Sunday, 30 September 2012

Happy Birthday King Henry III

Today (1 October ) is the birthday of King Henry III of England.
Here is a representation of Henry III on a coin of the period.
The photograph was take by Kirk Dale.
Born at Winchester on the 1st of October 1207 he was son of the infamous King John and ruled from 1216 until 1272, the longest reigning English monarch for the next five hundred years: until bumped successively by King George III, Queen Victoria and recently by our own Queen Elizabeth II.

He is in this blog because he was a patron of artists, of gardeners, of architects and of artisans.  

Yes he was a spendthrift, and it is true that he was rather a martinet when it came to his rights as King.    He could also be something of a drama queen on occasions.

Avant-garde for his time, he was also an excellent interior designer, fashion designer and landscaper in his own right.

He was a faithful husband, a loving father, generous to a fault with all who came within his orbit; pious; approachable, kind hearted, extremely charitable; a gourmet of note, and a consummate showman when it came to public displays.
And what's more, I am proud to say that he is my ever-so-many-greats step uncle (one of my ancestors was the result of his mother's second marriage) so I wanted to invite him along.

Time unfortunately forbids me from writing anything further at this stage except to say that this evening AGA and I will raise a glass and salute this medieval monarch.

Happy Birthday King Henry III!  

This painting, on the so called Westminster Retable, was executed at Henry III's command.  The image comes from wikimedia commons.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Recycling: Nineteenth Century style!

I would like to show you an unusual crucifix that hangs on our wall.  Made in the Nineteenth Century, it was purchased in Austria.  

We were told it was made at a monastery - which may or may not be true, although I don’t see why not.  When purchased the whole thing was coated in a thickish layer of old dust (the sort of dust that has been there so long that it has 'set') and required some careful cleaning.

Here it is:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
 As you can see, from a distance it appears to be a fairly usual religious devotional object, with somewhat crude trefoils on each of the points.

But take a closer look and what you find is most unusual.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.

The figure of Our Lord is of a fairly standard design common in the 'Victorian' period.   It is made of that porcelain we call parian ware.  The beauty of this product was that you could pour it into moulds as you would with wax.  This meant that it was easy to mass produce solid items such as this Crucified Christ. 

It is the crucifix itself however that is interesting - from an artistic point of view.  The trefoils have been made separately and nailed onto a form.  The whole is made from many pieces of wood that have been carefully nicked along the edges by hand:

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
The pieces have then been laid in such a way that they rise up in ridges, each one having been carefully cut and shaped so as to fit perfectly atop the one beneath, exposing layer upon layer of sculptured edging.  The finished item has then been painted with a brown stain.

When you turn the Crucifix over you find another interesting thing:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
As you can see, the entire piece appears to have been made out of recycled wooded boxes.  The spine of the Crucifix is made out of a box lid that has been cut down the middle.
It reads: 'Innominata' and underneath is printed ‘Littera G’.  Innominata is Italian for the word ‘unknown’ or so I believe, and this is similar to our English word ‘innominate’ or ‘nameless’.
(I am not the best of photographers but I have tried to show you what the lid would have looked like in one piece.)
I wonder what this box contained.  I was thinking at first that it might have been cigars because of the oblong shape of the lid but really it could have been anything.  Was Innominata a company or a product?  Was Littera G. actually 'the Letter G' or someone's name as in Jones F?

And this isn't all:

A part of the crucifix arm (made of a different type of wood) reads: ‘Colorado 100’ and ‘Colorado Claro 100’.  Colorado is Spanish for ‘coloured red’ and ‘claro’ means ‘clear. If this is the correct meaning for these words then I wonder what arrived in that box that was coloured red and labelled in Spanish?
I have no idea but it is interesting to speculate.
This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
A box presumably from Italy, and a box presumably from Spain, end up in an Austrian Monastery and are recycled by someone who saw them and thought: "I could make a jolly nice Crucifix out of those!"

Over one hundred years later, and that same Crucifix (having survived two World Wars and whatever else might have happened along the way) is purchased by yours truly and taken to Germany; with its ultimate destination (for this leg of its journey) being the marvellous city of Melbourne.

And then . . . ?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Obbly, obbly onker, my first conker!

I have been trying to type a new post for my blog but my brain is rather sluggish. 

I have a cold. 

Or maybe it is an allergy.

However things cheered up considerably when we went for a walk this morning, because I picked up my first conker of the season.  For me this means that Autumn is well and truly on the way. 

This photograph of our village horse chestnut trees was taken today by Kirk Dale
When I was a child we would make a hole through the biggest ones and thread them with string.  Then we would play 'conkers’, trying to smash our opponent’s conker so that our one could become a champion. 
There was a rhyme to sing when playing conkers: 

Obbly obbly onker, my first conker, 
Ack ack ack my first crack."

When my family moved to Melbourne there were very few conker trees and so I only ever got them when I was back in England and staying with my uncle and aunt.  They had two huge old conker trees at the bottom of the garden.  My aunt would collect lots of them in buckets and when neighbouring children came she would allow them to reach in a take a huge handful: a conker lucky dip.  I of course being a favoured nephew,  was always presented with the biggest one when I arrived – even as an adult!
This photograph of today's small conker haul was taken by Kirk Dale.

Now we are living in Europe and conkers are plentiful at this time of year.  Technically they are horse chestnuts but to me they are conkers.  Shiny, dark brown ones are the best.   Now that I am approaching fifty I do not grab a bucket and rush out madly looking for the biggest and the best ones and hording them all for myself.  Instead, I walk sedately and look as if I do not care about them, but once I spy a nice big, dark brown, shiny one with clear champion tendencies, I cannot help myself: I have to pick it up.  I must pick it up!
I hold it in my hand and feel its glossy smoothness.   Then I slip it into my pocket, occasionally putting my hand inside to make sure it is still there. 
This photograph of the my first conker was taken by Kirk Dale
When we get back home I put it in pride of place on my bedside table.  As the season progresses the conker is joined by various others that I find.  Some may be bigger or browner or glossier but my first conker will retain its place as ‘premier’ conker in the collection – and when winter comes and  there are no more conkers to be had, it will go and join the various others that sit dotted around the house until they shrivel up and are then tossed into the old dike, there among the bushes and grass to gradually return to the earth that produced them.

Another good thing about the arrival of Autumn is the fact that we eat ‘marzipan hornchen’.  This is a croissant with marzipan inside.  It is extremely addictive!  The local baker makes them and they are very nice with a cup of tea or coffee on a cool day.

This photograph of a Marzipan Hornchen was taken by Kirk Dale.

I hope that you, dear reader, have had a pleasant weekend!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Child . . . Child . . .

Today I was feeling somewhat flat and listless.  At work I wore the mask, but underneath I felt out of sorts.  This wasn't made any better by an after work meeting.
When I finally arrived home I decided that while I waited for AGA to arrive, I would make a nice cup of tea, sit out on the balcony, and read my book.
This photograph was taken this afternoon by Kirk Dale
Cold Comfort Farm.

Have you read it?

I first read it in the 1990s and fell in love it.

It is an extremely amusing book.

I like it a lot.

The book was written by Stella Gibbons (1901-1989) and published in 1932.  In the following year it won the Prix Etranger for the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize which caused Virginia Woolf to utter some extremely waspish comments.
Seeing Virginia Woolf's feather's ruffled makes me happy too!

Cold Comfort Farm is a parody, a comedy laughing gentle at the writings of Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, and the rural dramas of the day - so full of angst and overwrought description, tedious in their long-windedness.

Here is the review printed at the back of my 2009, Penguin Books edition:

"When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.  At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets he doomed Starkadders, an eccentric group of relatives suffering from a wide variety of ailments.  But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people.  Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand.  A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time."

Here is one quote for you:
(The scene is between Seth and his mother, Judith)
Judith's breath came in long shudders.  She thrust her arms deeper into her shawl.  The porridge gave an ominous leering heave; it might almost have been endowed with life, so uncannily did its movements keep pace with the human passions that throbbed above it.
'Cur', said Judith, levelly, at last, 'Coward! Liar! Libertine!  Who were you with last night?  Moll at the mill or Violet at the vicarage?  Or Ivy, perhaps, at the ironmongery?  Seth - my son . . . Her deep, dry voice quivered, but she whipped it back, and her next words flew at him like a lash.
'Do you want to break my heart?'
'Yes,' said Seth, with an elemental simplicity.
The porridge boiled over.

The book was made into a movie in 1995 which I have on DVD but while it is itself rather amusing; it lacks the wit, the comic description, and the word play that I love in the book.

Funny and witty, it is never cruel, and the ending is a happy one for everyone involved.

I recommend you to this book -

- and I recommend Stella Gibbons!
This photograph comes from the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) Website

Monday, 17 September 2012

A Germanic Idyll

This past week AGA and I have been entertaining John and Di, our two visitors from Melbourne.  They had been sunning themselves in southern Italy and after leaving their main baggage with us were due to go to Prague for a week and so we decided that a little tour of rural Germany was in order, forming a pleasant Germanic interlude to their trip.
We decided upon the picturesque town of Monschau: A short drive south of Aachen, close to the Belgian border, and on the outskirts of the Eifel National Park.  We booked a self-catering place in a nearby village, ordered a hire car and as soon as we had finished work, we collected said guests and were off!
Arriving at the car hire centre I was told that as we had chosen this particular weekend to hire a car, we were to be given a free upgrade.  For those of you with an interest in such things this meant that we were now provided with a Renault Laguna which is a far larger car than I am used to driving.  It has a press button for starting and stopping, an inbuilt GPS and more importantly plenty of luggage space.  Added to this I must say that it handled the 130 kilometre speed limit on parts of the Autobahn with grace and the appearance of minimal effort, suiting us perfectly, especially as we had Frederick the Great playing his flute concerti on the CD Player.
Motoring south, we arrived in good time at our accommodation.  This was located in the village of Höfen, centre of what is known as Hedge-land. 
Why is it known as Hedge-land?
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Hedges are everywhere!  Some are famous, such as this one.  It is huge and surrounds the entire property:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Interestingly our accommodation, despite being right next to the Heckenweg (the scenic hedge avenue) only had one hedge, around the back:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
After a leisurely unpacking of our cases, a cup of tea and a chat; we went to dinner at the local restaurant housed in an old dairy.  At present it is Pfifferling season (that’s Chanterelle mushroom season to you) and almost every dish has it included in some form or another.  I had pork medallions in pfifferling cream sauce and it was delicious.  This being Germany there was a nice big dessert menu to choose from as well and while I am not a person to photograph restaurant food when my own choice arrived I had to take a photo because I had a feeling that this was going to be one of the best waffles with cherries and cream that I have ever had the pleasure to indulge in: And it was!:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
The following day we journeyed the few kilometres north into the town of Monschau.  
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Like many of the town and villages along the German borders it has changed hands many times and up until 1918 was known by its French name: Montjoie.  In this town there is a mix of traditional ‘Black and White’ architecture along with more sedate, cream, slate grey and steely blue coloured houses:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
The private house in the above photograph has a delightful five (?) sided sun room built on the corner that jutted out over the river.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
And then there were some truly lovely, palatial houses that we all decided we could easily live in! 
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Monschau is a small place and the Roccoco Mansion (the pinky-red building in the previous photo) which I had in mind to visit was only open at select times, but we had our guests to think of, and so rather than wait, we decided instead to return to the car and motor through the scenic Eifel countryside with its lakes, forests and meadowlands.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This is the Abbey of St Mary.  The Brothers had a very nice shop where we bought some CDs and home made sweets. Our visitors bought cinnamon flavoured honey which I must say was quite delicious (especially on fresh croissants bought from the village bakers) although AGA didn't like it as much.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Weekends can be so short! 
Before we knew it we were getting ready to leave.  
We wanted our drive back home to be another chance for our guests to see history and rural charm and so we stopped at the Rheinisches Freilichtmuseum Kommern, an ‘Open Air’ Museum. 
I don’t know about you but sometimes those open air museums can be somewhat tedious to say the least. This one however was extremely interesting.  The buildings, most of which date from the 16th and 17th Century, have been gathered from all over the district and reassembled into four distinct ‘villages’ surrounded by meadows and gardens.  The ‘olde worlde’ part is not over done and both we and our visitors had an extremely enjoyable time:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
As you can see, the houses are set out as naturally as possible, giving the appearance of having stood in that spot for centuries although the museum has only existed since the 1950s.  I admit that I entered a photograph taking frenzy at this point but I won't bore you with them all here!

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This proved to be the perfect way to finish our tour and we then motored back from whence we came, dropped of the car, and caught the bus back home.  When we arrived, our own village's annual potato festival was still in full swing.  The streets were packed and the music loud, however we were able to retire to our secluded bijou apartment for a well-deserved rest prior to ending our lovely weekend (once the crowds had departed) with a visit to ‘The Unicorn’ for a delightful dinner complete with toasts to a nice weekend, good friends and pleasant company.

I hope you enjoyed accompanying us on our weekend away!