Soundscapes and Shield Maidens

Hello All

What a different place the world is before dawn. Blinkered by the night I enjoy a soundscape uncluttered by daylight’s congestion. The bicycle wheels go round and murmur along the tarmac, small bumps create metallic tinkling as the pannier grip clinks against the frame and the brakes squeal to slow me on the downhill run. Beyond the cycle’s pleasant chattering the wind flutters the leaves, stirring their dried brethren along the pavements, the river rushes over small weirs booming as it bottoms.

All joy … until the rain or frosts bring greasy and slippy surfaces when my soundscape may be something like ‘crash, bang, wallop’! But for those of you who worried be reassured I now have a jaunty red helmet to keep my napper safe.

Sadly while I am feeling virtuous and energised by all this extra exercise a good friend is proper poorly. AFl has been amazingly strong and as we share a love of things Viking I thought a little gift might be in order.

You may recall my trip to Roskilde earlier in the year with No 1 Daughter:

That’s right the home of the fabulous Viking Ship Museum. Well while I was there perusing the museum shop (those places are so damn irresistible) I found a small gem:

A long ship pastry cutter to add to my collection of needle-felting templates. At last an opportunity to use it. After all every Shield Maiden…

… needs her own long ship. Thor’s strength to you AFl.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

The Experiment – last of the needle-felting trial

Hello All

Yesterday travelling home all roads North were busy with Bank Holiday traffic. The sun was shining and who can blame folk wanting to spend a few days in our beautiful neck of the woods. That was yesterday.

Today the weather is decidedly autumnal: wet and chill. Time for me to hunker down with a large mug of tea, do some crafting and hope our visitors are staying warm and dry by sampling the marvellous eateries and inns of Cumbria.

It felt (no pun) like a good day for me to return to the last three plant fibres and conclude the needle-felting stage of The Experiment. Watch out for my environmental confusion. I have definitely released a can of worms…

Flax (linen)

As I opened the packet I swear there was the faint waft of new cloth. I could have been nasally fooled by the notion of fresh linen. I am easily suggestible. But for a second ….

The natural colour of the skein was darker than most of the other plant fibres many of which appear to have little pigment. Again the staple was pulled easily from the skein.

Flax also had that now familiar sheen.

Like the hemp the flax worked well. I felt at home using it and although I had only given myself a small sample I think I would use it on larger projects as it can be comfortably moulded.

Eco-thumbnail: Flax is one of the oldest textile fibres. Set to make my heart race then! After hemp it is the second most highly productive crop and can be grown without the use of herbicides and pesticides. Usefully it can be grown on land unsuitable for food crops and may even re-cultivate polluted soils. Again it is only beaten by hemp as being the most water efficient fibre. All sounding good? Wait a moment…

Sadly – while it doesn’t need to – production commonly uses agricultural chemicals. Could this be that old conundrum? Too many consumers mean high yields are sought at the cost of the environment? I am not finished either. The usual method of extracting the fibres is by retting and this can be highly polluting to water. Luckily there are other methods: dew or enzyme retting which utilise natural processes to break down the stalks and in the case of enzyme retting contain the pollutants within tanks.

Mint Fibre

No. No. It definitely didn’t smell of mint. It was similar to the majority of the plant fibres, was silky and pulled easily from the skein.

The mint resisted the needle quickly nonetheless it worked well and I was again happy with the result.

Eco-thumbnail: This eco stuff is certainly taking me into unchartered territory. What the heck is ‘cellulose fibre’? You probably know being the wise readers that you are but just in case: cellulose fibres are natural fibres which include plant fibres … gulp how do I check that there are no animal fibres mixed in? I feel my CSE Biology or is it Chemistry .. perhaps physics? …. may be stretched here.

I am going with what I have seen on the inter-web. Mint fibre is a bio-degradable cellulose made from wood pulp infused with mint powder. Again, what?! Apparently the powder is extracted from peppermint leaves and gives the fibre anti-bacterial properties and makes the fabric naturally cooling.

I understand from some of my reading that the chemical solutions (eek!) used to process the fibre are recycled into the system. With there being little waste too this fibre is considered ‘relatively’ eco-friendly.

We have arrived at the last plant fibre I am testing. Thank goodness I can hear you saying. Here it comes. Last but not least:

Rose Fibre

Of course not. There wouldn’t be. There was no smell. Very disappointing on the fragrance front. The peeps at World of Wool describe rose as similar in appearance and feel to bamboo. Meanwhile at Allfiberarts.com the sampler describes rose as similar to banana to spin. I agree with both. I think this is because the majority of plant fibres – with the exception of hemp and flax – have suspiciously similar properties.

Again I found that the rose resisted the needle very quickly as I was felting but once more I was pretty pleased with the results.

Eco-thumbnail: This bio-degradable fibre is extracted from the natural waste of rose bushes and their stems and is considered environmentally friendly. Limited information I know but I will learn more.

That is the end of the needle-felting trial. As you have probably guessed my favourite plants so far are hemp and flax. They felt the most natural, were the most easily understood (by me) in environmental terms and I was happiest working them.

I confess this eco-vegan thing is tricky. I have felt hampered by my lack of knowledge about the manufacture of these fibres. I hope to address this. It may take a considerable amount of reading and talking to the right people but I have the bit between my teeth or perhaps the staple beneath my needle. I will carry on carrying on.

And there I was thinking this was going to be a simple project. I haven’t even begun to look at the environmental perils of dying the fibres!

Time for a lie down in a darkened room….

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Village Life

Hello All

Feeling a wee bit blurry as I adapt to early starts once more. Strange how getting up at 4.30am makes finding the sleep you desperately need so elusive! But nothing like toddler sitting to keep a Grandma moving despite her natural inclination to sit in a cosy chair and snooze … oops … read. Don’t fret no toddlers were actually sat on during the construction of this post.

It is always a delight to see wee Peanut. She has a never ending supply of energy and curiosity. Yesterday she was brim full with excitement. Her village is in the midst of it’s annual festival and best of all

It was Dog Show day! No1 Daughter set off early to help with an Animals Asia stand. Meanwhile Peanut and I took our time toddling around the village investigating the scarecrows dotted along our route.

Scarecrow Festivals have become very popular over the last twenty years or so. Peanut’s village has joined in this fine tradition, a tradition that is only a blink of an eye in the history of scarecrows.

Scarecrows have been around as long as people have grown crops and birds have been hungry. Did you know that the earliest recorded reference to scarecrows is ancient Egyptian? a scarecrow is even to be found in Japan’s oldest surviving book “Kojiki” which dates to the 8th century. In medieval Britain young boys were used as ‘Bird Scarers’ but after the Great Plague of 1348 and the consequent devastation of the population young lads were in short supply so farmers started creating human-like forms from stuffed sacks and turnip heads to put in their fields.

Today they are not only agricultural aids they are also small works of art created by families and villagers to bring fun and laughter to their communities. Peanut’s village did not disappoint. We spotted scarecrows at the pub:

(Peter Rabbit! Yorkshire you are treading on Cumbrian territory here….)

At the church:

(Mr Men, pourquoi?)

And of course at the nursery where this poor family ain’t half having a struggle to pull out this recalcitrant turnip:

Even with the help of their dog, cat and … mouse!

I have discovered that the story of the giant (or enormous) turnip is a Russian folktale written by Tolstoy. The joke in the tale is that it is only with the help of the smallest creature, the mouse, that the huge root is pulled from the ground. The moral of course is that anything can be accomplished if we work together.

While we were looking at the nursery another happy little tale unfolded. I was admiring the nursery’s kitchen garden with Peanut when one of the staff arrived carrying a cabbage. I found out that she has been carefully plucking caterpillars from their vegetables, gently putting them in a small netted area and keeping them fed. She had brought along the cabbage as their weekend rations. Her kindness for the caterpillars (and the vegetable plot) will provide a wonderful experience for the children who will watch these wriggly creepy crawlies transform into butterflies … or … cabbage moths….

Do you know that it is only as I am typing this that I have realised there was a theme to the scarecrow tableaux, children’s stories! Now Peter Rabbit and the Mr Men make sense.

Skimming over this evidence of my dimwittedness back to yesterday. With many a wall to walk along (Peanut not me…although those low walls are very tempting) and scarecrows to spot our peramble to the field took some time. But Peanut soon picked up the pace when she saw her mummy happily wo-manning the Animals Asia stall:

Super supporter F had made a magnificent job of decorating the stall with goodies and information. She even sourced the small toys for the raffle. Doesn’t it look great? Her hard work was rewarded by raising funds and awareness amongst the locals who are now getting together to start a village supporters group. Result!

Peanut had her own rewards too. Not only did she ‘win’ a bear in the ‘everyone wins a prize raffle’ she also gained a second bear when a villager passed her prize on to Peanut too! Lucky little girl.

This is village life. What a wonderful happy day we had. Icing on the cake, Peanut’s daddy was home from work in time to help pack up the stand while I looked for that cosy chair… zzzzzzz.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Action-packed

Hello All

I love a bookend and who can deny that a few days that start with Vikings and end with Vikings are a good thing?…ok…ok….Franks….Anglo-Saxons….Celts…..

It appears Kirkstall Abbey was ready to let bygones be bygones

And happily allowed a Viking village to be pitched outside the Nave.

The Norse looked friendly enough but the re-enactors from Ormsheim Vikings showed us their more unapproachable side too

The smiley devils!

Set inside and around the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Festival was in full swing with choirs, hawks, stalls, ponies and dogs on show when we gathered en familie for a marvellous day in the sunshine. Peanut had a particularly good time being borne on Uncle D’s shoulders to watch dancers in the nave and later racing around the cloisters to the music of the wonderful Otley Ukulele Orchestra.

After all that excitement a genteel woman of Cumbria was just what I needed and last Wednesday JG and me continued our progress around the Women of Cumbria exhibitions with a return visit to The Ruskin Museum in Coniston for the small display on Elizabeth Smith (1776 – 1806).

Miss Smith is a rather elusive figure aptly described by twentieth century Lakeland poet Norman Nicholson in 1953 as:

A shadowy form … a ghost even when she was alive…’

Although she had an extraordinary talent for languages – she was fluent in French, Spanish, German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew – and was a geometrician, musician and poet it was her early death that aroused the interest of the Lakeland literati, especially DeQuincey (that well known self-confessed opium eater) rather than her accomplishments in life.

Elizabeth died of consumption living her last few weeks in a tent that her father had put up in order that she could breath more easily and enjoy the glorious views of Coniston. Yet even in death she seems to have just melted away.

To me she is an icon of the many similarly gifted women of her time who were invisible. She left me a little heavy hearted for all the talented women who have vanished from our consciousness.

Ready for a gear change? After the peace and wistfulness of Elizabeth Smith I was whisked away on Saturday by No1 Daughter to London for a fabulous Animals Asia Bear-B-Q right in the heart of the busy city.

Organised by fantastic Animals Asia supporter Sarah D on the roof terrace of Knight Frank at 55 Baker Street the event was a huge success. Sarah D is an absolute powerhouse of a woman with such compassion and commitment to the Animals Asia cause. Big thanks Sarah and to your wing-man Ray.

The setting was wonderful (as were the raffle prizes)

The food was the very best vegan food I have ever tasted (the veggie option looked scrumptious too).

And Animals Asia ace ambassador actor (who knew I could get so many A’s in a phrase) Peter Egan was super lovely – as were the chefs he’s standing with…did I mention that food…?

It was a day spent with some of the most amazing passionate people I have ever met. Everyone friendly, chatty and interesting. It was also a day that allowed me a proud mum moment. Well done No1 Daughter!

London was hot hot hot so it was a relief to return up North and enjoy a quiet Sunday sitting in a local nature reserve for a relaxing picnic organised by No1 ‘son-in-law’. Thanks RP.

Looking at the colour of the grass it is not only London that has been a tad warm!

Yesterday and flowers from friends herald

The arrival of another birthday! It really doesn’t seem like a year ago that I hit that significant 60. Eeeeek. Luckily before I could get too maudlin No 1 Daughter and Peanut lifted my day.

First we stocked up on goodies for lunch from The Garden Vegan Take-Away here in sunny Kendal.

Amazing victuals – pasties, salads, sandwiches, wraps – perfect for a happy day spent wandering the grounds of my favourite haunt Levens Hall. Peanut was in her element exploring and running around the gardens (a real must see if you are in this neck of the woods, the gardens that is not the running..).

Going …

Going …

Gone!

She humoured her Omi with a sedate walk around the cottage garden.

She was captivated by the blooms (it could also be the path, she has a penchant for gravel!)

And was fascinated by the squashes and courgettes.

What a fabulous day we had.

As for those Vikings! No1 Son knows me well ….

Until next we meet,

Moke x

Something in the water

Hello All

Wednesday 4 July 2018 – Part 2: Ambleside

Leaving Grasmere, Wordsworths and Shelleys behind JG and me boarded a returning 555 bus to travel the short distance to Ambleside.

The Armitt Museum is one of the smallest but most intellectually compelling museums I know.

Snuggled within the grounds of Charlotte Mason College the Armitt is a unique combination of library, museum and gallery.

The Armitt was founded as a library by Mary Louisa Armitt – known to her friends as Louie – to foster the exchange of ideas among the local community. And what a community!

Ambleside in the 1800s and early 1900s was the centre of a remarkable intellectual culture in which many of the key players were independent women. Amongst these were Mary Louise and her sisters, Sophia and Annie Maria; Harriet Martineau; Annie Jemima Clough; Charlotte Mason and famously Beatrix Potter. A powerhouse of polymaths. But had you heard of them all? I certainly hadn’t …. and I live on the doorstep!

The Armitt’s “A Woman’s Place: Ambleside’s Feminist Legacy” rectifies this.

Here are the inspirational women we met (no photos allowed so bear with my scratchy portraits):

Founders of the Armitt Library – the Armitt Sisters

Sophia, Annie Marie and Mary Louisa Armitt were seriously gifted sisters originally from Salford. Each had her own area of expertise and talent, botany, music, English literature to name a few.

Thankfully Mary Louisa ignored Ruskin’s advice to keep to women’s activities. I don’t think he would have included in those the founding of a library and we would have been all the poorer.

There is definitely something in the Ambleside water as the talented Armitts were not the only women of note drawn to the area.

The first female sociologist – Harriet Martineau (1802 -1876)

This rather doe-eyed portrait probably belies the steely woman Harriet was. Born into a Unitarian family of Huguenot ancestry she travelled widely (in those skirts?!) and was a proponent of higher education for women. Her interest in social theory earned her the ‘first female sociologist’ moniker.

She was a woman ahead of her time:

“If a test of civilisation be sought, none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half has power”

… and there were more…

First Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge – Anne Jemima Clough (1820 – 1892)

While losing out in the portraiture stakes (sorry Anne) Ms Clough certainly did not lose out when they were handing out brains and humanity. Anne Clough was a suffragist (akin to a suffragette but earlier and non-violent) and like Martineau was a promoter of higher education for women becoming the first principal of Newnham College, Cambridge University.

While in Ambleside (where else?) she opened a school at her home Eller How for local children. Fascinated by her stories and travels her pupils couldn’t resist being drawn to her and learning through her informal methods of teaching. Moving south to help her widowed sister-in-law she initiated a scheme for peripatetic lectures which blossomed into the development of a new Cambridge college.

Homely and good humoured, like the children at Eller How, Anne Jemima’s students cherished her. While not a natural administrator her humility and ability to admit when she was wrong allowed her to work creatively and successfully with her colleagues.

She sounds great and is a bit of Her-story I have never learned about.

Home Education and the Teacher’s Teacher – Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923)

Best known in these here parts for being the light behind the teachers’ training college set up after her death Charlotte was also a supporter of home education. She co-founded the Parents’ Educational Union to provide resources for home educating parents and published the Parents’ Review a regular publication with articles on home educating.

Perhaps because of this Charlotte is well known in North America. Infact we learned that a large number of American and Canadian home schoolers visit The Armitt to find out more about her.

Last but not least …

Naturalist, artist, writer and conservationist – Beatrix Potter

(Oh the sacrilege.)

Living in an age of change Beatrix expertly followed her own path. Through her much loved Tales of Peter Rabbit and other children’s books Beatrix an astute businesswoman ensured her financial independence. She earned enough to engage in farming, assemble a great estate and become a Herdwick sheep breeder. All this from an expert on fungi!

Beatrix supported The Armitt and thanks to her beneficence the museum holds an amazing collection of her scientific drawings. They bowl you over with their detail and some are even hard to distinguish from photographs. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to see Beatrix Potter’s academic work it is astonishing.

You still there? I couldn’t stifle the urge to share these inspirational women with you I hope you enjoyed meeting them.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Keep on marching…

Hello All

Wednesday 4 July 2018 – Part 1: Grasmere

The sun continues to shine, moors and heaths burn and reservoirs run dry. Welcome to the new California! Thankfully the Women of Cumbria are going nowhere. They are a sturdy bunch – hot? phah! – so the march of the modern women (me and JG) continues … even if I am sweating …. sorry …. glowing like a Gloucester Old Spot (oink!).

Hopping on the 555 Stagecoach Bus from Kendal – choosing seats on the shady side of the top deck – we set off. What a corker of a day. We visited two museums and ‘met’ a host of incredible women.

Settle in a comfy spot with a pot of your favourite brew – I am now mainlining green tea – a lengthy post lies ahead of you. And there is another to follow. No rest for the wicked.

Described in my trusty copy of Hyde and Pevsner as sitting in a ” Pastoral, Samuel Palmerish setting under the beetling fells…” Grasmere deserves its enduring popularity with visitors. Amongst those visitors were the Wordsworths, sister and brother Dorothy and William. Our day kicked off with a visit to their one-time home, Dove Cottage.

Once a wayside inn Dorothy Wordsworth initially occupied the panelled downstairs room in this 17th century whitewashed cottage.

Got to love the quirky terrier. What a rascal he looks.

On this hot day the cool of the homely kitchen and buttery was welcomingly refreshing.

Dove Cottage a place of “plain living and high thinking” saw Dorothy and her brother William at their most productive (1799 to 1808). However the cottage was soon crowded by William and his wife Mary’s growing family together with the coterie of the great (and often stoned) literati of their day it was no surprise that Dorothy moved to one of the smallest and coldest rooms she probably needed the peace and a good (if nippy) night’s sleep.

Up to fifteen people sometimes slept at the Wordsworth’s. Snug to say the least.

How inviting the garden would have looked. No wonder William treasured the time he spent at the top of the garden overlooking the house and fells from his moss clad retreat.

It seems that daffodils were not the only flowers on his mind.

No gardening pun intended but if I seem to have wandered from the Women of Cumbria path here I come tripping (almost literally those olden days folk had smaller feet than mine and their steps were not designed for clodhoppers like me) back onto it.

Dorothy was a wonderful writer and much ‘borrowed’ by her famous brother. William was influenced by her detailed descriptions of nature. Her “Grasmere Journal” probably inspired “Daffodils” together with William’s acclaimed guide to the Lake District.

Next door to Dove Cottage is the Wordsworth Museum and another woman who could easily have slipped under the shadow of a famous man. Can you guess who she might be?

Couldn’t get JG to pose. Can’t think why?! You of course guessed our visit was to learn about Mary Shelley in the latest exhibition in the museum’s Women Behind the Words series:

Mary Shelley (born in 1797) was a woman of many talents: a novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer and travel writer. It fair puts you to shame. “Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus” was born out of a stormy night’s challenge amongst friends when she was 19 years old (nineteen!!). Her other works include “The Last Man” set in the future of…the 21st century! Don’t want to worry you but we are all doomed.

Curated by Fiona Sampson to coincide with the publication of her book “In Search of Mary Shelley” the exhibition reveals an intelligent and radical woman. Mary’s life was beset by tragedy, the drowning of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and the deaths of three of her children, yet she devoted herself to looking after her only surviving child and her career as a professional writer. No mean feat for any woman in the 19th century. It is good to fly the flag for her, Dorothy Wordsworth and the other Women Behind the Words.

There’s a whole bunch of fabulous women to come…watch this space.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

I will take up my pencil

Hello All

While we are enjoying* this extended period of warm weather here in the UK it is good to get out and about. I fear all too soon we will be saying ‘Do you remember the summer of 2018?’ Much as we used to say ‘Remember the summer of ’76?’ (you perhaps have to be longer in the tooth for the latter … check with your parents … grandparents).

So at the invitation of my friend KS and her son AB I jumped on one of my favourite buses – you guessed it Stagecoach 555 – to Keswick with one destination in mind.

It is years since I visited this little gem of a museum and in the meantime it has moved out of the old factory site – production has now moved to Workington a short-ish bus ride away – to a purpose built unit in the old factory grounds.

If you wondered where pencils came from ponder no more! The first pencil was made in Keswick, here in good old Cumbria – once called Cumberland around these parts – over three centuries ago. Glad they have kept the Pencil Museum in Keswick as it is ever popular with visitors of all ages and it seems only right to keep it in the birthplace of the pencil.

For the outing I became part of KSs family (ticket) and enjoyed the delights within for free. The staff were super friendly, we all got pencils (which we kept) and opted to share a quiz sheet.

We crouched through the replica graphite mine adjusting our eyes to the darkness and watching out for the ‘miners’ frozen in their perpetual task of extracting graphite for our beloved HBs. Then all was light as we emerged into the bright and airy exhibits’ hall.

Keswick Pencil Museum boasts many quirky artefacts. Such as ….

The longest pencil in the world. It is true, it is verified by that bible of such peculiar facts The Guinness Book of Records. There is even a certificate to prove it:

Along with the huge are the small. There is a fascinating display showing how MI5 commissioned specially hollowed out pencils – to carry maps – topped with rubbers (erasers) that hid a handy compass. I learnt a lot about the humble pencil: how many are made a year (lots and lots); what sort of wood is used (clue: it comes from a tree) and what was used as an eraser before the rubber (who would have thunk it!).

Amongst the displays were many wonderful collections of pencils

The damage to this lovely old example tells a more recent tale of Keswick’s history. It shows how high the flood waters rose during Storm Desmond in 2015.

Now to another gem…literally

To commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 Derwent crafted a special Diamond Jubilee Pencil. Only two were made one was presented to the Queen (money always goes to money!) and the other is displayed at Keswick.

The Diamond Jubilee Pencil is a work of great skill. It is made from graphite taken from the original mine and was crafted by means of the traditional methods used before 1832. To top it off the crown is encrusted with 60 diamonds supported by white gold lilies to symbolise royalty. KS and AB wondered whether the Queen uses hers to write her shopping lists. I do hope so…I hope she writes all sorts of lists,’tis the simple pleasure of us humble folk!

We finished our tour with one of the Calvert Trust sheep which was commissioned by Derwent and formed part of the Herdwick Trail in 2016. Derwent’s sheep was decorated to resemble a dry-stone wall. A very colourful wall! each of the ‘stones’ were coloured using Derwent’s Inktense blocks and the lines between them were made with Inktense pencils and blocks.

One final look back:

before browsing the wonderful shop, drooling over the colours, pencils, brushes, pastel blocks and inks and then toddling over the road to Kat’s Kitchen for some cold drinks supped while viewing the beautiful landscape that surrounds Keswick.

I opened with a part quote from Vincent Van Gogh in the title. To close I bring you one from Stan Laurel:

You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must always be led!

Until next we meet

Moke xxx

* The sunny weather is not bringing joy to all. My heart goes out to the numerous firefighters, soldiers and volunteers that are working day and night in awful conditions on moors and heaths to douse and control numerous fires. Mx