Sunday, January 30, 2022

Badgers, Birds and Keeping Out The Body Snatchers

Talk about a week of contrasts.  We started the week (or more specifically last weekend) by visiting a gentile English village and marked the start of this weekend in deepest, darkest Birmingham.   

After discovering some reasonably priced vinyl on sale in a Shropshire Antiques Centre (I bagged the Kate Bush album Never Forever, which sounds incredible!), we headed to a village at pains to distance itself from the short legged omnivores with distinctive white striped heads, despite being called "Badger."  I'm hazarding a guess that it was named after an individual who was, for whatever reason, named after a badger.  I like to think it was a village squire who, after a row with his wife one stormy evening, headed outside for some air, traipsed up a hill in a black mood, had an unfortunate encounter with Zeus and henceforth became known as Badger.  Subsequently, as a result of the squire being held in such high esteem, the village promptly adopted his surname and the rest is history.

Fantastical stories aside, Badger is a tiny little village with its origins lying in the Anglo Saxon period (it is referenced in the Domesday survey of 1086, comparing the situation at that point, with that before the Norman Conquest).  In reality, its name appears to have been taken from the tenant of the manor in the mid 12th century, William de Badger.  The village has barely grown over the centuries and in the 2011 census, was registered as home to 126 people.  

Here's the Thatched cottage reflected in the village pool...and resident duck.

The church, a 19th century Gothic Revival church built from sandstone has remnants of an earlier Medieval Church.  It's position on the edge of a tranquil pool was instantly calming.

Unfortunately we discovered the church at the end of our walk and were a little pushed for time, so whilst I have no photographic evidence, I can report that it contains some early Flemish stained glass and a memorial window to Dr Margaret Dix, who died in 1991 and was the daughter of the last rector and an eminent Neuro-Otologist, having published important research on vertigo which led to a common diagnostic tool for paroxysmal positional vertigo.

The primary purpose of our visit  however, was to locate the village's best kept secret; a stunning little wilderness created in a narrow valley landscape, known as "the Dingle".  

The area was landscaped in the 18th century by William Emes (commissioned by the British Tory politician, essayist, Old Park Ironworks owner and one time lord of Badger Manor, Isaac Hawkins Browne) to further enhance its picturesque qualities.  

Sadly the early Georgian house, Badger Hall (not named after a badger), was demolished in 1953, after years of neglect.  Once upon a time it allegedly housed the most incredible collections of Renaissance art and the consensus today is that had it survived intact, it would have been one of the most important treasured houses in Britain.  Here is is in its former glory.

The Dingle as it is known, comprises four pools, the two most prominent being Church Pool and the Town Pool.  The pools are the result of the damming of a small stream running down to a brook in the Dingle.  However, they had been a central feature of the village for centuries before as evidenced by an historical dispute which lead to Francis Kynnersley (Lord of the Manor in the early 1600s) threatening to "throw the rector into the pond".

The Dingle was opened to the public in 1851 and is now fairly accessible with a circular walk taking in the pools and the Dingle's other notable features, although it does have a few precipitous pathways and was very muddy when we visited.

There are sandstone outcrops and caves and weathered sandstone cliffs flanking the valley.  I loved this Ash tree, rooted in the sandstone outcrop.

A wooden bridge takes us over the Snowdon brook.

There were stunning reflections created by the trees...

...and a cascade!

This building pictured above, is a reconstruction of the Doric Temple, originally commissioned by Isaac Browne, now managed by the Landmark Trust as a holiday let.  Just after this photograph was taken, a couple appeared on the terrace with a bottle of wine.  Don't let the sunlight fool you - it was an icy cold day, but they were understandably determined to make the most of their mini escape.  Who can blame them?

In other news, we revisited Dowles Church, the eerie, abandoned church just outside Bewdley, mentioned in a recent blog here Winter Peach Photography: Answers on a postcard, found the mortsafe (a rarity in England) and a clootie - the pagan, early Christian tradition of hanging coloured strips of rag in trees, believed to bring about healing!

The Big Garden Bird Watch, organised annually by the RSPB, where the British public is encouraged to spend one hour in the garden at any time during a designated three day period, was a disaster last year.  The weather was flat, grey and freezing and the UK's bird population sensibly checked into a bird hotel and studiously avoided the majority of British gardens this time last year.  This afternoon, layered up like the Michelin tyre man, I sat, stock still, in the garden.  What did I see?  A pair of mating pigeons, a blue tit and a male and female blackbird.  Better than last year.

This was about as energetic as I felt after a night wandering the streets of Birmingham.  Last night, we found ourselves in the urban jungle of Digbeth in our second city, Birmingham, observing other forms of wildlife, but more on that very soon.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Seeing Stars

After last Friday's Birthday bomshell - our son testing positive for Covid, daily testing has delivered nothing but negative tests for Gareth and I, which is astonishing considering how transmissible Omicron is.  Conversely, friends of ours - a household of four - have all tested positive this week within a 48 hour period.  Go figure!

We haven't ventured far this week.  We delivered an order to a customer in Telford.  Occasionally we like to deliver to local customers.  We take pleasure in the inevitable resulting messages of surprise from bemused customers who had only placed their orders a matter of hours earlier.  However, after answering other queries and dealing with the other day's orders, a planned venture to Attingham for Gareth's birthday (we were born 5 days apart) was abandoned as we simply ran out of day!

Most mornings have offered up frost-lustred landscapes, followed by some watery late afternoon sunsets; none as rich in colour as last week's sunset on Kinver Edge. Winter Peach Photography: January Made Me Shiver 

Speaking of which, when we were there last week, we spotted another photographer in the distance, pointing his camera in our direction.  We nodded in greeting as we passed each other in that anorak way that people with shared interests do and continued on our way.  A few days later, I received a private message on Instagram "Hi, Is this you?" with an accompanying photo of me in my bobble hat and sheepskin coat, silhouetted against that Kinver Edge sunset.  It turns out we were already following each other on Instagram - the penny must have dropped for him.  Small world!  Luke's promised to share them with me when he's finished editing his other photos.

Our regular haunt, the Enville Estate, looks even more beautiful this week in mid winter.  Temple Pool, once a boating playground of the well heeled and well connected, was still partially frozen when we visited, much to the frustration of the resident grey heron (not in shot).  

The Sheepwalks, an idyllic area of steep hillsides...

...panoramic views and timeless-away-from-it-all loveliness, lived up to its name.  This woolly one was reflected in a natural pond on the hillside...

....and here's the aforementioned Kinver Edge, visible from the ridge of the Sheepwalks, floating in the mist in the distance.

On the return leg of our walk, we passed the old cold bath house (circa 1790 and part of Enville Estate's old pleasure gardens)...

...and spotted something sticking out of the boggy area surrounding the stream.  Considering it a danger to wildlife, we retrieved the offending item and discovered that it was an old enamel jug.  Now it may look to the untrained eye, that it's well past its use by date, but there was something about the patina and the arrangement of holes that appealed to us.  

I've cleaned it up as best I can and stuck a spider plant in it.  They're reproducing at a rate of knots and the holes will give the spiderlings plenty of room to branch out.

It may not be to everyone's taste, but it's certainly interesting from every angle.

Fashion-wise, recent weeks have been all about knits and patterns - not knitting patterns, but patterns of the botanical, spots and stars in your eyes kind.  It's curious that when spring's big fashion trend is colourblocking, I decide to embrace patterns, but then I don't tend to follow trends.  Instead, I keep a curious eye on them and only adopt them if I decide I like them.

First, the knit.  This cardigan reminded me of the cardigan worn by MM in her last ever photo shoot with photographer George Barris.  A couple of weeks ago, I did a little Marilyn inspired shoot, in an attempt to capture the lovely soft golden light of the original photos and showcase my thrifty find.  I do think this photograph would be greatly improved if it had been taken on the beach in Santa Monica, California, (not to mention if I looked anything like MM), but you can't have everything.

An Instagram follower and talented photographer, Diane Barlee, commented that it reminded her of the Cowichan sweaters from her Canadian roots.  For any interested parties, I'm sharing the link Diane sent me to an article devoted to the iconic garment.  Scroll down to the end for another pic of Marilyn in her Cowichan cardigan and "The Dude" from the excellent film The Big Lebowski rocking his.  Sadly mine is a High Street version, but being 50% wool, is very warm and toasty (and prone to pilling).  However, a real one has been added to my growing wish list.

It's cold outside | Wall Street International Magazine (

With all of this fashion talk, you may be feeling dazed and confused.  But if you're not seeing spots yet, you soon will be.  At this time of year, naked branches, dead foliage and seed heads are particularly architectural and throw wonderful shapes in winter's monochrome landscape.  

Nature's spots came in the form of this macro shot of these metallic looking seed heads (no camera trickery, just natural sunlight on paper thin foliage).  

A short time later, I had the brilliant idea to combine spots with florals!  Now I'm not claiming ownership of the concept of combining patterns, but I'm starting to wonder if, rather than slavishly following the ideas of some anonymous senior fashion editor, I'm sometimes subliminally influenced by nature.  The resulting outfit (a Kharibu dress (thanks for the link Vix) and a spotted thermal jumper  ebay purchase) work quite well I think and have reminded me how much I love monochrome.  Thank you Mother Nature!

For extra warmth, I found a tank top - ahem, apologies, that's way too 1980s - a sleeveless knitted vest, which works OK.

I haven't attempted any astrophotography recently, but I did capture the recent waxing crescent moon, photographed here from the street outside (you'll have to trust me on this one) using a cheap and cheerful (and clunky) 70-200 mm Tamron lens.  I really should do more of this. 

I love the night sky and when I spotted this starry Linea sweater in a charity shop, I had in mind a partner in crime for it, namely this vintage Alexon black and red check skirt with iridescent spots (which I thought was part punk/part skater girl).  

So, here we are again Friday.  We've finally got around to setting up our turntable (one speaker just visible in the photo above), after a campaign launched by the teen in the house.  We came along a little after the vinyl generation and in my childhood, I was mostly wired for sound courtesy of my Sony Walkman.  Later, my cassette collection gave way to cds and pretty soon, the idea of replacing my collection with vinyl was way too daunting, not to mention expensive.  However, we've done it and I have to say, the sound is incredible.  Our vinyl collection however, is virtually non-existent.  I have an old copy of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and Gareth has a few stashed away somewhere.  But where to start?  Yet another excuse to trawl thrift stores and charity shops.  

Have a great weekend and please feel free to leave a comment, or a recommended album for my shopping list!


Friday, January 14, 2022

January Made Me Shiver

How bin ya? (As they say in these parts). Well I wish I could say that I've partied as much as the UK government or experienced as much adrenalin as Prince Andrew in the week since my last blog, but I can't.  The past seven days have bled into each other; a blur of work, eating, screen time, sleep and repeat.  

My sleep has been troubled this week and I've certainly had no need for an alarm call - a woodpecker has ensured that I've been wide awake by 6.30 every morning.  We sleep with the window open most evenings (Lotte's escape route, plus I like fresh air), so this has eased the sonic flow of woodpecker drilling into my ears.  Did you know that woodpeckers drill not just for insects, but to make their nests - essentially hollows in tree trunks?  Even more impressive, when you consider the impact of drilling wood on a Woodpecker's tiny bird skull, is the fact that many of their nests could easily accommodate a duck!

On the subject of birds, Robin's were always referred to as "red breasts" because the first recorded use of the word orange as a colour name in English was not until 1502 in a description of clothing purchased for Margaret Tudor.

I discover all of these little gems during nocturnal reading sessions.  

Winter has really delivered this week and courtesy of sleep deprivation, icy roads and a pressing deadline, I haven't gone far.  These photos were taken around 10 paces from our front door earlier in the week. 

I have also grappled with a rather weighty issue - my hair.  It probably needs a trim, but the length is giving me more versatility to try out new styles, like this twenties hairstyle (inspired by the forthcoming Peaky Blinders series and my love of the era's fashion), involving Dutch braids, a small plaited bun and multiple hair partings.

There!  Apart from my scruffs and the unglamorous bathroom selfies, I'm all ready for the new roaring twenties.

This week's additional screen time has largely been devoted to completing the script I've been working on.  

Last year I made a promise to myself to submit it to the annual BBC Writer's Room Open Call.  It's really been more of a challenge to myself; a case of "I've started, so I'll finish", rather than being borne out of any expectation of being identified as the next Jed Mercurio.  However, when I realised on the morning of yesterday's midday deadline that our internet was down, I confess to almost having a little cry.  A screenwriter on Twitter attempted to come to my aid, but fortunately, my prayers to the cyber gods were answered and at precisely 11.58 am I hit the SUBMIT button, spotted the acknowledgment drop into our inbox and promptly headed out into the mist of the National Trust managed Kinver Edge.  Talk about flying by the seat of your pants!

Thursday was quite simply magical.  The beguiling partnership of a hoar frost and rolling mist set the scene first thing, but unusually the mist didn't dissipate as the day worn on.  Instead, the sun broke through in spectacular style, sending sun beams from the heavens and shards of light in amongst the trees....

picking out pathways, foliage and spider's webs...

...and making it very difficult at times to distinguish tree trunks from shadows.  

We were so in awe of the ever changing landscape, 

that we spent around two hours soaking it all in and chatting with other walkers and photographers, marvelling at the vista,

until sunset.

And so, to this morning, 14th January, the day of my birthday and yet another wintry wonderland awaits...and a Covid positive test result for our son (but let's not dwell on the C word).  Here are a couple of shots from our glistening garden.  

It's also Dave Grohl's Birthday (Happy Birthday Dave!  I know you'll be reading) and  National Dress Up Your Pet Day.  I don't fancy my chances of separating Lotte from her pizza box, do you?

On this day in 1514, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull against slavery  and in 1978, the Sex Pistols performed their final show at Winterland, San Francisco.

And there ends the history lesson.

Hand on heart, I am really loving this season, but that's not to say I'm not looking forward.  Finally and tentatively, I feel like making plans in 2022 and the first date on the calendar so far this year is in May, the day I plan to run away with the circus - Giffords Circus to be precise.  It's an enchanting, nostalgia-steeped village green summer circus with a supermodel and rock star fan base.  We went a number of years ago and I've been desperate to return ever since.  This year, Vix and Jon will be joining us.  

Tickets aren't cheap, but they are worth every penny.  So if you find yourselves in the Cotswolds area from April to September, grab a ticket while you still can.  Here's the link   Giffords Circus | Experience the magic of Giffords Circus and brilliant artwork courtesy of Joseph Avery.

Hope you've had a good week.  See you soon!

A Balancing Act

  I always find myself in a reflective, pensive mood at this time of year.  Life moves at pace and I'm finding it increasingly difficult...