All part of life’s rich tapestry…

My mother Diana’s tapestry.Slowly but surely, my Mother and I are working through the deep cupboards and large boxes of her possessions. Some things are priceless and irreplaceable while others well, not so much, to be polite. The photographs are all being carefully kept but the ornaments and trinkets have to be thought about carefully as nobody has enough room for their own bits and pieces as well as my mother’s!

One morning we decided to go through the framed paintings and needlework. My mother has completed a few pieces of tapestry in her life and framed some and not others. Out came a pretty Jacobean design  and, as you can see from the picture, it was beautifully made and framed. I hadn’t seen it before as it had been tucked away my whole lifetime. As I turned it over and saw the date she had worked it, I gave a squeak. My mother looked at me and asked what was the matter. She had made it in the summer of 1953… while she was pregnant with me.

My tapestry.Thinking I should strike while the iron was hot, I nipped home (we only live a short distance over the hill) and collected the tapestry that I worked on in the summer that I was expecting my first daughter. Here you can see the larger design that I did. I showed my mother and like me she was amazed, what are the chances that we would both independently choose an almost identical piece of needlework to create during the last months of our first pregnancy? She had never seen my work and I didn’t know about her picture quietly stored away.

So I have them both hung in the house at the moment – one day I am guessing I will have to downsize and I wonder if my daughters will want them. But for now I am enjoying the co-incidence!

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Curiouser and curiouser – ‘Alice’ appeal lives on 150 years after publication

John Tenniel’s original AliceThe Mad Hatter, The White Rabbit and a little girl called Alice – three of the many fantastical characters created by Lewis Carroll in his 1865 masterpiece ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, characters loved by generation after generation of children the world over. 2015 is the 150th anniversary of its publication and there are Alice in Wonderland events happening all over the place and a whole new generation is being introduced to the little girl who fell down a rabbit hole and tumbled into another world.

I adored reading Alice in Wonderland as a child. I spent quite a lot time looking for a rabbit hole large enough to fall down because I was convinced I’d have the same adventures if I did and I longed to meet the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat. The book manages that magical mix of humour, fantasy and a little bit of fear – would the Queen of Hearts cut off your head? Would you be trapped forever always too big, or too small, to escape from the endless passage and through one of the enticing doors?

Little Alice Liddell was the real-life Alice who inspired Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was his pen name), to write the novel when she asked him to tell her a story on a boating trip down the Thames in Oxford. Even when I have re-read it as an adult, I have found it entrancing and dream-like. There are so many character and phrases that crop up in modern culture and many plays and films and other books have been made about it or been inspired by it.

The real ‘Alice’, Alice Liddell.Charles Dodgson was an English writer, mathematician, Anglican deacon and photographer. After Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he wrote Through the Looking-Glass, which includes the poems Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark both wonderful examples of fantastic nonsense!

But is it really a children’s book? The story plays with logic making it as popular with adults as with children. It is one of the best examples of the literary ‘nonsense’ genre popular in the Victorian era, with one of the other most famous ‘nonsense’ writers being Edward Lear, he of ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ fame! Goodness, can you imagine being at a literary lunch with those two authors!

I often find myself thinking of particular ‘Alice’ phrases – I think one of two have even slipped into my own books! Here are a few of my favourites:

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

“If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.”

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

One of Arthur Rackham’s Art Nouveau illustrationsOne of the things I loved most about Alice in Wonderland was the illustrations. The version I had featured the beautiful Art Nouveau images created by Arthur Rackham, but the original book featured the work of John Tenniel. Both of their illustrations are stunning and so very ‘of the era’.

And what of the book when it was first published 150 years ago? The entire print run sold out quickly – Alice was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike. Among its first avid readers were Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde. The book has never been out of print and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into at least 174 languages.

Couriouser and curiouser,” as Alice would have said!

Did you read it as a child, or an adult? Did you like it? Which was your favourite character? I think I’ve got to choose the White Rabbit!

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Is this the end of the traditional british holiday…?

It is August and prime holiday time down here in Devon so we tend to keep away from the coast until the end of the school holidays when it quietens down again. But yesterday, I had some business near Torquay and I walked past a family about to go onto the beach and a distinctive scent transported me instantly back to my own childhood summer holidays – the smell of Ambre Solaire suntan cream! I absolutely love that smell but now, as a confirmed non-sunbather, I hadn’t smelt it for years. Goodness, how it brought the memories flooding back…

Seaside holidays were such wonderful things when I was a child. What I call ‘traditional’ holidays – well to my generation that’s what they seemed. We had sticks of rock, donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows – although I was personally terrified of Mr Punch! It all seemed so innocent then, your parents organised one or two weeks in a guesthouse somewhere in the UK. You had the meal that was served every evening (no choices from the a la carte!) and we’d never heard of ‘ensuite’, so bathroom sharing was the norm. I can remember my Mother packing our preferred brand of tea and biscuits – goodness knows why we couldn’t have bought some locally, but it was all part of the tradition, the excitement of being somewhere different and slightly exotic even if it was still in the UK. Does anyone still do that now that we have a Tesco and Sainsbury’s in every town in every county?

Deckchair photo copyright Dave HeatherAnd what about ice creams and saucy postcards? This was in the days before Magnums so if I was lucky I might get a choc ice that always melted and dribbled up my arm before I was even half way through it. Or I might have had a 99 with that soft whipped ice cream piped into cornets that tasted exactly like cardboard. As for the naughty postcards, I can remember gazing saucer-eyed at the revolving racks of cards outside the beach shops and, while not understanding what was going on in those gaudy images, feeling deliciously guilty and daring! 

Sadly, well sadly for my era, it is all changing. When did you last receive a postcard? I can’t remember when I did. But I’ve seen lots of people’s holiday snaps on Facebook. Today’s holidaymakers no longer have to weigh themselves down with a suitcase stuffed with paperbacks, technology has saved the day again with the invention of the Kindle. But it’s not the same. One of the joys of holiday paperbacks was reading them and leaving them behind for someone else to enjoy. I discovered all sorts of interesting reads by ‘inheriting’ other holidaymakers’ castoffs, but there, times change…

Of course, many changes are for the better. Largely gone are the in–car arguments over wayward map reading by one parent or the other, for now we have the sat nav. If we don’t like our holiday, we can tell everyone on Trip Advisor and hope it brings some improvement and perhaps provides a little salve for our disappointment.

But oh, do the modern generation know what they are missing? Will they ever know the thrill of brewing tea on a primus stove in a tiny beach hut while shivering with cold? Wrestling with deckchairs that want to nip your fingers and swallow you whole or – joy of joys – walking to the end of the pier in a gale force 8 and getting soaked? I think not and somehow, perhaps, we are all a little the poorer for those losses.

What are your most enduring summer holiday memories…? Do tell!

 

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So who is top dog?

Moss, a German Wirehaired Pointer.My partner in crime writing Julia, has a lovely puppy called Moss, who we featured on this blog a few months ago. Moss is a German Wirehaired Pointer. This is not a common breed and Julia is amazed at how often she is stopped in the street and asked what sort of dog Moss is.

Devon is a very doggy part of the world with it being such a great place to walk and also home to lots of farms where working dogs are used. You will find lots of collies – used to work both sheep and cattle and, of course, those wonderful feisty little characters, Jack Russells – used as ratters, rabbiters and general farm watchdogs. They also seem to be the regular driving companion to farmers in their tractors!

And so I started wondering about what the ten most popular breeds of dog in the UK were. The figures I came across are from The Kennel Club so don’t take into account non-pedigree and non-registered dogs so you won’t see a Labradoodle, a French Pug or a Cockapoo on the list! Generally, the most popularly owned and bred dogs in the UK stay fairly consistent year on year, with the same breeds of dogs appearing in the list over and over again. Today’s most popular dogs are:

Our late, beloved Wellington, a Cocker Spaniel.1. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador remains a firm favourite within the UK, and consistently appears near the top of the list every year. Bred as gundogs originally, they make loyal, loving and friendly family pets, great with children, intelligent and easy to train.

2. Cocker Spaniel (my favourite!)
The Cocker Spaniel is statistically the dog most likely to win the Best in Show title at Crufts. But the Cocker is not just a pretty face – like the Labrador, the Cocker achieved its popularity as a working gun dog, and got the ‘Cocker’ name due to its proficiency at hunting the Eurasian Woodcock. Did you know that… 

3. Springer Spaniel (English)
Gun dogs currently hold all of the top three rankings in the popularity stakes, with the English Springer Spaniel coming in third. Affectionate, fun loving and incredibly good natured, the Springer Spaniel loves to play, chase and run.

4. German Shepherd
The German Shepherd (or Alsatian) is a large dog of Germanic origins, and relatively young in dog terms, with the breed originating towards the end of the 19th century. It is prized for its fearlessness, loyalty and A feisty little Border Terrier.intelligence, and can often be found in working roles alongside of the police or military.

5. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier comes in at number five, but if you include non-registered Staffys and Staffy cross breeds, you might well find the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the number one spot! Squat, muscular and businesslike, the Staffy is a loyal dog that forms close bonds with his family and makes the perfect companion for young and old alike.

6. Border Terrier
The Border Terrier is a small rough-coated terrier hailing from the Scottish borders, and they are comical, fun loving and lively little dogs that tend to be hardy and full of pluck! While the Border Terrier generally gets on well with children, they often don’t extend the same affection to cats and other smaller pets- except as a snack!

7. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the third spaniel to make the list. Sharing the traits of loyalty, sunny dispositions and kind natures with the Springer and the Cocker it is one of the smaller spaniel breeds, and Zelda Zen, a friend’s gorgeous little Pug.often popular as a lap dog.

8. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is a medium-sized and intelligent dog that loves water! They are also renowned for their loyalty and ability to work with people, and can be found in many working roles such as search and rescue, assistance for blind or deaf people, and as sniffer dogs.

9. Pug
The Pug is often referred to as the comedian of the canine world and is an intelligent, entertaining and good-natured dog. It would certainly be fair to say that their looks are unique and distinctive, with their short, squat bodies, curled tails and squashed faces!

Lennox, a beautiful retriever in training to become a Guide Dog.10. Boxer
The boxer dog, so named for the ‘boxing’ motions they make when fighting or play fighting, has fallen in popularity in recent years, with the incidences of newly registered puppies down 40% in 2010 compared to the 2001 census.

If you have had dogs as pets, what breed did you have, and why…?

 

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Mini marvels!

Top: Bekonscot, a fantastic world in miniature! Centre: The famous house on fire which, now I come to thnk about it looks worryingly like Victoria Farm! Bottom: No detail is too small…When I was a child growing up in Buckinghamshire, one of my absolute favourite days out was a trip to the nearby model village of Bekonscot, near Beaconsfield. It seemed such an entirely perfect world to me, I would spend hours crouched down, peering in through the windows of the houses or watching the train come past again and again. I never tired of it!

What is our fascination with things in miniature? A friend of mine seemed to spend almost all her early years hunched over her dolls’ house, my brother was besotted with his train set, while another friend had a Britains model farm which I was rather envious of! I am guessing our fascination comes from being able to create a world just as we want it, and that we have control over, something we rarely get to do in real life. And as we get older of course it becomes a huge nostalgia trip too. 

Even in these days of computers, smart phones and CGI, I was delighted to discover that about 160,000 people a year still visit Bekonscot – I just hope they aren’t all people of my age, and that it includes plenty of youngsters! It is a1930s-styled village, with around 200 buildings, including a house on fire and an operational coal mine.

There’s also a model of ‘Green Hedges’, the home of Famous Five and Noddy author Enid Blyton – don’t get me started on the Famous Five or we’ll be here all year! Generally accepted as the world’s first model village, Bekonscot opened in 1929 when Roland Callingham – under strict instructions from his wife – moved his model railway from his home to a neighbouring garden. How wonderfully British!

Surprisingly, the UK is home to over 30 miniature villages, ranging from hobbyists creating their own tiny worlds in their gardens, to big tourist attractions employing professional engineers.

Babbacombe, just down the road from me here in Devon is a grand affair with its new fishing village being a mix of three real villages in Devon and Cornwall. It is home to what was the world’s smallest working television, as well as a miniature Stonehenge and a fire-breathing dragon! It opened in 1963 and it still attracts 150,000 visitors a year, wonderful!

But Babbacombe will never be as dear to my heart as Bekonscot because I never knew it as a child. And in a An amazingly detailed Britains model farm garden.way, I think that answers my query on why we like miniature things so much… it’s all about our happy childhood memories!

Did you visit a model village when you were young? Did you have a dolls’ house – or do you still have one?! Come on, tell me your memories – such fun!

 

 

 

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