Friday 27 March 2015

Five On Friday

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  I am trying something new today and joining in with Amy at Love Made My Home for Five On Friday so if you have dropped in here via there, welcome to my Shropshire patch.  Last time I told how I marked the first day of spring by doing some spring cleaning, wiping away the old season and making room for the new.  As part of this process, I put away some decidedly wintry decorations and in doing so, I came across this -

It's a battered old biscuit tin, more than 40 years old, but it holds treasure.  Would you like to have a look inside? -

Seashells!  I have been collecting seashells and storing them in this tin since I was a small child (I must add that this is not the only place I have been storing them!).  I can't help myself.  Every time we go to a beach I have to pick up at least one shell.  I think they are beautiful and fascinating, nature's treasure indeed.  I have limpets, whelks, periwinkles, cockles, oysters, scallops, razor clams, tellins, dog whelks...lots of shells and I would like to share five of them with you today.
Slipper limpets, crepidula fornicata.  These are the ones which started it all off for me.  I remember them being all over the beach when I was on holiday in Swanage in Dorset when I was 6 years old and I think that's when my mother gave me the tin to keep them in.  I didn't realise then that I would only ever come across them in the south of England.  (That holiday was notable for another reason: the first time I wore my hair in BUNCHES!)
Topshells, gibbula umbilcalis and gibbula cineraria.  When I was ten years old, my parents rented a cottage in Portloe in Cornwall for a fortnight's holiday.  The cottage was a few yards from the beach and in the evenings, my younger sister and I were allowed to go down there by ourselves for a short while. How very grown up I felt!  That was the first time I saw these shells and I thought they were quite precious with their iridescent mother-of-pearl decoration.  I think they may still be my favourites. 
Pelican's foot shell, aporrhais pespelecani.  I found a few of these on the beach at Creetown on the Solway Firth in the late 1970s and was very excited because my children's nature book said that they were rarely found on the shore!  I found a few more on the beach at Blackpool in the early 1990s.  Apparently they live in the Eastern Atlantic.

Mussels, mytilus edulis.  Forme, these are forever associated with a wonderful family holiday in Brittany for four generations: my grandparents, parents, sisters, husband, daughter and me.  It was 1991 and The Teacher was nearly 2 years old.  There were fascinating mussel farms nearby and mussels heaped on trestle tables in the local market.  Delicious. 
Cockles, cerastoderma edule.  I have found these on beaches everywhere I have been: Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Hampshire, Kent, Yorkshire, Anglesey, Pembrokeshire, Lancashire, Ayrshire, the Solway Firth...the humble cockle is always there.  And I always associate them with my grandparents' East London weekend tea table, drenched in vinegar!  "Alive, alive, oh!"

My treasure.  Why on earth have I kept it shut away in a tin?  Well, no more. I have put some of it into a glass vase and put it out on display so that I can see it every day, reminding me of summers past and hinting at those yet to come.
Do you know The Nature Carol?  I think it's a traditional song from The Philippines.  We learnt the Malcolm Sargent translation at primary school and I love the first verse -

Coral, amber, pearl and shell,
Gifts we gather from summer seas,
Find and bind make love the spell,
Take our gifts if they charm and please.

Well, they certainly charm and please me.  I hope you can see why.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

 PS If you hop over to Love Made My Home by clicking on this link you will find links to today's other Five On Friday blog posts.   And THANK YOU Amy for hosting these Fridays.

Sunday 22 March 2015

An Astronomical Kind of Gal

Hello.  Thank you for calling in.  Friday was SUCH a day, wasn't it?  20th March 2015: vernal equinox and partial solar eclipse.  WOWEE!
I have mentioned before that I am an astronomical kind of a gal.  When I studied O Level Physics we had to learn some basic astronomy and our teachers let it be known that they all disliked it but I couldn't understand why because it fascinated me, it always has done, much more so than bits of ticker tape and sending little vehicles down ramps.  Don't get me wrong, my knowledge is very, very basic, but I am prone to wandering outside on clear nights, winter and summer, to gaze up at the stars in wonder.  The Mathematician always associates Orion with her birthday (January), the huntsman having been pointed out to her since she was very small, and only being visible in the northern hemisphere between January and March.  The Teacher can recall being woken up in the middle of the night when she was 5 years old to be taken outside to sit on the top of her climbing frame with her binoculars to watch a lunar eclipse.

Amazingly, we had a clear blue sky for Friday's solar eclipse.  I say "amazingly" because we always try to watch the Perseid and Leonid meteor showers in August and November and it is ALWAYS cloudy!!  We have never seen them here - although I did catch a spectacular glimpse in the skies over Scarborough a few years ago, just before the clouds closed in.  And August 1999, the last time we saw a partial eclipse?  Yep, cloudy. 

So, I realised that the sun was streaming through the back gate directly onto the front of the shed.  Perfect sunshine!  I wedged the gate open to lose its shadow, tore a piece of card from an empty cereal packet and made a hole in it with a 2.5mm knitting needle.  Result: pinhole camera.  Cost: £0.  This is what I saw -

I had the BBC Stargazing team on indoors and kept nipping back inside to watch their fabulous pictures, especially as the eclipse reached totality - Baily's beads, the diamond ring, the corona.  This is what I saw on my shed -

I know that it's very amateurish, that there are absolutely stunning photographs all over the internet, but the point is that I didn't just sit indoors and watch the eclipse on a media screen, I was outside experiencing it and my photos are a record of my experience.  I know that the light level dropped about ten minutes before the peak of the eclipse and lifted again about ten minutes afterwards because I saw it, and I know that the temperature dropped by a few degrees during that time because I felt it.  I also felt ridiculously excited!  I think we are the only planet in the solar system which has solar eclipses, and it is simply coincidence that the sun and moon appear to be the same size in the sky, the sun being about 400 times larger than the moon but also about 400 times further away from the Earth than the moon.  COINCIDENCE!!!!  An astronomical coincidence which I was able to experience in my back yard in Shropshire.  A-MA-ZING.

And the equinox?  The Earth spins on an axis, through the north and south poles, which is tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. When the north pole is tilted towards the sun, it is spring and summer in the northern hemisphere; when the south pole is tilted towards the sun, it is autumn and winter here in the northern hemisphere.  There are 2 points in the year when the poles are both the same distance from the sun: the spring and autumn equinoxes.  At these points, day and night are of equal length.  From Friday until the autumn equinox, the north pole will be tilted towards the sun. If the axis were not tilted, day and night would always be of the same length, we wouldn't have long summer evenings, we wouldn't have any seasons giving rhythm to our lives, a rhythm which I love.   

So Friday was the first day of spring, officially.  The sun returned to the northern hemisphere (or rather, the northern hemisphere tilted towards the sun).  From now on, the days will lengthen, the sun will climb higher in the sky and the temperature should rise.  It's a time of reawakening and renewal and ... spring cleaning!  And that is how I marked the day, with a spot of spring cleaning, wiping away the old season and welcoming in the new, giddy with happiness and excitement.  It felt REALLY good.   

See you soon, after I've calmed down a bit! 

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 

Tuesday 17 March 2015

A is for Alpaca

Hello lovelies, thank you for calling in.  First things first: La Fheile Padraig Sona Daoibh!  In other words, Happy St Patrick's Day to all of you who are celebrating. 

Today I am going to reveal to you another of my favourite things...alpacas.  Obviously this must be related to my love of sheep, and I think this goes back to 1975 when we did a school project about wool and learned about llamas, alpacas and vicunas as well as sheep.  I think they are adorable so when the British Alpaca Society held its national show in Telford last year, I went along to have a look.  They didn't let me down and I discovered that not only are they adorable to look at, they are curious, gentle and fascinating as well.  If I had land, I would definitely have some but you need to have at least an acre and sadly, I don't.  At the beginning of this month, they came to Telford again and of course, I couldn't resist, I had to go and see them.  Here they are -
Gorgeous or what?
My knitting group has a connexion with this show and this week, Joy showed us some alpacas and teddies she has needle felted.  Jean has made an alpaca as well so when they were all on the table, I asked if I could photograph them and show them to all of you.  Here they are -
Lovely work, rubbish photo!  Cue much hilarity as somebody got out a jacket and laid it on the table to make a background, holding it up in front of her face -
By no means perfect but at least you can see the figures properly.  I thought the tiny teddies deserved a picture of their own - they are jointed! 
 We had so much fun doing this.  Very silly.  Here is Jean having a go at making a teddy -
Don't mess with her, she is armed and dangerous!  Meanwhile, Joy was working on this butterfly brooch -

The background fabric with the pattern drawn onto it is water-soluble and will dissolve once the felting is finished.  How clever.

As for me, I am not needle felting, I am knitting.  I was invited to take a skein of alpaca wool and knit a scarf for our hospice.  The wool is lovely, SO soft and warm and I wanted to do it justice so I looked online and found a new pattern HERE.  It's coming on well.

There is a postscript to all this: last Saturday we drove to Loughborough to visit The Mathematician and we went for a walk in Beacon Hill Country Park in the Charnwood Forest.   We had a lovely afternoon together, the sun popped out for a few moments so that I could photograph these catkins (it really must be nearly spring) -

We found these Highland and English Longhorn Cattle -
We got amazingly close to this kestrel before she flew away -
And lastly, we rounded a corner and found a field of sheep and ... alpacas!  We just couldn't believe it.  You see, The Mathematician had been researching places for us to visit and she had found an alpaca farm but decided against it because she thought the Best Beloved might be "all alpaca'd out" after coming to the National Show with me, and he had agreed that he was!  But I certainly wasn't and this made my day. 
 Gorgeous, or what?
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday 15 March 2015

My Nanny

Hello, thank you for popping in.  If you are in the UK, today is Mothering Sunday - not Mothers' Day, but historically, the day when people went to worship at their mother church.  Young people who were in domestic service were given the day off and walked home to their villages, picking wild flowers from the roadside to give to their mothers when they got there.   However, I love the fact that it has become a day to celebrate our mothers, mothering is hard work and one day in the whole year when this is recognised doesn't seem too much to ask.  I know that it can be a difficult day for those whose mothers have died, or indeed those mothers whose children have died, as well as those mothers and children who are not in contact with each other, but nevertheless, I think it is important to mark the day, and ignoring those we have loved and lost isn't helpful.  For me, it has never been about extravagant gifts, a card is sufficient and if it is homemade, so much the better. 
This year, however, Mothering Sunday has a special resonance for me because 15th March was my paternal grandmother's birthday.  Here she is, Julia May Spiers, never called Julia but always Julie or Ju - but known to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as Nanny.  

She was born in Shoreditch in East London on 15th March 1912 and when she was two and a half years old, her father joined the army and went off to fight in the First World War.  She and her mother, Carrie, moved in with her father's family until he came home, severely injured, three years later.  Julie was an only child but had a large extended family, she was a good swimmer and a good singer, and at the age of 21 she married her sweetheart, Art, and they moved into a house in the same street as Julie's parents. 

Five and a half years later, in the summer of 1939, Carrie died and Julie's father moved in with her and Art.  My father was born in 1941 and two years later, Art was conscripted into the RAF and sent overseas for three years.  I have read that Carrie's generation of women lost their husbands to the First World War and their sons to the second and I feel grateful that the womenfolk in my family were not scarred in that way, but Julie was temporarily abandoned first by her father, then by her husband and although they came home, she didn't know that they would and I can't imagine how that must have changed her.  She miscarried a child while Art was away, conceived before he left, but gave birth to another son after Art came home.  So there she lived in a houseful of men - father, husband and two sons.  During the 1950s Julie became Akela to the local Cub Scouts - more boys to look after. 
So it must have been surprising when 5 granddaughters came along before a grandson.  I was the first, and here she is holding me at my Christening. 

See that sparkly dress?  That dress is so typical, she LOVED a bit of sparkle. 

In 1952 Julie became the caretaker of a church, a job which came with a house.  She looked after the church and all its associated rooms and activities - I can remember her taking me in to sit at the back of the church during weddings, going to Christmas bazaars and, on Tuesdays, the church's thrift shop.  Everyone knew me, of course they did, I was Julie's granddaughter!  My parents were married in that church, as were my aunt and uncle, and two of my sisters and I were christened there.  Julie had to retire from being Akela when she was 65 years old but she didn't retire from her job until 1989, when she was 77.  She once told me that in all that time, she never had a pay rise.  Can you imagine that, starting a job and being on the same salary 37 years later?  By the time she left, the organist was paid more than she was.

So, having lived in a very small patch of East London for all of her 77 years, 37 of them in the same house, Julie then moved to ...Cardiff, to be near my parents.  Can you imagine the culture shock?  And having lived in a 3-storey, Georgian terraced house with no back garden and no fitted kitchen situated on a main road with a bus stop outside the front gate, she and Art moved into a 1980s-built, 2-storey detached house with fitted kitchen, back garden and a lawn situated on an estate! 

Julie loved being with children and her weekly shop included a bag of sweets and chocolate bars which she took to church every Sunday to give to the children who were there.  They flocked around her after the service, waiting for her to open her capacious handbag.  At home, she kept a bowl full of sweets in her sideboard for her grandchildren and later, great-grandchildren.  I think it drove my mother to distraction when she broke the rules and offered them to us before our lunch!

Julie died in 2005, having lived to meet 7 great-grandchildren (that's The Teacher on her lap in the photo above) and I made sure that I wore a bit of sparkle to her funeral.  I know that I am very lucky to have had my grandmother in my life for 40 years.  I think of her often and I still miss her.  This is what she taught me: I cannot recall ever hearing her say a bad word about anyone.  I don't know if she thought it or not, but I never heard her say it.  She was the most non-judgmental person I have ever met.  When I was young, the fact that she didn't give me special attention when I won prizes or did really well in exams really bothered me, I felt that I had earned and deserved some acclaim, but as an adult I realised that she loved me simply because I was her granddaughter, unconditionally.  Simply because I was me, warts and all.  That's very powerful.
Happy Birthday Nanny.  You were very special and we miss you. 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday 13 March 2015


Hello.  Thank you for calling in to my little Shropshire patch.  It feels as if winter is drawing to a close here, it's a bit warmer, the days are longer and we are looking to the spring.  Yesterday, 12th March, my first daffodils opened up so I thought I would take a turn around the garden and look for other signs of burgeoning life.  You see, we can't see the back garden from the house, we have a small yard at the back and then the garden proper is angled away so our view beyond the yard is of...our neighbours' garage!  It's not very picturesque.  It means that our garden has no winter interest as there's no point, we can't see it during the winter unless we go out in it for a purpose, which by and large, we don't. 

These crocuses in the old sink in my back yard opened up last weekend; the variety is Pickwick, lovely purple and white stripey petals.  This was snapped during the only moment of sunshine in the whole day. 

Here are the aforementioned daffs.  It was really windy and very difficult to photograph, this is the best I could get, but I really wanted to capture the day.  I LOVE it when the first daffs open up their trumpets of joy.  I always think of this poem, not the obvious Wordsworth but Alan Alexander Milne -
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
"Winter is dead." 
Also in tubs in the back yard are these polyanthus, vivid jewels on a dull day bought very cheaply in Lidl a couple of months ago -
Under the hawthorn tree at the end of the yard there are sedums, new, fresh green rosettes
Further into the garden, the forsythia is in bud, bright green promises of gold -
and new little columbines, gathering and growing for a May spectacular -

But AA Milne was wrong, winter isn't dead yet, I'm an astronomical kind of gal rather than a meteorological one and I think that if you recognise the solstices, you also have to recognise the equinoxes and that means that spring begins this year on 20th March.  There's not long to go now but we are still in winter and I found this reminder at the bottom of the woodpile, a sign of death and decay in the fungi which fascinate me -

Now I know this is a bit random, but at the end of my yard there is a wall, just an ordinary, Victorian brick wall.  A few years ago we had some landscaping done in the garden and the builder said to me, "That's a lovely wall."  I was surprised and a bit nonplussed, I had always thought that a wall is a wall, so I looked at it with fresh eyes and found that I agreed with him, it is a lovely wall.  It's behind the hawthorn so it never sees the sun, but I thought you might like to see it.  I know.  I'm a bit bonkers.  I find beauty in old bits of brick wall and fungi.

So thank you for indulging me.  The light was dull, the plants were dancing in the wind and I am not getting to grips with my new camera as quickly as I had hoped, but I have marked the day, Daffodowndilly Day, and I am glad I did because the rain poured out of the sky last night and hasn't stopped yet. 
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday 6 March 2015

'S Wonderful

Hello my lovelies.  Today I am going to introduce you to one of my oldest friends.  We have known each other since 1977.  We lost touch in 1985, I knew where she was but we had no contact until 2011 when I took the initiative to dig her out and re-establish our friendship.  Here she is -
A clarinet, a Boosey and Hawkes Regent, standard school issue in 1977.  I had lessons again for a couple of years and I intended to take exams, but my nerves wouldn't let me.  As my Grade 6 approached I felt like I was 15 years old again, I lost sleep and was literally sick with nerves, so I made a grown-up decision to back out and I haven't regretted it, even though if I passed Grade 6 I could teach beginners and earn some money, apparently. 
I am not a great player, but I do love to make music, especially with other people, so when my friend and erstwhile teacher asked me to give a recital with her, I agreed.  She is the organist HERE and once a month they hold a lunch followed by a short (very short, about 20 minutes) concert.  This is the third time I have played for them and the audience is small, informal and friendly, just what a nerve-wracked player like me needs.
The church is lovely.  This building was apparently built in about 1200, replacing an earlier building, but it had a major refurb in the 19th century, and the heating is definitely 20th century (a major consideration for musicians - you can't play with cold fingers!).
The ceiling has been painted red and pale blue.  I really like it.
There are some lovely stained glass windows: I particularly like this one, the church's war memorial.  Can you see the soldier and the sailor on the right?
I was taken by surprise when, during lunch (I can't eat much because I'm about to play a woodwind instrument!) someone said to me, "Are you our artist today?"  I was shocked into silence so she repeated her gentle question.  AN ARTIST!!!!!  I have never considered myself in that light before.  An Artist.  Wow.  And that is what I have learned as an adult player: you don't have to be a wonderful player to bring pleasure to other people AND TO YOURSELF.  How I wish I had known that when I was young, the nerves might not have crippled me.  Fear of failure is very debilitating.
So we played some pieces and I played a couple of Gershwin solos (ooh, palindrome!) and each of us read a poem.  I chose this one by Emma Chatonoir-

Who wouldn't want
To kiss a clarinetist
The most reserved members
Of the band
Half of the section
Is already in a relationship
But half of the section
Is almost always single
And oh my goodness
The players
The players are beautiful
Not like flute beauty, better
Playing the somber tone
With dark timbre giving you goosebumps
Up to the screaming high notes
That don't sound musical, yet still work
Reed their lips
Clarinet is life
But you are love
Or at least to them
Clarinet players are the best kissers
And the sweetest people you'll meet
And they would risk a broken reed
Just to be close to you

I have never kissed a clarinet player so you would have to ask the Best Beloved!

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday 1 March 2015

Seek And Ye Shall Find

Helo, Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus! - Or, if you don't speak Welsh, Hello, Happy St David's Day!  David was a sixth century Welsh bishop who was canonised in the twelfth century and made patron saint of Wales.  At that time his shrine was considered so important that the pope stated that two pilgrimages to St Davids Cathedral in West Wales were equivalent to one pilgrimage to Rome and three pilgrimages to the Cathedral were equivalent to one to Jerusalem!  I have visited the shrine myself, twenty-five years ago, in the tiny city that is St Davids.  And although I am not Welsh,  I have family in Cardiff and Welsh nephews and a niece (who now, at ten, considers herself too old to wear the national costume on St David's Day).
So, having blogged every day during February, I thought I should take some time to ponder over that.  As you may remember, I set out to find something that made me happy every day in order to overcome the general negativity that there is about February.  I was jolted into this by the Bishop of Stafford, who wrote that the best thing about February is that it is a short month, and in fact, I e-mailed him and told him that those of us who have birthdays in February can't help when we were born and that it is difficult enough to get people happy and excited for us without bishops wading in! Get me!  He did send me a lovely reply.
So, what made me happy?  Well firstly, there was my Significant Birthday and the cakes, flowers and celebrations associated with that.  They couldn't have happened during any other month.  Then there was half term with lazy days and outings to the snowdrops, the woods and the seaside.  During this Easter term, the half term holiday always falls in February so they couldn't have happened during any other month, either.  Then there were things which could happen during the warmer months but give far more pleasure when it's cold: a fire (who wants to light a fire in July?), a hot water bottle, handknitted socks and cosy slippers and similarly, the flowers in the garden are delightful in the summer but the first flowers to break through the frozen earth in the winter give special delight.  Likewise the blue skies!  Then there were the things which give equal pleasure whenever they happen: the love and support of family and friends, the birds in the trees, knitting with friends, a mug of tea, things which because they happen frequently can easily be overlooked and/or taken for granted, but the point is that they did happen in February and they did make me happy, which leads me on to my next point.

I found something which made me happy EVERY DAY because I was looking for it.  Had I not been actively seeking it, there were days when I may have overlooked it and not realised the pleasure that I get from it, BUT IT WOULD STILL HAVE BEEN THERE.  Am I explaining this properly?  Take my mug of tea, for example.  I drink mugsful of tea every day, it's part of my routine, just part of living, of getting through the day.  But on 24th February I acknowledged that drinking that tea made me feel happy and because nothing else that day had made me feel happy, I realised just how important that tea is to me.  So those mugsful of tea which are such an integral part of my life are actually able to make me happy every day. 

This has been a revelation to me, the fact that actually there are things which make me happy all around me.  I don't always feel happy, in fact I go through periods during which I can't find any happiness at all, but I know now that the happiness is there, waiting to be found, that it is in the small things, the mug of tea and the handknitted socks, as much as it is in the big parties and the splendiferous cakes, that if the weather is dreadful and an outing has to be postponed, there is equal happiness to be found indoors.  Different, but equal.  FEBRUARY HAS BEEN AMAZING because of my attitude towards it - and I know this is a cliché, but it's been a Positive Mental Attitude (is that a tautology? Surely an attitude has to be mental?).  I have not felt so positive, so energised for years.

So that is what I intend to take forward.  I don't intend to continue blogging every day - I take my hat off to those of you who do, I honestly didn't realise how difficult it would be - but I do intend to continue finding pleasure in the small things if the big things let me down because life without happiness is actually unbearable in the long term.  Seriously.

If you have made it this far, thank you.  Although I haven't acknowledged it before now, writing this blog, recording the things which have made me happy, and the knowledge that there are people who are reading it and furthermore, enjoying it, is tremendously helpful to me.  I am not going to stop.  And now, I am going to show you a photo (thank you for your patience), not a recent one, but a photo taken nine years ago.  It is of The Mathematician and it is so exuberant and full of colour and joie de vivre that my heart lifts whenever I see it.  It is happiness.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x