Saturday 31 October 2015

Halloween thoughts ...

Vincent Van Gogh seemed to get it right for Halloween – what an amazing oil painting … it’s in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam – a place I must visit sometime.

Skull of a Skeleton with  cigarette
by Vincent Van Gogh (c 1885/6)

(This is today’s featured picture in Wikipedia – so appropriate, I couldn’t resist putting it in).

Jenny (Hobhouse Balme) has recently visited Haida Gwaii and saw how the Haida peoples revered their chieftain dead … she had watched a ceremony on the raising of a mortuary pole earlier this year.

Mortuary poles late 1800s
c/o Cruising with Raven Song

Cruisingwith Raven Song gives a pretty good idea of their rituals, with an explanation and some more photos.  I was fascinated to learn about these indigenous peoples.

Hecate Strait separating the islands
from the Canadian mainland.
(Cape Scott is on the tip of
Vancouver Island)

Haida Gwaii means literally “Islands of the Haida People” – formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands … approximately half the population is of the Haida people.  It is an archipelago, north of the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

The Queen Charlotte (1744 – 1818) mentioned here was the wife of King George III … hence the islands’ naming.

I’m back from my Devon, Cornwall and Somerset sojourn with Jenny, and on Monday Stephen Tremp is coming over to my blog re his new book Salem’s Daughters … so please look in …

... but on my travels we went to St Ive Church, near Liskeard, Cornwall – which was Emily Hobhouse’s father’s Church – he was rector for over 50 years!

We had tea in the Church and talked to some amazing village residents, who knew of people, who had actually known Emily … so Jenny was fascinated to find out more.

What was the mortuary block for St Ive Church, Liskeard

Well the tea went through … and guess where the cloakroom is situated … yes, in the mortuary building … no longer in use, I’m pleased to say!  It’s an interesting, yet very satisfactory for me, change of use!

Happy NaNoWriMo … may you all successfully complete your goals … I’ll be across to your blogs as soon as ….

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 19 October 2015

Elephants and Bees Project in Kenya ... and a very Happy Birthday to Lenny tomorrow ...

Who would have thought that that huge pachyderm, the elephant, would be frightened by bees – yet they are. 

A project has been started in Kenya – which by social media (YouTube) has been copied by other conservation projects or local communities which needed to work in conjunction with elephants and people.  In Africa, Sri Lanka and India … the value of social media – here I concur!

Dr Lucy King comes from Eastbourne, but works under the auspices of Oxford University and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Kenya.  Her project, Save the Elephant, is an innovative study into the use of novel Beehive Fences as a natural elephant deterrent.

Man and animals so often do collide … crop-raiding; or for profit through poaching … a cruel death.  Food is essential to all African farming communities leading to conflict with humans if their crops are trampled or eaten.  How to combat these challenges?

Crop raided farm
The loss in numbers of this huge herbivorous mammal in Africa is frightening; with their status being listed as vulnerable in 2008, while the Asian elephant was endangered … yet numbers continue to be decimated all the time. 

650 elephants were killed in 2012 by Chadian raiders in Bouba D’Njida National Park, Cameroon for their ivory.  A year later another 86 elephants and calves, including pregnant cows, were killed in the same region.

About thirty years ago there were 150,000 elephant in the West African area (Central African Republic, through Chad to Cameroon) … now that figure could be as low as 2,000.  Horrific to consider.

The location of Mwambiti Research area; it is near the Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary -
the green lozenge shape - on the edge of the Tsavo National Park and within the lowland
community settlements along the main road across to Mombasa on the Indian Ocean.
The green Park cutting in at top left of the picture is the Serengeti National Park.

Conservationists are always looking for new ways to protect these huge beasts in the areas where a decent elephant population still remains … southern Africa, particularly Kenya … and where they co-habit with humans. 

Dr King explained that they had heard elephants steered clear of bees at their beehives … so after consideration – she and her team in Mwambiti
Dr Lucy King
on a project to see if this was really true: the elephant were avoiding certain trees that, for example, held a beehive.

A concept of an idea ... 

How and what to do … after research, their novel approach was to build a flimsy fence around an area of a farmer’s land, where crops needed protection, and string ‘beehive boxes’ at certain intervals.

The connective wire (hence the flimsy bit!) – once knocked by the elephant it would rock the bees in their boxes awake – and the elephant would move on.

However improbable it sounds it works … Dr King showed us some remarkable footage … including of an elephant trying to get his leg through the wire – it’s at about a metre high – and then being frustrated, trying again using the other leg … so funny – but so brilliant to see this mammoth walking off in disgust. (Videos and photos are on the website)

Taking the wires used to hang the beehive boxes
between the staves around the farmer's field

Still the huge benefits this work brings to the community – they now have an actual research centre in the locality – visiting dignitaries (Bill Clinton and Chelsea) highlight the Project in other arenas … 

I see an Australian soil scientist has been working there, guiding the locals in ways to improve their land ...

Angelina with some of her honey

… the farmers are able to farm and market their crops, there are other benefits – paying internships, the women folk are involved, harvesting the honey, making candles and lip balm … all bringing in much needed cash into the local community.

Augustine and his team of farmers

Augustine Musyoka, Project Officer at the Elephant and Bees Research Centre, wrote a blog post explaining his role in this conservation work – his passion really comes across in this well-written post.

Also he gives further detail how the mechanics of the whole came about … a fascinating read.

Gathering honey for the community and to sell on
This talk covered passions of mine – Africa, conservation, working with and helping local communities (keeping the villages involved, including the tribal chief), feeding the local population, providing other work, and giving them a place in the world that they can all be proud of: evidenced by all the recognition that the Project is receiving.

Those flimsy wires I mentioned … in Mozambique, the Wildlife volunteers advised they could not use wire … as the poachers would have stolen it by the next day … so they strip tyres down and weave the strips into ‘threads’ to connect the hanging beehives.

Gathering the grass into sheaves to use as roofs
over the beehive swings
The fences do not need many beehive boxes along their course … and by trial and error they’ve reduced the quantity so they swing efficiently which see the elephants off, once the buzzing starts!

Hive boxes ready for the community to install

It was a fascinating talk by, Dr Lucy King, a lady who is totally passionate about her work …

Here is the website with its links to the Elephants and BeesProject under the auspices of Save the Elephants.

This is Augustine’s blog postwhere he explains all - much better than I do … and you get the added benefit of more photos.  If I was doing more … you’d have to watch a video of me waving my arms around, pointing aimlessly at some very basic stick drawings!

Long line of honey jars .... one of the value added products

One other thing the Project does that may be relatively unusual in today’s world … is that they are happy to share their knowledge for free … so please visit and enjoy.

My god-daughter made a baked bean cake of the Heinz 57
variety for her father's 57th ... I just loved it - I didn't get to
eat any - but the photo is good to go?!
Happy Birthday tomorrow Lenny - it is all 'sweet' ...
but the baked beans look so real.

Lenny - have a very happy week taking things slowly and just enjoying the hugs and love you will be getting from all your amazing friends ... with much love from GrandBlogMom xoxoxoxo

PS - I'm away in the West Country for ten days or so ... so forgive the shortage of acknowledgements ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 16 October 2015

Lunch with a Victorian Botanist ...

And then there was lunch!  It was an incredibly hot day … so getting off our feet was a high priority … a large lunch is not my forte – but I love my food!

Part of the interior ... we were sitting on this raised platform

God-daughter wanted to try out the old National Provincial Bank, converted into a bar-restaurant: us oldies concurred!  The old bank was built in 1833, but in 1869 was refurbished to the grand Victorian fa├žade of today … Corinthian columns, ceiling-high semi-circled topped windows.

An imposing building then … it still is … but now has a secret story … all contrived around the life of fictional Hettie G Watson, a Victorian botany scholar, whose wealthy father built the bank.

Our botanist: Hettie G Watson

It’s very clever – the story brings Hettie to life … albeit she does not, nor did, exist.  She appears on walls, the decorations all reflect botanical aspects … there’s a living wall with lots of shrubbery around.

The private room ... showing which countries of the
world Hettie has explored and the botanical
specimens she has found.
The space has been divided by Kai Design into a whimsical interior … the imagined world of a Victorian botanist:  A botanical library, a boardroom, a dining room, a bar, an Institute of Botanics and a secret emporium.

It feels cozy, yet there’s that expanse of space … we were on the raised platform … there’s a bar, perhaps the original cashier’s counter … Hettie has a board room available for special meetings.  While the secret emporium holds bell jars of potions and botanical oils, and where elixirs were served to all of Hettie’s guests.

The entrance - we were happily
drawn in ...

The new make-over for this bank as a cocktail bar-cum-dining experience suited us – we weren’t in the cocktail mode – but the food was excellent, as too the service.  We even survived a fire alarm having to retire outside for a few minutes …

Well what did we have to eat …

No explanation needed - it was good!

a Sharing Platter, which we did all tuck into:  I chose the vegetable taster: Provencal tomatoes, beetroot hummus, carrot and coriander puree, chickpea cake, pepper spring roll, white bean puree and fresh breads.

Then we had one who desireth The Lost Gold battered fish and chips, minted pea puree and chunky tartare sauce.

While the now graduated student had the Lost and Found Salad: mixed lettuce, pickled vegetables, quinoa, candied beetroot, balsamic tomatoes, and gooey mozzarella balls.  She did share the Sharing Platter as we'd agreed ... 

Nearly all mine - this was very very good!
We were all very happy … ‘cept the little one (young god-daughter) needed a dessert … and who can say no at these times … we tried two of Hettie’s Desserts: 

Lemon meringue pie with raspberry ripple ice cream – all (all – nearly!) mine!

Then mother and daughter both had the Chocolate Marquise, clotted cream and vanilla wafer.

Coffee, tea and water followed – then we had to leave to get back to the house to pack up the car and hit the motorway!  I sat quietly by … but at one stage I thought there was too much chit-chat going on upstairs and went to do a chase up!! 

The entrance way to the Lost and Found pub
We did get back by 9.00 pm or so – buying a few odds and ends to snack once we got home … cheeses, salads, and all the bad things – crisps, olives, some cooked meats … we had a hubby to feed too.  By then we needed our vino … and enjoyed our very informal supper in the conservatory ... and did no unpacking of the car!

Well that was one of my day’s out during the summer … it was during one of the few days when it was really hot.  The final wrap up of the house was done a week later when mother went up for another car load, and littlie stayed up to party and say her goodbyes …
The Great Wall card I received ... clever isn't it?

… before jetting off to Beijing, China – where she had a 7 week work placement – yes she’s one bright lady and now writes in Mandarin!  Then she had a three – four week travel trip.

By the time you read this … I will hopefully have been able to catch up with her …

Hope you enjoyed our lunch?

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday 13 October 2015

The cycle of life of the Birmingham Library ...

One of my trips in the summer was to see the new Birmingham Library … it had been much vaunted … and as my goddaughter was in the city at University I needed to make the trip.  Well talk about waiting til the last minute – she was packing to leave … having successfully finished her degree.

The new library
Her mother and I went up to the house, gulped at the packing scenario, and left to see the Library, have a lunch and relax and just forget the student’s boxes, bags, hamster bits (yes hamster I did say!), CDs, books, book case … and go and enjoy ourselves … before we ‘stuffed’ things into the car to get home!

The facade

I posted about Libraries old and new in early 2012 andmentioned the Birmingham Library then.  It’s had a chequered history … there is no change now … it even has three separate entries in Wikipedia.

The first Birmingham Library was founded between 1635 and 1642; a letter to Viscount Conway surviving in the state papers of Charles I refers to the fact there is no catalogue of the books available … this would be rectified "that the first catalogue is delivered to yr L'rp".

Looking down through the aluminium
circles which brings the whole design
together, including the interior and
play area as here

Unfortunately as the Library had puritan origins … its collection was dispersed after The Restoration of the English Monarchy in 1660.

A library had been due to be incorporated into the Birmingham and Midland Institute, but under the 1850 Public Libraries Act the municipality had to be involved.

The Lending Library was opened in 1865, with the Reference Library being opened a year later; initial use of the library was so heavy that the need for an extension was agreed and started in 1878. 

The destructive fire of 1879

However a fire broke out in January 1879 behind wooden partitioning and only 1,000 volumes were saved from a stock of 50,000.

The Clerestoried Reading Room
Demand was obviously so great that plans to rebuild the library were approved in 1879, with the library being built in the Lombardic Renaissance style with a tall clerestoried Reading Room.  This second Central Library opened in June 1882.

The display case letting us know about the fire, and telling
us how generous the public were in donating to the
Collection - as only 500 volumes had been saved

John Chamberlain, the architect, had his Shakespeare Memorial Library included into the 1882 library; the room was in an Elizabethan style with carvings, marquetry and metalwork representing birds, flowers and foliage: was highly praised.

By 1938, the Council resolved that a new library was ‘an urgent necessity’ – but the War intervened and it was not until 1960 that the project was looked at anew.  The government ruled that the Shakespeare Memorial Room be preserved.

From Chamberlain Square looking
towards Madin's 'brutalist' style library

This next Central Library was opened in 1974, designed by John Madin, a Birmingham-based architect.  Its inverted ziggurat form is a powerful example of the Brutalist style – it was one of Birmingham’s key Modernist buildings.

The brutalist Central Library of 1974
Brutalist architecture – what a term … but what does it mean: it became popular with governmental and institutional clients from about 1950s to the mid 1970s.  Examples are typically massive in character, fortress-like, with a predominance of exposed concrete construction, or in the case of “brick brutalists”, ruggedly combining detailed brickwork and concrete.  The Madin design does comply … doesn’t it?

Then in 1999 as in my Canterbury Cathedral post … a small piece of concrete fell from a cladding panel … highlighting the need to be concerned over the state of the building.

Frankly, are these tower blocks of flats any better -
I guess they provide housing ... which we are very short of
- I took this from the roof garden

Should it go - - or should it stay and be preserved … the area was being comprehensively redeveloped, as too the main railway stations – eventually the battle was lost and another Birmingham Library went to dust.

I was so keen to see the latest library and its architecture … it had been so hyped up and god-daughter and boyfriend love it and were going to show me around – by the time I got there … the chap was working in another city.  Still we had a good look round, probably needed longer, we went to the roof area and looked out over the city-scape.

One wall of the Shakespeare Memorial Room -
this was special

The best part was the Shakespeare Memorial Room at the top of Library … amazing woodwork and panelling in the Elizabethan style.

I was unimpressed by various parts of the building and the disinterest by some of the staff … and now see that I am not alone … as expressed here in the Guardian article.

The attention to detail was good - it
was the whole that was suffering
It seems incredible that in the space of a couple of years – yes 2 years – it’s got to this sorry state … asking for books, job losses –  which means more work for others … then they’re grumpy … yes there’s politics … it is a sad state of affairs. 

Where to … I do not know … but I am off for lunch with god-daughter and my mate … we are off to visit a Victorian professor of Botany … sadly you can’t join us … but you can experience the visit in my next post …

Here's the Guardian article on the Dutch architectural practice Mecanoo, who co-ordinated the whole project - perhaps too many cooks spoiling the broth ... or perhaps Birmingham Council, or a sign of the economic times ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories