Saturday, 20 September 2014

Spanish Surprise...

 Most happily-partnered people believe that their other half is nigh-on perfect...and I am no exception. My faith was more than justified last weekend when I was whisked away for a surprise 3 night break in....
 Seville!
 I was told nothing...except that it would be hot, and that I'd need my passport....SO exciting! I didn't know our destination until we looked up at the departure screen at the airport, but it's somewhere we've both wanted to explore for a while...
 We stayed in a gorgeous, small townhouse bed & breakfast in the heart of the old Jewish quarter...with streets so narrow that the tops of the houses either side almost touched across them...
 ...just 6 rooms were arranged over 3 floors around a central atrium...with a roof terrace bathed in sunshine...
 ...such a calm and cool place...I sat in this chair to write on the Sunday morning...Mozart's 2nd Horn Concerto floated through the open french doors from somewhere further down the street...could it have been any more perfect?!
Seville is right at the heart of Andalucian flamenco country...some of the outfits were amazing! I even spotted a shop selling special Flamenco underwear - I guess to help smooth the way into these figure huggers! It's also a very religious area...a few streets near the cathedral were full of shops competing for the papal euros!
Another thing that Spain - and Andalucia in particular - is famous for, is bullfighting. Thankfully, this hideously cruel and archaic practise is now outlawed in the province of Catalunya...and I can only hope that this is extended throughout the country in the near future. There were many bars that we avoided as they were decorated with the severed heads of these majestic and beautiful creatures. It may be traditional, but then so was bear-baiting and burning witches at the stake once! So, instead of photographing anything to do with the real thing, I found this rather lovely and comical fibreglass version peeking out of a t-shirt shop...
Southern Spain and its architecture is so heavily influenced by the Moors who once occupied this area...and what an amazing legacy they left...the colours are gorgeous...there is a particular deep blue that I always associate with this place...
...and as contemporary as it gets, Las Setas de Sevilla (setas are mushrooms - you'll see why!) is a brand new construction (it's actually made of wood!) that sits in a formerly run down part of the city and houses the fruit & vegetable market...
 
You can take a lift to the top, where there is a walkway all the way around with amazing views over the city and a great terrace to enjoy a drink while taking in the scenery...

We loved the juxtaposition of very old with very new....but, naturally, our favourite places were the many bars and restaurants....the tapas culture is an appealing one! You find a bar, order a drink and a tiny plate or two of delicious food...spinach with chickpeas and (very) garlicky prawns were two favourites...very reasonable prices too! They are popular with all sorts of people...the Spanish love children and they are used to eating out from an early age. Then you move on, and do it all again!
It's usually cheaper to eat sitting up at the bar, perched on a stool...there is an extra charge for table service. But it's much more fun to stand in a crowd, elbow to elbow, trying to attract the waiter's attention! The picture below was probably our favourite 'haunt' of the weekend...an hour before this was taken, it was absolutely heaving with people...
...see the legs of 'jamon iberico' (Iberican ham, from free-range pigs who graze on acorns) hanging from the ceiling? Ubiquitous all over Spain...
The images I will take home are of colour and pattern...beautifully decorated tiles and woven textiles...


...everywhere you look! Even the walls of the many, many churches are decorated with lavishly painted tableaux...

...my other memory will be of the heat. Bearable but intense. Siesta never seemed such a good idea! There is a whiteness to the sun's glare in the middle of the day that is unmatched anywhere I've been before, except perhaps Australia...
...and walking home late at night, arm in arm, with a salted caramel ice cream slowly melting in my hand...the velvet darkness chirping with cicadas...the streets lined with citron trees, heavy with fragrant fruits...feeling so lucky and happy...

Good memories....and a very special weekend.

I hope you are having fun today, wherever you are! xx

Saturday, 6 September 2014

If these walls could talk...

 And so September has begun. Thus far it's been warm, with golden afternoons...just as I love them to be..
 ...full of dandelions and the first curled, crisping leaves falling in the churchyard. I've posted briefly before about the walls that surround us here, and some of the marks on them...but after almost 15 years I've only recently begun to stop and properly look at them. Our museum, which has some walls that run parallel to the church path, was once the Boys Grammar School in town (long since moved)...and I've noticed that many of those boys left their mark...

 Who was 'W. Yates' I wonder? You can distinguish the old graffiti from the new (which is, of course, there too) by the much more ornate formation of the letters...

 Proper handwriting would have been drummed into 'G.Cox' back in 1915...

 Isn't it wonderful to see this and wonder? Humans have always and will always want to make their mark...
 ...to leave a sign that they were once here....that they mattered...

 (I loved this glazed brick too...)
 I think I see 1835 in the traces above....
 The back walls of the school (and there was another school and a workhouse situated behind it, too) were used to sharpen slate pencils...
 ...for many, many years, judging by the deep grooves that are left...
Our neighbours' garden was once a walled orchard and dates back to the 1600s...
as I passed on my way home I was delighted to find that someone long ago had etched this little butterfly into the brick...

 ...and whose cat was wandering in the brickworks that day?! When you live in an area with so much history, you begin to learn how to spot it everywhere you look. Our home was part of a farmhouse when it was built in the late 18th century, and this cobbled area on the pavement....
...marks the spot where the carts and carriages would have travelled in and out of the farmyard....before the 'modern' Victorian cottages were built that now stand where the cowsheds and manure piles once did. And long, long before any of us who live here now were even thought of...even our 95 year old next door neighbour, who has seen so much happen during his long life. Humbling. Inspiring. And quite, quite wonderful!

Have a fabulous weekend! x

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Meerkats & auction finds...

First....thanks so very much to everyone who read and commented on my last two posts...it's meant such a lot to me and it's been so moving to hear of others' links to this turbulent and catastrophic time in history...everyone who served in that terrible war deserves to be remembered and honoured in my opinion, and I'm thrilled that so many of you agree.

Now...lighter subjects! Our youngest nephew, Will, is hard to get hold of in the summer holidays. Even though he's only 6, he's completely crazy about (& very good at) golf...so his free days are mostly taken up with practising or playing...but I managed to grab a whole day with him last week and we had so much fun! We went to London Zoo by train (the journey there and back was half the fun for him!) and to make it extra special I treated him to a VIP animal experience. There are quite a few to choose from....but I thought that meeting & feeding the meerkats would be the thing!
 They are such delightful, animated, quirky little creatures. Only 5 of us (plus the keeper, Christina) were allowed into the enclosure. We felt so special as the gates were unlocked for us. Will had the biggest smile on his face...
 Meerkats are, obviously, wild creatures...so actually touching them is not a great idea...and we didn't want to spook them....Christina gave us some live mealworms to feed them. They absolutely love mealworms..as you can tell!
 We also threw down plenty of special damp moss in little piles for them...they really enjoy foraging through this for little bugs and tasty tender bits. Meerkats are only happy living in big family groups...they are absolutely miserable alone, which is why misguided attempts to keep them as pets never work. Why would you want to? Just to see them playing, squabbling, scampering around the enclosure was such a joy. They are extremely inquisitive...
 Whenever a plane went over (which was frequently as the zoo is on the Heathrow flightpath) one of the little creatures would squeak the alarm and they all dived into the various holes they had made...before one brave little face would peek out to see if the danger was passed. I think I enjoyed the experience just as much as Will did! It's not a cheap option, but I would highly recommend it as a special treat if you ever visit.

We've also been taking part in some live country house auctions recently...such fun! We've bought all kinds of things - books, the odd painting, a corner cupboard for the dining room....but I thought you might like to see what was in this beautiful old leather case...

 It's an artist's treasure trove! I just loved the actual case....but the inside is full of delights too....

 oil pastels, palette knives, scrapers, oil colours, brushes of all kinds...some in appalling condition! Part of the charm, though. I can imagine this being toted around the countryside...its owner putting up a folding chair & easel and settling down to paint some rural view....
 The locks still work perfectly, and on the base is a clever little rivet to stop the leather actually resting on the ground...
Designed just so correctly and elegantly to fit its purpose, don't you think? It made me think of my dearest friend Sue Branch even though she's really a watercolourist...because I thought it was a lovely, unfussy real painter's case. I do not paint.....sadly. Neither does Paul. But, for the few pounds we paid, we have a little piece of someone's history...and we'll find a home for it, somewhere!
A last photo of Will, mesmerised by the penguins zooming around the pool at the zoo....summer holidays are almost over now....it's all gone so quickly this year... I can feel Autumn in the air already.

I hope you're having a wonderful weekend x

Friday, 15 August 2014

Yesterday....

I realise that my last post may have not been to everyone's taste (even though I received some lovely comments)...World War 1 is a subject that has always been of great interest to me and very close to my heart. I want this blog to reflect all the facets of my life...home...garden...travel...but also some of the deeper feelings I have and so it feels right to share some darker aspects from time to time...or it wouldn't be me!

So this post will be the last for the time being about First World War subjects, I promise...I have the next one planned and it is much lighter & fun, so do bear with me!

Yesterday, 14th August, was the 95th anniversary of the death of my great-great-uncle, Cyril. I mentioned him in my last post, but there is greater detail about him elsewhere on this blog (if you look for a post titled 'Anzac Day' for instance) In a nutshell, he was the youngest brother of my great-grandfather Walter. We didn't know he ever existed until about 10 years ago, when a chance search of the Commonwealth War Graves website revealed the site of his burial (in England...in the town he was born in in Suffolk on the East Coast...) My Mum was absolutely amazed. She thought that she had known all her great-uncles on that side of the family, and that they had all returned safely from the war (although damaged, as detailed before.) Cyril was never, ever spoken about and we knew that there must be a secret there which would unlock the reason. Families are so full of hidden emotions, lies, shame...if you just delve a little bit, you are sure to find this in your own somewhere!

After (literally) years of searching, I have managed to piece it all together finally. The last bits of the jigsaw were fitted together for me by an amazing company called Fourteen Eighteen which undertakes paid (but very reasonably,in my opinion) research into the soldiers of WW1. I won't reveal it all here...much of it is extremely personal, of course, and I owe him his dignity even after all this time.

But what I can say is that his life ended by his own hand. He threw himself in front of an underground train at Elephant & Castle station, in London one late summer afternoon at the age of 29. Another victim of the terrible war that killed so many. Now that I have all the facts, I really wanted to honour him as he has been forgotten for so very long. So yesterday I travelled to that same station...
 It's right at the end of the line, and after the train had emptied I was quite alone on the platform...

 I looked up the steps, and thought that this may have been where Cyril descended all those years ago. There are two platforms - Northbound & Southbound - and I don't know which side he fell. I had brought a bunch of roses from my garden with me, tied with a note. I left them at a point exactly between the two platforms...
 And I stood and thought of that young man...of all he had been through in those terrible war years...of the pain and suffering that had driven him to this extreme. The death of Robin Williams is fresh in my mind too, this week...another victim of depression and despair who saw no other way out.
 Such a terribly, terribly sad end to a life....and one which affected the family that had known him for the rest of theirs, I have no doubt...because he was loved, I am absolutely sure of that. My great-grandfather named one of his sons Cyril in 1924...and this could only have been in tribute to the brother he had lost 5 years before...
And then I got back on the train and started my journey home. I was so pleased to have done this small thing for him. To show the world that he was in it. And he mattered...& matters still....

Amazingly, last night I received an anonymous message from someone who had stopped to read the note attached to the roses that they had seen at the station on their way home...and who had cared enough to Google Cyril's name which had led them to this blog. They were pleased to know he had been 'found' and honoured, as he should be. I was very touched - and thrilled on his behalf, too.
Cyril Arthur Took - a secret no longer.

Have a wonderful weekend x