Thursday 29 March 2012

What is in a theme – the A – Z Challenge cometh ...

So what is a theme – an idea that unifies – be it of the arts, literature or music – here over 1350 of us are tying our themes into the Alphabet ... the ABCs of life ...
In the North – Edinburgh, Scotland: the castle
dominates the Edinburgh skyline, as seen here
from the Grassmarket to the south 

This is Lee's brainchild of Tossing It Out - I wonder if he's tossed it yet?!  Lee will be ably assisted by his team ... The sign up link is at Blogging from A - Z - so do join us if you're not already signed up ... 

Many of the bloggers participating will be posting creative ideas and themes and I really will be interested to see if any of us have duplicated one another ... it’s a fascinating ride around the blogosphere.

In the South – Pevensey Castle, E Sussex
 – where William the Conqueror landed
I have stuck with the tried and tested Aspects of British ... this year it will be Castles – and you will have a tour around Great Britain visiting many places – north, south, east and west – some castles you will know, many you won’t ...

... some history, some fascinating facts, some places I have found I would really like to visit – check out B, D, H, J, K, S, ...

In the East - Castle Rising, Norfolk: 
illustrated in Cassell’s History of
England circa 1902
K and O were provided by two of the residents, who I volunteer to have conversations with  ... so they are delighted to know 'their castle' will be featured in the blog!

XYZ provided me with a few challenges – so these posts will be my index, glossary and summary around the subject of Castles ...

One or two might have an extra paragraph or two – but as the blog is mine – and I write for me too ... they are things I wanted to remember, so have left them there for posterity ... I wonder if that’s where post comes from – posterity?

In the West – Carnarfon Castle,
north west Wales
These Castles are not included in my A, B, Cs ...   

Here come the posts on Aspects of British Castles .... starting on April Fool’s Day ...

An update re my mother ...  she sleeps a lot, is aware we are there, enjoys her flowers ... yet is bright as a button at times – Andy, our osteopath who works on her limbs, turned up last week and said ‘Hello Ann’ ... and my mother immediately asked how the boys were .... Andy and his wife had triplets two years ago ... and Andy had shown my mother a phone photo of them – she was delighted!!  Amazes us all that she is still so aware ... when she’s awake!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 23 March 2012

Dolce Via ... DreamCatcher ... World Story Telling Day was Tuesday!

Oh well – what’s a day or two between friends ... but stories – now that is another matter: you know what stories are all about .... and did I mention catching dreams, we love finding those.
DreamCatchers logo -
designed by JR

Three stories in World Story Telling Week ... two types of traveller following their dreams ... the writers and actors in “Dolce Via” a new play by Siobhan Nicholas and Chris Barnes of Take The Space (Theatre Group) ...

... and Melissa and JR who are pursuing their dream in an RV around the US of A .... Melissa is an author and photographer, while JR the artist will record their journey.

Poster for Hanging Hooke
You may remember Siobhan and her wonderful play “Hanging Hooke” – a genius betrayed? – and the glorious recovery of the Royal Society’s lost folio of Curated Experiments from the 1600s.

Dolce Via became her next play – a story of love and loss set in the bygone era of the Variety circuit - where actors, fire eaters, ventriloquists, musicians, mentalists and magicians ply the winding road of life in order to survive.

Barnum and Bailey
Circus Poster 1900
Chris Barnes draws upon the two years he spent in America working with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus – utilising the performance troupe’s skills learnt during that period – fire-eater, stilt walker, unicycle rider ...

Siobhan has created a tale of two Vaudevillians meeting along that twisting lane, then conjuring up an entertainment of variety with affection, a bold sense of fun and not a little courage – all characteristics required to survive life on the road.

Dolce Via poster
Dolce Via, the play, is dedicated to all journey men: clowns, poets, actors, musicians, storytellers and magicians, who throughout time have often lived on the fringes of society.  Siobhan and Chris bring life to her play – the Sweet Road ... reminding us of days gone by.

Then today those who dream of travelling the road, who set those wheels in motion – the DreamCatcher RV – JR and his missus.  (No, not that JR!) ...

Melissa Goodwin, who has authored the children’s book “The Christmas Village”, highly rated by her young readers, clamouring for the sequel – she’s writing away long into the night ... when she’s not packing ready for her journey.

Dick Secor – JR – teaches art, and draws (a professional acrylic painter and will be plein air painting along the way) – oh yes and drives – he can read too – he’s been reading up on the manuals for the RV and giving us statistics et al .... The RV is a 31 foot self-contained Class C 2012 Nexus RV – quite posh n’est pas?

They will be collecting their RV with a request that we join them on their adventure – they live in Santa Fe, Arizona they will collect their “van” from Elkhart, Indiana, return to Santa Fe to collect said luggage, then they’re off going to the East coast of the US and up into Canada starting very shortly.

JR suddenly had the wonderful idea for a logo on the back of the RV – a Dream Catcher .... so here is Claude, the owner of Nexus, hiding their real life logo, on their real life RV, which will take them on their dream catching adventure.  Dick and Melissa want the surprise of seeing their logo in situ – not via the photographic airwaves.

My third is the Canadian Guy Laliberte, the busker, itinerant street performer, entertainer, who on his return from travelling Europe, fell in with a part-time street performance troupe honing his skills. 

Before he returned to Canada, he slept on a Hyde Park bench in 1978 – opposite are the hotels he stays in now – and every time he is here in London, he takes a walk over Park Lane and into the Park ... ‘his bench’ though is no longer there.

Uni-cycle ad, circa 1900
In 1984 after his return, Quebec made available a grant of $1.3 million to put together a show as part of the celebrations surrounding the 450th anniversary of the French explorer Jacques Cartier’s landing in Canada.  Laliberte secured it, named the troupe Cirque du Soleil, and began touring ... a dream caught!

There are Dream Catchers in all of us – poets, playwrights, authors, artists, designers, actors and drivers ... we all dream to catch that special “je ne sais quoi” ... as we journeymen and women travel our paths of life.

Long may plays, books, paintings, street performances and all creative arts be honed, so that those following on behind can glean tips and tricks, ideas, that creative spirit, that dash of risk as we spread our webs to catch those dreams.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow. 

     By Langston Hughes

To all of us A – ZChallengers – here comes April – and the only one who should know the answer to this question is Lee:  What is the collective for jugglers?  “A neverthriving” ... the rest of us should have a good laugh.

Here’s to DreamCatchers ... and I owe you some history that Dick supplied me with ... another day ...

Happy World Story Telling Days ahead ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories 

Sunday 18 March 2012

Mothering Sunday – the Hilaria festivals of the Vernal Equinox to honour Cybele

A sunny morning has broken with the forewarning that northerly showery storms are on their way ... too true: from my sunny flat down in Eastbourne town, as I drive up the Downs, I can see the storm clouds building in what was a clear blue sky.

These are the Downs I go up every day to visit my mother ... and I’ll go back for a longer Mothering Day visit later on.  I might have a chance to tell her about the flowering Magnolias, the early Cherries and the range of spring bulbs that are giving us a rainbow spectrum of colour.

Our Mothering Sunday is tied in to the Christian festival and falls on the 4th Sunday in Lent – rather than the Mother’s Day that occurs in May elsewhere in the world.

In the Roman religion the Hilaria festival was held in honour of the mother goddess Cybele and took place during mid-March.  As the Roman Empire and Europe converted to Christianity around 2,000 years ago, this celebration became part of the liturgical calendar as Laetere Sunday – to honour the Virgin Mary and the “mother church”.

Narcissus flower head

It is thought that over time people “in service” were given a day off so that they could visit their families and return to their ‘mother church’.  The children would pick wild flowers along the way to place them in the church or to give them to their mothers as gifts.

Today so much has changed – it is very unlikely that we would walk, would we recognise many of the wild flowers?, we would be had up if we picked them and it is less and less likely that we regularly attend church  (here in the UK anyway) .... while for some the generosity of spirit for their mother is not forthcoming.

Anemones - my mother's favourite
flower - I managed to find some
deep blue ones
Enough of that – back to Hilaria – this sounds more fun ... festive spirits in celebration that the winter with its gloom has effectively gone and a time of abundance is ahead of us. 

The Vernal Equinox occurs on Tuesday, 20th March when we will have a day and night of equal length ... and then next Saturday/Sunday in the UK we will put our clocks forward to attain the benefit of longer days – bliss!  Darkness will occur about 7.30 pm next Sunday .. getting used to the darker mornings is a little off-putting ...

Roasting in medieval times -
from the illuminated manuscript
Tacuinum Sanitatis 14th C
So I, as Hilary, can celebrate the festival of Hilaria with my mother on this Mothering Sunday in the year two thousand and twelve ...

To all who are having wonderful family lunches with their mothers, daughters, grandmothers and to all those who are missing out on a family day together – bring care, thought and love into your homes and hearts.

A few facts that would interest my mother ... the Magnolia is an ancient genus – having evolved before the bees appeared - the flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles.  To avoid damage from these pollinating beetles, the carpels of Magnolia flowers are extremely tough.

Fossilised specimens of Magnolia have been found dating to 20 million years ago, and of plants identifiably belonging to the Magnoliaceae dating to 95 million years ago.

Incredible plants ... and amazing facts we learn about evolution and how each member of the world’s flora and fauna has adapted in some way ...

Centre of a tulip showing multiple connate
carpels surrounded by stamens
Happy Mothering Sunday – My Mama was awake, lucid and full of the joys of Spring on Thursday and Friday – remembering things that had been going on ... it’s always a delight to one and all – the staff love it, Janice, Andy and Susie (our visiting therapists) experienced it this week too ... it does warm the soul.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Oxford places ...

I’ve been taken aback – nothing new there – no plan and now I’m in catch up mode ...

Port Meadow - above

Oxford skyline from Boars Hill
I have a guest post up at Stephen Tremp’s blog on Professor Stephen Hawking – I thought it was tomorrow ... oh well ... how about some Oxford Places – this is where Hawking began his academic career and is the town that holds some happy memories for me ...

Where best to start – at a watering hole, a 16th century beer-house, and a place where writers met to discuss literature and life:

The Eagle and Child, St Giles, Oxford, meeting place of the “The Inklings” a post war writing group, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein ...

The pub is in St Giles – a wide avenue lined on both sides by London plane trees.  Cattle and sheep used to be driven along St Giles to the drinking pond before going on to market round the corner.

Christchurch Meadow
Or how about a walk along the Thames, in Christchurch Meadow, on Shotover, or Boars Hill – there are many very good walks, cycle paths and ancient forest rambles within Oxford, its valleys or hills surrounding the city itself.

Port Meadow is an area of common land.  The right of people to graze their animals on the land free of charge is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, and horses and cattle still graze there today.  

Port Meadow has never been ploughed, is treasured for its wild flowers and the fritillaries in particular.

The Snake's Head Fritillary - the county flower of Oxfordshire

We need to finish with an inspiring conversation at one of the many pubs for a few beers, a glass of wine, a plate of pub food or move along to a fine dining restaurant – or just home after a contented day out.

Please remember to visit Stephen Tremp's blog:  BreakthroughBlogs where you will find novels containing murder, mayhem and a wormhole - enjoy your read ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday 8 March 2012

Weather – hot, cold, drenching, drought ...

In recent years we seem to have had it all – and it is not just the northern hemisphere that has been suffering ...  in this topsy turvy world we are now no longer sure if an Arctic blast will bring freezing weather, or if we will be basking in an early and unexpected Spring ...

The jet streams (above) clearly shown over north America - we can see how they move our weather systems north and south as they rotate around the North Pole.

Australia is in the throes of floods, while New Zealand had a ‘storm bomb’ from across the Tasman Sea, Namibia has had glorious rain for the last four weeks, there were flash floods earlier in the Kruger Park of South Africa ...

3 " of snow in Libya
On this side of the world – Syria has snow in early March, Libya and the edge of the Sahara Desert had theirs earlier in the year, this week the Eurostar train got badly delayed (the one that runs under the English Channel) in northern France due to a ‘dump’ of snow – and yes, the weather did appear pretty foreboding, when I looked eastwards up the Channel.

The bitter winds have reached south as far as Mauritania and Mali in west Africa, snow has fallen in the Sahara, while many died in Algeria in this onslaught of unusual freezing conditions.

There was chaos on the Danube River – rising temperatures brought an end to the record cold snap which had left almost all of the Danube frozen from its journey through Austria to the Black Sea.  The temperature spread was minus 20 deg C (-4F) to plus 10 deg C (50 F) within a week.

Swan on the almost frozen Rhine,
Strasbourg, France
‘Ice-bergs’ turned into ice floes, these chunks of melting ice began drifting down the busy 2,860 km (1,777 mile) long waterway.  In the Serbian capital, Belgrade, the floes caused hundreds of boats to crash into each other, hammered bridges and banks, snapped the anchor lines of several barges and sank a floating restaurant.

The conditions on continental Europe – have given us a Siberian winter – huge snowfalls, freezing temperatures (where the daytime temperature never rose above zero and at night dropped to below -27 deg C (-17F)), severing ties with rescue parties and taking a terrible toll.  This is the worst February freeze that Europe has faced for decades.

Italy was deluged in snow storms, the Alps were hit by large snow falls trapping tourists, France was frozen out ... yet surprisingly the drought from last year constrained the potential flood danger by keeping river levels relatively low.  The danger of one, aids to avoid another type of catastrophe.

The Americas have suffered just as much topsy turvy weather as the rest of the world has been having ...  deluges of snow in New Hampshire,  freezing cold in Santa Fe ... then out of nowhere unusually mild weather reached New York, as warm air swept up from the Gulf of Mexico.

Crocuses colouring our world
above the snow
Freezing air came down from Canada triggering storms and tornadoes across the Mid West – where the two systems collide.  While Alaska too has suffered an unusually severe winter – Anchorage is on track for its snowiest winter on record ... with other towns in desperate straits for help and relief.

In fact drought is now our greatest threat across a large swathe of Europe after two dry winters in succession.  

We here in the UK have a weather divide too – the western diagonal half of the country (Scotland/North East England through to the west Devon/Dorset) has been fairly consistently wet – while to the east of the country – particularly here in Sussex, Kent and East Anglia (north of London) – it has been very dry.

There’s little we can do about our weather – and at the moment Nature is confused too – blossoms in London in December, a blackbird crooning gently in the dark of winter.  The jet streams high in the stratosphere have meandering paths – pulling cold air down, or drawing warm air up.

These two images show the Safsaf Oasis in the Sahara - the top one showing the Oasis on the surface of the Desert; the other one shows (using radar) the rock layer underneath, revealing black channels cut by the meanderings of an ancient river that once fed the Safsaf Oasis.

Throughout the course of time the weather has changed too – the Sahara used to have fertile valleys, with people living on the fringes of the desert, a well watered land – over 30,000 petroglyphs of river animals such as crocodiles survive, dinosaur fossils have also been found in these parts. 

Thank goodness Spring is nearly here – at least the days are longer and it is getting slightly warmer – the snowdrop drifts are out, grass lawns full of coloured crocuses, the daffodils have started throwing their trumpets, the blossoms and leaves now have a reason to burst – no waiting for them ...

Edith Holden's January plate in 1906
from her Nature Notes of an Edwardian lady
... the robins are singing – fluffing up their feathers against the chill, the tits (coal tits, blue tits and the great tits) have been darting around the hedges, blackbirds too serenading us from the dark of the morning.

Our hearts are lifting to the warmer, longer days ahead – we can do nothing about these warm, wet, dry years, or the cold, freezing, flooding ones ... nor can nature, it must just adjust and evolve – the birds, bees and plants seem to have inbuilt mechanisms to help them survive.

Last year was warm, wet and dry – the second warmest yearly average on record – at 9.62 deg C (49.3 F) – what will this year ahead hold ... we could do with some rain so those reservoirs and aquifers start to fill up and our trees and plants have a good long soaking. 

The weather men tell me I need a good six months of steady rain ... I would just rather it did not do that, I rather enjoy my English summer days.  We have a busy year ahead of us ... the Queen’s Jubilee, Wimbledon, the Olympics and Para Olympics ... not much time for rain?! 

Spring has sprung a beautiful day here for International Women's Day - my heart is lifted with the sun.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday 4 March 2012

Cornish Pasty – World Championships at the Eden Project

A cold day in Summer back in the years when the weather was damper, more predictable with seasons following regular patterns – Autumn mists and fog, Winter wet, cold, periods of ice and snow, Spring usually took its time coming, then the glories of a British Summer – if we were lucky!

I remember Cornish pasties on the beach being the saving grace of Cornwall on those cold days ... or when we went with family and friends to the Minack Theatre on the cliffs overlooking the glassy sea, hearing the waves lap below.

Our marrow bones would soon start to feel the sea wind chill, our ‘silly bottoms’ would get the full clout from the earth below – those were the days of a hewn-out theatre ... no flat seats ... just rocks protruding arena like – where we laid rugs, cushions and padded ourselves as best we could against the sharp granite.

The Minack as it is today!
Picnic baskets would be uncovered, paper mugs of drink would be passed around, out would come X number of Cornish pasties, each well wrapped in a tea-towel ... greedy paws reaching out for the greaseproof paper bag wrapped Pasty – no waste here.

Let the show begin ... as we strained to catch the actors’ voices above the squawking seagulls wheeling around the cliffs, perhaps some Red-billed Choughs – the Cornish emblematic bird, the gusts of wind, the gentle crashing of the waves below ...

Red Billed Choughs
This is the Cornwall of our childhood .... though I have many memories of sitting in warmer situations eagerly anticipating the extraction of my Pasty from the Aga, put on the wire rack - its stronger aroma now wafting around the kitchen – and waiting, none too patiently, for it to cool sufficiently before I could tuck in!

Pasties: filled with finely chopped beef skirt and onions, small diced potato and swede-turnip, sprinkled with salt and pepper, a dab of butter – the pastry edges brushed with beaten egg, pulled up and pinched together on the top – a hole punched in the middle to let the steam out, placed on a baking tray and baked in a moderate oven for 50 minutes or so ... til golden brown, and steaming hot ... remove, leave to cool for five minutes.

Robert Morton Nance (born 1873 - 1959) wrote a ballad  in 1898 ...

The Merry Ballad of the Cornish Pasty

Let all the World say what it can
Still I hold by the Cornishman
And that one most especially
That first found out the Cornish Pasty.

The Cornish Pasty ballad is not his true claim to fame!

Nance returned to Cornwall living high on the moor in the village of Nancledra halfway across the Penwith peninsula from St Ives to Penzance – well trodden and driven by our family – where he wrote and refined his books on the Cornish language, including a dictionary, which remain as standard reference works to this day.

The World Pasty Championships are being held at The Eden Project this weekend ... the protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in Europe, means that no-one can sell a product called a Cornish Pasty unless it has been made in Cornwall.

The trouble is – in my humble opinion – they granted the wrong ‘crimping’ style as the definitive method ... Cornish Pasties must be crimped on top – as I describe above ... but home-made is an absolute essential.

The Biomes and Link Building
showing the "Field of Light"
installation by Bruce Munro
St Piran, the patron Saint of Tin Miners, would turn in his grave ... his Saint’s Day is tomorrow ... in fact if he saw the latest Pasty haute cuisine ... he’d be burrowing further into his Dune grave: the sands encroached and his oratory was abandoned in the 10th century.

Some of the Pasty delicacies on offer at The Eden Project ...

·        Wild rabbit poached in cider with leeks, finished with peas and lemon zest?
·        Cornish Yarg (cheese), cream cheese, black trumpet and king oyster mushroom Pasty?
·        Fruits of the forest Pasty with squirrel and rabbit meat, wild mushrooms, native nuts and herbs?
·        Steak and Cornish Blue Cheese Pasty with beef, potato and onion?

Just sometimes I prefer the simple original version ... my friends always drool at the thought of my home-made pasties ... while I spent years drooling over my mother’s pasties – now she was a brilliant cook.

Some tips ... pastry:  Work your pastry well, almost kneading it, and then leave to chill in the fridge before thinking about rolling it out.  You shouldn’t need to use flour when rolling out your pastry .... if you do (guilty as charged!) – it suggests you haven’t worked it well enough so it may break when you come to the crimping.

Now – the extra bite:  Add a dab of clotted cream on top of your ingredients to help the gravy taste sweet and delicious .... now that I might try – as we’d almost certainly have Cornish Cream and some delicious sweet!

The Pasty boys
The dual Pasty – savoury one end, sweet the other – probably occurred as the peripatetic habits of the Cornish miners spread across the globe, when their skills at mining became invaluable to the New World ...

I still prefer my Mummy’s version!  She would be very pleased to know I think that ... we’re nearing our English Mothering Sunday – next week ... ours is linked to Easter Day and its liturgical origins.

A fun childhood rhyme from the 1940s:

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, ate a Pasty five feet long,
Bit it once, bit it twice, Oh my Lord, it’s full of mice!!

So on this chilly, rainy Sunday – I’ll leave you with the comment that I’d very much like a traditional Pasty for my lunch – and then I could have a snooze!  Good idea?

Talking about comments – does anyone get comments back from Blogger blogs?  I feel I’ve been thrust out to sea without a paddle – no communication whatsoever ... if you leave a comment here – do you know about it .. and if you do – are you a Blogger blogger or a WP blogger?  And any other useful helpful information you can offer me/us - like are you using the new interface?  Thanks very much!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories