Saturday 26 September 2015

Mesothelioma Awareness Day - Heather Von St James who lives on with the silent killer of Steve McQueen ...

Who would think this vibrant looking woman has a life-threatening disease … her story is well worth a read and will give us all a greater understanding into Asbestos Induced Diseases.

Mesothelioma is rare … but there have been a few notable patients (c/o Wiki) … Steve McQueen, the well-known actor, was diagnosed after perhaps being exposed in the US Marines, or from the insulating material in the racing suits the drivers wore.

As Heather explains so poignantly, hers came about because she loved her father and wrapped herself up in his jacket when she was a youngster and he was home.  It manifested itself over 25 years …

Asbestos Mountains as drawn by William Burchell

I hope that you will read more of her journey at Mason’s post (and all the other participants) and particularly Heather’s own.

Blogging as we all know opens our eyes to so many things – we learn so much – and this is another facet … an appreciation of others’ illnesses and the conditions they have to cope with.

Fibrous Tremolite Asbestos
on Muscovite

We can get inspiration and admiration from their stories and raise awareness that each and everyone of us can be kind, considerate and thoughtful to others: we don’t know what’s going on – there could be a ‘Heather Journey’.

I gasp and cry as I read of people with major illness and of their families who remain positive, and intend to live their life to fulfilment – completely and utterly …

… this has to help with the future memories – of how they and their families never let the disease stop them – and how their get and go attitude gives impetus to Awareness days and sends out threads of knowledge to more of us.
Heather and Cameron

I wish Heather and her family all the very best and express my admiration for them … long may she live, before her inspirationally moving legacy kicks in.

Here is Heather’s site - and there is an amazing video by Heather, her husband and daughter ... very well worth a watch.

Our UK site gives a good overview – politics intervenes – I won’t pass my comment … but I am interested in seeing the narrative.  From this site can be found links to the Australian, Canadian and South African sites – while the main .com is the American web page.

Cameron, Lily Rose and Heather

So please spread Awareness of Mesothelioma to all who might be interested or need to be made aware of the disease.  It is a hidden killer …

Here is Heather’s wonderful blog post that puts “TheImportance of Support” into context … I can relate to this and can definitely think of another disease that took a small life, where this post totally resonates.

Please support Heather – you know I’m not good with social media aspects – but please all of you who are ‘experts: poor or good!’ … do what you can to spread the word.

Thank you,

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 21 September 2015

Canterbury Cathedral Scaffold tour ….

Guess what … my hip and I, eight months on, happily hopped up and down the scaffolding by ladder … builders’ ladders … metal and narrow … I had no idea what we were going to do ... but it seemed a wonderful opportunity not to be missed.

Medieval Gatehouse into the
Cathedral precincts

I had seen an advert for The Great South Window – a high level highlights tour with a look behind the scenes at the conservation aspects … and as I’d been to see the earlier Exhibition of the Ancestors at the Cathedral, as well as posting, in 2013, about the windows' travels to the Getty Museum, Los Angeles before moving to the Cloisters Museum in New York – I knew I had to go across for the tour.

The scaffolding outside, which led to the working
area at window height, which gave us access to the repairs,
the nave ceiling etc and views from the top.

The Cathedral is in the process of having a £50 million restoration facelift – cleaning and repairing the stonework, repairing and replacing the leaded roof … what has been done looks absolutely stunning … and will continue until 2021 – as the Cathedral needs to be secure for the foreseeable future, and beyond.

When a lump of tracery fell off the Great South Window in 2009 – it was a dramatic indication that urgent repair was needed.

Showing stone tracery - not one of my photos
and not of Canterbury.

Cracks were discovered in the tracery stone work surrounding the 12th century stained glass panels forcing the specialists to add this urgent job to their ‘to do’ list and delay other planned projects.

Cherry picker installing
scaffolding inside the Nave
courtesy Canterbury Trust

The foremost project was to provide a safe frame for the 12th century glass … the Window became a sandwich filling between scaffolding outside and in, so more stone-work didn’t crash down … and the precious windows could be removed for repair, storage and study.

Our group of about 18 duly met and off we went to the drawing office … where the stone mason template-maker draws all the templates that the masons have to adhere to exactly in order for the replacement stones to fit: talk about a jigsaw of all jigsaws!

The piece of tracery that fell off - we were in
the Drawing and Design office here c/o Martin Crowther

We learnt so much … but here I can only give you a sampling of an inkling of the work that’s involved.  At the end I’ll leave you with some other links to look at … which give you a flavour of the intricacies of a project like this.

Heather, the Head of Stone Masonry and Conservation, who took us round, explained that as Canterbury is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England, forms part of a World Heritage Site and where the Archbishop is the symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion …

One of the cracks being prepared
for repair

… it was essential that all agencies were duly consulted on the proposed works etc … so the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was brought in to ensure the experts’ opinions lined up.

Some basic information on the Cathedral and the Window:

Up the ladders we went
St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, started to build the original place of worship in 597 AD … which now lies beneath the floor of the Nave.  Over the centuries it was rebuilt, refurbished, added to … while retaining some of those early features and buildings. 

As a note in the early days foundations were not laid … hence inevitably over time there has been some movement and settlement in the structure.

The Great South Window in
2006 - before it was known it was
in dire need of repair

The Great South Window was built in the 1420s in the Perpendicular Gothic architectural style.  Its dimensions are huge: 16.76m (55 feet) high, and 7.56m (24 feet 9 inches) wide.  The window held and will hold priceless stained glass from late 12th and early 13th centuries.

Why did the window fail?  As they say it’s complicated!  Over time, this part of the building has tilted slightly, tipping the window forward and sideways, making it unstable. 

Early Industrial Revolution iron bars
that corroded

The medieval builders had allowed for movement in the stone work, leaded glass and timbers – but when the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian ‘experts’ came along – their ideas and repair methods were not empathetic to the ancient materials … hence the damage being found today.

After we had been into the Design and Drawing office we put on hard hats, many of us! were glad of these, and made up our way up the scaffolding ladders … while being shown various aspects of the Conservation work being carried out.

Zorobel - a biblical figure; one of the
Ancestors of Christ - dated 1180
- that was being cleaned, repaired and restored

Then we were shown into the Glass Conservators' workroom where further intricacies were revealed to us ... we were shown the crud on the medieval glass and how it is so painstakingly removed and repairs made ...

The top right corner needing considerable repair ... 

… so much detail here that I cannot possibly give due justice to these oldest panels of stained glass in England and significant examples of what was at the time a relatively new art – monumental stained glass -  as well as the conservation work being done today.

The snippets that resonated with me are …

Caen limestone is still being used, but they had to source larger stone for the mullions from a site near Poitiers.

A new mullion installed; you can see the two slits for
the glass panes to be reinstated - the precious Ancestor Window,
and the new clear protective glass ... the system is very
high tech
A stonemason’s yard had been established about 40 years ago just outside the walls as a working site – the stone is always squared up by the supplier to minimise the amount of waste shipped.

The conservators have created a self-containing and up to 52 mm (2.05 inch) interspace cleaning system for the restored stained glass panels: this is very high tech.

The medieval Butchery Lane

The narrow medieval streets of the city make transport difficult … so stones are brought in a few at a time – preventing damage to both the stone and the medieval city. 

The town has had to retain fire engines with smaller dimensions, than our modern day ones, which can squeeze into the Cathedral grounds and surrounding streets.

Gargoyles towering out across the grounds, as well
as the city beyond

How knowledgeable those early craftsmen were … in being able to build Cathedrals, give all worshippers and visitors over the centuries that visual and cognitive impact of the stories they wanted told through their design and art work.

Here you can see the crud and the corrosive effects of
the centuries as they rolled by

Blue Tesserae from Roman and Greek times tends not to be found … as the medieval craftsmen crushed the tessera to extract the lapis lazuli … so it could be reused by their glaziers.

The Nave ceiling with its decorations

Yet how much in the 21st century we are realising that we need to continue researching to find out more, and to establish the best methods to protect the Cathedral with its stories and history.  This work will be accurately recorded for future generations of surveyors, specialists and conservators.

One of the gilded heads taking stock of the
stone masons at work

Apprenticeships are being made available by the Cathedral for ancient trades and crafts; local residents are being encouraged to get involved; the community and the authorities are all working with the Cathedral to ensure the Minster is secured for future generations.

The Welcome Centre - I loved the lead work

It really was a quite extraordinary day … I was bemused and in total admiration at the care and concern regarding all the research and work that went in to this amazing project as well as the intricacies of it all.  It was a privilege and a joy to see …

The Queen and Prince Philip statues - recently added
to match Victoria and Albert - outside the Nave
 at the west entrance

So much to tell you, so little space, such a muddled post ... but many more sensible details can be found in the links below:

This is tribute from the Surveyor of the Fabric ... it's a PDF but is fine ... and shows lots of interesting photos and gives more detail as to the work done, and the story of it all - well worth a read ... and is where you will find Heather's story ... fascinating tale and well worth a read.

This is an article from the Natural Stone Specialist about the Conservation of the Canterbury Great South Window - again such an interesting read.

View to the west across the city

2014 - The Cathedral's Projects and Priorities from Canterbury Cathedral's Trust's perspectives - it's also a PDF but it too is fine.

Two years ago, "Stories on Glass", after my visit to Durham Cathedral, the glass books and the story of Canterbury's Ancestors Windows going to Los Angeles and New York City ... 

Canterbury Cathedral before its
cloaking in scaffolding
... before I saw them in the Cathedral earlier in the year - this post gives a brief note of visitors being able to see the stained glass windows at ground level and not fifty feet up set into their limestone window frames.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Mr TCP and the Star Inn, Waldron ...

Down a leafy lane on the way to a hidden gem of a pub, passed roots of ancient trees hanging precariously onto the roadside, for a last meeting and parting of the ways.

N the last of three couples still alive had helped enormously looking after my uncle and they often went out for lunch.  I became one of the dwindling ‘crowd’… originally the three couples had met in Nairobi, Kenya – so the Africa connection was there.

The Star Inn at Waldron

The Star was the local pub for my uncle, who towards the end was dissuaded from driving, and relied on volunteers to help, or N and I doing some of the other driving.

Last year I was going to meet up with N… as life was happening around us all … but he was ill and we didn’t make it – then January comes around … and all is well: but I have a hip to be sorted out … so we had to wait til May.

The 12th century All Saints Parish Church
Then he announced we’d better make it quick … as he was off to Suffolk – two of his daughters sweeping him up to be nearer grandchildren etc.  Within a few days we had lunch booked and within a week – he’d gone!  His move had been facilitated by one of his sons-in-law – hence the acceleration.

We met as we’d often done before outside the pub and went in together … to be greeted by ‘oh gosh – we were talking about you all the other day and wondering what had happened’.

So we had a good laugh at being welcomed so happily and explained that wives and my uncle had sadly passed on … to which Dee said she thought that had been the case, and then saying we were here for a farewell visit.

Dee asked N if he’d like his usual table – yes please … and then she said she was so fond of Mr TCP – they had called him that … because obviously he’d smelt of TCP.  I could vouch for that … as the bathroom cabinets were full of bottles – half used, unopened, forgotten about etc!

'My book' is there - but Clive Cussler, the
author, has his name in large print!

So N and I had a happy nostalgic lunch, thinking about D and D, and A, at their usual table next to the ‘book-shelf’ where for a donation to the local church – please take a book and enjoy the read

What should I see but the novel “Skeleton Coast” by Clive Cussler, in association with Jack du Brul.  Another memory stirred – a visit with my mother to that particular Skeleton Coast in Namibia, southern Africa: just my sort of book: donation duly made.  Book review will follow.

We had pub fare … Ham, Egg and Chips for N, while I craved and had the Antipasto Grazing Board: cured meats, liver parfait, hot chorizo, sun dried tomatoes, houmous with fresh breads and a separate salad.

The ‘old boys’ always had to have a dessert … so I had to accompany N … he had a selection of ice-creams, while I had the Crème Brulé.

We nattered and remembered old times – reminiscing, which wasn’t good for N – as he’s a sentimental chap … so in the end we hurried out before the tears started to fall.  I said my farewells – and he ‘piled’ into his car and disappeared.  So sad for him … still he is having a new life with the grandchildren and two of his four daughters … the others will and do visit.  I too will get up to Suffolk anon ... 

Typical British signpost at the village of Waldron

So that was one of my days out … the pub is wonderful, in a delightful village tucked into the Sussex countryside … easy to get lost in wandering those lanes.

Ancient roots of one of the many trees
along the local Waldron track ways
The end of an era … difficult to believe … and because of the illnesses … it ended up being rather short and sweet as a final conclusion … perhaps for the best: sometimes it is easier. 

However we had that wonderful story to remember this day by … none of us realised that my uncle was known as Mr TCP … and that is now embedded into my psyche …

Goodbye Mr and Mrs TCP ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday 12 September 2015

It’s a bug’s life … or not …

... saving itself from extinction, appearing as a magnificent rainbow jewel 175 million years later, or humans’ thinking ah! this would make a good meal …

Matrix Opal c/o National Opals, Australia

Bugs are incredible, and together with the natural earth, keep this world in balance, which is more than can be said for the Anthropocene epoch.

Nothophantes Horridus – yes, more commonly called the Horrid Ground-Weaver – an extremely rare species of spider in the family Linyphidae (sheet weavers or money spiders).

Goldcrest love Sheet Weavers
Etymology gives this little bug its name: from the Greek words ‘notho’, meaning spurious, and ‘hyphantes’, which means weaver, and the Latin ‘horridus’, which means … not horrid! … but bristly.

Anyways … it is very rare and has only recently (1989) been found in a microscopic area of Plymouth, Devon,  less than one kilometre square - whereupon its environmental friends called this endangered species ‘to action’:   as evidence that a housing development in a quarry should not go ahead:  the Planning Inspector upheld the bug’s right to exist.

A fossilised Belemoidea
The next is a Belemoidea, which has raised its pretty little head after life in the Jurassic era – about 175 million years ago.

They are an extinct group of marine cephalopod  (being millions of years old I guess that’d they'd be extinct?!) – but very similar to squid and closely related to the modern cuttlefish.

This particular bug has had a chequered life … seen by marine dinosaurs in Australia’s vast inland sea, before the sea regressed.  At that time the weather was erratic and very acidic – the effects caused silica-rich gel to become trapped in the earth.  Over time the silica solidified to form opals.

The Virgin Rainbow Opal

This Virgin Rainbow Opal was found in the Coober Pedy district of Western Australia – “The Opal Capital of the World”.  It has been secured for the South Australian Museum in Adelaide.

Coober Pedy

Not knowing the area at all … I was interested to see that Coober Pedy lies on the Adelaide to Alice Springs road and on to Darwin – I’ve taught myself a bit of geography here.

We are running out food … well so they say … and we’ve always constantly looked at other alternatives of food sources … how about bugs?  Australia has them … Balmain Bugs – I always liked the look of these slippery lobsters – a food to be enjoyed.

Balmain Bug

Some of these aren't bugs ... buttttt .......... I enjoyed writing about them!

Balmain Bug, Prawn, Squid, etc

A lot of us won’t eat bugs … just the thought of scrunching down a creepy crawly sends shivers down our spines.  They’re not unhealthy; they’re often quite tasty and loaded with the sort of nutritious good stuff dietary professionals love.

Sooner or later we’re probably going to have to get over our apprehensions and embrace these remarkably efficient sources of protein. 

Served at a pub near you ... 

Let us eat worms, we already eat snails … the American Army Survival Handbook, I see, tells you (not me!) how to catch worms, clean (purge) them and then you can eat them raw.

Late 1800s ad
But remember we used to despise oysters – the poor man’s food … and those bugs the lobsters despised by American coastal dwellers, but beloved by the train passengers (good to eat) and railroad bosses (cheap to provide).

Now there’s the Wild Food School in Lostwithiel, Cornwall – which provides Entompohagy Courses – new word?!  Yes for me too … but here they show us that eating insects is de riguer in many parts of the world ...

So let’s embrace bugs … for their use, their balance of life, and for the beauty they might provide in a quarter of a billion years ahead!

Here are some links … that might amuse and tell more of their story:

Finest Opal Ever c/o The Jewellery Judge 

Big Think on Eating Bugs

How Lobster Got Fancy c/o PSMag 

Wild Food School: Edible Insects and Bugs

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories