Sunday, 15 March 2015

Technological Cherubs

I put a new header on the blog today. It was a cat  I spotted on a deserted Greek beach, looking as if he owned it.  Perhaps he did.   Not sure how successful a header it is - looks a bit large - but I loved his air of calm authority!

These pictures mostly show cherubs showing off all the latest technology - well at least it was the latest when they were made.

This is a cherub speaking into an old fashioned telephone outside Two Temple Place, a fantastic house which used to belong to the Astors, situated right on the Thames next to the Inns of Court.  I plan to write a bit more about it but click here if you want to know more, and  I must say I can highly recommend the exhibition on there right now. "Cotton to Gold" which showcases treasures from Northwest England museums.

There are other cherubs generating electric light,

holding up light bulbs 

and listening to the other end of the telephone 

 This lady is considerably older than the cherub but as you see she holds a retort, something used by chemists, plus some books.  I think she must symbolise scientific knowledge.   She can be found in a glass case near the centre lifts in the Science Museum,  London SW7.

She is part of a most magnificent table centrepiece made in 1870, which symbolises the importance of telegraphy in creating wealth.    It was presented to Alexander Cross, Chairman of the United Kingdom Telegraph Company.

It is festooned with telegraph cables, held up by cherubs

and a couple more are busily working telegraph equipment.

If the magnificence of this centrepiece is anything to go by - it is really huge and most beautifully done, studded with semi precious stones - then the telegraph was very successful in creating wealth for the shareholders of the United Kingdom Telegraph Co!
I am always fond of cherubs and putti and rather sorry that you don't see them much on modern artwork.  I can just imagine them all sitting there with their smartphones...

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


We hear so much about Syria these days - usually in connection with evil hearted terrorists who have chosen to make it a sort of gathering point for themselves.  Yet over the years when I visited Syria the most striking thing was the dignified friendliness of the people and the sheer lack of fanaticism. It was a place where, as a non-Muslim woman, I was treated always with the greatest respect and kindness, and where I always felt entirely safe, even walking through dark alleyways at night, alone. 

I know that murderous fanatics have been smashing up the amazing heritage of this country - not to mention elsewhere in the Middle East. Until I went there I had no idea of how much history there was in the deserts, in the stones and streets and houses.  I have been looking through my hundreds of images of Syria lately, and picked out a few, almost at random.  I'm offering them to you now.  Just so you know. 

Above - some of the buses were works of art. This driver was rightly proud of his. Because Syria wasn't really a tourist destination, few people knew about the splendid buses that were to be found, many of them decidedly vintage but very reliable. 

  Below, a Syrian Orthodox church

There are very, very ancient Christian churches at Ma'loula, some of which were converted from Roman era temples, and don't have electricity; such a powerful atmosphere. Ma'loula is one of the few places where people still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.   I believe many of these amazing places have been destroyed by the  bigots and vandals.

We had one very memorable trip to Palmyra, a great abandoned Roman city in the desert.   Our hotel was right in the silent remains of the city, surrounded by the ruins, and so we were able to get up and wander around before dawn, all by ourselves.  Here is the moon setting just before dawn.

 This picture below was taken just after sunrise.  We climbed some of those hills, and found them covered in tiny translucent flowers which looked almost like glass.

This is Beit Jabri, one of the best places to eat in Damascus, popular with just about everyone. It was hidden away in a tiny alleyway. Once a courtyard of an old mansion, it was roofed in with glass, with flowers growing inside and out - and great food at very low prices. You could come almost any time of day or night and find it busy with people meeting their friends and having fun. 

A fountain at Al-Azem palace.

Below is a little corner of a souq.  Nobody ever pestered you to buy in Syria. Nor was there the tiresome business of haggling.  You could wander around and please yourself whether you bought anything or not.   Souqs in Aleppo and Damascus were both vast, full of life and with countless things to see (and buy), and they rambled on for miles.   It certainly makes going to a supermarket seem dull and bland.

This is part of the exterior of the Ummayyad mosque in Damascus, built on the ruins of a very early Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist - and John the Baptist's shrine was on display inside the mosque.    There was a large archway left over from the Roman Temple of Jupiter in the square, which was one of the entrances to the souq, so there were always people around until late at night.  The tomb of Saladin is to the North of the mosque; it is where the Prophet Muhammed is said to have recited verses from the Quran.  

Inside the souq were all kinds of travelling salesmen including coffee sellers and candy sellers.  Somewhere I have a picture of a coffee seller with a great curved coffee pot on his back. But I'm just offering you a selection of pictures here.

Anyway these lurid sweets caught the little boy's eye.  I don't think his granddad was going to buy him any though.

Some of the buses were very striking, both inside (see top picture) and out.

Some of the best Middle Eastern pastries come from Damascus. This was a small, old but high class shop in a dark square in the centre of Damascus which sold elaborate boxes of sweetmeats.

The courtyard of the al-Mamlouka hotel, hidden in the maze of streets that made up Damascus's Christian Quarter. Most large Arab houses present a blank face to the street but have these hidden courtyards; this one had huge mirrors in the niches around it to reflect the light.

Some very splendid ancient cars on the streets. OK - who can name this one? I feel as if I should know what it is.

A staging post in the desert, with shop and café.  Imagine total silence all around... it made a huge impression on me.   The domed building is in a traditional architectural style. 

Bosra, in the south of the country, dates from Roman times and was capital of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea.  When we went the entire huge site was almost deserted but this amphitheatre was quite spectacular and gave an eerily convincing impression of how it must have felt to come along to see a show in Roman times. Backstage it was dark and massive. 
I've never been a huge fan of the Romans -too tough and brutal - but I always admire their extraordinary building and engineering skills.

Local needlework

This dear little boy was full of happiness and mischief. He was having a picnic with his large extended family inside the mosque, which has a great marble floor and courtyard.  Families seemed to hang out there for hours, chatting with friends, using the mosque almost as a park - and his family was settled down for the whole afternoon. This is the only picture I took of him where he was not pulling funny faces.

We last went there in 2011. The country had been a dictatorship for many years but things were gradually liberalising.  Life was far from perfect - to put it mildly - but people coped with problems with grace and humour.  It is painful to think of the bad times there now and I very much hope that peace will return sooner rather than later... and visitors from the outside world will also be able to return, to admire this most varied and appealing country.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Poems in the Waiting Room

The good news is that comments seem to be back, but I'm using IE instead of Chrome, just to be sure!

If you read my other blog, you might know that it is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland this year.  And I am pleased that the charity, POEMS IN THE WAITING ROOM has agreed to use a poem by Lewis Carroll in 2015.   POEMS IN THE WAITING ROOM supplies leaflets containing four or five uplifting, interesting or amusing poems to doctors' surgeries.

The poems are a mixture of light and serious, and they aim to give patients something good to think about at a time when they might be anxious and worried; to remind them that there is more to life than illness, and that we can face difficulties with courage and humour.  For instance the leaflet above had poems about the First World War, and contained this one, by Sara Teasdale, (1884 - 1933), which I liked very much:

Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore
It is mine for evermore
It ebbs not back like the sea.

I am the pool of blue
that worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you

I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies -
You are my deepening skies;
Give me your stars to hold.

We have supported PITWR for years and it seems that the poems are much appreciated. So anyway,  I have been talking with other members of the Lewis Carroll Society to try and find a poem to submit.  It is surprisingly hard!  Although we are of course all big fans of "Alice," the fact is that not everyone likes the books, and in fact some people can find them rather frightening.

So my favourite is this one, which is not from "Alice" but was written when Lewis Carroll was watching a little girl playing with her doll.    It's a simple little thing called BESSIE'S SONG TO HER DOLL.  I never played with dolls myself much as a child, actually, but this little poem reminds me so much of when I used to sit watching my own daughters playing with their beloved dolls, and it makes me feel happy.

What do you think?  Do you think it's a good topic for a waiting room poem?


Matilda Jane, you never look
At any toy or picture-book.
I show you pretty things in vain--
You must be blind, Matilda Jane!

I ask you riddles, tell you tales,
But all our conversation fails.
You never answer me again--
I fear you're dumb, Matilda Jane!

Matilda darling, when I call,
You never seem to hear at all.
I shout with all my might and main--
But you're so deaf, Matilda Jane!

Matilda Jane, you needn't mind,
For, though you're deaf and dumb and blind,
There's SOMEONE loves you, it is plain--
And that is ME, Matilda Jane!

I imagine Matilda Jane - the real one - was a wax doll.   My elder daughter got entirely into wax dolls when she was 3, and we read an Edwardian picture book about a wax doll whose owner took it in the sun. It melted in the heat, and this idea completely fascinated her.  We had nothing but wax dolls for about a year after that!

And thinking about dolls, I realised I hadn't ever shown you the dolls I photographed a couple of years ago when I went to the wonderful doll museum in Coburg, Germany.  Any favourites in the following photos?


Seem to be having a bit of a run of toy museums at the moment!   I recommend this one, and also Coburg, which is a most interesting town. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Comments not appearing - and New Zealand.

I'm sorry if your comments are not appearing.  I haven't had a comment for days. Usually I get quite a few. I'm wondering if it is the end of the relationship for me and Blogger. I've had problems with it for ages, and now if the comments are just disappearing, well, it means I can't have any contact with you all .... I've posted a query on Google Help and I'll try moving to a different template. If that doesn't work, well, I don't know. It might have to be a divorce!

Meanwhile, if you want to contact me (hopefully with suggestions) then try a comment... or else,  I hope the contact button is still working on my profile!  And meanwhile, I'm posting a few photos of New Zealand. I would have told you about that ages ago if I hadn't had so much to say about Japan. 

What a lovely place it is - it really seems as if every bend in the road you come across another amazing bit of scenery.  All the pictures in this post were taken in November, within easy driving distance of Christchurch.  Summer was coming, Spring flowers were out but the weather was pretty windy.

This below is a Kea, a kind of parrot. They're pretty mischievous, and very tame.  Underneath their wings they have a wonderful blaze of red, and I have a photo showing this. But I also like this one, which shows how their colouring blends with their natural habitat.  The bird had snaffled some crackers from someone who had parked nearby

This is near Godley Head

And this is a range of mountains near Castle Hill
The resort of Akoroa

The coastline near Lyttleton

 and windsurfing near a place called Taylor's Mistake. I wonder what his mistake actually was?

A hiking path through acres of dazzlingly yellow gorse bushes (they stretched all around, in all directions) which I'd have loved to trudge along, looking at the sea views down the hillside. 
This path one by the sea was even more inviting, and after the faded colours of so much autumn vegetation in England and Japan, the new Spring colours were almost blinding
One of my favourite spots was a little settlement called Otira, in the hills. Here are some horses on a smallholding bypassing that ancient tractor, coming to see us

And this seemed quite Lord of the Rings...


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