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.

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.

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.

Art at The Red House

‘Masked Figure Venetian Carnival’ – Robert Colquhoun (1914-1962). 1950, oil.

To be an art collector is a privilege and, of course, in the past it has mostly been royalty, the aristocracy and the Church who have commissioned as well as collected art. That is why I think it is fascinating to see personal collections of people from more recent times who come from different environments other than the usual suspects so as to speak.

Art at home in The Red House. ‘Portrait of Britten’ – Henry Lamb (1883-1960) 1945 oil on canvas, and also tucked behind the curtain ‘Canal Scene: Venice’ – Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) oil on canvas. Photograph from 2019 visit.

I think the art collected by Benjamin Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, is interesting as it contains commissioned portraits of both men as you would expect, with one a world renowned composer and the other a famous tenor, but it also includes a broader and more diverse range of pictures and sculptures. Their whole collection numbers around 1,200 works with many on display at The Red House within the domestic setting of their home.

‘Double Concerto’ – Maxwell Ashby Armfield (1881-1972). 1969, tempera on canvas.

Although the collection is not all about them specifically or their work, it nevertheless gives an insight into their interests and their daily lives. We are left with a glimpse of them as we see their chosen art ornamenting the rooms where they dined, read, relaxed and entertained. As with any large collection not all the work is on display at any one time, but nevertheless the rooms reflect more than a hint of the essence of the Britten-Pears home.

Drawing Room of the Red House from 2012.

Hanging on the walls of The Red House there are works featuring their friends such as colleague and close friend Imogen Holst. (She is, in fact now buried behind the two graves of Britten and Pears in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, Aldeburgh.)

Portrait of Imogen Holst. ‘Memory of Terrington St George’ – Edward Seago (1910-1974), 1962, oil

Also, there are works reflecting their personal taste, with apparently Peter Pears’ preference for strongly coloured 20th-century work.

‘Green Rose’ – Philip Sutton RA (b. 1928 – 92 years old). 1955, oil.
‘Clymping Beach’ – John Piper (1903-1992). 1953 (The lined, green upholstery fabric of the sofa complements the dark, striking lines of the painting.)

However, apparently Britten’s taste was more restrained and, there are many drawings and sketches amongst the collection.

Of course, and not in the least surprising as with many art lovers, there are works featuring Venice.

‘Interior St Mark’s, Venice’ – John Piper. 1973 (Hanging opposite the stairs which I am afraid you can see reflecting off the glass somewhat spoiling the ‘dancing light’ effect of the painting. A better photo of this evocative work can be see HERE at ArtUK.)
Pictures on the stair walls depicting more of Venice including a painting of the Santa Maria della Salute and also within the collection (but I seemed to have missed photographing it) was another painting of the Salute by Walter Sickert (1860-1942) oil on canvas.

Finally, if one is lucky enough to have the means, you can collect pictures by artists from the canon and the Britten-Pears collection has works by William Blake, Walter Sickert, David Hockney and, of course, being men of Suffolk, a painting by John Constable.

‘Portrait of second son Charles Goulding’ – John Constable (1776-1837) c.1835-36, oil on board.

climate, rain, snails

On Monday of this week the IPCC published a report that has finally shocked our complacent media into taking the climate crisis seriously. Even BBC News has well and truly jumped off the fence of ‘balance’ and stopped giving airtime to climate change deniers such as Nigel Lawson. And, they even posted the headline – Climate report is ‘code red for humanity’.

Dahlia ‘Black Jack’ chewed to bits by slugs and snails.

Of course, for many, many people of this country this wasn’t news, but, sadly, a confirmation of the dire situation humanity faces. Where I live, as yet, the worst we have had has been tropical, monsoon-style heavy showers, but no actual flash flooding. Mind you I do live on a hill towards the top, but my father lives down on Ipswich Waterfront. He has received several flood alerts, but luckily high tides and torrential downpours have not coincided and only the nearby car park has flooded.

Dinner plate dahlia ‘Penhill Watermelon’ (A survivor perhaps because it’s just so big.)

On a lesser issue all this rain and continuous warm damp has provided super optimal conditions for the slugs and snails. My backyard has been invaded and overwhelmed by snails. First they ate all my runner bean plants, then they started on the dahlias (always a favourite with both snails and slugs) and now they have moved on to the lilies. I have been growing lilies for over 20 years and, yes, in the past I have had to fight off the dreaded lily beetle, but this is the first time my lilies have been shredded by snails.

Survival rate of lily blooms about one in three.

Finally, in exasperation last week I went to war against these pests. Now, firstly I didn’t use slug pellets as they are a disaster for the wildlife and, rather incompetently, I had already missed the window of opportunity earlier in the season for deploying nematodes. This has left me with only one option to sally forth in the drizzle at dusk, hunt them down and physically destroy them.

Large slug heading for a feast of dahlia.

It has been very unpleasant and I have wondered how the professional growers of fruit and vegetables produce largely undamaged crops. I know really, mostly they use pesticides, but not for me as I garden organically. In a small, urban space without a pond for frogs or any town-dwelling hedgehogs visiting to snack at the snail bar, my backyard is devoid of predators except for me with my torch and wellies.

In the rain strongly smelling golden fennel, not popular with the local gastropods!

I don’t know about you, but I remember as a child washing mud from locally grown potatoes, picking out tiny slugs whilst preparing lettuce and cutting the odd worm or maggot from an apple. These days we appear to have forgotten the effort and resources that have been used to get near ‘perfect’ fresh food to the shops, but, perhaps this is about to seriously change. Apart from the immediate difficult weather, the climate crisis is already bringing droughts and floods and generally unseasonable weather to other parts of the world, and worryingly there are signs of the beginning of strain on our system of food production.

Seasonal, blemish-free cherries from Kent. (That’s two counties away – can I call that local?)

The IPCC issued another report (not this current ‘Code Red for Humanity’ one), a report that contained an entire chapter about food security back in August 2019 – you hadn’t heard about that? Neither had I. Disappointingly, looking around at all the great and good elected to govern us and lead by example, they too, don’t appear to have heard about it either and, even if they have, they’ve taken no action. Two years on from that report and with COP26 this November and following/despite the publication of the Code Red warning, it’s all still very much business as usual.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse may be on the horizon but let’s instead fret about exam grade inflation, refugees crossing the Channel and propping up the aviation industry as everybody is (apparently) entitled to cheap holiday flights!

The monument and grave of John Bunyan (1628-1688), Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, London.

Here’s a thought regarding climate crisis action “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” John Bunyan (1628-1688).

Boat Trip on Sailing Barge Victor – eventually

“You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

No – we are not standing gazing across from West Egg to East Egg, but sailing down the River Orwell in Suffolk on board the Sailing Barge Victor. I just saw that green light and immediately thought of Gatsby. What an old romantic!

The ships wheel, Sailing Barge Victor.

This special trip had been booked by my daughter for midsummer 2020, but we all know what was happening last June and, in due course, like so many events that excursion was postponed.

Waiting in the drizzle for departure.

You may remember that last year June was warm, dry and summery, but this year it has been just a bit more on the wet side. We climbed on board and whilst waiting to set off, I started taking some photos and noticed it had already begun to drizzle.

Patiently standing by ready to secure the barge in the lock.

Once Victor had cast off it was round the marina to the old lock. As we waited for the lock to empty to the level of the river the persistent drizzle turned to rain proper. It was lucky my camera is fine in less than optimal conditions (it has a sealed, weatherproof body apparently) as we got soaked remaining on deck determined to make the most of the experience.

Leaving the lock, conflab between the Master and mate and one of two life boats on board.

Fortunately, it was only a shortish downpour and by the time the barge chugged under the Orwell Bridge the rain had stopped. There was a gentle breeze and the Master decided it was time to cut the engine and hoist the sails.

Sailing down the River Orwell under full sail.

The sudden peace and quiet was delightful as the huge main sail filled with the breeze and the barge gently sailed down the river. This was the first time I’ve been on a boat under wind power and it was enchanting.

Caught between moments ducking underneath the gently swinging foresail.

Of course, sailing is slower than being engine-powered, but why be in a hurry. I think humans, particularly in so-called advanced societies, have lost something that’s restorative that comes with ‘slow’. In our relentless need for speed, continual clock watching and chasing our tails much is missed.

Lights in the night as Victor passes ships docked at the Port of Ipswich.

With the climate crisis making its presence felt more and more perhaps we need to rethink this speed thing and generally take life at a gentler pace and burn less fossil fuel.

Nighttime on the dockside.

Our barge trip was an evening affair and despite being just past midsummer, it was dark by the time we returned to Ipswich. And, what a treat to approach the Old Customs House from the water lit up in all its glory.

I couldn’t resist concocting this photomontage melding my nighttime photo with the embroidered version depicting the Wherry Quay of the nineteenth century as seen as part of the Ipswich Charter Hangings.

Finally, if you were wondering what Victor looks like under sail, here’s a couple of photographs I took from another boat as Victor sailed past us on a very windy day in August 2018.

Sailing Barge Victor with top sail hoisted (too windy for the main sail though).

Exhibitions Tell Stories Too: ‘Power of Stories’, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich

This week I visited the latest exhibition on show at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. ‘Power of Stories’ is a collaborative endeavour and melds the loan of three of the Oscar-winning costumes from the Disney/Marvel film ‘Black Panther’ with historical pieces already held by the Ipswich Museum. Together with a team of Community Curators made up of local people, the exhibition also tells the story of how and why the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) was formed during the 1970s.

From the left: Costumes for T’Challa, Okoye and Shuri from the Disney/Marvel film ‘Black Panther’.

It is not a new idea that human beings express their lived experiences and histories in narrative forms. Storytelling is and has been an essential part of human existence and as the anthropologists inform us it is present in one form or another in every community and culture across the world.

Queen Hatshepsut (1507-1458 BCE)

To begin with there was the storyteller and the story listener, but each time humankind discovered or invented a new medium for expression then a song, a cave-painting, a stone carving, a stained-glass window, a book, a photograph, a play, a film, a computer game or even an exhibition told a story.

Children’s history book. Circa 1950 (My note – an outdated yet ‘interesting’ storytelling of English history.)

As you enter ‘Power of Stories’ there is a large block of text written on the wall introducing the exhibition. It states:

A world of stories.

Sharing stories is something all people have in common. The more stories we know, hear and share, the wider our view of the world becomes.

Museums have historically presented a European view of history, which has excluded many voices and ways of knowing.

As Community Curators, we have woven our perspectives into this display, recognising that everyone has valuable stories to share. This is part of a developing collaboration around history, community and belonging.

The exhibition begins with a series of cabinets containing objects from the Ipswich Museum collection including puppets, metalwork sculptures, books and comics.

Puppets are part of a long and worldwide storytelling tradition. Punch from Europe and traditional Indonesian Wayang Golek (translates as theatre rod puppet).
Exhibit note – Foxe’s Book of Martyrs – John Foxe wrote this book of people who were killed for their faith by Queen Mary I between 1555 and 1558. Foxe, a Protestant, hoped to convince people that Catholicism was bloodthirsty and dangerous. (My note – the text and imagery persuasive storytelling or obvious propaganda?)
Exhibit note – Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám translated by Edward Fitzgerald. By translating ancient Persian poetry into English, Edward Fitzgerald encouraged fellow Victorians to think beyond their Christian mindset. (My note – this text placed next to Foxe’s Martyrs is perhaps the storytelling of the exhibition in action broadening the visitors outlook despite this being a Victorian English translation.)

There couldn’t be an exhibition about stories that didn’t include comics. Naturally this exhibition includes some of the most iconic Marvel issues, including copies of editions from ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, ‘X-Men’ and ‘Iron Man’ series. And, of course with the main draw for the exhibition ‘Power of Stories’ being the three costumes designed for characters from the Marvel film, ‘Black Panther’, there’s versions of the earliest Black Panther comic book appearances.

Exhibit note – All of the comic books in the exhibition have been kindly loaned by Matthew C Applegate. These comic books are part of a collection of over 40,000 Marvel comic books which is believed to be one of the largest and most complete collections in the UK. (My note – Iron Man first appearing in 1963 a troubled, wealthy, individualistic superhero played in the films by Robert Downey Jr an equally troubled, wealthy, individualistic Hollywood star!)

I have not seen the film, ‘Black Panther’ but I know it was critically acclaimed and heralded for its mostly black cast especially for the lead actors’ strong performances and, notably, an all-female army.

Okoye’s Final Battle Scene Costume. Exhibit note – Marvel Studios’ Black Panther (2018). Worn by Danai Gurira. Okoye is the head of Wakandan armed forces and General of the Dora Milaje, an elite group of all-female soldiers. She represents heritage, tradition and loyalty.

Predictably from a film franchise based on comics that revel in the mythic superhero, Thor/Loki, Iron Man, X-Men, Spider Man amongst others, and, with only 12 percent of the superhero comics having female protagonists, it is not surprising that ‘Black Panther’ is about a king, T’Challa, and his kingdom of Wakander. Despite two of the three costumes on display being those for the female characters, Shuri and Okoye, the story is not primarily their story, but the king’s.

Shuri’s Final Battle Scene Costume. Exhibit note – Marvel Studios’ Black Panther (2018). Worn by Letitia Wright. Shuri harnesses the powerful fictional metal Vibranium to create Wakanda’s technology.

The film costumes for fictional characters are, no doubt, the crowd-drawing, eye-catching spectacle and next to them the real life, local story of how and why the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) came into being feels quiet in the telling.

The ISCRE Story – Portraits by Loleitha Evelyn and Cartoon Strip by Dan Malone

However, there’s no doubt though that the loan of the ‘Black Panther’ costumes has offered an exciting opportunity for the wider community of Ipswich to be engaged with the presentation of the town’s heritage, identity and culture. And, this sentiment was expressed by Carole Jones of Ipswich Borough Council when she said:

“The exhibition is a thrilling collaboration between museums and Ipswich’s community. We did not want to tell people how to get the most out of Power of Stories – we wanted them to inspire each other and visitors with their stories and, hopefully, to bring new audiences to the mansion.”

Carole Jones, Ipswich Borough Council (portfolio holder for planning and museums).

The exhibition as a whole is offering a variety of stories to coax the visitor to consider how storytelling can either unite or divide peoples. However, one of these stories more in focus than the others is the predictable ‘individualistic hero’, particularly as told through the hereditary king. In the 21st century perhaps we need dramatic tales of collaborative governance and democracy as surely this is the way forward for a united and peaceful planet regardless of gender or race. We are, after all, all members of one storytelling species.

From the left: T’Challa (king), Okoye (general of elite force), Shuri (princess) Exhibit note – Costumes are one of the many tools a film director uses to tell a story. Ruth E. Carter understood each character deeply before creating clothes which brought them to life on screen. Her research drew on many traditions and features of life for different people across Africa. She won many accolades for her work on these costumes, including the 2019 Oscar for Best Costume Design and the 2020 Gold Derby Costume Design of the Decade award.

End of Spring or Beginning of Summer?

It certainly has been late coming this year, but finally we’ve had sunshine. And, enough sunshine for the flowers to truly get into their blooming stride. My backyard, not the sunniest of spaces, now has the late-flowering pheasant’s eye daffodil, a selection of aquilegias and a few alliums all out together.

Narcissus poeticus – pheasant’s eye daffodil
Aquilegias
Allium hollandicum

Also this week a visit and wander around the local park offers a fine testament to the sun’s essential, life-giving force. It was delightful to see the azaleas and rhododendrons bringing colour to the partial shade of the fresh green canopy of deciduous trees.

Underplanting of deciduous tree in Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

And, out in the more open area there was the wild meadow-style planting of cow parsley mixed with clumps of spurge.

Cow parsley in a town park.

Even the more formal park-planting that borders the park entrance was full of loose, cheery colour. Although pansies and forget-me-nots are usually a spring combination, the answer to the question ‘End of Spring or Beginning of Summer?’ is, I think, most definitely the beginning of summer.

Bolton Lane entrance to Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

One small aside, even without deliberately or even mildly consciously choosing to take inspiration from all this welcome floral spectacle, it is most undoubtedly influencing my work.

Currently on my frame subliminal floral inspiration at work.