Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Effie Gray: a review

I went to see Effie Gray the other day and I have to say I was a tad disappointed.  

For me the scenes with the wonderful Emma Thompson as confident, independent Lady Eastlake light up the screen.  Whether this was as a consequence of the stark contrast of Lady Eastlake's beautiful clothes and jewels compared to Effie's ever growing sombre attire I'm not sure, but as Effie's confidante she injects some much needed vibrant relief to their scenes together.

Effie's married life with John Ruskin, and indeed his domineering parents, is shown as being relentlessly miserable and their heavy, dark Victorian home feels like a shroud hanging about her poor young shoulders.  There were four people in this marriage.  Their courtship, if any, is not explored in the film and I found myself asking why this lovely young woman had wanted to marry Ruskin in the first place.   

Their ill-fated marriage and the subsequent shock and disgust that Ruskin experienced on their wedding night is well documented.  As a result of his incredibly sheltered childhood, whereby he was not allowed to play with other children, and indeed adulthood living with his strict Victorian parents, he had only an idealised view of womanhood; much like Lewis Carroll who preferred the company of children and young girls.  Ruskin comes to resent, dislike and emotionally abuse poor Effie.  You feel so very sorry for her.

There is no doubt the film intelligently portrays Effie's prison-like existence but I felt the characters could have been more fleshed out, relationships explored more deeply and for more light and shade to their story, especially the growing affection between Effie and pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais whom she goes on to marry after the scandal of her divorce from Ruskin.

The scenes in Scotland however are very handsome, especially the location shots of Millais working on his famous portrait of Ruskin standing by a waterfall in Glenfinlas, and the painfully claustrophobic feel of the three of them sharing a small, basic log cabin together is well played.

Essentially, however, I thought the film rather static.  I could feel no sympathy at all with Ruskin, whom you could say was a victim also of the suffocating Victorian social mores of the time.

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Thursday, 16 October 2014

into the woods

Some exciting news from my neck of the woods (excuse the pun)!  My lovely neighbour A has bought himself 5 acres of woodland.  He had been thinking for some time that he wanted a project of some kind and having a particular interest in ecology and conservation the idea of owning some land appealed to him.  A place where he could indulge his passion for the outdoors, take lovely walks with his rescue dog Benji and simply to relax and enjoy nature,  But first, some work is required, more of that later.

He had began scouring the internet for suitable sites and was amazed to find this woodland just a five minute drive from his home, making the venture extremely viable and less costly, as managing the woodland from a distance wouldn't have been the easiest option long term.  Purchased through woodland and forestry agents the whole thing went through smoothly and with no hitches.

The proud woodsman!

My friend P and myself spent a lovely couple of hours on a guided tour, 
with the help of Benji of course!

Like much of the woodland in this area it is made up predominantly of Scots pine; with its beautiful rust-red bark standing tall and straight.  Amongst these are a few Corsican pines which have grey bark and much longer needles than the Scots pine.  There are also hazel, birch and sycamore and some very young English oak.  These are what A really wants to nurture and he plans to fell a number of the pines in order to give room for the oaks to grow.  Another friend and neighbour who lives down our lane is a member of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and has been giving A invaluable advice.

He has plans to further encourage native woodland species such as blackthorn, hawthorn and rowan to take a hold and also to encourage wild flowers to establish themselves on the woodland floor.  He will wait a year to see what appears with each season but is hoping to see carpets of bluebells and bursts of wood anemones and greater celandines by next spring.

Before that in January he may spot the lesser celandine which is a member of the buttercup family, and not closely related to the greater celandine which is a member of the poppy family.  The lesser celandine can cover woodland floors with a carpet of gold between January and May.

Primrose and dog's mercury can also be found in woodland clearings and usually flower between February and May. Then of course the aforementioned bluebell.  Our most favourite native plant puts on a wonderful show during April and May.  Along with the bluebell we should see the purple-pink flowers of early purple orchid between April and June.  We also hope to see the common dog violet, red campion, wood-sorrel, ramsons, garlic mustard, lords-and-ladies and yellow archangel.

Late spring flowering plants may include bugle, wild strawberry, herb Robert, lesser stitchwort, the common nettle and foxglove.  Of course all of these wild woodland flowers are most often found in uncoppiced ancient woodland as they take time to establish and spread, but with A's nurturing care they can still be introduced and encouraged.

A has had lots of help from his family and friends,  His son is coming down this weekend to help with some judicial clearing but of course the idea with any woodland is not to be too tidy, and P and I have already offered our services with regard to sourcing, documenting and photographing plants.

A was also surprised to find a tumulus  - a mound of earth and stones raised over an ancient burial site. This is now covered with tree growth and having done some research he was told that in antiquity terms it is non-Roman being more than likely from Anglo Saxon times and indeed we have a very famous Anglo Saxon village very nearby so there must be a connection.

There are some lovely holly

The wood is quite open with lots of light and a very pleasing pathway following the natural curves of the land bordered by tall elegant ferns.

While we were walking along this pathway I felt a palpable connection with history as well as nature. How many feet had trodden this path over the centuries.  In some parts the path was quite sunken, created maybe by carts and animals travelling from place to place.  It seemed a world away from the road although in reality it is very accessible.

It will be interesting to find out more about its history.  I will keep you posted.

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Sunday, 12 October 2014

embracing autumn

I've mentioned before on this blog that I'm not a great fan of autumn, especially the transition from September to October, but this year is different.  I find myself embracing the turn of the season and delighting in the soft mellow light and the russet and berry colours in the garden.  

So far so good ...

Of course it helps that we've had such a good summer - lovely memories of my sojourn in Wiltshire when each morning I woke to a glorious sunrise - feeling positive and energised.

Positive energy at Avebury

A short, but very sweet, holiday in France was just what we needed mid September.  We stayed at a friend's place in the lovely village of St Valery sur Somme.

The sunsets and cloudscapes over the River Somme and the estuary beyond were simply beautiful.

I love the pop of zingy green on these shutters!

The Jardin Herbarium was a delightful oasis of calm ...

... with a charming shop selling herbs, seeds and gardenalia

Strolling on the boardwalk at Le Crotoy

Apart from a day in the cathedral city of Amiens and a very moving visit to the 1914-1918 War Memorial at Thiepval, we spent our time in and around St Valery, although an afternoon at Chateau Rambures was a lovely diversion too.

So very romantic ...

The gardens were lovely

... and these handsome cattle caught our attention - such a timeless image.

But, back to the here and now, and talking of which I'm going to try and make this blog a little more immediate.  Back to basics with snippets of daily life in and around my home and stories of what I'm getting up to with family and friends.  I may also give the blog a facelift - always a fun thing to do!

Until next time ...
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Sunday, 28 September 2014

the prettiest village in England?

... quite possibly.

I give you the delectable Castle Combe.  A veritable chocolate box of gorgeous cottages in honey coloured Cotswold stone.  Some dripping with wisteria and fragrant old-fashioned roses, others festooned with immaculately planted hanging baskets blooming their pretty socks off.

My goodness they elicited oohs and aahs at every corner ...

I wonder though, do the good people of Castle Combe get a little, shall we say, annoyed at the amount of intrusion into their lives?  I saw some Japanese tourists literally peering in through the windows of one cottage!  Whatever next, a knock on the door expecting to be taken in for a tour and a cup of tea? .... Oh yes, we were all there to admire this beautiful place, and taking photographs is part of the deal I know, but in my defence I can safely say I took these shots at a decent enough distance and then zoomed the camera in, but not so much as to witness life unfolding within. 

But does that make it OK ... and here they are on my blog, for all to see!

I guess that's the downside, the inevitable payback of living in such an idyllic but altogether accessible place. Of course the village will benefit from the tourist trade and undoubtedly out of season there may be just a trickle of visitors.  Perhaps I just visited on a very popular day, there were cars parked everywhere.  (By the way, I've cleverly edited out all signs of human traffic in case you're wondering where all these visitors are!)

What is your take on this - is it voyeurism?   Maybe you live in such a village and put up with this kind of thing all the time?  Have people peered through your windows?  Are you a photographic admirer of homes too?  I'd love to hear your views.

But ... they are beautiful aren't they ...

If indeed you are visiting Castle Combe, here are some very nice links to buy and stay local:

Village Website
The Castle Inn
The Old House at Home
White Hart Pub
The Old Rectory Tea Room
House of Flavours

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Friday, 26 September 2014

rush hour on the B3107

This flock of very animated sheep passed us at full pelt while we were in the car on the way to Great Chalfield Manor.  I scrambled for my camera and think I've captured movement in the two on the left however the one at the front looks as though he is taking a leisurely stroll!  I love these photo opportunities; testing my shutter speed ....

Our time in Wiltshire this summer was so enjoyable.  I took over 500 photos so obviously I will not be posting each and every one but I'm gradually working my way through some of the best and hope to post a couple of times a week with a brief travelogue and a few useful links.

This beautiful manor house is set in tranquil countryside with seven acres of gardens in the Arts & Crafts style featuring upper and lower moats, yew houses, lush herbaceous borders and orchards.  The gardens have a very serene and unpretentious feel to them and it was very relaxing just wandering around taking photos.

Originally recorded in the Domesday Book as the property of Ernulf de Hesding I imagine the house itself looks much the same today as it did on its acquisition and subsequent rebuilding by local lawyer and landowner Thomas Tropnell in the 1470's,  Like many country houses of this age, the manor has a chequered history; from the previous owners the Hungerford family's support of the Lancastrian cause during the Wars of the Roses, to the Civil War and beyond.   Hungerford was executed in 1464 and his son in 1468, with no heir apparent Lady Hungerford gave our man Tropnell various rents and lands. Tropnell was careful not to upset either side in their battle for the crown and in 1471 he was pardoned by the Yorkists and in 1484 was twice pardoned by Richard III.  A lucky man indeed!

During the civil war the manor was garrisoned by Parliamentary troops between 1644 and 1646 and even withstood a short siege.  If walls could talk!

The Parish Church of All Saints is close beside the north east corner of the manor and was already more than 100 years old when Tropnell began work on the restoration.  He added a decorated spire and bellcote, a panelled porch and a chapel on the south side.

Unfortunately the house was closed on the day of our visit - typically we hadn't read the brochure properly - but it was a lovely warm day and the gardens were open to the public so it wasn't a waste of  journey by any means.  We were just thinking of moving on to the nearby village for a much needed coffee stop when we discovered that refreshments were available in the Motor Room.  Completely self-service offering tea, coffee and biscuits with an honesty box for payment. Now that's what I call hospitality!

Great Chalfield Manor is now home to the donor family tenants, who manage the house on behalf of the National Trust.
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Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Photo taken at Avebury Manor, Wiltshire

While watching the BBC2 programme Long Shadow this evening, the OH received a phone call from his mother with the sad news that her sister, his Aunt Rene had just died.  

Rene was one of three siblings, the middle child.  The feisty one.  The one who was always getting into trouble when she was young.  Vivacious and funny, getting away with so much, indulged and beloved, most of all by her dutiful elder sister. Their younger brother Walter died several years ago in his late fifties.  Too young.  Now, MiL the eldest by three years, is frail but stalwart, making the most of every day even though she is often in pain.  True to her generation she rarely complains.  Tonight however the tears came and we worry for her.

I cannot help thinking that not unlike the soldiers who by some miracle survived the horror of trench warfare during the 1914-1918 war to be plagued all their life with survivor guilt, the Mil is asking the same question.  Why Rene and not me?  We, and the rest of the family, will be taking extra special care of her, watching for that slip into depression that can so often affect the frail and elderly.  Vague and shadowy it can be confusing and devastating.

A family - two sisters and a brother. A trio.  Like a display of flowers, things always work best in threes.

Rest in peace dear Aunt Rene

1932 - 2014

Postscript: We've had lots of chats with Mil and she says she feels OK, we must not worry about her and that she is coming to terms with her loss.  It takes time, of course, but she expressed the view that at this stage in her life she almost expects to lose people of her generation.   She will not be sad, she says, but will remember Rene and the years they had together with joy. Wise words indeed.
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Monday, 15 September 2014

beautiful Bath

"If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, 
she must seek them abroad."

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Wiltshire and Somerset this summer and one of the places at the top of my list to visit was the beautiful City of Bath.  There are so many layers to peel back in this city of golden stone; from the Romans to the Georgian and Regency era to the often overlooked (for Bath) Medieval period - although I do know that Edgar was crowned King of England in Bath Abbey in 973 - right up to the excellent shopping and restaurants we find today.   Yes, this City really does deserve its World Heritage Site accolade.

There is something to see and experience at every corner.  Its location is stunning too, sited in the Avon Valley on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, its Regency Terraces stretching up into the hills that surround and make up the City, to a maximum altitude of 781 feet on the Lansdown plateau.

Independent, creative , unique and stylish, Bath is the only place in the UK where you can bathe in naturally hot spa water and original Roman style baths, making it the ultimate spa break destinations for thousands of years!

The street theatre is fantastic in Bath.  This guy didn't move an inch...

I was impressed with a talented young busker Amelia Orgill. You can find her Facebook page here.

Bath's popularity as a spa town soared during the Georgian era with royal patronage prompting all of "polite society" to pay a visit and take the waters, and for me Bath is most synonomous with this era and of course with Jane Austen, who lived here with her parents and sister Cassandra, the family residing at several addresses until 1806.  However, although two of her greatest novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are set in the city, Jane Austen was never truly happy there and wrote to Cassandra, "It will be two years tomorrow since we left Bath for Clifton, with what happy feelings of escape."

Thankfully my visit was much more enjoyable.

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