Thursday, February 24, 2022

Storms


Storm's assembled group of raiders

Rush in off writhing seas,


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Thundering footsteps gathering pace,

As they noisily take to the hills,

Hitting their stride on a landmass spine,

Howling their power where beacons once stood,


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Echoes of their war cries

Tracing his charge through the valley.

They jeer and pull at trees, securing branches in a hostile grip,

Urging, persuading, forcing them to join

Their chaotic brand of merriment.


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Some go willingly, others sit tight,

Battered and bruised,

Weakened from the fight.

Storm revels in his percussive fury,

An invisible Olympian, gathering masonry

And hurling it to the farthest reaches of the land,

Conducting clouds to burst 

In a crashing crescendo of rain;


The Severn Valley, February 2022


Filling, spilling and bursting rivers...


Whirlpool forming in the River Severn yesterday


River Severn, Arley - banks broken


...vanquishing land.


Bridgnorth yesterday


Storm circles and sweeps, playing cruel tricks,

Going over old ground,


Riverside bench consumed by flood water, Bridgnorth


Repeating the same tried and tested tortures

On already broken, reluctant playmates.


Arley, River Severn - small road bridge underwater


Flooded meadow on the banks of the River Severn, Arley

Tree debris caught by bridge, Bridgnorth


Submission weakens Storm's will

Until he stills - dispassionate, disinterested,


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Retreating back to the waves in a sun flare,


Bridgnorth and the angry River Severn, yesterday


His mirrored canvas laid bare.


The storm is over, but flood water continues to rise


I have been laid low this week by storms and suspected Norovirus, with just bland food and my note pad to keep me occupied.  Thankfully both subsided within days of each other, allowing two trips outside to (safely) capture the unprecedented flood waters along the River Severn, resulting from the recent triple storm assault.  "Unprecedented" in this context, is starting to lose its meaning sadly.  

I thought I would give Storm a male identity for a change (and Franklin was the last to pass through).  Other news may have played a part in this decision.  

Hope you're all safe and well.  Do send me your news!



Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Belfast, Birds, Booty Calls and Bargains

I finally got around to seeing a matinee performance of Belfast last weekend, the Kenneth Branagh directed film based on his childhood during the troubles in Northern Ireland.  

I can't include enough superlatives to describe this film.  It was, in my opinion, a perfect piece of cinema; big, brooding skies over Belfast cityscapes, stunning cinematography, great performances (notably from Ciaran Hinds and Jude Hill), innovative and impactful use of colour in a black and white film steeped in nostalgia and whilst the subject matter was rooted in a dark period in our history, it was treated sensitively and somehow remained largely uplifting.  

My only quibble would be the soundtrack, from Belfast's most famous son, Van Morrison.  Whilst I love many of the man's songs (having been introduced to him by my A Level English teacher, who drip fed me cassette tape compilations of his music), his reputation has been somewhat tarnished for me, given his stance during the pandemic and ill timed anti-restriction protest songs.  Still, you have to separate the art from the artist as they say.

Monday marked Valentine's Day.  We don't do enforced celebrations, so usually just exchange mildly abusive cards.  Plus, our Valentine's Day celebrations are forever reserved for the more momentous occasion of our son's birthday.  The timely arrival of a provisional driving licence through the post on Valentine's morning, could not have been better, especially as we had only applied for it a few days earlier.  

These little crocus bulbs were placed in their vases 10 weeks ago, where they remained, hidden in a darkened outside drawer, devoid of light and regularly topped up with water.  Late last week I brought them inside and into the light and the first blooms appeared on Valentine's Day.  Call it serendipity.  Two miracles of nature!

Outside, after yet another leaf raking session, I noticed that the woodland bulbs we planted are beginning to poke through.  Hopefully this will ensure we have some colour for a little longer.

As is to be expected for this time of year, the garden is displaying remnants of winter's assail and positive signs of new life.  

I always leave the lace cap hydrangea flowers alone as I think they are just as beautiful in their wintry paper form as they are in full bloom.  

The wood pigeons are a permanent fixture in the oak tree and...

...I heard them before I saw them; a group of long tailed tits visited in Wednesday morning's all too brief sunshine.  They are noisy, gregarious little birds.  I just managed to capture this one awaiting its turn on the fat ball.

In other news, Valentine's Day was not lost on this pair of frogs.  

The grapes are doing incredibly well for February!

Following last week's blog post, the Red House Glass Cone shared the post and left a lovely comment on my Twitter feed.  It's nice to feel appreciated, but I genuinely feel that our corner of the Midlands is somewhat under-appreciated.  Inspired by my visit and Lulu's comment, we dug out our inherited collection of Chance handkerchief vases, cleaned them up and here they are, altogether on top of the chest in the front room.

I've scattered them around now, finding complimentary settings for each, including this one, which works very well with the bookshelf Penguin Classics Sherlock Holmes series as a backdrop.

With a seemingly endless succession of storms and low pressure headlines and with work (and a stomach bug for me) taking over this week, we've not travelled far.  

I received a reminder from the producers of Grayson Perry's Art Club of the themes and deadlines for the forthcoming series, having entered last year.  Cue much head scratching and a decision to enter something for the category 'Inside My Head.'  That should scare the living daylights out of them!  Here's a sneaky peak of the work in progress.  I have an idea "inside my head" to transform it into something moving and tangible, but am currently struggling with how best to execute it.  I have a few weeks to figure it all out/completely change course.

I've also indulged in one or two shopping sessions recently and this might be a good week to share a few of my finds.

First up this Dents Baker Boy hat, which usually costs around £30.00.  I paid less than five.

This silky (Polyester) pale pink top by a brand I hadn't heard of (Danish brand Mos Mosh) caught my eye and cost me £4.50, which is a steal when you check out the prices on their website.     

Another lovely cotton top; this time from Parisienne brand Suncoo (£3.50).



A handmade Turkish mug, made in the traditional Ottoman style - £2.99.

Gareth picked up this cheerful vase from a local charity shop.  We love a splash of red and this little West German piece is just perfect atop the fireplace in "nature corner."

We have also added to our meagre vinyl collection.  I love Billie Holiday and after Lulu told me how amazing she sounds on vinyl (she's not wrong), we bagged a couple of albums, together with Led Zeppelin II and an old Stones album.


So, all second hand finds, the most thrilling kind.  

Mercifully, we appear to have dodged the worst of Storm Eunice and the sun has finally broken through, although I'm not sure she's here to stay.  How have you fared? 



Friday, February 11, 2022

Pet Cemetery and the Great Glass Mood Elevator

Bear with me on the title of this post....all will become clear.  Crystal clear.

Last weekend, after a tip off from Simon, a photographer acquaintance and explorer extraordinaire (check out his incredible recent drone photography on Instagram @sabphotos69), we headed a mile or so from our back door, to a little known Nature Reserve.  I say "little known" as unbelievably, we had never heard of it, despite skirting around, up and over it, throughout the years.  However, on this occasion, our mission was to find evidence of what lies beneath.


Overlooking the Smestow brook in neighbouring Staffordshire (here in Kingswinford, we straddle the border between Staffordshire and the West Midlands conurbation), the nature reserve started life as a 19th century ornamental wood, planted on a hillside close to the Chance residence.  

The Chance family were a West Midlands industrial dynasty. Originating from Worcestershire, they carved out a reputation for pioneering technology in glassmaking (and as hard nosed businessmen) after taking over a factory in Spon Lane, Smethwick in 1822.  Going from strength to strength, Lucas and William's business produced sheet glass for London's Crystal Palace and the Houses of Parliament and the white opal glass on Big Ben's clock face.  The brothers also mastered the sophisticated lews technology which revolutionised lighthouses along the sea routes of the world. In addition, they were known for popularising the vibrantly coloured slumped (kiln made) glass tableware, Fiestaware.

Chance Wood contains an interesting collection of trees from mature beech and oaks to hornbeam horse, sweet chestnut, silver birch and rowans.  The ground cover comes in the form of wood sage, foxgloves, rhododendrons and snowberry.  Ordinarily, this would be enough to keep me occupied with my camera, but having a dark heart, the star of the show for me was the Victorian pet cemetery.  

The graves of long dead, once beloved family pets were scattered amongst the undergrowth and stacked against the silver birches - perfect ghostly companions for all eternity.  

Even more curious were the inscriptions on some of the head stones.  Whisper: a lovely name, but a terrible end. 

Should it need pointing out, I felt that photographs of a Victorian pet cemetery were deserving of appropriate edits and so I created a texture and experimented with tones and contrast, to create a wet plate photography aesthetic (something I am currently a little obsessed with).

I will haunt you!

Venturing down onto more familiar turf, we followed the Smestow Brook a short way...

...and stared in awe at the spectral oak trees,


...before picking up a footpath crossing farmland and back towards Stourton Castle, a medieval hunting lodge dating from the reign of William II.  

During the reign of Henry II it became known as "the King's Houses".  By 1122 it was known as a castle.  

The castle has a long and chequered history, but here are a few highlights.  Skipping a few centuries, by 1475, the castle was in the ownership of the Duke of Clarence who, in that year gave it to Tewkesbury Abbey.  The castle was returned to the crown in 1495. 

Notably, the Castle was the birthplace of Cardinal Pole, whose maternal grandfather Clarence, was the brother of both King Edward IV, and King Richard III.  Pole was the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury and his mother Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.

There are also links to Henry VIII and a forcible change of hands during the Civil War.

The house was remodelled and partially rebuilt in 1832-3.  It was bought by glassmaker, Francis Grazebrook, a relative of the earlier tenant, and remained in the family until the death of his son O. F. Grazebrooke in 1974. The 19th century main front incorporates a late medieval gate tower.

Of course, it's no surprise that links to the glassmaking industry are everywhere in this part of the world.  Wordsley, my birthplace, was once a key player in the glassmaking industry.  Therefore, it only seemed right to finish the week with a visit to another local landmark, the Red House Glass Cone Museum.

There were numerous glassworks in Wordsley from 1776 until 1930, making artisan created cut glass items such as vases, glasses and objets-d'art. The famous replica of the Roman cameo glass Portland Vase was cut in Wordsley.   Read about it and see it here.  Collection Search | Corning Museum of Glass

One of the most famous glass designers was a Wordsley man, William Jabez Muckley. Another was John Northwood, and his son Harry, who helped establish glassware in the USA. Yet another who established glassware in the USA was John Northwood's friend, Frederick Carder. One of the most accomplished glasscutters was George Woodall, whose campaign led to the building of the Wordsley School of Art (sadly demolished in 2001 - much to the outrage of many local residents. 

Only a few foundation stones were saved....by another local Glass Museum.


From our illustrious past, the Red House Glassworks
, a 100-foot high glassmaking cone, survives.  Here are some glimpses of the cone on our approach along the High Street and then via a Wordsley back street.


View of the sixteen locks stretch of the Stourbridge canal towpath and the iconic Glass Cone 



Lead-crystal cut glass from Wordsley's heyday is now rare and collectable. Glassworking continued in the area, albeit at a reduced scale, until the 1990s.

Like most towns in the Black Country, regeneration is needed, but the cone is a huge source of local pride and its newly erected neighbour, the Stourbridge Glass Museum, is scheduled to open in April this year.  Hopefully this will further raise the Glass Quarter's profile.

Perched on a hill next to the Wordsley canal, my visit to the Red Cone was a great mood elevator.  It's so easy to take for granted these relics from the past - literally on our doorstep - and our historical significance worldwide.  With my mother in tow, our visit was impromptu and all too brief, but no matter, we can pop back at any time as the admission's free and it's within a 10 minute walk of my Mom's house.  

I loved the Art Nouveau glass safely hidden behind glass cabinets.


Inside, there are numerous exhibits and information boards, including this one, which featured a woman my Mom immediately recognised as a neighbour from her childhood.



We visited the "Shrower" a room which would have been kept under lock and key so that no goods could be removed.  My grandmother would have once worked inside such a room, checking the glass and inspecting it for faults before sending it to other areas of the factory for decoration and packaging.

Below is the annealing oven or "Lehr".  Incredibly, it is now the only remaining example in the world.






There are aspirations for the Black Country to become a Global Geopark due to the wealth of materials just below its surface and the labours of the people who used them.



Clearly the canal network greatly assisted in the transportation of goods and raw materials.

Outside, there are a number of local artisans operating inside these units, 


like this fine artist, specialising in charcoal portraiture,


and a lovely cafe with canalside seating.  


Don't be fooled by the blue skies.  There was an icy wind that could cut glass all by itself, so we shall make a more leisurely return visit soon.

Here's a view of the majestic Grade II listed Cone.  Unfortunately, high winds and heavy rain have damaged the bricks and mortar, so the cone is currently closed to the public whilst Dudley Council continue to raise funds for reparatory work...



...but it's still perfectly safe to take a peek inside from the safety of the doorway...and what a view!  


The glass furnace at the centre of the cone has a 7m diameter and is 3m high.  It would be brought up to temperature (a mere 1250 degrees centigrade) and held at this temperature for around 30 hours, in order to turn the glass to a honey-like consistency.  It could then be gathered up on the end of a blowing iron.


An unofficial rule of photography - don't forget to look up!


On the walk home, we cut away from the "cut" (canal), 


passing through an estate of 1930s houses.  Through a gap between these houses, we glimpsed another local landmark - Wordsley Manor.  


Readers of my blog might recall my recently produced postcard sets Shop | My Site 15371 (winterpeach.co.uk),  which featured this photograph of a jaw dropping Art Deco cinema, hidden deep within the walls of, you guessed it, Wordsley Manor.  I captured it in all its faded grandeur a few years ago when the Manor came up for auction.  


So there you have it.  A little local exploration, urban and natural and all within 15 minutes of my humble abode.  

I'm off to see Kenneth Branagh's Golden Globe Award and BAFTA nominated film Belfast later.  Have a good weekend all!  Until next time!




And I Would Walk 500 Miles

Don't be misled by the title of this post - it's a nod to National Hiking Day, which fell on Thursday 17th November and has inspired...