Thursday, July 29, 2021

Fashion, Fumes, Mills and Molluscs

As the world opens up, ours came crashing down on Friday.  We have a stray cat who visits us regularly.  She was a neighbourhood companion of our dear departed Mowzer and we have endeavoured to keep her alive for the past 5 years; leaving food out for her and nursing her through a nasty bout of cat flu.  I am using the word "stray" for the purposes of this blog, but those who know me, know that the situation is complicated.  Suffice to say, there are people in this world that shouldn't be caretakers of animals.  

After formally adopting Lotte the Tortie, the situation became ever more challenging, as Lotte does not tolerate other cats and can be extremely territorial.  However, with careful management, we managed.  Timing was key.  

Recently, we noticed that the little stray's (Oreo as we once decided to call her) breathing has been worryingly audible.  A vet once told me that she had probably had cat flu as a kitten, which hadn't been treated and that this could resurface periodically during times of stress.  For a time, we assumed that that was the case, until we noticed she was losing weight.  To my shame, I began to dread her visits, as I couldn't bear to hear her increasingly audible breathing and yet, she didn't appear to be distressed and always managed to eat some food.  

One day, I noticed that Lotte, from her lookout on top of the car, failed to react or make any attempt to send her off.  This simple observation was a light bulb moment.  Animals have empathy I believe and this uncharacteristic display of charity on Lotte's part, made us realise that something was very wrong.  We immediately grabbed the pet carrier and spent some considerable time coaxing Oreo from beneath the van.  We primed the vets who were expecting her, explained the situation to the best of our knowledge and were relieved when they agreed to take her in and examine her, promising an update later that evening.  On previous occasions, my enquiries have met with the usual suggestion of contacting the RSPCA, an institution that is nigh on impossible to reach by phone and with limited resources, they only tend to pay visits to those desperately in need and sadly not as urgently as the situation might demand.

As promised by Amelia, the kindly vet's assistant, Friday's update was that Oreo appeared to have an upper respiratory infection, but on Saturday morning, we received the sad news that further investigations had revealed a tumour on her larynx and she had been put to sleep.  We were assured that she had a peaceful Friday night in a proper bed and was given lots of attention.  We were shocked beyond belief, never suspecting anything quite so sinister.  It hurts like hell.

On a brighter note, I received a parcel through the post - unsolicited mail of the very best kind.  I had mentioned to my friend Vicky at our recent get together, that I needed a belt for a particular dress, but was not expecting her to raid her precious stock and send me one as a gift.  To demonstrate my gratitude and showcase the belt's versatility, here are a few photos of recent outfits, utilising said piece of vintage leather loveliness.  

Below, it's teamed with a 1960s handmade dress and vintage beads.

For those of you who read my last post, will recall my eagerly awaited Ebay purchase of a pink 1970s Mina of England Carnaby Street dress.  Here it is; in excellent working order and with some adorable gold trim on the cuffs and bib.  This one was made in India.

It was perfect for Saturday's overcast photographic excursion to Stourbridge to capture a biker gathering in memory of TikTok star, Fr3sh10.  We were unaware of this man, who lost his life in a motorcycle accident, but, anticipating a spectacle, we headed to The River Rooms, a Stourbridge music venue just off the ring road.

The 200 bikers that made it to the event under leaden skies, were encouraged to rev their engines before the police temporarily stopped traffic to allow them to ride in convoy around the ring road.  

The sound was deafening.  I can't even begin to imagine the decibel levels if the originally anticipated 2000 bikers had turned up.  I think the lower number was probably only due to the weather warnings that never materialised in the wild West Midlands. 

Love a bit of motion blur!

In stark contrast to Saturday, Sunday's adventure was way more sedate.  We headed deep into the Wyre Forest near Bewdley to seek out Knowles Mill, a derelict 18th century corn mill now under National Trust ownership.  It's an unusual National Trust property because it's mentioned in the guide book and there are some directions, but the route to the nearest car park is strangely absent of the usual brown National Trust tourist road signs.  With no phone signal or sat nav (we're old school), we had to stop in Bewdley to ask for directions and then again when the road became a single track road with barely any passing places.  Finally, we reached the car park and the mill was clearly referenced on one of the numerous walking routes through the heart of the forest, although the footpath along an old railway line, was still pretty vague.  We had been warned not to expect any scones at this property.

Armed with a little knowledge and instinct, we took the correct path and located the mill, situated next to the most idyllic country cottage on the banks of the Dowles Brook.

Now photographers always say that the best lens is the one you have with you.  Ordinarily I would agree with this, but the unfortunate combination of a 50 mm lens and a seriously steep, tree shrouded approach, would not allow me to capture the mill on camera.  The best view of Knowles mill was only revealed when we had truly arrived and I was therefore unable to frame the tall building at such close proximity.  However, it's the details I look for.  Below, was a stone tablet mounted on the wall next to the cottage.

I loved the patina on this old horseshoe mounted above the mill's entrance.

A lone exterior shot of a hatch half way up the side of the mill.

Inside, the mill had an atmosphere of a working environment, the occupants of which had left only moments before.

I was drawn to the windows.

Gareth was pleased to discover from a notice on the interior wall, that James frontman, Tim Booth, is apparently the man to go to with membership enquiries for the Midland Wind & Watermills Group.  When he's not performing on the UK festival circuit, he's now living in Halesowen apparently.

We spent a pleasant hour or so, walking along the meandering stream, but failed to locate the old graveyard and other promised hidden gems picked up from local Instagrammers.  This is unsurprising, given that I lose my phone, reading glasses and car keys on a daily basis.

In other news this week and in stark contrast to the peace and quiet of the forest, we combined a work related trip with a visit to Dudley's charity shops.  Dudley is a Black Country town steeped in history, but systematically ignored by successive councils.  It has some beautiful architecture but feels neglected and sadly violent crime in the town is on the increase.  I came away with a vintage necklace... 

...and a large piece of sari material for £1.00 which turned out to be entirely the wrong size and shape for its intended purpose!  The posh lady behind the counter was in a jubilant mood because she had just sold £75.00 worth of clothing to one customer.  On occasions, my shop visits felt hurried because I continue to feel unnerved by unmasked people in shops.  I will never understand the controversy over wearing a face covering.  It's apparently not uncommon now for people to be challenged in public in certain areas for wearing one; accused of "virtue signalling" and being labelled "sheep."   As for the Anti-Vax march in London at the weekend and the horrendous accusations levelled at NHS staff, I have no words.  Instead, I will express my feelings on this through the medium of Jenny Eclair.  Her tweets appeal to my sense of humour in this crazy world we're living in.  Scroll past if you are not a fan of Anglo Saxon language.

As an aside, I took a quick selfie the other day, to record for posterity my Van Tam t-shirt.  I meant to buy one ages ago, but finally got around to it last week.  In my eyes, the man can do no wrong and throughout the waves of Covid and mixed messaging, he is the voice of reason.  Only on reviewing the image, did I realise I was still wearing my reading glasses and I have derived great amusement from this photo, as I appear to be emulating the man himself.  Jeans and of course, vintage belt, are just out of shot.

Returning to Dudley.  On the way back to the car, we purchased some Teddy Grays Herbal Tablets (standard fare in these parts) from the Dudley-based confectioners founded in 1826 and still in the same family.  We also stumbled across an Irish pub called The Dubliners.  It was only mid afternoon, but they were already sweeping up glass just inside the entrance by the bar.  The revellers seated outside had fully embraced facial tattoos.  We continued on our way, heckled by the clientele, who for some reason, were interested to hear all about our purchases.  All life is here.

Our last, but probably most important purchase this week, is this....the Bee Thirst Aid Kit.  We've tried, with mixed results, to save a few bees recently, but don't always have the ability to give these exhausted little creatures what they need (sugar water to re-hydrate and re-energise), when out on a walk.  

The Bee Thirst Aid Kit comprises a small metal container of sugar water on a handy keyring, attached to seed paper containing Black-eyed Susan and Sesame seeds, flowers beloved by bees.  A QR code links to the company website where full instructions can be found.  I think it's a genius idea!

Back at home, the bees seem pretty happy in our garden at the moment, with the lavatera and sweet peas now in bloom.

Note the lesser spotted raindrops on the sweet peas?  Finally, we had a downpour yesterday and the garden was so were the snails, who were out in droves within minutes of the first drop hitting the parched earth.  They have since set about consuming the honeysuckle and in fact everything in their path.  It only seems fair that they pose for a few photos in return.  

In their own way, they're quite beautiful aren't they?  Only me?  Just lost your prize hostas?  Too soon?  
I have read that snails do not like ferns, euphorbia or rosemary, so I'm planning to surround anything precious with one or more of these plants.

Slugs the size of Bratwurst sausages are also gathering in ominously large numbers.  Don't worry, I'm not planning on trying to convince you of their aesthetic attributes any time soon.

Looking towards the weekend, we have plans to BBQ.  We're eschewing the usual sausages and burgers in favour of halloumi, king prawns and sardine fillets; partially inspired by memories of wood smoke and grilled sardines on the Portuguese coast.  A long awaited meeting to assist with the screenplay idea is scheduled for Saturday and on Sunday we're planning a trip to Oxfordshire.  The forecast is still unsettled and changeable, so what to wear?  I think I might wear rubber soled shoes for the lightning, a crash helmet for the golf ball hailstones, a waterproof coat (naturally) and perhaps, as extra protection in case of biblical rain, some Withnail & I style plastic bags - Sainsbury's of course.  I have standards!

What are you up to this weekend?

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Pinky and Perky

Every year I find that I am drawn to a certain colour.  Is it just me?  It's all very mysterious, but for some inexplicable reason it happens as sure as the sun comes up each day and, half way through the year, I will suddenly notice that my clothes rail for example, is awash with a certain colour.

I can officially declare that this season's colour (as far as I'm concerned) is pink.  It all started in the garden.  Now I'm by no means a fashion victim.  I buy what I like and our outside space is no exception to this rule.  That said, if I had the perfect aspect garden with plenty of sun, I would favour darker, more dramatic coloured flowers; black tulips, blue hydrangeas, chocolate cosmos, etc.  I wouldn't necessarily choose pink - or yellow for that matter, although I do love spring daffodils.  But our garden has other ideas and lots of shade to boot, so many of the flowers I love probably wouldn't love me back. 

On a whim earlier on in the year, when nothing was in flower and we were all walking around with our heads in clouds and our feet sinking in the mud, I bought a pale pink sun lounger on offer in Sainsburys.  In retrospect, my subconscious was probably drawn to a colour that is the very antithesis of British gloom and what better colour than pink?  You may recall I also painted our bistro table and chairs a shade of pink - Raspberry Sorbet to be precise.  

Since then, nature's had some input.  The foxgloves have flowered.  

Now the lavatera is putting on a show.  Suddenly, in our garden, pink is having a moment.

As for the wild pink geraniums.  They appear every year and everywhere and when you consider that Ashwood Nurseries sell potted wild geraniums for £10.00, we're happy to embrace them.  I've just pruned them back to ensure a second late summer bloom.  

This false goat's beard seems happy next to the pond and provides a touch of kitsch 1970s garden styling.  All I need is to arrange a "Brangelina" style photo shoot in the garden on the pink lounger with a huge beachball and an inflatable pink flamingo, cocktail in hand.  Maybe that's what Gareth was getting ready for the other day when said lounger, with little in the way of warning, frayed at the edges and sucked Gareth unceremoniously into the upside down (one for Stranger Things fans).

Back to our garden and all things pink, our sweet peas have also finally started to flower.  I bought a mix of grandiflora types dating back to 1900s as they contained some dark purple colours, but no prizes for guessing the colour of the first one to flower?  Pink, of course.

Prompted by Vix, I bought some pink tinged Mexican Fleabane.  

Who doesn't like a daisy-like flower and for a big garden, anything pretty that is said to "spread like wildfire" is welcome...unless of course, it's bamboo and then it can do one!  After a recent encounter with a couple of pigs - not Pinky and Perky, but Biscuit and Butterscotch - at Vale Head Farm, a small biodynamic farm in nearby Kinver (more on this below below), I Googled the question "Do pigs eat bamboo?"  (That's a good one for the internet history).  I'm pleased to confirm that they do root out bamboo and as we all know, goats will eat anything, so if I ever feel totally panicked by our bamboo and its relentless growth spurt gives me sleepless nights, I can remind myself of these facts and give serious consideration to starting a smallholding.



I knew very little about Biodynamic farming before we literally stumbled across this small local farm on one of our recent walks. It still don't know an awful lot, but it's is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming.  However, it includes various esoteric concepts drawn from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner.  

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, esotericist, and claimed clairvoyant.  We have a local Rudolf Steiner school in fact (attended by a couple of my relatives and, I believe, Robert Plant's son).  A Steiner education takes account of the needs of the whole child - academic, physical, emotional and spiritual and sees artistic activity and the development of the imagination as integral to learning.  The "taking as a whole" principle is also applied to biodynamic agriculture.  Initially developed in 1924, it was the first of the organic agriculture movements. It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks, emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives.

Some methods use an astrological sowing and planting calendar. Biodynamic agriculture uses various herbal and mineral additives for compost additives and field sprays; these are prepared using methods that are more akin to magic than crop production and soil management, such as burying ground quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow, which are said to harvest "cosmic forces in the soil".  Unsurprisingly, it has been labelled as pseudo science by some, but whatever methods Vale Head Farm utilises, it exudes an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, there seems to be a coherent plan and the animals appear content.  It's hard not to be intrigued by the concept.

My own reading material has been confined to Joanna Lumley's No Room for Secrets, which I can thoroughly recommend.  Whilst I like Joanna, enjoyed her in Absolutely Fabulous and have caught a few of her travel documentaries over the years, I wouldn't necessarily have elected to read her book.  However, a family friend passed it onto me and I was intrigued by the concept of this well written, autobiographical book.  I enjoyed getting to know her by participating in a guided tour of her house via its pages, discovering her London property's contents (she's a bit of a hoarder) and hearing the stories and memories her personal possessions invoke.

In one of the chapters, centred on the dressing room, she recalls memories of her favourite designers and labels from her modelling heyday.  Jean Muir was a firm favourite and Joanna maintains that she was hard to beat for her dressmaking skills and the sheer quality of her garments.  She also references Kings Road Boutique Granny Takes a Trip and another boutique with carrot in the name which now escapes me.

In this photo (one of my favourites from the book), she is wearing a dress from Granny Takes a Trip.  She also loves cats and is an extremely empathetic human being, so I think she's alright!

Somewhat inspired by her, although clearly not expecting to find anything from Granny Takes a Trip (rare and hugely sought after now), I decided to have a nose on Ebay for something interesting.  Recent searches have proved fruitless, but this time, I came across a gorgeous 1970s dress by Mina of England Carnaby Street.  I made the seller an offer which was accepted and so I await its arrival with bated breath.  If you're still with me, you might be wondering what it's like.  Well I'll tell you.  It's pink!  I'll endeavour to share a photo in my next blog.

Incidentally, Granny Takes a Trip also featured in this week's Secrets of the Museum on BBC2 - specifically a red lurex suit previously owned by Slade's Jim Lea.  According to Jim, every time he waved his arms around, which was a lot when you were a member of a 1970s glam rock band, the suit jacket arm seams would split and off he would trot to Granny Takes a Trip to purchase a replacement.  Apparently he got through at least a dozen jackets and was, for a time, one of the boutique's best customers.

In other fashion news, this week I became the proud owner of a Pony-O Bun Bar.  It's the brainchild of an American company, although they now have a UK supplier.  The pony-O is designed to give you a more voluminous looking ponytail by virtue of simple bit of tech.  The Bun Bar works on the same principle.

It's basically a large bendy two pronged tool which gives you a bun in seconds without the need for hair elastic, pins or indeed a mirror.  For someone like me who has always struggled to maintain a decent bun without getting a headache, it's been a gamechanger.  

Here's the link for the long haired amongst you. BUN BARZ – PONY-O

In other news, the frogs are multiplying - 3 at the last count.

These are either very large wasps or hornets.  Whatever, they were having a good time...

...and they weren't the only perky ones.  We did manage one short walk the other day in the heat, which was surreal for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I was again experimenting with intentional camera movement, stopping periodically to get some slightly abstract shots of the numerous silver birch trees in the woods surrounding Highgate Common.  The second reason was perhaps a sign of the times.

It started when we took a detour to get out of the midday sun and in an attempt to locate a large pond which appeared on the map.  We crossed a country lane and noticed a number of cars parked up.  I also became aware of a man on our trail.  He was alone and minus a dog, which may have been entirely innocent, but somehow he put my senses on alert - possibly because what are the chances of someone else getting lost and trying to beat a path through undergrowth in exactly the same place at exactly the same time?  We re-joined one of the numerous paths and spotted that a woman appeared to have lost an important undergarment in the undergrowth.  The area, like many beauty spots, has long been dogged by rumours of nocturnal dogging (sorry I couldn't resist!) but I'm starting to think that daylight dogging might be a thing and that we had inadvertently strayed into a hotspot. Maybe the weather is making these people bolder and even more frisky!  

I was quite relieved when I eventually spotted the man return to the lane with all the parked cars and we reached a more familiar path, although we did notice a mobile phone number scrawled on a piece of paper and weighted down by a rock in the middle of the path.  No message, just a number.  I have my suspicions. 

I think the heady combination of a heatwave and the releasing of restrictions has sent everyone a little crazy over the common.  Still, we're set to have the mother of all storms to end this unprecedented spell of hot weather over the weekend.  Gulp!  Hopefully that will dampen both earth and ardor a little.  

In the meantime, when sleep evades me, I've been roaming the street outside, looking for good night sky vantage points, pursued by my ever present, but useless photographic assistant, Lotte the cat.  Try as I might, she seems distinctly uninterested in learning how to carry a tripod!

Have a good weekend and please feel free to pass a comment!


Saturday, July 17, 2021

A Tale of Two Halves

There's nothing like the Great British Summer (climate change aside) to remind you never to make assumptions in life.  You may recall from last week's blog (Winter Peach Photography: Time Bending), my video of the torrent of water running through the wood.  It was a rain storm of biblical proportions and made me at least as wet as if I had driven a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, which would have been my preferred method of saturation, as opposed to traipsing through an area of woodland with denim clinging unceremoniously and in a deeply unflattering manner to my dripping flesh.

With the wet weather and slug assault on the garden in full force, I assumed summer was over....until the TV weather people started offering seductive glimmers of hope in the shape of a promised weekend of sizzling sunshine.  How fortuitous that we had arranged to see our friends Vicky (Vintage Vixen (  and Jon for the first time in way too long.  Today's blog, like the England vs Italy final, is a game of two halves.

I'm typing this in a cotton sun dress in 28 degree heat and basking in that special kind of Friday afternoon glow, courtesy of a pub lunch out (an alien concept these days, but only a short distance from our garden gate)...

...a monumental catch-up on a canal side walk and cheeky Friday afternoon gin (home measures) in the garden.  Suitably convinced that summer's back on, I can now bring myself to share with you some alternative photos from our recent trip to Devon.  After watching Rankin's recent TV photography challenge, I decided that I should try a warts and all approach to my photography and not just seek out the pretty pictures.  So here are a few bleak shots you won't see in a holiday brochure any time soon.

Here's a bench, a little way up Mars Hill in Lynmouth (trust me, you will need a rest even a third of the way up this hill) reclaimed by nature.

Being by the coast isn't all pastel coloured beach huts, glistening sand and sea shanties.  Seagulls are a growing menace and now, your average seagull is almost as big as an albatross.  Fact.  Conspiracy theorists (and there are plenty of those around now) might prefer to think of them as government drones.  Either way, they are great, white winged brutes.

Again, don't make assumptions.  One morning, we awoke to this - rolling sea mist - enough to bother any seaman trying to reach the harbour.  Within the hour, it had vanished.

Out on the wily, windy moor.

Run aground at Crow Point; a ship wreck retreating into the sand near Braunton.

A rear view of Damien Hirst's "Verity".  This was the best shot I could get given the people swarming around this infamous sculpture, on loan to the town of Ilfracombe for 20 years from its famous former resident.

Graphically showing  the foetus in her womb, Verity's not for everyone and caused controversy when it was unveiled in 2012.  Whatever your view, it's certainly striking and thought provoking.  How dramatic does she look, sword held aloft, looking out to sea?

Here's a shot of the sea....and not much more.  Coastal minimalism.

Given that this might be our last holiday with Covid restrictions in place (officially anyway), I thought I should record some of the signage for us all to look back on post Freedom Day (or collectively cry in our coffees to during their reappearance during the next lockdown).  Here's the distancing reminder on the approach to the funicular railway...

...and here's a rather creative way of marking out queueing distances outside the chippy.

Hats off to the Ancient Mariner Hotel in Lynmouth for this humorous set of instructions.

Finally - and you certainly won't see this on the Tourist Board website, but it happens in every city and in every town nationwide - leave a pane of glass long enough to gather a layer of dust and someone will feel obliged to inscribe a succinct message on it.  This pretty much summed up my feelings after the Euros final last Sunday.  That's not a comment on the players' ability by the way - more the pervading mood on Monday morning.

Still, enough of all that.  Back to colour.  I also took some time to capture the beautiful flowers in and around our holiday digs.   Roses were everywhere.  This beauty shed its petals in the churchyard, thus creating a faded pink carpet of rose petals; a second coming of sorts.

Another gorgeous display.

The foxgloves were still alive and kicking.

Along the coastal path, we spotted Sea Campion...,

....this pretty English Stonecroft succulent (I Googled this by the way),

....Sea Asters

and Common Birdsfoot Trefoil.

Evening Primroses also grew in abundance in the dunes at Crow Point, near Braunton - part of the Braunton Burrows Nature Reserve; a peninsula extending into the Taw and Torridge estuary.

Perhaps this is a good place to leave Devon and its delights.  Here's a photo that reminded me of the 1980s film starring Emily Lloyd, loosely based on the formative years of the eccentric suburban brothel keeper Cynthia Payne.  The film's title could also be the quintessential holiday postcard slogan for this image - Wish You Were Here.

Before I go, I'll leave you with this song from the successful young Irish band Inhaler, fronted by Bono's son, Elijah.  Their debut album has gone straight to number 1.  I think his voice definitely has echoes of his father's.  I quite like it.  

Inhaler - Cheer Up Baby (Official Video) - YouTube

So it's goodbye from us.   Here's to a splendid weekend.  What are you up to?

Atypical Tuesday

Sometimes life can get a little too comfortably routine and pedestrian.  That is where teenagers come in very handy.  In fact, there's n...