Saturday, 23 August 2014

Selby Abbey - Church of Curiosities

On our bike trip northwards, we stopped at a lot of churches and cathedrals, not really for religious reasons but because old churches in England really are the keepers of local history. Usually they are the oldest buildings in town, and most thank goodness are still open to the public. And although they do have their ups and downs over the centuries, local people usually care a lot about their church, abbey or cathedral.   Sometimes, in a town like Selby, Yorkshire, the church is such a treasure that I feel quite envious of the locals for having it on their doorstep.  

I had heard only vaguely of Selby Abbey, but when we finally cycled up to have a look,  it was so interesting that I thought I'd share some of it with you.  Rather than copying out highlights of its history, I'll refer you to the website here to read more about the abbey and the Three Swans of St Germain.  In this post I just want to tell you about some of the curiosities that caught my eye. 

It seemed to be quite a lively place. There were lots of people around, some drinking tea, some arranging flowers, and they seemed to be preparing the place for some event

One lady was showing off her fancy dress cloak which she thought made her look like a monk.

 I liked the human interest in some of the memorials.  Can you imagine old John Archer, the gravedigger who patiently served the church by ringing bells and digging holes till he was 74, before setting down his spade and obediently answering the summons of Death himself?

And Frank the gravedigger,  half a century before John Archer, inspired someone to point out that "What Frank for Others Used to do,  Is now for Frank done by Another."

I hope you don't find it depressing to consider the lives of people who have died.   I don't - I like to think that they are remembered. But there is more to see than memorials. I was at first surprised to see a beautiful American quilt displayed as a gift to the Abbey from across the sea.

But then, I hadn't realised that George Washington's family were locals, and I have to say the family coat of arms looks as if it gave him some ideas of the flag for the new country.

The Abbey's foundation is very old, but it had a serious fire about a century ago and was largely rebuilt.  The craftsmen who did so put their own little personal touches in.  Here is a tiny statue of King |Edward VII, the reigning monarch at the time, which is hidden inside a column head carving - I'm pleased with myself that I managed to photograph it

Quaint carving on the outside of the capital head too, mostly of wild creatures.

A memorial window for Victoria's Diamond Jubilee proudly sports the latest steam train technology....

And one of the instruments from the abbey band has been preserved. It's a serpent, which was a mainstay of church  bands in the eighteenth century, when most churches didn't have organs.

I think the serpent sounds beautiful - like a sort of bass cornet - and it's rather a pity that it gone out of favour.With looks like that, it deserves to come back, don't you think?   It probably drowned out the singers and other instruments though   Here is what it sounds like.

And talking of music, Selby Abbey by the way is running an appeal for its famous organ which is now in need of renovation. If you're interested, here's the find out more about that.

There is something touching about the idea of a parishioner sitting down and creating a beautiful scale model of the abbey, but this one is of particular interest because it was made immediately before the big fire of 1906.

I hope you don't mind a few more memorials. Selby has some particularly good memorials to young men who died in the war - tributes that make them seem real to me. 

  I was unable to photograph the plaque to Flying Officer Cyril Joe Barton, VC, but here is the gist of it: 
On the night of 30 March 1944 Flying Officer Barton's aircraft was severely damaged by enemy fighters. Three of his crew parachuted out, but he continued flying single handed, completed his mission and continued home flying by starlight.He was hit by anti aircraft fire over the Channel. With all his engines out of action, he avoided the densely populated area around Sunderland and crash landed on Ryhope Colliery and his final words were asking about the safety of his crew, all of whom survived the experience. He was 22 years old, and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry

It was also good to find this very beautiful plaque to William Littlewood, who merely lived "a useful and unassuming life."     As Milton said, sometimes "they also serve who only stand and wait."

Well, you know me, I don't like to ramble on for too long and this post is already long enough. So here's one final image of Selby Abbey. It is part of the Norman structure, so it is getting on for a thousand  years old. The abbey once had a central tower which collapsed. The parishioners must have suspected something was going to happen when they saw the wonky shape that the right hand arch was developing, right under the tower.  

It's all right now, though. Perfectly safe, and they don't have a tower on top of it any more.

There is a lot more than this in Selby Abbey, which is halfway between Darlington and York, and I suggest that if you are in the area it is a good place to see.

By the way we had lunch in one of those traditional Yorkshire tea rooms where you get big plates of delicious home cooked food, breakfasts, teas and light lunches,  for reasonable prices all day. You can always spot them because they are always full of local ladies and families, they often have lace curtains and old fashioned chairs and tables,  and are usually tucked down side streets.  This is off St James Street, almost opposite the abbey grounds.  Not a panini in sight and the lunches were not in fact particularly light, unless you think steak and kidney pie is light..

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

British Folk Art?

I'm feeling in the mood to write a wacky post today. I have a bug that won't go away and I feel weak, and a bit light headed.  Our bike trip already seems long ago, did I really have the energy to do it?

I hate being ill.

There are some art shows I want to see in London and now I find they're due to close soon. One of them is the British Folk Art show at the Tate Britain gallery.  If I don't get there I suppose I can look at the British Folk Art I photographed on our trip, and I thought you might like to see some home made creations too.

I'll start in Whitby, Yorkshire, which is a coastal town famous for Dracula and various other interesting things. It has a big Goth population. The Goths are not exactly serious - I bought some great chili pickle from a nice man called Chris, aka Howling Goth, in the market, (and click here to see the testimonials... ) Anyway this Count Dracula was partying in a suburban dustbin outside Whitby. 

Scarecrow festivals are a good source of folk art, and the scarecrows often stay up even when the festival's over.  After all, if you've worked hard at something, why take it down in a hurry?  I thought there was some good craftsmanship in this surreal fisherman sitting atop a hedge

Sometimes though, you had to ask, well, what is going on? I just couldn't figure out what was sitting on that right hand bench in the park at Sleights, and nor could the fellow on the left hand bench, by the look of it. 

Even when you enlarge the figure, it's impossible to guess what it is, but I do like its casually self assured air, relaxing on the bench with one gumboot sticking out.

Both the cut out vintage man in this picture and the customer in the background were pointing at the same boat on this village's charming boating pond.

And on a dull grey day in Lincolnshire it cheered me to spot Psy by the roadside. I hummed "Gangnam Style" for the next few miles.....   

... and now I can put in my favourite of the many parodies of that famous song.  It's by a shock trauma platoon of the US Navy and Marines in Afghanistan.  Isn't it great?

Quite a jump to the Duchess of Cambridge made from jelly beans - this very large and accomplished image was in a sweetshop window in the city of Cambridge. 

A little further on, in Newark, Notts, we went to one of the best b&bs I've stayed in for ages, called  Compton House.  and I spotted this fox sitting in the hall.

The owner explained she'd spotted the fox at a sale in a taxidermy shop where the vendor told her it was the worst stuffed fox they'd ever had for sale. She felt so sorry for it that she bought her and now dresses it up glamorously in the summer months, and warmly, complete with scarf, in the winter.

Now, I'd say it's the classiest fox in Nottinghamshire. 

The most unsettling piece of home made or folk art I saw was this stern, slightly angelic figure. At first I thought it was another scarecrow, and perhaps it is, but it seems to be showing the way to a wedding. It's creepy, with its blue face. I'd like to know the story behind it.  

 Yes, there are a lot of examples of artistic self expression going on around England. And so I wish I had dared ask this group why they all had green hair.  But I just kept my mouth shut and let them go past!


Thursday, 7 August 2014

On the Heels of the Tour de France

Seems to me that once you stop blogging for a while it can get hard to start again! Sorry for the long gap.  I reckon I got out of the habit while I was away on my bike, travelling very light, for most of last month. T and I cycled from London to Co. Durham, then back across to Whitby and finally down to Scarborough, where we loaded the bikes on the trains and came back to London.  We saw so many things I'm still digesting it all!

We covered quite a lot of the route which the Tour de France took (not while the cyclists were racing there, luckily). I don't follow any sports, so at first I was wondering why we kept passing so many window displays with a French theme, such as this one in Saffron Walden, Essex.  (which by the way is a great town, one which I hope to post about later)

"WHAT is all this about bikes and berets and moustaches and strings of onions?" I asked myself, as I passed shop window after shop window ....

Finally I learned what everyone else in the country knew, that the Tour de France cyclists would be cycling southwards down from Yorkshire, and to my surprise I realised we were following much of the route (in reverse and very much slower) northwards through England.   Would we meet them on the way? I hoped not. When we reached Cambridge, which was expecting them in a couple of days, it was bristling with "No Bike Parking" signs and it was clear that if we got in the way of these top sportsmen, we would be mown down, swamped in the crush of bodies, etc.

When we did arrive in York, they'd just left.  I was so impressed by the decorations along the route in the suburb of Bishopsthorpe, that I took some photos of them.  I thought they were remarkably creative. Which one do you like best?

I liked these ladies chatting on the doorstep and one of them had really gone to town. Look at the windows - little jerseys and bikes as well as everything else, and the front wall too.

Can anyone anyone explain this one? My guess is that it refers to a cyclist from Mauritius, since the dodo is the symbol of that French speaking country.  I love dodos and this was a very cleverly made one.

No doubt the idea that Sheffield is 200 KM away is just an encouragement to the sporty cyclists!  But I am wondering what the round things like fried eggs are on this patchworked banner. Or perhaps they are eyes. Or breasts......

The midwife who delivered my second child puffed and down the hills on her bike with a couple of oxygen cylinders on the back. But this one appears to have a baby in the basket. Not a real one, I am sure. 

I liked this garden gate

And slightly wondered why someone had dressed their tree in yellow net

Local builders had done their bit by stencilling bikes on a house they were renovating

And what a lot of work, threading this ribbon through painted bike wheels to create this striking impression

This florist shop went completely mad on its eye catching bike display, those look like the kind of hand made paper chains we used to make for Christmas, as kids - it was a lot of fun.

This butcher was advertising his wares in French

Even the toilet arrangements paid tribute to the French theme

"The Swan" pub had given itself a revamp for the occasion with a beer barrel in the colours of the French flag

on a new sign painted for the occasion.  Now that IS impressive! I wonder if they will keep it.

Several houses has combined to create a large arrow in their windows, just in case the cyclists got lost....

And even on a rather grey day the flags made a cheerful sight, fluttering as far as you could see. 

I don't know York but I'd guess Bishopsthorpe is a good place to live. It seemed to have community spirit and a lot of interesting and involved local businesses, and I certainly noticed it and stopped a lot, rather than just cycling through

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Strange Plants and Botanical Stuff

I'm back home again now - but the Blogger app for my phone seemed just as flaky as the PC version. (The PC version of Blogger doesn't let me change the colours or layout, which is why I can't comment individually on comments - it comes out yellow on white!).  Although I scheduled three posts during my absence, the app didn't post them, and in fact completely deleted one when I tried to post it manually.  (A pity, as it was a nice one done at someone's special request.).  I haven't been able to read or enable comments either.

But that's life, and here's one of the posts which should have appeared during my absence. It's a continuation of the Kew post.  Hope you like it!

It's all about some of the (mostly weird and wonderful) plants I wanted to show you from Kew.  I should have carefully noted their names... but I forgot to. Though  I can tell you this one is a lotus.

   I expect the artists whose work is exhibited in the botanical art gallery at Kew would have given you the names.As well as the new gallery of botanical art, there's also a gorgeous Victorian one next door, which was purpose built to house the paintings of the most intrepid maiden Victorian lady called Marianne North. She travelled the world alone in search of amazing plants  (there's a glimpse of the gallery below with just a few of her paintings).

So the first flower is a lotus, right?  And these wonderful things were dangling downwards like party decorations, in the tropical section, but I don't have any idea what they are.

A most exotic water lily here.

And this is a very tiny one, about a tenth of the size of the blue lily

These two groups below are carnivorous plants. The green one appears to be smeared with blood, so best not think too closely about what that is supposed to convey.

These are prettier but still a bit sinister.

No idea what this is. It looks a little disturbing to me, specially since it seems to be made of green knobbly rubber 

 And talking of disturbing, what about the huge thorns sticking through this delicate white plant? It doesn't seem to mind and it is in fact full of pollen.

This one has its pollen laid out invitingly on its long thin "tongue" so the bees really don't need to go to any trouble at all.

More spininess - the familiar prickly pear has beautiful flowers, like satin.

And I like this cactus, too, with all its radial patterns.

What a contrast is this ethereal grass, waving in the breeze outside

And here is a little pond, reflecting a display of California poppies

There is a collection of orchids at Kew, and this curious little specimen reminds me irresistibly of a gnomish little bad fairy in a party dress which is too big for her.  She even seems to have green and black wings. 

I do like bonsai, so was impressed with this unusual Japanese maple, which is 100 years old and was grown by a Japanese master bonsai cultivator.

Finally, here's another shot of that lotus because I just can't leave it out.  To my way of thinking, lotuses are perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious flowers. 

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