Well, well, well – alpha, beta, delta . . .

Omicron. Yes, the latest variant of concern has brought with it the return of compulsory mask wearing in shops and on public transport in England. A point to note here is that the rest of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (devolved for matters of health from the UK’s Westminster government) had not joined England’s laissez faire approach. Since, 19th July 2021, the so-called English freedom day, one has been encouraged to make a personal choice to wear a mask or not based on one’s own assessment of the Covid risk. And, naturally, following the example set by the Prime Minister as well as seeing the government benches stuffed with maskless Tories, many people simply assumed Covid was done and dusted and had stopped wearing face coverings.

Mmmm, I could embark now on an intense rant about the rinse and repeat poor leadership together with the sporadic wishy-washy messaging from our government, but instead it’s time for me to calm down and get out the silk and the dyes . . .

Find the last few rectangles of backing silk

Dig out the black elastic from the bottom of my sewing box

And sew up a few more silk masks.

Maybe or maybe not the last masks to be added to my online shop.

Another flower-inspired bandana

Well, it’s the 25th November and it’s four weeks to Christmas and that’s it for my backyard for this year. There are a few pink cosmos plants limping on and the hydrangea blooms will be slowly fading, or rotting away for the rest of the winter, but until next spring they’ll be no flowers from my yard to cut and bring into the house.

Drawing out and painting the first corner design.

Just as well I took the time to photograph some of my favourite combinations from the summer and early autumn flower arrangements.

Finding another colour combination for opposing corner.

I keep a selection on my iPad which I use when looking for colour inspiration.

Beginning painting the centre panel featuring the full large vase arrangement.

And, every now and then I do sort of copy an arrangement and include the vase as well. You may even recall that I painted a picture of the tall vase arrangement before the design ended up on scarves.

The example below will probably be the last one of this series as the season and the light have moved on and I am feeling the arrival of winter and with that a change of palette.

November in an Urban Park

The full palette of golden yellows and hot oranges that makes for an autumnal scene has arrived late this year as we can see in this series of photographs from Sunday, 14th November.

As my sister and I walked around Christchurch Park in Ipswich we noticed the varied selection of deciduous trees were at different stages of their end of season show.

Some trees had already lost all their leaves,

some were at the height of their high autumn colour

War Memorial on Remembrance Sunday, Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

and some trees still had leaves of green.

All things considered it has been a reasonable, if not a vintage year for colour here in East Anglia.

The Round Pond, Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

We are now in mid-November and in this sheltered park not that far from the town centre there’s only been two or three frosts. And, as the experts suggest, it is frosts and cool nights that are two contributing ingredients for good leaf colour.

Needless to say, in an urban park like Christchurch Park, there’s a diverse range of specimen and non-native trees, but as we wandered away from the more formal area of Ipswich’s War Memorial, the planting became more natural, with a wilder feel. You could even believe you were in the heart of the Suffolk countryside and not sandwiched between the town centre and the busy ring road.

Sometimes what glitters is gold

In these times when curators of large, famous Western museums are grappling with the contentious issue of repatriation of cultural artefacts, it is interesting that even smaller, regional museums also have collections of objects from ancient times and very, far-flung places. This situation has partly arisen from the Victorian obsession for collecting combined with their civic movement that saw the building of museums in many county towns across the country.

Ipswich Museum is like many regional museums in this respect and has a section devoted to the Ancient Egyptians. The outstanding core of this collection is a small, dark room with at its centre a decorated Egyptian mummy that contains the remains of Lady Tahathor. She was a wealthy woman who lived and died in Luxor 2,500 years ago. She was brought to England in 1856 by George H Errington, then in 1871 she was donated to Colchester Museum and since 2010 has been the centre piece in Ipswich Museum’s Ancient Egyptian gallery.

This coffin contains the mummy of Lady Tahathor. 2,500 years old. A CT scan was performed at The Oaks Hospital, Colchester and suggested she died of natural causes in her mid-twenties.

At the head of this display and spotlit to catch the drama is a gold death mask. This is not from Ancient Egypt per se, but was in fact made between AD80-120 for a Roman citizen who lived in Egypt and wished to be buried in the style of an Ancient Egyptian god as opposed to the usual Roman manner.

Golden mummy mask for Roman Titus Flavius Demetrius. Ad80 -120.

The Roman citizen’s name was Titus Flavius Demetrius and his golden mummy mask was excavated by pioneering Victorian archaeologist Flinders Petrie at Hawara in Egypt in 1880. Only a death mask for Titus is on display and there doesn’t seem to be any record of what happened to the mummy. However, the early 20th-century curator, Gay Maynard, is credited with the masks acquisition for Ipswich Museum.

Titus’s death mask is not the only golden death mask on display at Ipswich Museum. There is another also from the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt made for a man known as Syros. It is nearly 2000 years old and is made of layers of linen or papyrus paper with plaster. It bears a gilded face of inlaid limestone with glass eyes and painted brows and has a border with painted vignettes and Greek text on top of the head.

This mask was placed on the mummy Syros who lived and died in Roman occupied Egypt. (On loan from the British Museum)

This golden mask is a longterm loan to Ipswich Museum from the British Museum who bought it in 1889 from the Rev. Walter L Lawson. Apparently, the Rev. Lawson collected Ancient Egyptian objects from excavations at Hawara in Egypt in 1889-90, but it is unclear whether he actively took part in the digs. However, there are records of him purchasing pieces from the antiquarian market in Luxor in 1889.

Nut, goddess of the sky. Ancient Egyptian goddess.

It is intriguing how the Ancient Egyptians still hold such fascination for many of us and it is encouraging that a local museum can share an interesting display of fine, original objects. The provenance and ownership of some pieces may be tricky, not least the mummy of Lady Tahathor, but maybe sharing human histories and practices can partially eclipse any ‘generating society’s’ privileges.

The two Romans, Titus and Syros, rejected their society’s death practices and in a way appropriated those of the Ancient Egyptians, maybe they were simply converts. However, for whatever reasons they had, the result for us 21st-century visitors to Ipswich Museum is to witness their choices made 2000 years ago in the form of these two gilded masks. Both are indeed finished with real gold even if technically they were not made for ‘real’ Ancient Egyptians. Oh, the delicious complexity of being human.

It’s that time of year again

I know, I know it’s only the beginning of November, but Halloween is behind us and the world of retail is already in full swing decking out the bricks and mortar High Street stores and the online shops with their Christmas offerings.

Banner for Agnes Ashe shop landing page.

It is awkward for me as I haven’t been a November Christmas shopper since I lived abroad and had to organise Christmas gifts to meet the International posting dates. Mentioning Christmas this early never feels quite right to me.

Banner for one of the ‘collection’ subcategories.

Of course, as we all know, the Christmas television adverts and magazine spreads for this year were probably shot back in August. How ghastly is that? But even for me I have to make banners for my shop to remind people that we are arriving at the gift-giving season (as if everybody doesn’t already know).

Banner for the ‘Square Scarf Collection’.

And, for practical reasons I have to set out postal dates and details and let my customers know the last ordering day to ensure a Christmas delivery.

Banner with last ordering date for arrival for Christmas.

Last year, before the vaccine programme commenced, I mostly sold masks for Christmas gifts. It is hard to tell whether people will still buy them this year as our country’s leaders are not keen to advocate their use. You may have noticed that many, many people at COP26 on Monday were wearing masks, however our Prime Minister even when sitting next David Attenborough (95 years old), didn’t think it was necessary for him.

From the left Antonio Guterres, Boris Johnson and Sir David Attenborough. Picture from Sky News website.

And what’s more on that very same day, Monday, 1 November 21, the UK recorded 40,077 new Covid cases. The PM may think it’s all over, but the figures are giving a more worrying picture.

Sizewell, Power Stations and ‘C’

This coming weekend sees the beginning of the COP26 in Glasgow. And, as many of you may already have been reading there’s an ongoing debate about the role of nuclear power in the energy mix in order for the UK to meet any future commitments on CO2 emission targets. Apparently, an announcement regarding the proposed ‘Sizewell C’ is likely in the near future and in the press yesterday’s FT front page led with an article about new funding models for nuclear plants.

Front page of FT for Wednesday, 27th October 2021.

Sadly, instead of a sincere, focussed debate on whether nuclear power is the way forward or not, the Government has instead managed to make Chinese investment in nuclear projects the bone of contention.

The blue of Sizewell ‘B’ has faded since the power station was first synchronised with the national grid on 14 February 1995.

Earlier this year my daughter, her boyfriend and I visited Sizewell to film the power stations and surrounding area for his project about family and loss.

I know visiting the site of a now decommissioned magnox power station and the newer Sizewell ‘B’ pressurised water reactor may seem a strange place for making such a film, but the backdrop of the power stations appears in photos showing three generations of our family. And, as some of you may know my mother’s ashes were dispersed on the Suffolk breeze at Sizewell a decade ago.

On Sizewell Beach – left me with my parents circa 1975 and right my daughter circa 1995.

It was a long day and we were mostly lucky with the weather. There were plenty of warning signs around the site about no access, danger and trespassers etc, but there was no indication that we couldn’t film or photograph.

Photographs of power stations ‘A’ and ‘B’ and sign about no drones, but regular filming permitted.

However, a 4×4 police vehicle did slowly cruise by along the sandy track to check us out. They were part of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, a special UK armed police force formed in 2005 numbering about 1500 police. Their remit is the protection of nuclear industry installations from the threat of terrorism. As they crawled past we all felt rather uncomfortable. My childhood family holidays here were so quiet and the beach so often virtually empty we could never have imagined an armed police patrol would one day become a routine occurrence.

Razor wire tops the high walls and fences surrounding the power stations.

As the day progressed we discussed the notion of loss in a wider context and in particular considered loss of habitats due to human activity. This was a natural response to the two large power stations and the current proposal for a third new one, Sizewell ‘C’. The area for Sizewell ‘C’ will be slightly less than the combined sites of both Sizewell ‘A’ and ‘B’ together and bring disruption and destruction close to its immediate neighbour, the nature reserve RSPB Minsmere.

Computer Generated Image of the complete Sizewell ‘C’ site – EDF Sizewell Project Team

The Sizewell Estate shares a border with this very special area of Suffolk. As well as being famous for a wide-range of visiting birds, RSPB Minsmere also includes four national conservation priorities: reedbeds, lowland wet grassland, shingle vegetation and lowland heath. On our filming day we walked along to Minsmere passing the final fenced off part of the Sizewell Estate where the new power station might be built. The boundary limit now displays the latest planning application stapled to a fence post.

The planning application for Sizewell ‘C’ stapled to the fence at the corner where the site meets RSPB Minsmere. It is dated 24th June 2020.

I can’t begin to imagine the impact on the local environment of such a massive construction project that will last nine to twelve years and employ perhaps as many as 25,000 people.

The two Sizewell power stations from Minsmere .

In actual fact the site for the new proposed Sizewell ‘C’ has long been fenced off and when ‘B’ was completed in 1995 many saplings were planted in this section. However, we were surprised at the neglected condition of the area. The trees were not thriving in the very dry conditions and had been left to fend for themselves against deer attack with tree guards strewn across the undergrowth.

Looks like this might be destined to disappear under tonnes of concrete.

It occurred to me that since 2009, EDF the operator of the site has had little interest in preserving the wooded area as they believe it will all disappear under the tonnes of concrete for the new power station.

There are many environmental concerns regarding the building of another nuclear power station here at Sizewell even before the more general ‘nuclear power good or bad’ question is considered. For example there’s the serious issue of coastal erosion, a point raised by Suffolk Wildlife Trust when giving their response to the proposed nuclear power station.

The local coastline is incredibly dynamic and it is hard to predict future levels of erosion and deposition. However, a new power station located further forward than Sizewell A and B, is likely to increase erosion north and south. This will impact on Minsmere frontage and the sluice, which is needed to control water levels at RSPB Minsmere and across Sizewell Belts SSSI. There appears to be limited clarity on how future management will adapt and indeed, how this will be paid for if Sizewell C does cause increased erosion. 

Proposed Sizewell C Nuclear Power Station – Extract from Summary of our Concerns‘, Suffolk Wildlife Trust
RSPB Minsmere across to the old to ruins of the original Leiston Abbey built in 1198.

As we walked back from Minsmere the police 4×4 drove slowly passed again adding to our already despondent mood as we discussed the broader environmental ramifications of the seemingly relentless climb of CO2 levels.

From Sizewell ‘B’ to the white building on Dunwich Heath and Southwold far across the bay.

In the end we concluded that we should not be adding more deep-rooted problems for future generations, specifically dealing with the long-term storage of radioactive nuclear waste. All in all we decided that we are not in favour of building Sizewell ‘C’.

 Together Against Sizewell C and Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth gathering for a protest at Sizewell. 19 September 2021

Like many youngsters of their generation my daughter and her boyfriend have mixed feelings about the Climate Crisis. On good days they are optimistic for more technical advancements in the production and storage of clean energy. And, at the same time they are willing world leaders to embrace a degrowth economy moving to a sustainable way of living. On a bad day they mourn the loss of a shiny, promising future. That would be the kind of future that I and the rest of my family had once carelessly believed we had and assumed that future generations would have too.

From the left – grandfather, mother, grandmother, sister and me. 1976

Autumn in Christchurch Park

A couple of weeks ago my sister and I took a stroll in the local park.

We arrived at the gates of Christchurch Park just after 4 o’clock and the shadows were already beginning to lengthen, but nevertheless there was plenty of blue sky and puffy clouds for a ‘Constable Suffolk sky’.

Most of the trees near the Round Pond were still wearing the heavy green of late summer although just at their extremities some leaves were turning dry and brittle with hints of the orange and brown to come.

As we leisurely made a rough circuit of the park the low sun began to set and those first oranges of autumn glowed in the dappled light.

Not everybody was having a relaxing time. The park’s squirrels were very busy with the horse chestnuts. And, clearly being used to humans they did not bother to scamper away as we walked along the path towards them. In fact some came up to us expecting food, obviously somebody must be regularly feeding them. I can’t complain as it made taking photos of this industrious chap very easy.

There once was a bunch of flowers

Back in September I had a good selection of homegrown flowers that made a large and colourful flower arrangement. You may have seen the arrangement in my Blog post ‘Light or Dark‘. I liked them so much I decided to have a go at painting them. It is some years since I last had my paints out and I’d forgotten how different it is to working with dyes on silk.

It turned out to be an interesting lesson and a reminder to me to look and observe more carefully. Of course, I couldn’t let such an arrangement not feature in my silk work as well. And, it was revealing to see how the essence and not the detail ended up in the silk design.

Drawing out a loose version of the original flower arrangement.

As you might be able to guess this isn’t a full-sized scarf. I thought I would start with a bandana/small square scarf to see if the translation from gouache on paper to dye on cloth was worth pursuing. The jury is out on that at the moment. I have just started drawing out a 90 x 90 cm twill scarf to eventually include the arrangement, but probably as a repeat motif rather than a central ‘picture’.

For the time being this bandana is finished and steamed and on the shop.

Early Autumn and the Last Flowers of Summer

Back in early spring I sowed twenty sunflower seeds in a tray indoors and about six weeks later I considered planting them out.

April was unusually cold with quite a few frosts that would certainly have killed off the seedlings – so no planting out in April. I waited for the arrival of May. It began cold and then turned extremely wet, but eventually the temperatures warmed up. I thought now is the moment to plant our my sunflower seedlings.

The clematis has done well this year enjoying damp roots, but with enough summer sun to flower.

It looked at first as though I had timed it perfectly as May became June and the temperatures began to rise towards a little summer heat. And then it poured. It rained and rained and in my part of the world the rainfall was almost double the average for the time of year. And, as I blogged in ‘climate, rain, snails‘ earlier this year my backyard offered the ideal conditions for a population explosion of slugs and snails.

The upshot of all the rain was only one of the original twenty sunflower seedlings made it to flowering maturity. Not only did just a single plant survive, but it has flowered so late it has provided the feature blooms for the ‘last flowers of summer 2021’ arrangement.

I thought the one stem with its five blooms would look balanced and in proportion placed in my grandmother’s old, blue and white vase. Of course, I had forgotten that I’d never seen fresh flowers in this vase and soon discovered why. Somewhere it has a fine, hairline crack. First I grabbed a plate to collect the slowly pooling water, but no.

I think you’ll agree the plate doesn’t look right, too bright and white. So thinking a bowl would also be more practical for the slow leak, I tried a gold bowl and plate set up. That all just looked weird.

Knowing when you are beaten is a strength – apparently. Though only mildly irritated I pulled apart the arrangement, chopped stems, ditched the leaking vase and stuffed the flowers into a trusted leak-free milk jug. Finally, the last bouquet of this year’s homegrown flowers for my kitchen table. A touch dumpy, but very colourful and cheery.

Our Moon

Formed in a violent collision when Earth collided with another small planet, the Moon is our closest and most familiar cosmic neighbour. Last week I went to see ‘The Moon: Meet Our Nearest Neighbour’ a touring exhibition at Ipswich Art Gallery.

The Ancients Greeks made the link between the Moon and the tides here on Earth sometime during the 4th BC and then later the Roman Philosopher, Seneca writes in ‘De Providentia’ of the tides being controlled by the lunar sphere. And, when you enter this exhibition space a very, very large plastic version hangs from the double height ceiling. It is hard to get the scale from my photograph, but it does make you stop and consider how that small orb we are so used to seeing in the night sky could indeed influence the tides.

A very large plastic version of the Moon hangs above the exhibition showing the topography of the Moon. The Moon is one of the few places in the Solar System with no erosion, so its surface has remained unchanged for billions of years.

On display, apart from the modern plastic model, there are several maps and diagrams detailing the topography of the Moon including the oldest printed map made in 1707.

Original of one of the oldest printed maps of the Moon. Made in 1707. It shows two views of the nearside of the Moon with different namings. Despite being made with primitive telescopes over 300 years ago, these maps are surprisingly accurate.
This colourful picture is a map of lunar craters.

The Moon is Earth’s only natural satellite and, so far, the only off-world body visited and walked upon by man and included in the exhibition are two tiny pieces of actual Moon rock.

This is a sample of Moon rock. This white rock is called anorthosite and makes up much of the topography on the Moon. It is what the lunar mountains are made of, and what craters are blasted out of.
And the other Moon rock on display is this black rock. It is a sample of solidified lunar lava, called basalt. It erupted from a volcano on the Moon billions of years ago flowed downhill into a large crater or depression, and then solidified into rock.

Throughout recorded history and no doubt before, humans have gazed at the Moon and found inspiration for beliefs, assigning meaning and portents. Various peoples have used the moon for calendars, timekeeping and as a navigational aid and a selection of examples are on display in the exhibition.

Small pieces originals and facsimiles line the Upper Gallery.

I was fascinated by the Moon rock, but there were two other very interesting items in the exhibition. One was a 3,500 year old bronze disc from Germany showing the earliest-known depiction of the cosmos. It shows a clear representation of the Sun and Moon surrounded by stars.

Bronze disc from Germany approx 3,500 years old.

And, the other item that captivated me was a magnificent chart. As history records twelve astronauts have walked on the Moon with the first and most famous landing taking place on 20th July 1969. Below is a large wall chart of the GOSS-Mission Profile. I looked it up, GOSS means Ground Operations Support System. The schematic was an engaging and intriguing end to an an interesting exhibition.

There aren’t suddenly two moons. The chart is showing two journeys, the one from the Earth to the Moon and then the return trajectory back to Earth.
Chart dated 1 May 1967

The Sailors’ Path

Although once again I live here in Suffolk, and have visited on and off for over 50 years, until last weekend I had never walked The Sailors’ Path. Growing up my family weren’t big walkers. Yes, we were repeat visitors to the Suffolk coast setting out from homes further inland and spending time at Shingle Street, Sizewell, Thorpeness, Aldeburgh and sometimes travelling further up the coast to visit Southwold.

The Maltings Concert Hall across the reedbeds.

However, although there was plenty of swimming and fishing, serious walking was not on the menu. My father enjoyed beach fishing and my mother the swimming, but the only lengthy walk I remember taking with them was a circuit of the bird reserve at Minsmere.

The River Alde at Snape Maltings.

Naturally, as they weren’t walkers they didn’t know of The Sailors’ Path, an old smugglers’ footpath from Aldeburgh to Snape that partly follows the course of the River Alde.

View across the River Alde towards Iken.

Last week my sister’s family came to stay at Aldeburgh and my brother-in-law suggested we should take the walk. We started at the Snape Maltings end and followed the route through the reed beds of the River Alde admiring the views back towards the Maltings. Then the path took us passed the marshes where the tide was low enough to expose parts of the muddy river bed.

The muddy marshland of the River Alde.

As we walked there was a gentle incline as the route skirted the heathland of Snape Warren before entering Black Heath Wood.

The beautiful light through the silver birch trees.

Eventually, on the other side of the wood the countryside again opened up with views across the marshes towards the River Alde.

The River Alde from Aldeburgh.

Just when we thought we might be able to go down and walk along nearer to the water the path switched away and it wasn’t long before we had to walk alongside the busy road into Aldeburgh.

The formal route does in fact continue along on the footpath of the main road all the way into the town. However, after about 10 minutes of this experience (horrible and noisy) we passed a recently resurfaced side road heading down towards the river. It didn’t look like a public road, but at the same time it wasn’t graced with the ubiquitous ‘private property’ signs we’d seen posted at all the previous lanes leading down to the water.

A splendid oak.

As we were trying to decide if there was a public right of way (no signs indicating that either), a dog-walker came up from the direction of the river and explained how to join another footpath along the water’s edge. She instructed us on how to navigate a new-build housing development enclosed with multiple road gates and join the river footpath. Thankfully, it was a route along the top of the sea defences and well away from any roads.

One camouflaged dog. My sister’s dog, Bertie.

It is hard to know precisely where The Sailors’ Path and gone. It may have been where the main road was built, but somehow I think as it was originally a route for smugglers it probably wove through the marshes. And, with the ever changing nature of marshland environments, the path had probably never been an entirely fixed route particularly in the distant past when used only by locals in the know.

A view of the river defences and in the distance the sea wall. The river no longer enters the sea here as it did in Tudor times, but flows to the right between Orford and the Orfordness peninsular and finally, about 10 miles down the coast, enters the North Sea at Shingle Street.

Returning to our progress along the river wall, eventually we left the river path and followed another footpath across cow pastures towards the buildings of the seaside town. We strolled past some beautifully tended allotments and then turned into the bottom of Aldeburgh High Street just as the sun finally decided to make an appearance.