I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Monday
May022016

How many elephants drink milk?

 

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I have no idea, but it’s a question I’ve asked several times this morning, whilst completing my daily Spanish practice.  I’ve already done the section on animals, the food and drink chapter and am now working on questions.  I suppose with such limited vocabulary it’s difficult to come up with a wide range of relatively sensible sentences.

A few weeks ago I came across an article about making better use of the odd five minutes here and there, one suggestion being to learn a new language by means of a free app.  It sounded interesting so I followed the link to Duolingo and having just returned from South America, learning a few words of Spanish seemed quite a useful skill to acquire.

 

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I’ve now got 174 words of Spanish and am enjoying the daily five minute routine.  The program is clever, can be accessed from my phone, my tablet or my PC (no excuses!) and the methodology impressive: all learning styles catered for, it’s age-appropriate and amusing.  Achievement is rewarded with lingots which can be exchanged for additional challenges or vocabulary: one such add on is “pick up lines” Winking smile

In the meantime, I’ll just have to make do with

¿cuántos elefantes beber leche?
Thursday
Apr282016

I never met a flapjack I didn’t like

 

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and I don’t buy bunches of mixed flowers either.  These are lovely, though, aren’t they?

 

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We had a day out yesterday, driving down to Somerset for lunch.  We had to get the parking money purse out quick, though, when we suddenly found ourselves needing to pay a toll to cross the bridge.  The list of charges was many and varied but thankfully, there was a simplified version just along the way.

 

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We were heading for Bruton and finding ourselves with plenty of time, decided to take a look at what was going on at Hauser and Wirth.

 

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We found the exhibition of Subodh Gupta’s work “Invisible Reality” especially interesting, since our priority on arrival had been to head straight for the loo.  Bypassing the information desk, we began to view the exhibits in reverse without the benefit of notes and as a result, though we did indeed look more closely, we had no idea what we were looking at!

 

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Pots and pans, certainly, but it was good to find out the background later!

 

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I especially liked the series of crushed pots and pans with sarees embedded in the block and as we examined the individual pieces, we were distracted…

There is something special about coming across familiar faces in unexpected places and looking up to see our sweet Californian friends Mary and Diana there in the gallery beside us was a joy!  Of course, it wasn’t that much of a coincidence: We’d arranged to meet them for lunch at the Chapel later but to bump into them here was even better.  Hugs all round then and who cares about the art…let’s catch up on the goss!

 

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Well, we did look at more art on our way out…

 

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Sadly, they were only passing through, so it was a non-stop chatter kind of lunch and a couple of hours later, we drove off in opposite directions – they were heading for Heathrow, we were going home.

“See you in Charleston!”  Winking smile

 

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As for the first ever flapjack I didn’t like.  Well, serves me right for buying a mix, even if it was on special offer. 

Tuesday
Apr262016

Grumpy?

 

Hopping around the country, working here and there, I gather ideas along the way.  Whilst In Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago, I came across these.

 

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Well, I’ll bet you’d have wanted a closer look at that pot too!  And then, having taken a closer look and tried to figure out how it was made (and failed), you’d have taken down the details from the ladies who’d been to the class and decided to have a go yourself, wouldn’t you?

Which is how I came to be in the garden centre this morning, buying a couple of plants because my “starter kit” came the other day and I’m looking forward to having a go.  But oh my, what a collection of sour faced people were there!  I know, it was a chilly day.  It had even tried to snow a little on the way there.    Enough reason to be miserable?  I don’t think so!

 

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We were in Cambridge for a couple of days last week, remembering when we drove there at least six times a year at the start and end of each term, taking Edward and his belongings down this small drive into Peterhouse to a room with his name above the door.

 

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For a few hours, we were proud parents again.  That’s not to say we aren’t always proud parents, of course, but it was especially lovely to revisit those days and spend a while “remembering that time when…”

 

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Though I was teaching at the Cambridge WI office in Girton all day, we enjoyed a sunny afternoon in the city, musing over what had changed and what hadn’t, for it’s ten years or so since we’d been here.

 

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We’d forgotten the bikes.  Not so much those parked here and there and chained to every railing and cycle park, but those being ridden rather fast, on the pavement and the wrong way up a street, catching us unawares.

I’d forgotten – or perhaps never really noticed – the number of people standing around on the streets smoking as well.  And those groups of youngsters from language schools!  On one corner, I stood and waited for them to pass, determined I was not going to step out into the road because one bunch was completely unaware of anyone else around them. 

 

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Maybe I was the sour faced, miserable old woman on that occasion, then?  There’s no doubt that we were probably twice the average age of most people in town that afternoon and I’ll admit, I did let a couple of small things get to me.  But standing there on Kings Parade, we couldn’t help but count our blessings and thank goodness for bright young things, for sunny afternoons and happy memories, for no longer having to worry about examinations and suchlike but most immediately that afternoon, for Heffers bookshop!

Life is too short to be grumpy.

Wednesday
Apr202016

Arbella and Evelyn

 

I’m always interested in how information is communicated.  I suppose, in some ways you could say I’m more than just interested since it’s more or less what I do for a living.  Being a visual kind of person and one of those who can’t see words of any kind without reading them, I found our visit to Hardwick Hall last week particularly fascinating.

 

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It’s another of those places we’ve driven by hundreds of times, but always on our way to somewhere else and never bothering to stop.  But on our way home from Yorkshire, it was the perfect place to spend a few hours.

 

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Though we’d always associated Hardwick Hall with Bess of Hardwick, when we arrived, it was clear that the focus was a little wider.  In fact, we found Bess was given a mere cameo role in the story of the Hall, because the two exhibitions right now tell the stories of Arbella and Evelyn, two ladies about whom we had no idea. 

The first person we “met” was Arbella, The Lost Queen.

 

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My first reaction was of slight irritation, since there appears to be a current inclination to hang all kinds of heritage upon the stories of lonely young women (think Sissi, Georgiana, Marie Antoinette and, I suppose, she who may have initiated the trend: Diana)  It’s a bit of a safe route to take: there are probably oodles of tales to be told about the overlooked women in wealthy and powerful families and I think it’s hard to avoid the cliché.  However, we soon became fascinated by Arbella’s story and though my Hero was into the historical references, it was the means of presentation that caught my eye.

 

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The initial clue to what was to come was in the very first room where pieces of paper “flew” over our heads with a question:

 

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Which adjective best described Arbella?  Wilful? Deceitful? Lovable? Unfortunate?  The answer was probably all of the (literally) above.

 

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The historical facts were presented in bite sized chunks in an assortment of frames on one wall.  Though I can’t say I read every one, I paid particular attention to the story of Elizabeth 1, the Earl of Essex and William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, because we were going to the opera that evening and Roberto Devereux was on the programme and I knew nothing!  Those short paragraphs were perfect to capture my attention, because I am no historian.

 

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But yes, I will read any words placed in front of me, especially if they are concerned with fabrics and textiles of some kind and are presented in an eye catching setting.  Like on a fabric hanging.

 

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Or on a flight of steps.

(My hero and I had a discussion about which way around these should be placed – I stood at the bottom and read from the top; he read individual steps as he went and felt they’d be better ordered from bottom to top!)

 

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It was hard to know where to look, such were the riches on every wall.  I’ve never seen so many tapestries in a single building before!

 

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Even the walls which could not practically be covered by tapestries were furnished with interesting and attractive alternatives.

 

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By now, though, we were getting quite a good picture of Arbella.

 

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I still felt the need to go and read every cushion though.

 

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Each one was different.

 

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There were other artworks in the hall to look at as well.  My goodness, how could we have left it so long to come here?

 

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Anyway, more information to take in.  This time, along a wall in the gallery where a tapestry had been removed for conservation, a rack of wooden boards with further chunks of the story were set out.

 

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I didn’t re-order them but I did take an opportunity to interact.

 

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The mirror was carefully angled and presented a few more details.  Nothing took too long to read and as we wandered around, we were learning quite a lot about Arbella and her sad story.

 

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But suddenly, it came to a close.  Her residence at Hardwick Hall ended and the remainder of her story was told in a single sheet.  Did they run out of space?  I have no idea, but I thought it a shame that the exhibit fizzled out like this.

 

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Because in the next room, we were to lurch into another timeframe altogether.

 

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I read doormats as well.

 

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Thankfully, our first queries about where Evelyn fitted into the general Cavendish/Devonshire family were answered by the family history laid out like a place mat on the huge dining table.  Evelyn was the current Duke of Devonshire’s Great Grandmother and lived at Chatsworth until the death of her husband, when as the Dowager, she moved to Hardwick Hall, part of the Devonshire Estate.  (Of course, the Devonshire Fell Hotel, where we’d spent Wednesday night is also part of that considerable estate too)

 

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The principal attribute of Evelyn’s story was that of her interest in needlework and as a result, much of the information was presented on embroidery frames or similar.

 

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In modern National Trust style, some places were set out for “audience participation” – a couple of chairs were set by a table with baskets of knitting and sewing.  I quite liked the cushions

 

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even if I don’t really need a reminder of what a chair is for.

 

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The stories of Evelyn’s life travelling the world were shown in suitcases.

 

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And her interest in trying to conserve the wealth of textiles at Hardwick Hall was highlighted, too.  It seems that not only did she try painting in some of the faded areas of Elizabethan tapestry, she actually had a go at washing one of them and was horrified when it shrunk!

 

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On the landing was, in my opinion, the weak spot of the exhibition.  One of Evelyn’s roles had been the “mistress of the robes” to Queen Mary and the gown she wore to the coronation of King George V had been recreated and displayed on the landing.

 

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It was a good vehicle for telling the story of the relationship between Evelyn and Queen Mary, but I found the whole thing rather clumsy and less sensitive than other areas.

 

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Or maybe it’s just my aversion to pink and white satin!

 

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Her bedroom contained what was described on the pillowcase as “a modest bed for a Duchess”.

 

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Surprisingly modest furniture too, but chock full of interesting bits and pieces.

 

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Yes, of course I had a good poke around!

 

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I really like the way the National Trust are starting to present information in this way though I imagine it takes quite some maintenance to keep it all crisp and fresh.

 

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Handwritten letters such as this give a real insight to the person, I think, and I enjoy taking a close look at them.

 

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It’s always worth opening that drawer that no-one else did, too, because you never know what you might find!

 

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Throughout the house, we’d appreciated the lack of ropes and barriers to taking a closer look but it was only here in the last room that I noticed the “marker” – there on the floor was a wooden moulding which was surprisingly effective as a borderline not to be crossed.

 

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The story of Evelyn’s life told, then, we felt it was time for a sit down, even if we did have to go and find the cafe!

 

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I suspect it won’t be long before we return to Hardwick, too.  it’s another one of those “just off the motorway” places well worth visiting, if only we’d bothered…!

Monday
Apr182016

Just off the motorway

 

When we were first married, we had a small paperback with this title.  Inside, there were listings of what was to be found at each motorway junction, including local pubs, petrol stations and general alternatives to the service stations.  On our way up to Wharfedale last week, we stopped somewhere far more interesting.

 

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The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is on a stretch of the M1 which we don’t normally use.  By that time, we’ve normally turned off towards Hull or taken the M18 towards the A1.  Still, here we were on a fine Spring lunchtime, feeling peckish and in need of some fresh air.  What better place?

 

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We’d put our boots in the boot of the car, just in case.  Good job, too, because it was a bit muddy in places and the notices by the gate, advising of the need for sturdy footwear were apt.  The visitor centre had been designed with muddy boots in mind too and I was particularly impressed by this clever pathway to the entrance acknowledging park supporters at the same time as allowing the debris from hundreds of walking boots to fall through.

 

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Off we set, then, over the fields and through the sheep, saying good morning to Old Flo as we went, muttering about the peace of the countryside being shattered by a particularly noisy bunch behind us.

 

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I liked the natural sculptures almost as much as the crafted ones!

 

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Passing Bretton Hall there on the hill, I recalled the last time I was here: at the 1977 Summer Ball, with Gill, my friend (and bridesmaid!) from college days who was a student here. As we walked by, we giggled about the story of when the two of us were dancing with two blokes (oh yes, they were definitely blokes),

What’s your name?”

“Gill”

“What’s your friend’s name?”

“Gill”

“Are you sisters?”

“Yes, our Mum liked the name”.

 

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Down there by the water was a small tree with what is surely, someone’s special place. 

 

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A bit further along was another special place which aroused my curiosity.  Who knows?

 

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We were in this particular corner in search of some of Anthony Gormley’s work and struggled to find it until one of us thought to look up!

 

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Funny how, in spite of all the large works of art around here, it’s the small ones which catch my eye.  You spotted that one on the fence, didn’t you?

 

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Another small mystery.

 

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Did I say “large” pieces of art?  The temporary exhibit here right now is a collection of KAWS work.

 

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It was attracting a great deal of interest, though personally, I didn’t get it.  I need to read more about the artist and his work, perhaps.

 

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Aware that we still had a bit of a way to drive, we made our way back via the camellia house – breathtaking!

 

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I couldn’t resist jumping up and down on the planks whilst I was there.

 

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Goodbye, Old Flo.

 

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I wonder how much longer you’ll sit here and take in the view of Barnsley?