Wednesday, 22 February 2017

World Thinking Day

Hello, thank you for dropping in, as always, it's lovely to see you here.  Today is World Thinking Day, the day when Girl Guides and Girl Scouts all over the world celebrate their membership of this international organisation.  When I was a Brownie Guide, we were allowed to wear our Brownie uniforms to school on Thinking Day, as it was called then, because it was the most important date in our Brownie calendar, and our pack meeting that week would focus on thinking about Brownies in other countries and lighting candles (guiding lights?) for them. 
Thinking Day dates from 1926 and 22nd February was chosen because it was the birthday of both Lord Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Movement in 1910, and his wife, Lady Olave, who was still World Chief Guide when I was a child. 
The Girl Guide Movement was a huge part of my life when I was growing up: I joined the Brownie Guides when I was seven years old, became a Girl Guide when I was eleven, became a Ranger Guide when I was fourteen and left the Movement when I went to university at the age of eighteen.  Along the way, I spent time helping to lead a Cub Scout pack (as a Girl Guide) and a Brownie pack (as a Ranger) in order to earn my service badges, so it would be strange if "Thinking Day" didn't flash up in my mind on 22nd February every year, wouldn't it?  And it would be strange if I hadn't kept a memento or two from those years, wouldn't it?

I still have my Brownie Handbook. It's quite fragile now as it was very well-used, so the cover has become detached, but here it is.  This is the book which taught me how to wash up: glassware first, then cutlery, crockery and pots and pans, in that order.  As I opened its pages yesterday for the first time in many years, so many of them were familiar.  I also have a few of the badges which were sewn onto my uniform - I suppose they were taken off when the dress was passed down to a younger sister.  You can see that I was a Seconder in the Kelpies - actually, you can probably only work that out if you were a member of a Scottish Brownie pack as they didn't have Kelpies in England.  I started off as an English Pixie but after we moved to Scotland, I became a Kelpie.  And as a sideline, can I just say that Kelpies are not very nice and would be a very bad influence on impressionable young Brownies?  It's probably the worst possible name for a Brownie Six.   I should also like to add that I am not of the beret-wearing Brownie generation shown on the cover but very firmly a brown-woolly-bobble-hat Brownie.  I am disappointed that I only have two of my interest badges: Hostess and Musician.  I was definitely more interesting than that, although I didn't achieve my Knitter's Badge, I am quite sure of that because according to the Handbook, you had to knit a pair of socks or a pair of gloves or mittens, using two or four needles!  Before the age of twelve?????  I couldn't knit a pair of socks until I was forty-eight and I have never knitted a pair of mittens.  Brownies were obviously cut from a different cloth in the olden days.  So, shall we move on to my Girl Guiding years? -

I don't have my Handbook but I do have a small number of Guide Annuals, one of my era and the rest dating from before I was born.  I acquired the older ones at jumble sales and fetes because I found them fascinating. 

 Yes, I still have my tunic - although sadly, not my hat, which was navy blue and, in my mind, made me look like an air hostess, in the days when we had air hostesses and they were glamorous and appeared to live exciting, romantic lives.  In those pockets I always carried the six essential items which every keen Guide carried if she obeyed the exhortation to Be Prepared for emergencies: a safety pin, a piece of string, a pencil, a notebook, a clean handkerchief (inside an envelope, to keep it clean) and a 2p piece.  The 2p piece was to use to make a telephone call from a public call box.  You would have to do this to call for help if your friend was injured, after you had bandaged her up with the clean handkerchief and the safety pin and left your other friend looking after her, because you only went out in threes.  It's no wonder I'm so risk averse, and that I need such a large handbag.  I enjoyed being a Guide and I learnt a great deal: first aid, camping (if you need to make a stand for your washing-up bowl out of sticks, I'm your woman), building fires, caring about other people, commitment, service, working as a team, leadership - you may have noticed my Nightingale Patrol Leader's stripes.  Would you like to take a closer look at my interest badges? 

Ah yes, the Little House Emblem which shows that I achieved all the badges in that group: Cook, Child Nurse, Knitter, Laundress, Homemaker and Hostess.  I am wincing as I type this because it doesn't seem very, you know, empowering for girls, does it?  I would like to think that the presence of Backwoodsman and Camper may go some way towards balance, and there are also writer, cyclist and local history badges there; perhaps it was not just when I was growing up that Guiding was a huge part of my life?  So, shall we move on to the 1980s and my Ranger Guide years? -

This is all I seem to have kept, my Handbook and an old novel I picked up in a second hand bookshop.  No uniform (navy blue skirt, aqua shirt and navy forage cap), no badges.  I do remember a grand day out at the Palace of Westminster where we met our local MP and were taken up Big Ben.  I was always one of three in the colour party at events but I never actually carried the colours because Louise was 6' tall and we would have looked ridiculous if she hadn't been in the middle.  We did quite a lot of activities with the local Venture Scout group (moving swiftly on) and quite a lot without our leader, who didn't like camping.  A Ranger Guide Unit was a safe place for a teenage girl to be in a scary world. 

So I may light a candle this evening, and I wish all former and current Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Rangers around the world Happy World Thinking Day.

See you soon,
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Stiperstones

Hello, thank you for popping in, it's always lovely to see you here.  The weather here is still overwhelmingly grey but the sun has tried to peep out a few times and on one of those days, the first Sunday of this month, the Best Beloved and I headed out on a little jaunt to stretch our legs and breathe in deep lungsfulsof cold, crisp air.  I have five photographs to show you, so I am linking with Amy at Love Made My Home for Five on Friday - even though it's now Saturday.  I know.  The time just got away from me yesterday. 
We went to The Stiperstones, the second highest place in Shropshire, a ridge crowned with rocky outcrops which are some of the oldest visible stones in the world, formed about 480 million years ago.  As with all ancient places, there are myths and legends which tell of their creation and you can read some of them here.  It is a lovely place to visit on a sunny day at any time of the year.
We parked the car, went through the gate and set off up the path towards Cranberry Rock. 

In a dream, Merlin, the great enchanter, saw two dragons fighting in the air.  They were evenly matched, neither one could overcome the other and eventually, worn out, they fell to their deaths, locked in an embrace, neither willing to cede to the other even as the life drained out of them.  Where they fell, one became the Long Mynd and the other The Stiperstones, the valley between them being Hell's Gutter. 
From The Stiperstones, we looked across to the other dragon, the Long Mynd.

We were surprised to see snow on the ground in the shaded places as we hadn't had any snow at home.

In the summer, the heather flowers and the bilberries are abundant. 

The temperature at the top is noticeably lower than it is at the bottom but the views are spectacular.


The sun is shining again today and as it's half term week here, I am hoping that augurs well.  We are off on another jaunt tomorrow, a few days by the sea.  If you have time, please pop over to Love Made My Home and see what everyone else is sharing this week. 
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

More Drops Fabel Socks

Hello, thank you for dropping in.   The weather here is still very grey, although we have had  a couple of sunny days to lift my spirits and tempt me outdoors - well wrapped up against the cold, of course.  At this time of year, I wouldn't be without my handknitted socks.  Not only do they keep my feet toasty and cosy, but their jolly stripes bring colour into the drabbest days and cheer my soul.  Who would fail to smile at the sight of these peeking out beneath their trouser hems? 


The other day I was at The Teacher's house and when I took off my boots she said, "Those are your Seaside Socks!"  I wrote about knitting a pair of socks with Drops Fabel yarn in November and this pair is my second (ad)venture with this yarn.  This colour is called Blue Sea and having initially knitted a pair for a sailing sister, I fell in love with it and had to knit another for myself.  Before knitting, it looks like this. -

After knitting, it looks like this. -
When I look at this I see turquoise sea, blue waves topped with white crests, sandy beaches and rocky headlands.  I see red and green seaweed, little striped topshells and tiny orange and yellow flat periwinkles.  Images from last years wonderful seaside holidays in Cornwall, The Scillies and Guernsey fill my head and those happy memories make me smile. All of this in a humble sock!


I finished knitting these socks while we were in Guernsey and took one down to the beach for a photoshoot.  I explained to The Mathematician, who has a good eye for composition, that I wanted a photo of the sock which portrayed its relationship with the sand, the sea, the seaweed and the shells, but I obviously didn't explain it very well because she took this, which wasn't quite what I meant! -
Bless her!
 See you soon.
Love, MrsTiggywinkle x

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Whitchurch On The Wrong Day

Hello, thank you for dropping in, it's lovely to see you here.  How's your weather?  Ours is still cold and grey, but on Wednesday the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  I was SO ready for it; my spirits lifted and my soul smiled.  My 'phone pinged: it was a dear friend, asking if I would like to go out somewhere to make the most of the weather.  Of course I would!  After a bit of discussion we settled on a visit to the town of Whitchurch because although both of us have lived in Shropshire for about thirty years, we had only been there once, she to the hospital and I for a meeting. 
She picked me up at 1 o'clock - having done some research and printed out some useful "tourist information" for us.  She knew our visit would result in a blog post!  All I knew of Whitchurch was that it's a small market town in North Shropshire, close to the borders of Cheshire and Wales.  That's it.  However, as I read her thoughtfully prepared sheets of paper the sentence which jumped out at me was this one: "What Whitchurch possesses in abundance is beautiful Medieval, Georgian and Victorian architecture."  Well, if I'd known that I would have visited years ago!  It sounded like just my sort of town.
So off we set in the sunshine to mooch around Whitchurch.  We found a car park (not easily, the signage wasn't great) and walked down an alley to the main street; the view ahead was full of promise.
What we found was delightful, but we had obviously come on the wrong day.  Many of the shops were closed, as was the heritage centre.  Perhaps Wednesday is early closing day?  Some businesses had closed down permanently and there was the sad air of a place which, although once thriving, is now struggling to keep its chin up.  


We were very impressed by the large, apparently tudor NatWest Bank building until we discovered that the frontage was only built in 1930!  Sadly, this is due to close in June this year as custom has declined by almost 25% over the last five years. 
Wandering away from the High Street, we came upon these pretty cottages -

The Victorian Bank For Savings was impressive -
I was really taken with this old building.  A warehouse? -
You see that doorway to the left?  Well, the door was open and we were able to peep inside.  Can you see line of washing hanging up to dry?
Back on the High Street, we found another charming old courtyard with a sign which tickled us both -

Obviously, we had to visit the church, St Alkmund's.  Built in 1711 and Grade One listed, it replaced earlier buildings and there has actually been a church here since 912 AD.  It has beautiful windows of both stained and plain glass and this etched panel tells a story -
It says, "This window was restored from the proceeds of the sponsored walk of fifteen miles, organised by the Rotary Club of Whitchurch, on Palm Sunday 1971 in which 211 walkers took part."
The most significant monument in the church is the tomb of Sir John Talbot, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, who was born in 1386 and killed in 1453 at the Battle of Castillon, the final battle of the Hundred Years' War.   His body was brought back to England and while his embalmed heart is buried beneath the floor of the church porch, as he requested, his bones  lie beneath this effigy in the lady chapel.
We liked Whitchurch and will definitely visit again, although not on a Wednesday. We liked the CafĂ© Bon Sol, where I paid £3 for a pot of Earl Grey and a slice of delicious, home-made bakewell tart.  We especially like the fact that the sun was shining and we had made the most of it and done something different on a weekday afternoon.  The sun was setting by the time we left.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x



Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Murmuration of Starlings

Hello, thank you for calling in, you are most welcome here.  The skies have been almost relentlessy grey and I have been feeling rather grey, too.  We had mizzle and drizzle, mist and fog for a week and our proposed weekend outing was cancelled due to pouring rain in favour of sitting by the fire with knitting.  The silver lining was that it hasn't been too cold - not that I mind a cold snap, but it's cheaper when you don't have to put the heating on. 
However, on Friday the sun came out.  Hooray!  The sky was blue and full of promise and the weather forecaster said that it would be the same on Saturday so the Best Beloved and I hatched a plan.  Saturday is usually a day for chores, shopping, football on the television (him) and a big newspaper (me) so to break the routine and plan a Saturday outing was A Big Thing, but I was desperate to make the most of the sunshine and he was easily persuaded.  Saturday morning dawned, the Best Beloved opened the bedroom curtains and...the sky was grey.  Again.  Sooooooo disappointing.  However, we were not deterred: we had planned an outing and we were bloomin' well going.  We cracked on with the chores and the shopping and, as it was very cold, we laid the fire ready to light as soon as we got home.  We donned our coats, scarves, gloves and boots and off we went.  In my bag I had my spectacles, my binoculars, a notebook, a pen and my bird book.  The Best Beloved had his camera.
We drove to Aqualate Mere, just over the border in Staffordshire - at 1.9km long it's the largest natural lake in the West Midlands, scraped out by a retreating glacier at the end of the Ice Age, but it's less than a metre deep!  The Best Beloved says it is really "just a very big puddle".  We parked in the little car park and set off through the nature reserve, mud gently squelching beneath our boots and not a soul in sight.  After about twenty minutes we reached our destination: the bird hide at the eastern end of the mere.
Thousands of birds overwinter here but I was slightly disappointed to find that most of them were down at the other end of the mere!  There were plenty of swans and ducks on the water but they were so far away that even with my binoculars I couldn't identify them.  However, the view from the hide was magnificent, even on a washed out winter's day.  There was not a breath of wind so the sky and the water were serenely still and I felt a great sense of calm as the niggles and anxieties which constantly claim my attention drifted away. 
Close to the hide there were half a dozen mallards, a couple of coots, a moorhen, a mute swan and a cormorant.  I had never seen a cormorant in the water before and it was fascinating: it sat very low with its body completely submerged and only its head and neck visible, like a periscope.  Periodically, it would disappear under the water to catch a fish and pop up somewhere else, causing the Best Beloved to describe it as "the submarine of the bird world". 
We sat there for about an hour, talking to each other in whispers so as not to disturb the blue tits, great tits and robin on the feeder just outside the hide.  There was quite a lot of noise coming from the reedbeds and I wish I could understand birdsong.  At 4 o'clock the Best Beloved pointed out to me that we ought to pack up and start making our way back to the car because the sun would be setting at 4.30pm and we didn't want to be stumbling around in the dark.  I reluctantly packed my bag...and then we saw the starlings over the trees at the far end of the mere. 
Can you see them?  You might want to click on the photo for a closer look.  A cloud of tiny black specks: a murmuration of starlings.  Apparently up to 250,000 starlings roost in the reeds here and every evening they perform this display.  We saw only a few thousand but they were mesmerising as they flew towards us, the amorphous cloud changing shape all the time and growing as more starlings flew in and joined the flock.  By this time we had been joined by a man with three children, who were awestruck.  "It looks like a whale!" said the small girl.  "Now it's a snake!" said one of the boys. 
We stayed to watch them until they disappeared from view and then we left the hide - to find that they were directly overhead!  We stood with upturned faces as they swooped and swirled over us, filling the sky and filling our ears with the sound of the wind beneath their wings - imagine being in the woods on a windy night and that's the sound.
I have seen murmurations before but only from a distance.  I knew that it was a spectacle, one of the wonders of nature, and nobody knows why the starlings do it (we know they do it to communicate with each other but we don't know what they are communicating).  To be so close, to actually experience this phenomenon, is something very special.  I felt full of emotion but I can't explain what the emotion was.  All I can tell you is that it was  wonderful. 
It was dark by the time we got home.  We took off our muddy boots, lit the fire and the candles, made a pot of tea and shared a bar of chocolate.  It was a perfect afternoon, even without any sunshine, football or newspaper.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Langley Chapel, a Tiny Church

Hello, thank you for calling in, and thank you for the lovely comments left on my last post.  I do love reading them and I think I have altered the settings so that anyone should be able to leave a comment now without having to be "registered" anywhere.  Several of you mentioned the book about Tiny Churches and asked me to share my visits with you so on Sunday the Best Beloved and I set off to visit the first.  Although it was raining, the drive was lovely, along narrow lanes bordered by ancient hedges.  We had to stop twice to allow an oncoming car to pass but the only other traffic was on legs, two or four. 

Langley Chapel, a simple stone rectangle with a small wooden bell-tower, stands in a corner of a field in a remote part of a rural county.  Farm buildings are on the other side of the field boundary.  As I stepped out of the car, all I could hear was a clamour of birdsong and the gentle bleating of sheep in a far field.  There was nobody else around and I could have been standing at almost any point in time.   I turned the heavy, iron key in the lock, pushed open the door and stepped a seventeenth century Puritan time capsule.  Plain, whitewashed walls, simple glazed windows and heavy, dark wooden furniture.  A plaster frieze between the south wall and the roof is the only ornamentation. 

The  first thing I saw from the doorway was a musicians' desk, placed at the back of the church.  I have never seen one anywhere else.  I was drawn to it and placed my hand flat on it, feeling the echoes of those whose hands made music here four hundred years ago.  (The Best Beloved thought I was a bit daft at this point!)

So why does does this little gem stand alone, seemingly in the middle of nowhere?  The manor of Langley was first recorded almost a thousand years ago and was one of the most substantial in Shropshire, substantial enough to warrant two water mills in the manor, and the Burnell family built a large hall here and surrounded it with a moat.  The population of estate workers and tenants was sizeable and as the manor was a couple of miles away from the parish church, in 1313 the Burnells were granted permission to build a parochial chapel on the estate so that everyone would be able to attend services.  The chapel was rebuilt in 1546, by which time the estate had passed to the Lee family, and its roof was replaced in 1601.  These last two dates are important because we are now in the Tudor period, King Edward VI has established the Protestant Church of England and a new English prayer-book, issued in 1547, introduced a new style of congregational worship.
The Reformation changed the style of Christian worship in England and so changed the layout of churches in order to facilitate that worship.  The focus of the service was no longer a mass, spoken in Latin by a priest who turned his back to the congregation and faced a stone altar placed against the east wall.  Instead, the focus was the word of God, reading from the bible and  preaching to the congregation, with communion shared with them from a wooden altar table which the priest stood behind as he faced them.  So, when Langley Chapel was refurbished at the beginning of the seventeenth century, it was done so in the modern way; the Puritan way. 
 This altar table is a replica, the original having been stolen!
The altar table is surrounded on three sides by benches, complete with kneeling rail so that those who wish to can kneel and those who don't can sit.  (Puritans regarded kneeling as "popish" so they always sat.)

The reader's desk, from which the bible was read to the congregation, is huge, emphasising the importance of this part of the service.

The seating here is all about social class: at the back there are benches for labourers and servants, in front of them there are box pews for farmers, millers and tradespeople, to give some protection from the draughts, and right in front of the pulpit there is a large box pew for the Lee family.  Well, if you were going to have to listen to a long sermon, you needed somewhere comfortable to sit, didn't you? 
During the second half of the seventeenth century Langley Hall and its estate was passed to the Smythe family and they moved out less than fifty years later. By 1717, the hall was being used as a farmhouse and it was demolished in about 1870, replaced by a new farmhouse.  With no servants or estate workers, the population dwindled and so did attendance at the chapel's services until the last regular service was held there in 1871.  So the Victorian trend for reordering churches in a medieval, gothic style bypassed Langley Chapel and it was left alone and abandoned, its heavy tudor doors locked, its interior preserved as a time capsule.  It was repaired in 1900 and again in the 1960s and during one of those repairs the concrete floor must have been laid and the haphazard arrangement of medieval encaustic tiles set in the chancel. 

 All that remains of Langley Hall is buried beneath the earth; only the chapel is left.  It is of such significance that it was taken into the care of the state, in 1914.  I have never seen a church like it. 

  See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x