Sunday, December 31, 2023

There's No Place Like Home

This Christmas has felt different somehow.  The years seem to roll seamlessly and speedily; one into another.  Perhaps that's the reason why this year, I didn't feel particularly festive...last year's still being fresh in my memory.  That's not to say I was in a melancholy or "down with Christmas" frame of mind; I just didn't feel that frisson of magic in the air.

With rain and wind dominating the forecast, our Christmas has been a quiet family affair, bookended by walks. 

We're all aware of the phrase "when life imitates art."  Well this festive period has certainly played its part.  The title of this blog no doubt gives the game away, but first rewinding to Christmas Eve and our first notable excursion, we headed into the Wyre forest in neighbouring Worcestershire, for an unseasonably warm walk.

The forest floor was saturated after heavy rain, but the waterlogged land beautifully reflected the mid afternoon sun.

We visited the creepy cabin built by the Cadbury family and still in use today, although, as you can see from the metal shutters (which are padlocked to boot), we and other members of the riff raff are only permitted to enjoy the view from the veranda.  Fine by me!  I do always think of Dorothy's Kansas home when I see this cabin.  

Oaks are amongst the last to shed their leaves in winter and contributed to the landscape's distinctly orange hue.

I loved these tree branches reaching for the dying light.

I added a copper infusion to this trippy forest photo.

The Wyre Forest is a very special place, but there's no place like home, as Dorothy would say.  I'm not sure I necessarily subscribe to this, but, nonetheless, the weather gods conspired to keep us there for the festive period.  

I cut some holly from the garden (only a little so as not to deprive the birds of berries or the woodland spirits of refuge before the trees regain their leaves)...

...and we lived by candlelight.

Gareth and I never go crazy with gifts at Christmas (kind thoughts and treats shouldn't be reserved for just one or two days of the year) and this year was no exception.  But, I am in love with my vintage Jaeger's a glimpse..

...and total bargain Monet print which now adorns the hallway.  I love its shabby frame and I'm sure it was destined for the skip had Gareth not rescued it on my behalf.

So, as usual, we lit the Christmas pudding...

...and watched some old classics on TV - me through a crystal ball like the Wicked Witch of the West.

The Christmas Day showing of The Wizard of Oz turned out to be somewhat prophetic as Storm Gerrit delivered a hooley shortly afterwards, including a mini tornado which descended on Manchester.

We spent the time well - reading, cooking, listening to music and enjoying some other old classics, including Hitchcock's Suspicion and Witness for the Prosecution, as well as House of Gucci, Saltburn (surely the most bizarre ending to a film in recent years?) and my old favourite and Christmas staple, A Christmassy Ted, the Father Ted Christmas special which sees the priests trying to escape from a department store women's lingerie department in true war film style.

In other news, the houseplants have been re-potted and are looking appreciative and the hyacinths have bloomed.  I'm almost certain their scent has reached you by now!

After the storm and pudding had settled, we headed back outside, blinking like moles after days of darkness, being sure to take in some hills and fill our lungs with clean air.  Here's our favourite Sheepwalks tree and glimpses of a rainbow sky.  

I never bother with New Year's resolutions, so I've started early on my recent pledge to use my Nordic walking poles more often.  I have too often forsaken them for walks with my camera this past year, but am determined to get myself more organised and designate days for photo walks and days for Nordic walks.  

The evidence is clear that Nordic walking increases calorie burn by 20%, boosts heart health and upper body strength.  Having been forced to lay off forms of exercise I used to love thanks to a particularly symptomatic back problem, including yoga, swimming and running, Nordic walking really seems to suit me and even gives me that "runner's high" release of endorphins.  Judging by my aching muscles (in all the right places) this morning, I'm already experiencing the benefits.

We've made up for lost time over the last couple of days and racked up a fair few miles.  However, I did pause briefly to take some video clips for you, which I've knitted together in a little homage to our Christmas Day viewing.  Please forgive the ending.  When I find a way to fade out the music, my conclusions won't be so jarring.

Brace yourselves!  Here comes 2024!

Friday, December 22, 2023

In Dreams


Life gets weird at this time of year.  Short days, long shadows, even longer dark nights temporarily illuminated by the glow of Christmas lights and candles, Santa trackers, gridlock on the roads, people feverishly shopping, the fog of alcohol, eating cake for lunch on a Wednesday...I could go on.   

Site of cake consumption (Archie's Attic)

After recently proclaiming that I couldn't remember the last dream I had, Morpheus was obviously listening because I've been having the most strange and vivid dreams inhabited by people and places I've had no recent connection to.  Oliver Reed abducting Gareth to take part in a stage show featuring Monty Python's Gumbys, Cillian Murphy posing as my personal and unsolicited breakfast table Art Critic, Joaquin Phoenix  donning a top hat fashioned from a continuous strip of apple peel and a generic mobile answer phone voicing my inner most thoughts and fears are just a few examples.  Most peculiar.

Many bloggers keep a diary to assist them in their blog maintenance.  Given that my musings don't neatly fit into any particular category, I tend to rely on my visual records...and judging by my recent photos, I must have been eating a lot of cheese.  They certainly seem to mirror my mind's nocturnal activity.

Night walking

A shepherd's hut in the sun

Tim Burton's Christmas Trees making their own way to his place!  Too weird?

Marilyn and her fans.  Actually, this one was taken on a recent visit to a local Antiques Centre and is on my mood board for a forthcoming photo shoot, so an explanation at least.

Generally my view when starting the car at any given point in December.

A recent experiment with intentional camera movement to capture the clouds at sunset.

Just look at the flames seemingly burning from within this property.  

I finally had a film processed from my old Pentax ME Super as it's my intention to use it more often.  The camera has been languishing in a drawer for more years than I care to admit to and so the film was definitely past its best.  I anticipated this and therefore took little care over my chosen subjects.  The resulting images were particularly grainy (even for camera film) but have a certain charm.  I may treat the camera to a service after Christmas.

In other news, here are some recent slow fashion treasures.  The bag below cost me the grand total of £2.00, simply because some of the stitching had unravelled.  The charity shop assistant told me that she wouldn't have put it on display if she'd spotted the stitching.  I repaired it within 30 minutes.  Yes me, the notorious needle dodger!  A seamstress I am not.  The Monsoon jumper also came home with me.

Some winter blues:  Levis denim jacket, Monsoon lightly quilted mini skirt and three quarter sleeve jacket.

These striking Alexa Chung Superga trainers (Vinted) are perfect for winter.  I fell for the patent black, the chunky souls and the buckle.  

A pushBUTTON navy cord dress I inexplicably listed for sale, recently fell in love with again and promptly unlisted.  I'm wearing it here with what is currently the hardest working garment in my wardrobe - a Breton roll neck jumper.  Honestly it goes with everything!  

I recall having a problem with the sleeves on this dress, but they're no longer an issue - even if Gareth told me I looked like a Victorian lady of ill repute.  Not sure if that's what the Korean designer had in mind.  According to a little internet research, the brand was founded in 2003 by Seung Gun Park and takes its name from a song by Madonna, who is cited as the designer's personal muse.  Combining avant-garde silhouettes with a streetwear edge, clothing features twisted seams, draped silhouettes and ruched details.  

The price tags attached to this label are way out of my league.  Online retailers specialising in luxe labels and emerging designers are slashing prices of dresses by this designer to around £700 from their original price tags of just over £1,000.  I think I paid around £7.00.  Clearly this isn't a household name as yet.  Isn't the fashion world strange?

I've also spent a little time nurturing my houseplants, repotting and splitting where necessary.  My cast iron plant (currently priced at £30.00 from Ashwood Nurseries) is now two cast iron plants and mother and daughter are doing OK.  However, the Chinese Money plant and Dracaena are both suffering from dry soil.  Each time I water them, the water runs straight through and when I leave them in the bath for a few hours to take water from the roots, the soil still feels very dry - even a couple of inches below the surface.  Also no matter what I do, I cannot rid the Dracaena of its brown tipped leaves.  Neither plant requires repotting.  Any suggestions?  Maybe I need to take King Charles' advice and talk to them.

Today I had a lovely catch up with friends, Helen Wayne, Redford, Saffy the fox hound, assorted felines (and fridge sentries) and new addition, the cutest spotty eared Jack Russell puppy I've ever seen, Scout.  I didn't bother them with my camera, but Saffy and Redford are just too darned handsome not to share with you.  Scout's too young to give permission.  Here they are, presumably photographed by the obviously extremely dextrous Saffy on Saffy's very own Instagram account @saffyfoxhound.



Helen and I had a memorable encounter buying coffees near Stourport's riverside basin, from a business owner who has mastered the art of appearing simultaneously irritated and disappointed when receiving customers.  We're planning to return, armed with a list of hygiene inspection style questions to keep him on his toes.  Three can play at that game!  The drinks were fine I should clarify.

Helen also gave me this beautiful basked of hyacinths, so soon we'll be appreciating their intoxicating fragrance.

I'll leave you with a shot of an angel from our Christmas tree, now taking flight courtesy of the magic of double exposure...and my early Christmas present, a re-issued single of Fairytale of New York at the request of Shane MacGowan's family with all proceeds going to the Simon Project, a charity assisting Dublin's homeless community.

Wishing you a Christmas full of festive pies, peace and people you love!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Craic

Photo:  Andrew Catlin

The passing of Shane MacGowan has upset me greatly.  I loved his fusion of punk and Irish music and whatever you may think of his lifestyle choices, he stuck by them, lived life on his terms and continued to write beautiful poetry throughout.  Hats off to him that despite being dogged by rumours of only having 6 months left since the late 1980s, he made it to 65.  

Now whilst I could never adopt his chosen lifestyle, I defend his right to do so.  We now seem to live in a world awash with meaningless inspirational quotes from bland celebrities and "influencers" and where the endless pursuit of physical perfection, identikit gym honed bodies and superficial attributes - new nails, brow trends etc etc...are too often prized above great conversation.  Yet, even in his drink and drug fuelled state, I'm betting that polymath Shane's company was more interesting and enlightening than most.  He also believed in unity, love and compassion and would never judge or pass a homeless person in the street.  He devoured literature and truly believed that drink and drugs stimulated his imagination and creativity.  Given his legacy, who are we to argue?

I also totally understand his attachment to Ireland, having visited numerous times. I am now feeling desperate to return. 

It's the people that make Ireland so unique, and this year, they've lost a couple of greats.  RIP Shane.  I know his influence was far reaching (tagging Beate in this as she was first to pay her tribute in blogland here: RAILWAY KEEPER'S COTTAGE : WINTER HOUSE. SNOW. LEGENDS. (

Digressing slightly, fellow hibernophiles and/or comedy lovers may also have heard of the cult TV series Father Ted, a 1990s hit show detailing the shenanigans of three dishonourably discharged priests exiled to a remote corner of the far west coat of Ireland, aka "Craggy Ireland."  

The central characters were Father Ted Crilly, Father Dougal McGuire and Father Jack.  Ted was the sensible senior (his questionable handling of charity funds aside), Ted his dim sidekick (26 going on 6) and Father Jack was a hopeless alcoholic who, throughout the entire three series, uttered only the following words:  "Feck", "Girls" (pronounced ger-uls), "Drink" and in a rare moment of coached semi-sobriety: "That would be an ecumenical matter."  

One of the most memorable episodes features a rebel priest, Father Damo, who leads Dougal astray with his smoking, drinking, ear piercing and talk of Oasis, before stealing a groundskeeper's whistle ("It's only a bleedin' whistle!")  Father Damo was played by comedian/actor/writer Joe Rooney, who is more widely known in Ireland.

In a strange twist of fate, I recently spotted that Joe Rooney was touring "A Celebration of Father Ted" and immediately booked tickets.  We were promised (and Joe more than delivered), music, insights into the filming of the series, extracts from the Father Damo episode (The Old Grey Whistle Theft), some great Irish storytelling and a Lovely Girls Competition (another episode storyline).  

To cut a long story short, I made the fatal mistake of answering a question posed by Joe at the event and ended up being chosen by him to enter the Lovely Girls Competition.  The criteria myself and my fellow contestants were judged on?

1.  A lovely walk. (I won).

2.  A lovely laugh (I didn't win).

3.  Making the loveliest sandwich (I won).

Ultimately, I was chosen as the winner and awarded the coveted prize, a whistle blown by Father Damo himself, handed over with one instruction "Never wash that!"

Even more surreal, I was approached after the show by a mother and daughter, who asked me for my details as she was planning to marry in the next couple of years, the Father Ted connection being evidently important to her.  Quite a night!

But over the last few nights, some of my favourite Shane MacGowan lyrics have been playing on a loop in my head.

I'm not singing for the future

I'm not dreaming of the past

I'm not talking of the first times

I never think about the last.

Beautiful huh?  I take them to mean live in the moment.

So for me, photography enables me to truly live in the moment.  Take these recent portraits from a walk around the vintage fairground at Stourport on Severn and on a shopping trip to Stourbridge.

I challenged myself to approach people I found interesting, engage them in conversation, before asking permission to photograph them.  I could have just walked past them and never thought about them again...entirely forgettable moments, but that pause and the resulting images enabled something more from those fleeting encounters.

Arlo, Hook a Duck stall holder

Jonas, Fairground Worker

Kai, friend of Arlo

Retro Toy Store Owner, Neil

Furniture Store Owner, Lynne

In the last 7 days, the weather has delivered Fairytale of New York festive vibes with freezing temperatures, "wind that blows through you", sparkling frosts and ice.  I've yet to decorate the house for Christmas, but have consumed a couple of Irish coffees and the odd pint of Guinness in Shane's honour - and to keep out the cold.

And, just as night follows day, as soon the temperature rises, in rolls the mist and rain.  I prefer the former, as captured here, just beyond the garden gate.

So, I've very much been focusing on work recently; forever trying to challenge and push myself in different directions.  I have a couple of exciting projects lined up for 2024 and have been framing some prints to offer for sale in a couple of local small businesses - Archie's Attic, a popular cafe in Enville and Eco Maniax, a plastic free shop in Stourbridge.  

But right now, December is a time to assemble and celebrate the people in our lives and I intend to do just that.  Cheers!

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