Wednesday 28 October 2020

Half Term Memories

Hello, and thank you for dropping in.  Thank you too for the kind comments left on my last post.  You lot are lovely.  The weather here has been typically autumnal with wind, rain and sunshine, in fact we have had all of that today, but it's not cold and although we are lighting the fire in the evenings at weekends, we haven't turned the central heating on yet. I am thanking God for small mercies because there hasn't been much income this month. 

So, it's half term week and I am feeling a bit wistful.  For years now we have gone away during half term, usually to visit family.  That's the thing when you live a long way from the rest of your family, you spend your holidays visiting them.  The Best Beloved's parents lived on the south coast of England and mine live in South Wales so these visits often included trips to the seaside.  In more recent years the Best Beloved and I snuck away for a few days to North Wales on our own but for the last few years half term has seen us take the ferry from Poole to Guernsey with The Teacher and her growing family to visit The Mathematician.  This year, of course, there are no trips and for the first time in years, we are at home, almost as far inland as it's possible to be in this country and I am missing the sea as well as the people I love.  I am trying to keep busy and distract myself, looking for the tulips as I can't have the roses, but I am a little melancholy, reminiscing over our past trips.  I thought I'd share some photos with you.

This is the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth under an intensely blue sky, still under construction in October 2003 and at this stage known locally as the Pompey Peg because of its resemblance to an old-fashioned dolly peg.  

In October 2006, some of us (not me, I have no head for heights) ascended the completed tower to take in the views. 

This is the beach at Dinas Dinlle in Gwynedd, near Caernarfon, in October 2009.  This is one of my favourite beaches and when the tide is out there is always treasure to be found for beachcombers here - shells, mermaids' purses, pretty stones - as well as the most amazing view of the Llyn Peninsular.  When the tide is in, the view is still there but the beach is not.

Here is the beach at Ogmore-by-Sea on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast in October 2010.  The weather was glorious and we took The Mathematician and two of her cousins.  It was even warm enough for a paddle (but only just!) and I found an ammonite.  I have very happy memories of that day.

Here are the almost endless sands at Aberffraw on the west side of Anglesey in October 2013.  This is another wonderful beach.  You park your car in the village and then walk along the estuary until the big expanse of sand appears in front of you.  Storms and strong currents wash things up here - I have seen large shells, fish boxes from Ireland, a dead seal, a dead porpoise and, once, half a dozen heart sea urchin tests.  The shells and the sea urchins were the only things I brought home!

This was our first trip to Guernsey in October 2016.  The Best Beloved and I went out by ourselves to L'Eree Bay to watch the sun set over the sea behind Hanois Lighthouse.

This is Porth Trecastell on Anglesey in October 2017 the day after a storm.  The waves were strong and hardy surfers were making the most of it, wearing wetsuits and helmets.  There were two dead leatherback turtles washed up on the beach that day.  It's another of my favourite beaches, not because of dead turtles but because of the golden sand, the dunes, the rock pools, the cliffs, the ancient burial site on the headland and the lovely family memories I have made here.

In October 2018 we were back in Guernsey and the sun was shining.  The sky was so clear that we could see all the way to France that day from Jerbourg Point.


This is me on the beach at Cobo Bay in October 2019.  The weather was dreadful that week - our journey was delayed by storms for twenty-four hours and it rained almost all week, but we went out whenever it stopped, wrapped up against the wind.  We LOVE to be on a beach.  

I'm off now to look for those tulips.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Wednesday 21 October 2020


Hello, and thank you for calling in.  We are safe and well, although with two teachers and two tiny people in our family the dreaded virus seems to be coming closer and closer.  Little Cottontail, now almost fifteen months old, had a runny, snuffly nose last week  and a little tired cough (for a day) and her nursery would not let her attend until she had taken a Covid-19 test and received a negative result, even though she had none of the official symptoms of the virus.  The poor darling had to have those very invasive swab tests, and of course she screamed her head off, and then her parents were not allowed to go to work until the negative result came in, forty-eight hours later.  We are now waiting for her to get the next inevitable nursery cold and repeat the whole process.  

Autumn arrived here with a deluge.  After an initial week of relentless rain we had some glorious blue skies but the sunshine is replaced by rain every time I'm ready to grab my camera and go out to enjoy my favourite season so I've been cracking on with some creative projects instead.  Creative projects have saved my mental wellbeing during this year.

I always knew that I was not "artistic" because when I was a child I wasn't good at drawing or painting and that was what I knew to be the definition of "artistic".  Those were the school lessons I enjoyed least of all and I was immensely relieved when, after two years at secondary school, I was able to leave the art room behind for good.  There is a caveat to that: in my first year, we had to draw an animal skull in pen and ink, I think it was a sheep, and I remember a gentle and empathetic teacher explaining how we should look at the object in front of us and how we should replicate what we saw.  I enjoyed that lesson, sitting quietly by myself and becoming absorbed in the task, oblivious to what was going on around me, and the following week I walked into the art room and was absolutely amazed to see that my drawing had been mounted and displayed on the wall.  My heart swelled with pride.  It was a unique occurrence and memorable for that.  Last year my mother gave me my school reports and I was amazed again: in that year I attained 87% and a Grade A for Art!  I think that must show the power and effectiveness of a good teacher.  The following year, with a different teacher, I attained 68% and a Grade B but he commented that I was a "very capable girl".  I had completely forgotten that I was ever any better than hopeless at art. 

When I was in my twenties I realised that I did have some artistic sensibilities.  I bought a house and read lots of interior design books and magazines and discovered that I had strong views about how colours are affected by light and which colours I wanted to live with.  Actually, now that I think about that, I probably developed ideas about that when I was a teenager and started using make-up.  I have always known that blue eyeshadow does nothing for my hazel eyes!  Still, I associated being artistic with the ability to paint and draw and so it was not a label I could attach to myself, even hesitantly.

A couple of years ago I had an interesting conversation with my eleven year old nephew.  He has the talent and skill which I lack and loves to paint and draw and had painted small canvases for his aunts and grandparents for Christmas.  He told me how important it is to him to be able to exercise his talent and express himself with paint, particularly watercolour.  I told him how important it has become to me to do something creative every day.  I remembered a keen gardening friend who once told me that because he worked in an office all day, gardening provided him with the outlet to create something with his hands and my businesswoman sister who makes the most beautiful greetings cards.  I thought of other people I know who dance, play musical instruments, cook wonderful meals, bake and decorate extraordinary cakes and take stunning photographs.  It has taken years for me to realise that I am creative - I still wouldn't use the word "artistic", even though I now know that the word encompasses far more than the ability to paint and draw.  I looked up definitions of "creativity" and I liked this one:

Creativity, the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form. (, the website of the Encylcopedia Britannica)

Over these last months when I have had to spend so much time at home, creativity has given me something to do to fill the time, something to focus on entirely so that there has been no room for my mind to wander to grim, hopeless places and something very satisfying indeed.  I'd like to share the results of some that creativity.

The Teacher asked me to make her a blanket big enough for her little family to snuggle under together.  She asked for pastel colours and together we settled on the Dune blanket by Lucy at Attic 24.  I had fallen in love with this blanket as soon as I saw it and I was delighted to have a reason to make it.  I made the double bed size, with a starting chain of 266, but it sits on my daughter's king-sized bed and drapes over the sides, as you can see.  It's enormous and she loves it (phew!).  There wasn't a great deal of mental creativity involved in this project as both the stitch and the colours were all dictated by the pattern and a good deal of discipline was involved in its creation: I made myself work at least two rows every single day for seventy-nine days.  I reckon there's about two hundred hours of work in it altogether.  However, I conjured it into existence and my spirits sang as I worked on it, filling me with joy.  I have never considered myself to be "a pastels person" but I absolutely love the way these colours work together.  I almost couldn't bear to hand it over!  

Then there were the crocheted rainbows which I showed you in August, bedecked with beads and pompoms, twenty-one of them all told.  That did become a bit of a chore, only because there were so many of them, but playing around with the beads as I carefully selected them was great fun, and watching the summerhouse fill up with them was very satisfying - there were ten of them in there at one point.

As usual, there were rainbow blankets for babies.  My standard colours are Lipstick, Spice, Saffron, Lime, Turquoise, Violet and Magenta and I didn't choose them myself, I copied them from another crocheter, but each border is different.  I have made two of these since March.

Then there was a new rainbow blanket, a commission, with instructions that I could choose the pattern and rainbow colours myself.  I chose Stylecraft Special DK as usual because it washes and wears so well, which I think is important in blankets for small children, but this time I chose a much brighter palette of Matador, Jaffa, Sunshine, Grass Green, Turquoise, Empire and Proper Purple.  I was worried about the Jaffa and the Matador as they are almost bright enough to require the wearing of sunglasses(!) but the other colours pulled them in and they all worked well together.  I couldn't fail to smile every time I looked at it.

We celebrated Cottontail's first birthday in July and I crocheted her a jacket using some scrumptious, squishy Stylecraft Special Aran yarn.  As he unwrapped it for her, Tom Kitten looked at me and said, "You made it!" and my heart filled up.  It is SO special to be able to make things for the people you love.

My creativity didn't all involve yarn and hooks.  One of my sisters reached a milestone birthday at the end of July and another of our sisters created a photograph album for her.  There was much remembering and reminiscing as images flew through cyberspace and I decided to use some of mine to make her an explosion scrapbook.  I bought the basic box in Hobbycraft along with several punches, card, ribbon and glue and I spent about twenty hours decorating the box, inside and outside.  Inside there were three layers of photographs, images, messages and quotes from her favourite films and books as well as her signature recipe.  Tucked away in pockets between those layers were little cards from myself and my daughters and inside the inner box there was a packet of my sister's favourite childhood sweets and a tiny string of Happy Birthday bunting.  Honestly, I enjoyed making this SO much, and it felt good to be using different skills.  Sorting through old photographs and collating them is another creative pleasure and I made an album for my cousin, celebrating the same milestone birthday eleven days after my sister.  I am definitely going to make more albums, and more explosion boxes.

Well, I think that everything I have shown you so far has looked pretty good but now I am going to something I created with love and care and not a great deal of skill!  When my sister asked me to spend her special birthday with her I decided to make her a celebratory cake.  This was brave because my cakes look very homely - I've never used a piping bag and I've only used fondant once.  I'm a bit old-fashioned.  However, I couldn't bear the thought of her going without a birthday cake on her actual birthday so I consulted my friend's thirteen year-old daughter, a keen baker.  She suggested a pinata cake - in case you haven't come across one of these before, it's a three-layer sponge, filled and covered with icing, with a secret hole in the middle which is filled with sweets so that when you cut a slice, the sweets spill out of the centre.  Got it?  Another super-duper baking friend suggested that I use a madeira cake recipe as it's more robust than my standard Victoria sponge and that if I had a deep cake tin, I could bake it in that and slice it into three layers rather than bake each layer separately.  So that's what I did.  I baked the cake the day before the birthday and the next morning, when it was cool and settled (which is more than I was!), I held my breath and sliced it horizontally, twice, something else I've never done before.  I made a ridiculous amount of chocolate butter icing, which I have rarely done as one of my children never liked it, sandwiched the layers together with the sweetie treasure in the middle and covered the cake.  I smoothed the icing as best I could and as you can see, it's not smooth!  This is probably the ugliest cake my sister has ever received but it was made with love and I think she appreciated that.  Best of all was that she had never come across a pinata cake before so the sweets were a big surprise.  Making this cake caused me a great deal of worry and tension but it was as important to me as that mounted drawing of a sheep's skull hanging on the wall.


This is how it looked before I put the top layer on. 

Now that schools have reopened and we are easing back into the old routine, to some extent, I have reverted to yarn, needles and hooks but I have not forgotten that I stretched some different creative muscles and that I enjoyed it.  I saw a side of myself which I haven't seen for a long time and which I'd like to see more often.  I think that creativity isn't merely an end in itself but it facilitates other activities, too: a long time ago I read that learning to play a musical instrument improved children's academic performance in other subjects, too.  That's why I think it's important to make time and space to be creative.  I'll leave you now with a definition of creativity from the author C.J. Lyons.

"Living in possibility and abundance rather than limitation and scarcity."

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Saturday 3 October 2020

St Leonard's Church at Linley

Hello!  Thank you for dropping in, you are very welcome here.  Summer has gently slid into autumn since my last post, the flowers in my garden are fading and while last week I sat out in the sunshine and watched small white butterflies feeding on the last of the buddleia flowers and bees foraging in the jasmine, cosmos, hardy geraniums and ivy, this week I have donned a cardigan.  It's been raining and I almost put my boots on too, but I really can't bear to do that yet because once they're on, they stay on until the spring and I'm not quite ready for winter thoughts.  I want to savour autumn. 

Every year since 1994, September has seen Heritage Open Days in England and where possible, I have tried to use the opportunities to visit places which are not usually open to the public or to visit free of charge places which usually charge an entry fee.  I knew that it would have to be different this year because of Covid-19 and when I looked online to find out what was happening in Shropshire I found an online lecture and a few churches.  Now, you probably know that I like visiting an interesting church and as I haven't visited one since 23rd February, I got quite excited at the thought.  I read through the list and chose St Leonard's Church at Linley, a redundant church which is now in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust and is described as a "secluded medieval delight".  So, on Sunday 20th September the Best Beloved, his camera and I set off under a blue sky.  It was the perfect day to be driving through the Shropshire countryside as the sun made the hedges glow like emeralds and the trees filtered the light to dappled shadows.  We bowled along the B4373 and once we were in the vicinity I started looking out for an unmetalled track on the left - I needn't have worried, a very clear sign said, "St Leonard's Church, Linley" so we took the turning with confidence and drove along the track until it widened on both sides into an informal parking place.  I got out of the car with my trusty 1968 Shropshire guidebook and walked up the slope to the church.  I noticed that there was no graveyard and that the land in front of the church has become very overgrown, although some clearance work has been started.  I hope it gets finished, it will make a great difference to the approach to the church.  I also noticed a large yew tree which is probably hundreds of years old and I found some comfort in that:  the world may have changed a lot since February but wherever there's an old church, there's usually an old yew tree.  Plus ca change, as my mother says.

It is almost nine hundred years since this simple church was built.  The tower was added a few decades later, at the end of the twelfth century, and as I looked up, I wondered who was in the stonemason's mind as he carved those grotesques.  That made me smile.  The pyramid roof which tops the tower was added in the first half of the nineteenth century and the east wall of the church was rebuilt in the second half of that century but the rest of the stones of this building sit where they were laid in the twelfth century.  The arched doorway with its carved tympanum is typically Norman and I told the Best Beloved to mind his head as he entered the church as those typical Normans were shorter than we twenty-first century Elizabethans and that doorway is less than six feet high.

This is what we found inside. - 

As usual, there was a Victorian "restoration".  Those bloomin' Victorians!  They enlarged the windows in the nave, rebuilt the east wall (I can forgive them that) and gave it a triple window, added a piscina in the sanctuary (in a Norman style - cheeky!), took out the old pews and refashioned them into panelling for the chancel, installed new pews, fitted new iron candleholders to the walls and tiled the floor.  The stained glass in the new east windows was designed by William Warrington, who also designed windows for the cathedrals in Norwich and Ely, and the triptych behind the altar was installed in about 1870.  The pulpit was brought to the church in 1948 from another church.  This "restoration" work was begun in 1858 and I was intrigued to discover that the architect was London-based Arthur Blomfield, for whom Thomas Hardy later worked, and that Blomfield paid for the work himself.  I wonder how that came about?  I'm still working on it and I'll let you know if I find out.  I do like the fact that Blomfield tiled the sanctuary floor with encaustic tiles made a few miles away in Ironbridge Gorge by Maw & Co.  I can't help but feel that they would look even lovelier if somebody occasionally ran a mop over them!


However, the Victorian alterations didn't ruin the church and there is still some Norman loveliness to be found inside, including the arches which lead from the nave to the tower and the chancel and the huge font, lined with metal and big enough to dunk a baby in the water.  Its outer surface is covered in intricate carving (apparently of the Herefordshire school) and these carvings are one of the features which make this church a "destination".  The roundels on the north side apparently emerge from the mouths of demons, but I couldn't make that out.  

Outside, we walked round to the north side of the church and found the other feature which makes this church a destination.  Here is another Norman doorway, this one blocked up centuries ago, and over it is a tympanum which is clearly carved with a rather naughty figure which I have seen described as a grotesque animal with a human face, a demon, a Green Man and a sheela-na-gig.  I shall leave it to you to decide for yourselves.  Whatever it is, it's almost nine hundred years old and very well-preserved in this sheltered spot.

I am quite fascinated by these carvings, that such intricate work could be done with tools and technology which we would consider to be "basic".  I wonder about the men who made them and how and why they designed them.  I placed my index finger onto the side of the font and traced the groove of the carving, following the track made so long ago by a mason's chisel and imagining that I could feel the vibrations of the stone just as he did.  St Leonard's is indeed a secluded medieval delight and a lovely place, perhaps because those ancient carvings have kept the nasty spirits away?

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x