Sunday, 23 November 2014

Mushroomy Things!

This was on an old tree stump.
Oh dear, late again... This is supposed to be a Saturday Snapshot, but I'm having a Sunday Snapshot this week instead, because Blogger had a hissy fit about uploading piccies and came to a full stop every time I tried to do it. Fortunately it seems to be working OK this morning, and it's still Sunday in some parts of the world, so let's go for it!
And this was on the same tree, but I'm not sure if it's the same species or not.
I think they look some alien life form which might crawl off across the landscape!
Has anyone else noticed how many fungi seem to be around this year? There are more than I ever remember seeing before, and there seems to be variety than I’ve spotted before. Everywhere I’ve walked this week I’ve seen mushroomy things… In hedgerows and meadows, and on trees and tree stumps, in all sorts of shapes and colours and sizes. They are quite spectacular, and somehow rather alien and a little sinister I think – probably because so many of them are very poisonous.
Same tree again. The tree has been split, and there's a great hole that's got protective wire mesh across
it, for safety reasons perhaps, or to stop people shoving rubbish in in it.
Personally I’ve got no intention of foraging (there’d be no going back if you get it wrong!), and I buy my mushrooms in the supermarket, or from the greengrocer, so I know they’re safe, but I do think it would be nice to know what these strange plants are. I've been using my photos to try and identify them, but I’m none the wiser than I was to start with!
I spotted this in the grass and leaves at the base of a hedge on the canal towpath.
I think, it's a shaggy ink cap.
Actually, I haven’t even got that right, because fungi are not plants, although that’s what I was led to believe when I was at school. In those days we were told that fungi were non-flowering plants but, apparently, modern science shows that the molecular structure of fungi is different to plants or animals, so they are now in a class of their own.
No idea what this is - the top is all folded, and looks a bit like gills - very odd!
As well as mushrooms, fungi include yeasts, mould that grows on rotting fruit and the infection that causes athlete's foot! According to the British Mycological Society fungi are used to make bread, cheese, wine, beer, soy sauce and Marmite. Fungi also help make coffee, flavour chocolate and put the bubbles in lemonade – but, sadly, the website doesn’t explain how these things are done.
These were growing in the cleft of quite a big tree, and there were masses and masses of them.
However, it does have lots of information about fungi – for example the bit which you see above the ground is known as a fruiting body, which produces spores, which are like seeds, but so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye. But below the ground there’s a much larger section (bit like an iceberg I guess) consisting of lots of fine threads that group together to form a branching network called a mycelium. And when conditions are right mycelium group together to form the fruiting body (I'm not a scientific sort of person, so I may have misunderstood this bit, but I think I’ve got that right).
And a close-up!
Fungi are good for the environment because they break down decaying plant and animal matter, producing food which is absorbed by the fine hair-like filaments.
I assume this is some kind of bracket fungus, on a dead tree stump.
I’d always been under the impression that fungi are very simple organisms, but from the little I've read this week they strike me as being very complex, especially their adaptability and the ways they reproduce. 
Same stump, but I think this a different kind of fungus - they look different at different stages of
 development, which adds to the problems of trying to identify them!
And I was surprised to discover that so many of them seem to be beneficial – even the ones which are inedible. Apparently, most plants have some kind of fungi living on their roots, and this is usually beneficial to plant and fungus.
And yet more fungi on the same stump - it was very big, but it was absolutely smothered in
fungi, as well as mosses and lichens.
Amazingly, they're used in all kinds of industrial processes, including the production of  pesticides, weedkillers and antibiotics (penicillin is a mould, after all, so I suppose I should have known this). 
These were growing all around the base - for such a small stump it supported an
incredible amount of life!

You'll find more Saturday Snapshots, and details on how to take part,  on Melinda's blog over at West Metro Mummy Reads.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Poppies at the Tower

This Saturday Snapshot is a little late, but it is still Saturday (just), so here goes. Since it was Remembrance Day on November 11, I decided to share a couple of three pictures that I took when my Younger Daughter and I went to see the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, created by Paul Cummins to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, with settings by theatre designer Tom Piper.
Ceramic poppies in the moat at the Tower of London.
It was back in September that we visited the art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, when it was about half-way to completion, but even at that stage it was stunning, thought provoking, and very moving.

The whole project was also very symbolic. There are the poppies of course, more than 8 million of them (888246 to be precise), filling the moat and spilling from a tower window, like a river of blood, surrounding the building.  Each bright red ceramic poppy represents one of the 888246 British and Colonial servicemen who lost their lives during WW1. In addition, work on the project got under way on August 6 (the day that British troops were engaged in their first action back in 1914), and finished on November 11, or Armistice Day, when hostilities finally came to an end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Poppies cascading from a window.
According to Historic Royal Palaces Tower of London Cummins took his inspiration words written by a soldier who died at Flanders: “The Blood Swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.” And potters at his studio created the poppies using hand-made techniques common at the time of the Great War.

And another view of the poppies, from the other side of the cascade.
While the poppies were there, the Last Post was played at sunset every evening, but this week volunteers have been dismantling the art work. Some parts of it, including the poppies cascading from a window, will be displayed at a series of temporary exhibitions around the country. But many will be sold to help raise cash for service charities in the UK. I believe they’re £25 each, and 10 per cent goes to the charities, plus all net proceeds.

I must admit that when I went to see the poppies I didn’t quite know what to expect, and feared it be rather mawkish and sentimental, and that it might glorify war. But it wasn’t like that at all. I thought it brought home the pity and horror of war, and somehow this monumental piece of art made me realise just how great the slaughter was, especially when you multiply the numbers across the various nations involved.
An individual poppy on the information board.
To see more Saturday Snapshot photos, or to participate, go to West Metro Mummy Reads.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Poppies and Gargoyles

I was aiming to post something here more or less every other day, and schedule it so it pops up nice and early, but the plan has gone awry, and I’m a little later than I meant to be, but better late than never! I blame the fact that I’ve still got a cold, and I don’t feel well, so my routine (such as it is) has gone to pot. I’ve had this for almost a week now, and it doesn’t seem to be shifting at all, and I feel very sorry for myself, and I don’t want to do anything, so I’ve been curled up in my armchair, crocheting and watching Cadfael DVDs.

But I did manage to nip over to Lichfield on Monday for an hour for some wool and some fresh air, and I took a few photographs while I was there, because they made me smile. 
The first red berries of autumn!
Bright red poppy wreaths in the Memorial Garden - not really a happy topic,
but it was such a wonderful splash of colour.

The three spires of Lichfield Cathedral.
A devilish gargoyle on the north wall (if I got my directions right). I love the way it's
covered in moss or lichen.
Late flowers blooming in the Darwin House garden.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Tangled Wool!

Good morning all! Are there any other crochet enthusiasts out there who battle with self-tangling wool? Or perhaps some mischievous elf or gnome has taken up residence in my home, like one of those brownies or hobgoblins you come across in old folktales, you know, the kind who help with the household tasks as long as you keep them happy and well-fed… But break the rules and they can be very tricksy indeed, creating chaos and confusion instead of order and comfort...

Things were worse than this to start with! I was half-way through
sorting it out when I decided to take a photo.
When I stop hooking I carefully wind my yarns, and stash them in one of those brightly coloured plastic baskets you can pick up quite cheaply in supermarkets, garden centres and DIY stores. I’ve got a couple, and they’re pink, so they look pretty, and have handles, so they are practical as well, and can be toted around the house with ease. You wouldn’t think things would get so muddled up inside them, but they do… Scissors and hooks vanish overnight, while yarns fling themselves about, coming to rest with strands entwined round strands, like beans on a stick, but much more tenacious… Then there are the knots that appear by magic… Knots previously unknown to Man, impossible to unravel… Who makes them?

The whole thing is one of Life’s Great Imponderable Mysteries, but whatever the reason, I need a solution – and I think I’ve found it! I had a Lightbulb Moment whilst trying to disentangle the latest Work in Progress (actually it’s one of several, because I like to have a number of projects on the go at the same time). This particular WIP is a ripple blanket (pattern courtesy of Lucy over at Attic 24 – I wonder if she gets this problem?). Anyway, there are an awful lot of threads because there’s an awful lot of wool (oddments and new), to say nothing of all those loose ends I promised to weave in as I went along, but never did.

Old-fashioned brown elastic bands make great wool detanglers -
 much better than the pretty coloured ones which are too thin to
hold the ends of wool in place.
I did consider investing in one those natty gadgets that winds wool into neat little cakes, but they might not stay that So I’m trialling my Brainwave - elastic bands!!! Yes, that’s right, elastic bands…. Not to crochet with (that’s just silly, even though Loom Bands, their posh cousins, are so popular at the moment).

Anyway, I've untangled threads, cut off the knotted sections, and wound my wool into misshapen balls(I defy anyone to produce perfect spheres). Then I slipped an elastic band around each of them, and slung a few into a carrier bag to test my Invention. I jiggled them and joggled them, and shook them all about. I threw the bag up and down and round and round. I prodded it and poked it, and jumped up and down on it!

Balls of wool held neat by a simple elastic band. It's dead simple. You don't
even  have to check that the ends are securely trapped. - you just stick
an elastic band over the ball of wool, and that's that!
Then came the moment of truth, and I crossed my fingers and held my breath as I upended the bag. I could hardly bear to look, but each ball of wool came rolling out in perfect condition, neat, tidy and ravelled (if that’s not a word, it should be – after all, you can have unravelled, so what’s wrong with ravelled as its opposite, especially where yarn is concerned).

Ta-daa! A pink plastic basket  of
untangled wool!
I’m pleased to say my home-made wool detangler appears to work, but only time will tell how effective it really is.  Watch this space for a progress report!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Recreating a Medieval Abbey

Lavender blue dilly, dilly... Relaxing in the Lander Garden at Buckfast Abbey.

I seem to have been a very sporadic blogger this year. In fact, sporadic is a bit of an understatement – non-existent is nearer the mark. Anyway, I thought I would share some pictures on Saturday Snapshot, though it's a long time since I've posted anything. These were taken during a visit to Devon a couple of weeks back. Not Plymouth this time, where our Elder Daughter lives, but Paignton. We wanted to explore a different part of the county, so we treated ourselves to a package coach trip/weekend in a hotel. Stupidly, on the Saturday I let the Man of the House persuade me to join a trip across Dartmoor, which turned out to be a Big Mistake for a Bad Traveller like me… Besides, Dartmoor can only be fully appreciated when you’re walking.

We stopped briefly at Princetown, the small village where the prison is, and there was another stop at Tavistock, which had a fabulous market with crafts and books and suchlike, and looked a really nice little town – just my sort of place! But we weren’t there all that long, and I was just beginning to feel better when it was back on the coach again, and off we headed for an unscheduled surprise location, and all I wanted was fresh air, ground under my feet, and not to move!

But the journey was worth it, because this is where we ended up: 
Buckfast Abbey
Buckfast Abbey has to be one of the nicest places I’ve ever been, providing balm for body and soul. It is magical, really, really beautiful, and so tranquil and soothing. It’s a modern building but, unlike most 20th century cathedrals (Coventry, for example), it looks old – as we walked towards the entrance I thought it was Medieval Gothic, cleaned up and restored, although the MOTH felt the two types of stone used meant it was more likely to be ‘new’. But we agreed it has to be the most incredible architectural feats we’ve come across, built by just six monks, only one of whom had experience as a mason, in 31 years.  I think that is so amazing. It is the most stupendous achievement, and whether or not you’re religious you have to admire the faith, skill, energy and sheer hard work of that group of men who turned their dream into reality. 
Another view of the Abbey.
Apparently, Buckfast was established as a Benedictine monastery in 1018 – when King Canute was on the throne. In the following century it was taken over by the Cistercians, and was largely rebuilt. From that point on it was a thriving community for some 400 years until, of course, dear old Henry VIII Dissolved the Monasteries. The monks had to leave in 1539, and anything of value was sold off, along with the Abbey lands, manors and so on (it strikes me that the Dissolution of the Monasteries was a nice little earner for the Royal Coffers).

I just love this doorway - it is so ornate.
In the centuries that followed, the Abbey Church and most of the monastic buildings fell into decay, but a few were put to other uses – for instance the guest house complex was turned into a farm and cottages, and wool was dyed in the almshouses. 
Inside... I think the arches and the ceiling are lovely.
Then, in 1800 most of the remains were demolished to make way for a grand mansion house - only the Abbot's Tower and the Undercroft were left. However, the house changed hands again, and again, and again… four times in all, in just a few years.  The final owner put it up for sale in 1882, describing it as ‘a grand acquisition could it be restored to its original purpose’. And that, amazingly, is exactly what happened, because the site was bought by a group of exiled French Benedictine monks. They refounded a monastery, dedicated it to Saint Mary, and set about building. Originally they based their plans on an old print of the ruins – then, while digging in the vegetable garden, one monk stumbled across part of the Medieval foundations. Gradually, more stonework was unearthed.

Arches and windows.
It meant new designs were drawn up, enabling another Abbey Church to rise from the outlines of the old building. It was based on other abbeys built in the middle of the 12th century, such as Kirkstall, Fountains and Tewksbury. Work on the church started in 1907, and finished in 1937, and it’s as magnificent inside as it is out, with stone arches and pillars, vaulted ceilings (I hope that’s the right word), a decorative marble floor, and a great, golden altar. 

The Altar.
Most amazing of all are the stained glass windows. The ones in the main part of the church are beautifully traditional, based on those at Cathedrals in Canterbury and Chartres. Then you walk into the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and it’s something else altogether. It’s like entering another world. Ahead of you is wall of blue glass fragments, forming a giant picture, Jesus at the Last Supper, with light pouring through, and it is truly, truly awe inspiring. And when you turn around there are other windows, in other colours, in abstract designs, and the whole thing just takes your breath away. You seem to be surrounded by colour and light, and it is so modern, and such a contrast to the rest of the building. The Buckfast website acknowledges this difference, saying:
“In contrast to the rest of the Abbey, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel brings a touch of modern. After the main church was completed, the chapel was added to provide a place for quiet prayer, especially during the summer months when thousands of people visit the church daily. The splendid stained glass windows depicting Christ at the Last Supper, were designed and made in the Abbey’s workshops by the monks.” 

A wall of glass: Jesus at the Last Supper in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
(Pic courtesy of the ?Buckfast Abbey website)
I did try to take some photos, but they didn’t come out, which I guess is some kind of Divine Retribution, because there was a sign saying photography was forbidden… So, as you can see, I’ve used a piccie from the website.

While downloading some other pictures from my camera, I just found this, showing the above window from the outside - for some reason it didn't get downloaded with everything else. Anyway, the contrast between colourful interior and dull exterior is so great I felt I had to add the photo to this post - it shows a kind of transformation between the outer and inner picture.
That insignificant looking square on the left of the building is the outside of
that incredible stained glass window, though you would never know when you
view it from outside - the glass needs natural light pouring through to bring it to life.

Stained glass windows in the main part of the church.
According to a leaflet I bought, all the windows were made by the monks, under the guidance of the late Father Charles Norris, who trained at the Royal College of Arts, and developed new techniques in this ancient art. The monks’ work is so highly acclaimed that they have produced stained glass windows for churches all over the world, as well as a memorial in New York dedicated to the firemen who died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre.  
A peaceful spot in the gardens.
The gardens that surround the Church are lovely but, sadly, we didn't have time to wander round the Sensory Garden and a Physic Garden. But we sat in the Lavender Garden for a while, enjoying the perfume from some 150 varieties of the plant – I had no idea there so many different types of lavender! It was a warm, sunny day, and there were still a few bees around, even though it is late in the season. According to another leaflet I bought during our visit, the ‘Buckfast Bees’ bred here are much sought after because they are good honey producers, and disease resistant. 
And another shot of me by the Lavender Garden. If you look carefully
you can see there are little sculptures and things dotted about in the formal planting,
and it smelled wonderful, and was very peaceful - just the thing to restore
you when you're feeling poorly after an icky coach trip.
 We’d hoped to have tea and cake in the restaurant, but there was no time for that either (that’s the problem with coach trips, you’re on a strict timetable). But it’s easy to get there from Plymouth, so we can return and explore at our leisure – and make sure we have time for afternoon tea!

To see more Saturday Snapshot photos, or to participate, go on over to West Metro Mummy