Monday, April 26, 2021

Lovejoy Meets Line of Duty and Other Stories

Last week was a tale of two halves.  

It was a fairly run-of-the-mill start to the week.  On Tuesday, I took Lotte the cat for her annual health check (I promise it gets better).  We have recently agreed to officially take her on as our cat. 

A brief history of Lotte (pronounced "Lottie").  Her mother lives a few doors down from us and Lotte and her two siblings belong to another family just a two minute walk from our house.  For whatever reason, Lotte was never keen on sharing her space with other non-humans and turned up unannounced at our back door around three years ago, in an apparently ravenous state.  She quickly mounted a charm offensive.  She was hugely affectionate, consumed three sachets of cat food straight off and made herself at home.  We assumed she was lost.

Once her belly was full, she tottered off again into the garden in the direction of the woods, but never seemed very far away.  Being a domestic long haired cat, she looked just a little bedraggled.  We've since discovered that it doesn't take long for that fur to start forming dreadlocks.  

This uncertain situation continued for a week or so until one day, Lotte arrived looking groomed to perfection and sporting a new collar.  The penny dropped.  We realised that this cat had a loving home.  I went on a more determined mission to locate her owner and tracked her down to a property in a neighbouring cul-de-sac.  

I kept in touch with her owner and we would compare notes on Lotte's whereabouts (usually our garden or sunbathing on the roof of the Rover P6).  Between us we tried just about everything to ensure that Lotte went home from time to time. We tried not feeding her or letting her into the house, but as we work from home, we were sitting ducks.  She could see us through the patio doors and would not stop calling until we let her in.

Her owner attempted to keep her in at night but this went down like a lead balloon.  Lotte would howl and scratch until, for the sake of sleep and sanity, the family let her out again.  During the summer months, with the bedroom windows open, it was not unusual for Lotte to suddenly appear in our bedroom in the middle of the night.  To this day, the bedroom window remains her go-to place to attempt to gain access when she fancies a change of scene at 2 am.  If it's closed, she will make herself known by mewing to be allowed entry.  She is a force of nature.

So she has effectively been our cat for the last three years (as much as anyone can "own" a cat), but last summer, she completely severed all ties with her previous owner, when they bought a dog.  Since then, we have fed and groomed her (with her owner's consent) and she now never ventures much further than our garden gate.  

We left the vet's £60.00 lighter and with a scraped car bumper.  I'm not having much luck with the car lately, but this time, I can't blame anyone else.  I reversed into the handrail support on the wheelchair ramp.  Just as well I was also working for part of the week! 

Despite our ever present feline, we do see a lot of birds in the garden.  Fortunately for them, Lotte spends much of her time sleeping in bushes.  She doesn't realise that the bird bath is where it's at.  The blackbirds love to bathe in it and the robins, sparrows and other small birds love drinking from it.  I may be a nature lover, but I do tend to charge up the garden when I see a pigeon anywhere in the vicinity, as they empty the thing whenever they attempt to take a bath (they barely fit!), which then necessitates long trips up the garden with the watering can.  They also love to emulate Jackson Pollock's style of art and decorate everything below their flight path.

The blackbirds continue to titivate their nest and our patio is continually strewn with bits of moss and twigs that they drop en route to their increasingly swanky pad.

Here's the lone pond skater I mentioned in my last post.  You can just about make him out in the centre of this photo.  

The action was confined to the latter part of the week.  Gareth found himself at the centre of an unfolding drama on Thursday.  After carrying out some minor work on the car, he decided to take it for a spin, heading to the very rural and very small Halfpenny Green Airport (now better known as Wolverhampton Business Airport).  

These photographs were taken recently in the surrounding fields where you can see remnants of the RAF's original aerodrome buildings.

The Airport Time Forgot - old portakabin

As he approached the airport car park, he was surprised to see a number of police riot vans and several unmarked cars parked in nearby lanes.  The closer he got, the more vehicular activity there was.  He decided to call into the Antiques Centre on site, but Claire, the business owner, was at this point oblivious to the police activity. 

 As they chatted, yet more police cars and vans arrived, bringing armed police officers and an air of clear and present danger to this tranquil scene.  Gareth counted around a dozen police vehicles and at least 50 armed officers.  Within minutes, two had approached the Antiques Centre and advised Claire to lock herself and the other three occupants (including Gareth) inside as there was a dangerous criminal at large.  It was Lovejoy meets Line of Duty!  

Not Inspector Morse, but close

After 40 minutes in a building without a mobile phone signal, Gareth, somewhat rashly, decided to make a break for it and headed home.  As he left the airport, another police vehicle sped past him and the occupants of the numerous parked were rubber necking - staring at him intently as he drove past.  Mercifully, there was no hot pursuit; they clearly knew who they were looking for.

Bizarrely, there has been no reference to any of this on the local news or in the press.  Should we be worried?  With the airport only being a few short miles away, we've been double checking that our doors are locked and sorry Lotte, but the bedroom window's staying closed for now.

I called Claire on Friday morning and she confirmed that the airport had indeed been put into lockdown on Thursday afternoon (she and her customers being the last to know) and in the absence of any other instructions, technically, Gareth should still be there now!  The police are continuing to look for their "perp." It seems that so far, it remains mission impossible.

It's taken AC-12 10 years and they are still struggling to identify "H".  Halfpenny Green airport was originally called Bobbington Airport, but the name was changed to avoid confusion with RAF Bovingdon in Hertfordshire.  "H" for "Halfpenny Green."  Am I onto something?

I'll leave you with some bright and cheerful weekend images of local rapeseed, including one featuring an incongruous red chair.  Why it's there is yet another mystery.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Rule of Five: Gardening by Narrowboat Signs

 According to my Almanac's month-by-month instructions for gardening by the moon, the remainder of April in the garden should unfold as follows:-

1st quarter to full moon: 20th -27th April:  Sow crops that develop above ground.  Plant seedlings and young plants.

Whilst I have the greatest respect for people who grow their own vegetables, I have yet to develop that level of devotion to the soil.  Our neighbour who, like the Duke of Edinburgh, died just short of his 100th birthday, maintained a typical post-war garden and was the first to admit that his successes were more than matched by his failures.  As I recall, in spite of his sunnier garden, the main crops he harvested were runner beans (can't stand them), rhubarb and potatoes.  The one good tip he gave us, which worked, was to bury a couple of sprouting potatoes in a bag of compost and let nature take its course.  

Our garden is best described as "established;" shaded by many tall trees, excluding the woodland.  Suitable positions for a greenhouse are non-existent and I can't face investing so much time and effort into growing my own, only to be rewarded by a handful of salad once a month.  Last year we attempted to join in with the first lockdown trend of growing our own and whilst our tomato plant looked and smelled incredible, providing an impressive bounty of tomatoes, they were disappointing in texture.  Similarly, our coriander could not grow fast enough to match our demand.  The edible flowers were enjoyed by the slugs and the rainbow chard never appeared.  What we do have are ageing apple trees (one still yields good cookers), plum trees, a raspberry bush, black, red and white currant bushes and, save for a planned herb area, that will have to do.   We're leaving it to the experts this year and concentrating on other projects.

So this month, instead of gardening by the moon, I have been guided by the narrowboats (bear with me).  I've recently become a little bit obsessed with narrowboats and I particularly love narrowboat signwriting.  

I've started a photographic record of my favourites (just for my own personal amusement), but amongst the limited number I have so far, parallels can be drawn between five of the signs and what has been occurring in the garden.  Warning:  Some are quite tenuous.

Jack Frost visited every morning last week.

A couple of times, I broke ice on the surface of the bird bath and the recently filled pond so that the blackbirds could have their morning bath.  

We've been impatiently waiting to plant some marginals and for signs of life to start emerging.

Vitre, from the old French word, meaning "pane of glass" is pretty apt.  In a previous blog post, I mentioned our collection of old glass blocks.  Gareth also skip dived for a couple of stained glass cupboard doors (the glass being the attraction).  Put the two together, loosely assembled, and we have a makeshift cold frame!

Inside, we've been keeping young cosmos and delicate marginal pond plants until the threat of frosts has passed.  I will add my Hollyhock seedlings when ready, to acclimatise them.

A few days ago, we decided to go for it.  The cosmos are now planted up in a Belfast sink.

The pond is gradually taking shape.  We've used the pebbles I had collected from digging in the garden (plus a few larger ones acquired from a ploughed field next to the woods) and created a beach area around the shallow area of the pond for easy wildlife access.

The logs are principally there to disguise the pond liner.  We're working with what we have.  This area was originally home to a Gunnera Manicata, but that didn't survive the winter and a replacement now resides in our kitchen, awaiting planting.  The plan is to plant behind and around the pond area with a few evergreen ferns and to add a some strategically placed larger boulders, so that over time, we can lose some of the wood and have a softer, more natural look.

We have some marginal pond plants; bulrush, iris, water mint, marsh marigold, water figwort and ragged robin, plus water violets and Myriophyllum crispata (upright water milfoil) for oxygenation.  

At last, just in time for the end of the school Easter holidays, the temperature hit double figures and the first tulips are flowering!

Finally, I was able to don my Kinky Melon kaftan (thanks Vix) and enjoy quality time in the garden.  Excuse the dirty feet!  

We had the first BBQ of the year....our own rule of five.  The three of us, plus my Mom and Gareth's Dad.

Mom, sampling the first sausage, bathed in BBQ smoke-diffused sunlight

My father-in-law and BBQ King
       (Top BBQ tip:  Beans and fried onions combined).

I pottered and photographed insects (I'm surprisingly OK with them when we're separated by a camera).

And yesterday provided another cause for celebration, when we spotted our first visitor to the pond.  No, not Lotte the cat, who now refuses to drink from any other vessel...

...but a pond skater!  Apparently, pond skaters and water boatmen are usually the first to move in.  We're hoping more will follow. 

Happiness can be found in the most unlikely places - which leads me to mention the late and already greatly missed Helen McCrory.  I was moved to tears by her husband Damian's tribute, published in The Sunday Times.  She was such a great role model for women.  One thing in particular resonated with me.  

"Some people believe happiness is a right, some people find happiness difficult.  Helen believed you choose happiness."

Have a good week!

Friday, April 16, 2021

Shine Bright

 I have Katherine Ryan to thank for this post.  I've never been a huge fan of hers.  She is witty for sure, but I always find her quite cold and seemingly hard hearted.  I appreciate that it may well just be part of a carefully crafted persona and in reality she's a sentimental old fool and a lover not a hater, but sometimes it's hard to see where her tough girl schtick ends and Katherine begins.  

That said, I recently really enjoyed her series The Duchess and so I thought I would give her latest TV venture a go.  Although I'm tired of formulaic TV craft talent competitions, I am a bit of a magpie, so thought I might enjoy All That Glitters (a jewellery maker's version of GBBO, Great British Sewing Bee, The Great Pottery Throw Down, Pooch Perfect et al).  At this rate, soon there won't be a profession untouched by the TV talent contest format (Epic Embalmers?  Prominent Panel Beaters?)

Anyway, I watched the show.  It was based in the world renowned Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham (12 miles down the road from me).  I was in awe of the contestants' creativity, but have to say, I am weary of the formula now.  I find it all a bit tired and lame and just a little demeaning to the subject skillset.  It's stretched to fill an hour's TV slot.  As lovely as many of the contestants were, I just want to see the finished results and not hear Katherine suggest that she has subjected one of the male contestants to a paternity test regarding her offspring.  Still, it inspired me to go through the archives and revisit the images I captured on a photo walk around Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter a couple of years ago - re-editing them in black and white.  I've also been practising my product photography on some of my own pieces of jewellery.

When I last visited, the Jewellery Quarter was a hive of activity; construction sites seemingly on every corner as the area gradually undergoes a transformation into urban village and hub for creative businesses.  I love the architecture and the mix of old and new as per the image above.  Historic grandeur rubs shoulders with gritty urban graffiti.

The 1.07 square kilometre area has a rich history in jewellery making and supplies employing over 30,000 people at its peak in the early 1900s.  Pickering & Mayell Ltd (above) was incorporated in 1913 and specialises in hand made window displays and cases for the silver trade.  

Silver has always been my precious metal of choice (pale skin, blonde hair).  Here's a ring I am never without (apart from when taking this photograph, obviously.  That's pussy willow, not a particularly gnarly finger).  It's the Air Alchemy ring created by Bloody Mary Metal.  How you wear it apparently demonstrates your affinity to a certain element.  I wear mine upside down (as per the photo), which apparently shows I have an affinity to Earth and not Air.  My fear of flying and love of nature certainly support this.

The company's origins are in beautiful Cornwall and Bloody Mary Metal is a sustainable jewellery brand.  So far, so great.  The brand's style is described as combining "edgy themes reminiscent of eighties punks and the softer side of the Bohemian seventies."  Again, this ticks one of my boxes - a penchant for seventies vintage (I'm not quite there with the eighties vintage yet - I remember living through that decade and still can't shake off the shoulder pad flashbacks).   

Their collections are also divided into Dark Side and Light Side.  I can relate to this in photography terms.  Whilst I'm drawn to the dark side in terms of the editing process, many of my photographs being under exposed and moody in atmosphere, my Instagram feed occasionally throws up brighter, more ethereal edits.  It's all very mood dependant.  I don't like to conform to one specific style.  My ring is from the Light Side, but I have my eye on the Dark Side (specifically the Triple bone ring, the Ruby Red Polaris and the Ziggy ring).

If this sounds like your kind of jewellery, you can view the collections here.  

Dark Side Archives - Bloody Mary Metal

Talking of Ziggy, as a Bowie fan, I purchased his last and darkest album Black Star back in 2016 and around the same time, created this pendant, subconsciously inspired by his passing I think.  Somewhere buried at the back of our workshop, is a jewellery kiln.  I must dig it out.

I've also picked up bargains in charity shops and antique centres over the years.  This unusual (mid century?) pendant is has a St Christopher on the reverse side.  It cost me less than a fiver.

This chunky ring was purchased in an antique shop in atmospheric Whitby.  The upright positioning of the diamonds (I can dream!) remind me of grave stones...or ribs....all very gothic and Whitby.

It has these markings inside...

...which I keep meaning to investigate.

Back to Brum, how impressive is this welded metalwork building entrance?  On a smaller scale, this could be an abstract bangle.

My most recent purchases (below) were listed on Ebay as vintage Turkish Silver.  I have no idea whether or not this claim is true, but whatever the origins - Turkish and Tribal or copies from Camden - the cuff is certainly heavy and ornately decorated, with a pin fastening.  They're not for everyone, but I like them.

So, considering this was going to be a blog about the latest garden and cat related developments, I've failed dismally haven't I?   Plus, my bed is now covered with jewellery.  

Have a wonderful weekend!   

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Fashion, Fur and Freedom

Well we're knee deep in April now and still there's an unseasonably cold bite to the wind and strange polystyrene-like snow showers in between the spells of spring sunshine.  All of our planting plans are on hold, as we don't have a greenhouse (nowhere to put one, not keen on plastic).  Consequently, our kitchen is slowly but surely morphing into a makeshift hothouse.  There are Cosmos flowers on the kitchen counter, a dwarf Rhododendron in full bloom on the kitchen floor, alongside a Gunnera Manicata, embedded in compost and a buried Elephant's Ear rhizome, which is stubbornly refusing to make an appearance.  Oh, and not forgetting the pond plants standing proud in shallow baths of water and the large and ailing spider plant being nursed back to life. 

I also have lupin seeds and plans for sweet peas, but like some kind of horticultural conveyor belt, I need to move some pots outside before I can start cultivating anything else.  Can we please stop with the frosts now?

That said, the threat of the mercury dipping below zero does afford me an excuse to buy knitwear.  

This gorgeous 1960s jumper arrived over the weekend.  Labelled "Ivanhoe" (Swedish??), it looks as though it's been in storage for the last five decades.  It's immaculate!  I'm hoping I can manage to wear it more than a handful of times before it's pilled, clawed by the cat or its pattern takes on a more abstract form courtesy of some stubborn stain.  

Over the weekend, our daily walks took us along the local canals.  Firstly, a stretch between Wordsley and Stourbridge (once the centre of England's glass industry), passing these old factory units, the perfect subjects for urban exploration photography.  I think they look like a film set.

There's never a dull moment along the canal.  An elderly lady pushing her Scottish Terrier along the towpath in a pushchair, suddenly abandoned the pushchair, crossed back over the bridge and started calling for "Billy."  I took the opportunity to capture the confused looking canine, only to realise, minutes later, that Billy was not, as I suspected, another four legged companion, but in fact the lady's grandson! Something a little back to front about the whole scenario.

A little further along, we spotted a white cat.  A sign of good luck?  Potentially not for these ducks.  The murderous intentions of this cat were in evidence in its furry feline features and intense gaze.  The ducks did well not to make eye contact.  If they had, I'm sure their fate would have been sealed.  Thankfully, they had the advantage of water and lived to quack another day.

Sunday took us along another, more tranquil stretch of canal, in the nearby ancient parish of Kinver.  Tranquillity was what was needed after five days of an off and on headache.  Only just shy of two weeks since having had my first Covid jab, my hypochondria was kicking in and I was convinced I had a blood clot, despite all of the information suggesting that the headaches would be constant, severe and accompanied by other symptoms.  More likely, was that I was in the grips of a nagging tension headache.  It's now cleared. 

More cats!  There were no less than 3 felines afloat on this narrowboat.  Only two are visible in this image.

Here's the third.  I almost missed him as we passed by, hence my shoddy focusing.

We also enjoyed a visit from our friends at Brutebox.  They make amazing sound systems out of old ammo boxes, fuel cans and other unlikely casing structures, powered by a battery with enough oomph to run a camping shower.  The twin temptations of music and keeping clean make them a hit with festival fans.  Gareth designed a range of promotional stickers for them and so I was tasked with photographing them for the website.


This is our Brutebox, styled/embellished/distressed by us with a handle of horns, Voodoo Street stickers, our spray painted, stencilled Voodoo Street logo and air rifle bullet indentation.
You can read more about them here.  BruteBox - Unique ex-military ammo box music players

Yesterday marked the further relaxation of Covid restrictions, so we took a trip to the twin towns (High Town and Low Town) of Bridgnorth in Shropshire, linked by a Victorian funicular railway and nestled on the banks of the River Severn.

High town was bustling, with many people now electing to wear masks in the street.  The town's cafe culture appeared to be back in full swing. 

Small groups of youngsters sat on the castle walls (offering the best views of the valley below).  One shouted that she liked my jumper.  Everyone seemed high on life.

This beautiful Bengal cat lives in a house bordering Castle Walk, but here he is, doing what cats do and heading into another property several doors down.

Society is gradually opening up for everyone now, not just cats.  This retro road sign, which I must have walked past hundreds of times, made me smile (OK I have a dark sense of humour), its message having added pertinence in the Covid climate.  

So to summarise my first day of freedom, we drove to a destination 14 miles away, visited one shop (Superdrug), spoke to 2 people outside of our immediate family (the shop assistant and jumper girl), but stopped short of dithering in a beer garden....and was such a good feeling. 

What did you get up to?


It's been a curious week of unexpected connections, conversations, sights and sounds, underpinned in some shape or form by panic. I was ...