picturesque and the meaning I take from it.

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For one thing, I still detect traces of susceptibility. The view of the hall, though presently owned by the National Trust, is still likely to induce a fit of the Downton Abbeys…P1010953

…that ultimately distasteful sense of nostalgia for a fake past of benign lords and grateful retainers. We may have Henry VIII to thank for loosening a little the stranglehold of the ruling elite, and broadening the class of major players to include merchants and professional men, but nearly five hundred years on, most of the country is still owned by small and powerful factions including the monarchy.

The fascinating thing is most of us don’t seem to notice, or realize how the way land continues to be controlled affects our lives in critically fundamental ways – the cost of a home – to buy or to rent – and the acceptance of ever-rising property ‘values’, the acceptance of mortgages for life. It is not for nothing that these holdings are referred to as ‘land banks’, or that any release of land for development is minutely managed to ensure maximum return from high priced, often poorly built, overcrowded properties.

We no longer have to plough milord’s fields, or give him our tithes in wheat and eggs, or bow to his whims, and tug forelocks, but the vestiges of feudalism are alive and well and residing in Britain, and more particularly, idling in its well-worn seats in the House of Lords, currently the focus of ‘a bit of a scandal’ as reported by the Electoral Reform Society. Of course we could do something about all this – if we really wanted to – if we stopped romancing about the past and started planning for a present that embraces everyone’s needs. It’s an interesting thought anyway.

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Thursday’s Special: Traces of the Past

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Have We Reached Peak Stupidity Or Is The World Just Pants?

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This was the challenging early Monday morning query  that greeted me today on my return from the dentist. He Who Lives In My House had just spotted a  headline in the Independent newspaper. This is the headline:

High-tech boxer shorts protect men’s sperm from smartphone and wifi radiation damage

New pants are a cage for your crown jewels, protecting them from the ravages of the modern world  (rest of  Ben Chapman’s article HERE)

 

It seems French entrepreneur, Arthur Menard, had become so concerned about the health of his and other men’s testicles that he set up SPARTAN, so providing a new brand of chaps’ protective undergarment.

After much research, he and his team have come up with a knicker fabric that combines cotton and silver. This, they say, “blocks more that 99% of mobile phone and wifi radiation”. The silver also “has anti-bacterial properties meaning the pants should stay odour-free.”

This is all highly commendable of course. The reproductive health of present and future generations is clearly at stake here. We cannot have a scenario wherein the human race is wiped out due to obsessive compulsive Smartphone, laptop and tablet usage. That would be too daft, wouldn’t it? Except somehow, you can see it coming can’t you – our endlessly driven pursuit of pleasure gizmos and our too small grasp of the unintended, multiplying consequences; the outcomes – like ‘fake news’, ‘fake presidents’, social  media tyranny and manipulation of reality that, to my mind, truly are pants. No cotton and silver mesh to shield us from that kind of fall-out.

Look Out For The Giant Sunflower!

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Out of the blue it came, a sunflower the size of a small tree, and towering over my bed of dwarf French beans. I think I must have a mouse or bird to thank for dropping a seed from someone else’s plot in my compost heap, whence it was transported to the bean bed early in the summer. I have certainly never grown a monster like it. Anyway, its suddenly overbearing presence hasn’t deterred the beans – a variety called Ferrari which have been more than living up to their name.

I’ve read conflicting reports as the companionability of sunflowers and beans, some sources saying that climbing beans will grow up a natural trellis of sunflowers, others saying that bush beans and sunflowers both should, and should not be grown together. Ah well. All I can say is beans and sunflower are doing well, the beans still producing even as autumn approaches, and despite some chomping by slugs. But it goes to show, anything can happen out on the plot.

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Harebells Colonize An Old Industrial Wasteland

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This photo was taken at Snailbeach Mine in the wilds of the Shropshire Hills. From the 1780s through the nineteenth century this was the most productive lead mine in the world, employing over 300 workers. But the history of lead mining in the area is much older than this, and for centuries the mineral was mined all over the nearby Stiperstones hills.

The Romans were certainly here. They left behind a great lead ingot weighing over 87 kilos and impressed with the inscription ‘IMP HADRIANI AVG’. This meant that not only did it belong to the Emperor Hadrian, but also that Snailbeach was an imperial mine between the years of his rule, 117-138 A.D.

The Romans used lead for water pipes, cooking vessels, paint and to sheath the hulls of ships.  Of course some of these purposes proved highly toxic to the users.

And it is now hard to imagine an association between something as hard, industrially wrought and poisonous as lead and these delicate harebells that seem to thrive on the waste ground near the mine ruins. In fact this whole area, with conservationists’ help,  has been so reclaimed by wildlife it is now part of the Stiperstones Site of Special Scientific Interest. The birdlife of the area includes red grouse, ravens, buzzards, peregrine falcons, curlew and the rare ring ouzel. There  are grayling and green hairstreak butterflies, fox and emperor moths. The vegetation includes heather, cowberries, whinberries and rare mountain pansies.

It is so heartening, isn’t it, when so much on the planet seems environmentally challenged. Here in this corner of Shropshire at least, the natural world has overcome – reclaiming this once poisonous, highly industrial environment.

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For those of you interested in mining history there is more about Snailbeach HERE and HERE. The latter link includes lots of useful teaching information and has a great video of aerial views of the area, which is anyway worth a look if you want to see more of this fascinating part of Shropshire.

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DP Daily Prompt: overcome

The 1995 Nairobi Agriculture Show ~ Waiting For Admission

One of the truly useful institutions we Brits left behind in the African countries we invaded is the Annual Agricultural Show. We went to both Kenyan and Zambian versions, and found them hugely popular events, still held on their original dedicated show grounds. Nor are they simply about entertainment, shopping and crop and stock competitions, although there is plenty of all of these to be had. I remember one Kenyan smallholder being quoted in the national press. He had travelled many miles to attend the Nairobi show, and at some expense. ‘But,’ he said, ‘this show is my university. This is where I come to learn how to improve my farming skills.’

And as we wandered round we certainly found plenty of advice to hand, much of it rendered in model farm lay-outs. There was also that year’s exhortatory slogan to spur all  to action: “Feed The Nation And Export”. And there were promotional exhibits for small-scale battery chicken rearing, camel raising, the Post Office and family planning. Even the National Archives had a small pavilion in which they were showing 1950s film footage from the Land Freedom uprising aka Mau Mau. The Young Farmers were showing off their crop  growing and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (the place where Graham had his office) also had a big stand with plenty of experts to provide farmer guidance.

Welcome to Nairobi’s 1995 Agricultural Show:

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Daily Post: waiting

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Quayside Lamu ~ Thursday’s Special

The Swahili communities of the East African seaboard grew out of the commerce between Arab dhow merchants and African farmer-fishermen. It is a trade that began perhaps two thousand years ago, and it is a trade that relied on the gyre of monsoon winds – the kaskazi that bore the dhow merchants south from the Persian Gulf, and the kusi to take them home.

Some of them stayed of course, to manage the trade with the African hinterland. Gold and ivory, ambergris, leopard skins, tortoiseshell and mangrove poles were the lure. In return they traded beads, brass wire, textiles, rugs, dates, porcelain. And so from at least 800 years ago city states grew up along the coast – from Lamu near the Somali border in the north  to northern Mozambique in the south, and also out on the Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar and the Comoros. So evolved a new culture as Arab merchants married African women, and along with it a new language KiSwahili – the fusion of Bantu vernaculars and Arabic. Today Swahili is the lingua franca of East Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania) although the purest form is deemed to be spoken on Zanzibar.

The trade had its vicious side – slavery, and Stone Town on Zanzibar was notorious for its slave market. The slaving and ivory expeditions of Tippu Tip, a Swahili merchant, were the scourge of Central and East Africa during the nineteenth century. He himself was a Zanzibari plantation owner, but he also served the Omani sultans of Zanzibar who had extensive clove plantations on the island, and furthermore ruled much of the East African coast until the British arrived in the late nineteenth century and whittled down their control.

Even so the East African slave trade continued on into the twentieth century. Slaves were still being sold on Lamu until 1907 when the trade was finally banned.

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These days the main trade on Lamu is tourism, and the large Arab dhows, bearing dates and rugs and treasure chests, no longer call in there. Local trade using the smaller Lamu dhows still thrives though. Today’s main exports are mangrove poles, coral rag stone and coral mortar – all for the construction business, and boats are also the main form of transport around the island unless you want to walk or take a donkey. All auto traffic, apart from ambulances, is banned, although this year’s political campaigning has seen the arrival of illegal MPs’ vehicles and noisy motorcycles, so risking the rescinding of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage status. Hopefully things will settle down again. But in any event the quaysides of Lamu are still key to life there. In fact the two mile footpath from Lamu town to Shela Village, the other main community, seems to be one long quayside.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Thursday’s Special  Please visit Paula for more September word prompts. In case it’s not obvious, my choice was ‘quayside’.