Summer seals

Horsey-beach-rocks-and-seals

It was very windy last weekend and the sea was rough with plenty of white horses. On the sandy beach granite rocks are strategically strewn across the shoreline in attempt to reduce erosion, but what’s that? – a rock just moved.

grey seals on the beach

A few members of the grey seal colony at Horsey Gap, Norfolk.

Walking down towards the sea we find members of the Horsey Gap grey seal colony flopped out and sunning themselves. Or, playing rough and tumble in the surf.

Or, simply having a little nap.

The seal colony at Horsey Gap on Norfolk’s east coast is popular with visitors in late winter when all the pups have just been born. We were surprised to find so many seals on the beach in August. Of course, there are always one or two of them watching the watchers. . . .

. . .  especially when some of those watchers come a little too close and then the whole colony clumsily, but speedily move a couple of metres towards the water and away from the nosey humans.

Humans-visitors

You can’t see in these photos just how windy it was, but every now and then a gust whipped up the sand stinging any exposed skin. It reminded my father of the Shamal that blows down from Iraq and across Kuwait almost continuously during June and July each year.

It-was-very-windy

 

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High summer flowers – lilies, dahlias and hollyhocks

High-summer-lilies

August in the garden, even when not hot and sunny, has a very different palette to the pastels seen at the beginning of summer.

I used to have a bed filled with bright pink echinaceas and hot orange rudbeckias, but these prairie lovers have been squeezed out as my garden has matured.

I miss my prairie, high summer bed which is now in the shade of a Bramley apple tree. It really is a bit too gloomy, but I have strategically placed large pots of dahlias to give it a lift.

White-lily

Another part of my garden that has changed significantly is under the pergola. This area is now in fairly deep shade cast by the wisteria and a vigorous grape vine. However, towards the south-facing edge a blue hydrangea and some lily pots have just enough light to bloom, but they most definitely require regular watering.

I do love the scent of lilies, but in the end, on a dull August day, the vibrant, visual zing of a bunch of dahlias jolts me into remembering it is high summer after all.

Rich-colours-arrangement

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Seen from a train

Summer-baked-FensJust over three weeks ago, when we had our mini heatwave, I was on a train crossing the Fens. It’s an agricultural and market garden region famous for being flat.

Fenland-green

Up to the 17th century it was wet, low-lying marshland, until drainage schemes transformed the landscape. The Earl of Bedford brought the Dutch drainage engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, to the region and, with royal support from Charles 1, draining began around 1630. The King received 12,000 of the 95,000 acres of the reclaimed Fen land for the Crown .

Criss-cross-Fens

The process of draining was not entirely supported by the local population but gradually over the course of the 17th century the marshland became arable, workable farmland.  Eventually, over 300 years the marshes evolved into the Fenland landscape we see today.

The sepia picture was taken from the train. The original capture looked less interesting.

I had more luck when the train pulled into Ely and was stopped for a few minutes. One day I’ll get off and go and make a long overdue visit to the magnificent Norman cathedral known as ‘The Ship of the Fens’.

Ely-Cathedral-from-the-train

 

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Returning to a bird theme

Cora-in-progressJust added to my online shop another flat silk crepe silk square working with a stork motif placed within a stained glass window frame.

Cora-Jewel-1

Since I last worked with a stork motif it has greatly changed. Somehow it’s reduced in size and morphed into various stylised shapes of beaks and feathers!

However, I think the stained glass influence is still obvious.

It is surprising how effective the final addition of green over the various soft golds has lifted the design.Agne-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-scarf-Cora-jewel-tied-WP

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The Oxburgh Hangings

Stork-The-Shrewsbury-HangingOf course, the outstanding exhibit at Oxburgh Hall is the needlework hangings embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots, Bess Hardwick (Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury) and their ladies-in-waiting between 1569 and 1584.  These hangings were NOT actually sewn at Oxburgh Hall, but arrived some time in the 18th century along with Mary Browne of Cowdray Park, a wife for the 4th Baronet, Sir Richard Bedingfeld.

Kings-Room-Oxburgh-Hall-1973-shows-hangings

The King’s Room, Oxburgh Hall circa 1973 showing the Marian Hanging above the fireplace and the Shrewsbury and Cavendish Hangings on the four poster bed. The hangings are now in a special room with no daylight and hang in sealed, moisture controlled display cabinets.

These embroidered panels are a visual and cultural expression of Mary’s time spent during her imprisonment by Queen Elizabeth 1. As such these embroideries are of a wider historical interest and significance than any part of the fabric of Oxburgh Hall or any other content of the hall, but, sadly, sewing is not such a crowd puller as a moat!

The-Marian-Hanging-with-Marys-cypher

The Marian Hanging – so-called as many of these panels have either Mary Queen of Scots’ initials or cipher.

Virescit-Vulnere-Vitrus-Marian-Hanging

The centre square of the Marian Hanging shows a hand cutting down the unfruitful branches of the vine, with the motto ‘Virescit Vulnere Virtus’ (Virtue flourisheth by wounding).

Marian Hanging monogram octagon

This octagon above the centre square on the Marian Hanging shows the monogram ‘Marie Stuart’ crowned, with thistles, Mary’s cipher and motto ‘Sa Vertu Matire’ (In my end is my beginning).

In March 1569, three months into Mary’s stay/incarceration with the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Shrewsbury wrote of Mary

‘This Queen continueth daily to resort to my wife’s chamber where with the Lady Lewiston (Livingston) and the Mrs (Mary) Seton she useth to sit working with the needle in which she much delighteth and in devisisng works.’

From this we learn that both Mary and Bess worked together in the design as well as the execution of the embroideries. Many of the designs have motifs and Latin mottos taken from emblem books that were popular across Europe during the middle of the 16th century. It appears inspiration was taken from woodcuts printed in a selection of natural history books including ‘Icones Animalium’ by Conrad Gessner (1560), ‘Devises héroïques’ by Claud Paradin (1557) and ‘La Nature et Diversité des Poissons’ by Pierre Belon (1555).

Designs were drawn onto linen canvas and then embroidered. Coloured silks, silver thread and silver-gilt thread were used, employing both cross-stitch and tent-stitch, to create the finished pieces.

The present arrangement of embroideries at Oxburgh, mounted on green velvet, is believed to have been made sometime in the 18th century to create the three hangings. They are called the Marian Hanging (after Mary, Queen of Scots), the Shrewsbury Hanging (after Bess Hardwick) and the Cavendish Hanging (after Mary Cavendish, Bess’s youngest daughter). Individually, each embroidered panel may originally have been used for cushions and were sometimes given as gifts.

Some of the designs have hidden meanings for the imprisoned Queen, such as the despair of the yellow rose eaten by ‘canker’ (bottom right-hand corner of the Marian hanging but, sadly, it was too dark for me to get a photo in focus without a tripod!). Quite a few different birds are featured. They make interesting shapes to embroider, but, also, of course, a bird can always take to the sky, fly away, escape.

Not all the designs featured birds and animals from the wild. A few panels show domesticated animals and farm activities.

Whilst one or two panels depict mythical beasts in all their intricate glamour such as this cockatrice.

A-Cockatrice-Marian-Hanging

A cockatrice from the Marian Hanging. Such a mythical beast was said to be able to kill with a look!

This is only a small selection of all the beautifully embroidered panels. The hangings are in a small room with restricted lighting, but they do look so much better in real life than in photos. Well worth a visit.

The-Cavendish-Hanging

The Cavendish Hanging

Note – for any Art Historians who stumble across this post. There are currently two books available on the Oxburgh Hangings, ‘Emblems for a Queen: The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Michael Bath (2008) and ‘The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Margaret Swain (1973). For detailed technical information the V&A Museum is a great resource.

Scissors-owned-by-Mary-Queen-Scots

A pair of scissors once owned by Mary, Queen of Scots displayed in the King’s Room at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk.

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A quintessentially English weather drama

Clouds-bringing-rain

Suffolk is well-known for big, open skies. These skies of cool blue with puffs of white cloud were made famous in the paintings of Suffolk-born, John Constable, from Dedham Vale on the Suffolk/Essex border.

Flatford-Mill-John-Constable

Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River) by John Constable   1816
Oil on canvas. 52.4 in × 6.4 in × 62.3
Tate Britain, London

However, it’s not always sunny in Suffolk and recently there have been spells of speedily arriving storm clouds and heavy summer showers.

rainbow over sea

Dark skies, heavy showers and bright rainbows over the North Sea at Aldeburgh.

These conditions, combined with the evening sunlight, have resulted in some spectacular, brilliant rainbows. Sadly, I didn’t get the best shot as it was gone by the time I’d run back indoors to get my camera, but one rainbow looked like it was dipping into a pot of gold in the depths of the sea. It was the brightest, most vibrant rainbow I’ve ever seen.

The next morning following the stormy showers it was the return of blue skies and white clouds complementing the painted houses bright along the seafront – a very English view.

Next-morning-sunny

Still, what’s to do on a stony, shingle beach with a very calm sea, ah yes, skim stones.

Pebble-Beach-Aldeburgh

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Werther – a heart-wrenching encounter

ProgrammeLast week I accompanied my father to see ‘Werther’ at Covent Garden. There’s nothing quite like an evening of intense operatic drama with a suitably tragic ending to provide catharsis during unsettled times.

Werther-woodcut-programme-welcome1

Programme illustration ‘Werther and Lotte’ an anonymous woodcut based on an illustration to Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774) by Hermann Kaulbach (1846-1909)

Massenet’s ‘Werther’ is based on the 18th-century classic of German literature ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ by Goethe. The tale was published in 1774 and rapidly became popular across Europe as a book of cultural significance.  It is the story of a young man who lives by his ideals and kills himself for love.

Massenet’s operatic version, sung in French, first premiered over 100 years later in 1892. Notably, in the production I saw last week in London, Werther was the Italian tenor Vittorio Grigòlo, Charlotte was the American mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, Albert was the Serbian baritone David Bižić and Sophie the American soprano Heather Engebretson. The performance was conducted by the Royal Opera’s Music Director the British-Italian Antonio Pappano. Other members of the cast were from Holland, Switzerland, Ukraine and Australia. The international buzz continued across the audience. I heard Spanish, Italian and American voices and I was sat next to a German couple who spoke brilliant English. It was a positive microcosm – no pathetic threats here of sending people back!

Cast-takes-bow

An international cast takes a bow.

The music was superb and the orchestra was in fine, truly dynamic form as it played to the masterly conducting and interpretation of Antonio Pappano. I’m no expert on French late-nineteenth-century opera, but I found this production riveting, gleefully wallowing in the emotional agitation with the musical tension escalating as the drama intensified. The acting of both DiDonato and Grigòlo was engrossing as they sang with fire and passion. It is a while since I’ve seen a live performance with the tingle factor, but the desperate, hopeless pain of Act 3 sent shivers down my spine more than once. Their singing was not perfection, but who’s complaining when it was so expressive and heart-wrenching. Frequently there’s something lacking in ‘perfect/multiple take’ studio recordings compared to experiencing the vibrancy of live performances.

Scenery-backstage-David-Bizic

Backstage at the ROH – the Act 4 attic room photographed by David Bizic who played Albert in the production.

And, as for the production, quite brilliant. The staging and lighting matched the progressively darkening mood of the opera moving from a brilliant blue summer, to a gloomy interior to a black winter night with falling snow. Act 4 was visually thrilling too as the distant attic room (shown above) slowly moved from the depths of the stage to the very front, mystically gliding towards us within a night of falling snow as the orchestra played ‘The Night before Christmas’.

At the end of this harrowing tragedy the two stars looked emotionally drained, but fortunately were revived by the rapturous applause they received.

End-first-rapturous-applause

Werther and Charlotte receive their rapturous applause.

And, finally the conductor left the orchestra pit and came on stage. Bravo, bravo.

Conductor-too-joins-bow

Antonio Pappano joins his singers.

Did I mention I loved this?
I wish I could go again.

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After the rain some cheery survivors

Pattern-floral-possTimes are a little turbulent and it’s been a grey summer so far, but some flowers are doing just fine. Hardy geraniums, single clematis, small spray roses, foxgloves and poppies.

Beautiful flowers in the garden, as arrangements or simply as a single bloom bring some cheer to our daily grind.

Although I have been moaning about the English weather in previous posts, I have had enough survivors by the beginning of July for two mantlepiece arrangements.

Summer-arrangement

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Silk for everyday

Modelling-my-own-work

When I started my online shop three years ago getting to grips with product photography was essential. I found that photographing my painted scarves to achieve the nearest representation to how they appeared in reality in normal daylight, was a major issue.

Recently I attempted to model my own work so I could catch the best ambient light. The colour accuracy of the two examples below is probably the nearest to real life I’ve managed. It was outside with bright, but overcast skies. However, pin sharp focussing proved virtually impossible working on my own with the camera on the timer. And, in the end I discovered that it takes a very special photographer that can make a back view interesting particularly against a bland background. And, that’s not me!

Of course not all my work ends up for sale as with any hand process some pieces just don’t make the grade. After steaming I make a close inspection and sometimes a fault previously invisible shows up or water in the steaming process has spoilt the design. Naturally these don’t end up in one of my rag wall hangings like the offcuts do, but instead I wear them in my everyday life. Obviously, these rejects pop up in informal pictures taken by other people. Below, I’m just in from picking up folks at the local railway station! Focus is good, colour accuracy is pretty precise too, but oh my goodness somebody is always pulling a stupid face!!!

Everyday-silk-wearing

Then there are the pics taken on other peoples’ mobiles – more silly faces and now poor quality as the images get rendered across different devices.

Finally, and oddly for me, one of my more spirited photos showing me wearing my work, is a selfie! It shows an eccentric use of a couple of my old art silk scarves. Last summer I was turning my compost in the back garden when I unwittingly disturbed the beginnings of a bee colony and had to take some hasty precautions not to get stung to bits.

Bee-protection-iPhone

 

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Oh well – let’s try and look on the bright side

Karlsruhe

Drooping rain-soaked blooms of the mid-twentieth-century doer, Rosa Karlsruhe (1957)

Gardening is all about the turning of the seasons. Clear, bright spring changing to warm and sunny summer, but sometimes the seasons simply won’t play the game. Apparently, this ghastly, unseasonably heavy June rain is down to the jet stream. That is the jet stream is not normally directly above the UK at this time of year, but HERE IT IS.

Jet-stream-23-June-2016-Net-Weather.TV

Image of the jet stream for 23 June 2016 over England from netweather.tv

We see it whipping round the world at over 100 miles per hour somewhere in the region of eight miles plus above the planet’s surface. It affects the UK by deepening the depressions heading our way from the Atlantic and that means more rain.

All this rain has caught most of my roses at precisely the wrong moment. Of the old fashioned roses the small cluster and single roses are coping a little better than their more blousy, fully quartered cousins.

Luckily, I do have a few climbers threaded through large shrubs which have offered some blooms protection from the hail and heavy rain we had last week.

It’s been a bit hit and miss with a couple of my more modern roses depending on how exposed the flowers have been more than anything.

Even my favourite soft, papery single rose Anemone Rose has been disappointing.

So, looking on the bright side we have some survivors and a weekend of deadheading!

This year’s favourite is a ‘summer only’ display and will be in full flower in July, but here’s a peak at a random early bloom of François Juranville (1906).

Francois-Juranville

 

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What a difference in just 8 weeks!

 

Out-now-Thalictrum

Meadow rue – thalictrum aquilegiifolium

A couple of months ago everything in the garden looked as though the abundance of summer would never arrive and then suddenly here it all is. There are plants bursting into flower and flowing all over each other.

Here are a couple of examples that have so far withstood the torrential rain we’ve been experiencing, but, sadly, I have to report my old fashioned roses have been hammered.

But, after a quick tour round the beds I see there’s plenty of potential waiting in the wings. There are lilies, perennial poppies and some knautia all in bud.

Of course, the open, cheerful and always reliable oxeye daisies are a favourite with the bees. They also look beautiful and fresh in the early morning sun (when we have some!).

Early-morning

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