Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Made me Think, Caught my Eye.

During lockdown,  I  kept wishing I'd done things and gone places when I could.  Now I'm doing my best to do just that.  Not always successfully, I might say -  but I am trying.  And last week, we were in the valley of the River Wye in Herefordshire, towards the Welsh border. 

We were outside as much we could, walking, cycling (on the flatter bits of this hilly countryside) and in particular, exploring old parish churches, which are far more than just places of worship.  You do find good ones all over England, but Herefordshire's ones seemed particularly interesting. 

Now I apologise if you are one of those people who find memorials and old churches uninteresting or creepy, because I want to write about some of them in this post. To me the things I see there hold so much of the humanity, the thoughts, beliefs, hopes and fears of people past and present.  Even something very old can have glimpses of this and bring the past to life in a way that nothing else quite does.  

Partly, this is because many of the things you see in churches are full of mysteries. So much in the old days was never written down or has been lost, but we do know people went to the trouble of making (and paying to have made) all kinds of things which puzzle us now and give some food for thought..  

Soooo........ here's an aimless selection of things that either made me think, or else caught my eye in various Herefordshire churches. 

Here is a 14th century carving hidden under a tip-up choirstall seat, known as a misericord. It shows a man riding back to front on a galloping horse, its tail streaming in the wind.  Until about 200 years ago, riding a donkey back to front was a sign of humiliation. But this isn't a donkey, it's clearly a horse, I think.  Misericords usually show irreverent or mischievous scenes, as they are hidden and also sat upon, so rather secret.  Maybe this back to front fellow was just a fool who got everything wrong, maybe he symbolised some kind of a sin, maybe he was a popular character who never came down to us in history. But whoever he was, he would have meant something to the people who made it and secretly saw it.  

And who is this smiling horned figure, boldly staring from an old arm rest?  For centuries, people have rested their arms on his head, yet nobody now knows who he is. To me he looks a cheerful character, but the horns suggest otherwise, as they usually symbolise the Devil or one of his imps. The mouth appears to be surrounded by fur, like a animal's.  His face has not been hacked or sawn roughly off the seat, as was done to most depictions of sacred figures in English churches by anti-idolatry and anti-Popish zealots in the 17th century and before.  This fellow was left well alone,  so I think he might be an imp, or a pagan fairy, now forced to listen to every single sermon in that church till the end of time.   

Below is a picture of a most wonderful font dating from the early 12th century. In those days churches were full of wall paintings and decorations so the illiterate congregations could learn stories about good and evil.  Almost every surface was covered in images, and nearly all of them were destroyed by the zealots. 

I wonder how this font survived. It might have been buried, as sometimes happened, when the zealots were near. A few yards away a very plain looking very old stone bowl sits under a chair. I suspect that was the font that was used during zealot alerts, nothing to see there to annoy them.   

Nobody knows what this wonderful font really depicts. Some say it is the Harrowing of Hell, showing the rescue of one of the good people who existed before Jesus, who all had to go to Hell of course, since they did not know Him. And, so the guidebooks say,  it shows Jesus (with dove on shoulder).....

rescuing Adam with the help of God the Father.....here seen with a halo and carrying a tablet which must hold the Ten Commandments.....   

Although of course Moses, not God, is usually the one shown with the Ten Commandments, I've not seen God with them before.  But Moses doesn't have a halo.  Other guide books say that this isn't the Harrowing of Hell at all, it is a man being helped to escape not from Hell but from an evil lion, seen on the back of the font swishing his tail.  (below)

And nobody seems awfully clear why two men are fighting each other on another bit of the font.  

In another church, I peeped into the vestry and spotted a large piece of some obviously very old panelling, I am no expert, but I would date it from the late 16th or early 17th century.  It was probably given to the church centuries ago when an old manor house was replaced with a new one, as panelling provides insulation and keeps out the damp, so it was a kindly gift and no doubt kept the vestry a bit more comfortable during the winter.
.    It was tall and impressive, but oh dear, someone had screwed a modern double spotlight into it....

....after all, they had to be able to see to wash up after they'd had a cup of tea. 

I couldn't help being a bit exasperated to see obviously very historic panelling treated like this,  but in a way that is part of why these old churches appeal to me. People have done what they think is needed over the centuries, so perhaps whoever does the washing up after the cups of tea stands and admires the quaint old carving. And at least it keeps out the cold. 

Many churches have wonderful old stone monuments, but the one below is museum quality. This is absolutely not the work of some country stonemason in the village where it is to be found. Look at the carving of the clothes - and what's more you can see what these people actually looked like. He, Sir John Kyrle, is clearly a rather handsome man of middle years, but his wife is by no means a beauty, is she? I don't know what was considered beautiful in those days, but this does not flatter her.   Even though this pair died centuries ago, I can imagine meeting them very easily and I feel I would recognise them at once. 

Much more rustic is this wooden figure of Walter Helyon, who died about 1360 AD.  He was a franklin and the steward to the local lord, so rather an unusual person to have such a big monument, even if it is only wood.     He is wearing an ordinary outfit, not a suit of armour, and over the years he has been pretty mistreated, and needed some restoration and repainting in the original colours.  His outfit is apparently an extremely accurate depiction of ordinary male dress at the time, a rather skimpy looking tunic buttoning down the front with lots of buttons, and not that comfortable looking, with his dagger and purse at his side. As you see he has his feet resting on the back of his dog, which customarily means he died at home and not in battle.

And I was really impressed by this ancient yew tree, which is said to be fifteen hundred years old - some people reckon it is even older.  Its old, heavy branches are held up by a framework of  mid Victorian iron pillars of a type often used to hold gas-lights,  and weighty lengths of oak. Not that elegant, but probably the best the parishioners could afford.   Inside the hollow trunk, someone has made a bench which you may be able to see if you look closely.   Most churchyards in England contain yew trees, which signify longevity, or, indeed immortality.  Sometimes there are avenues of yews.   This bench would be a good place to sit and ponder life.  

|I went and sat inside it and looked up - I could see right out of the top of the tree. 

It re-ignited my childhood dream of living inside a hollow tree, it always seemed a really nice idea, and it certainly felt quite cosy with all that wood shutting out the noise.  I did not really want to leave it. 

Finally, here is a Saxon doorway, dating from well over a thousand years ago, which we found behind an old curtain in a parish church.   The wooden door itself looks as if it must be newer than the old doorway, both in terms of its condition and its style - a very unusual style which I have not seen before but I don't think is Saxon.  But perhaps it is. The planks seem to have shrunk, unless they are intended to be that way, and plenty of money has been spent on the big, heavy, and very old lock.  It's a real puzzle. 

As you see it is full of gaps, very draughty, which explains the curtain. Whatever its shortcomings as a door, it provides a good space for the parishioners who clean the church to keep their vacuum cleaner out  of everyone's way.    As it is locked,  nobody uses it to walk in and out of any more. 

So there you are, some glimpses of the English parish church, always something unexpected to see. For me, getting to explore these places is one of the things I like the best about cycling, walking or driving about the countryside.   

What do you always look out for, when you're touring aimlessly about in your part of the world? 

Monday, 18 April 2022

Easter! And Some Mysterious Runes?

 Happy Easter!  Well, belatedly.  I started this post on Good Friday, but life got in the way and now it's Easter Monday. So it's still officially Easter, I guess!  

We began Easter week in Suffolk, and these beautiful eggs were a gift from Sara, owner of our Airbnb, who got them from her hens.  We have been enjoying the eggs, along with the Navettes de Marseille from K (see below) all weekend.     Sara keeps many kinds of different hens, but since the end of last year, they've all had to be locked inside because of an outbreak of avian flu. But they have spacious and varied sheltered living accommodation with a good view of the outside world, so they looked, and sounded, very happy.

Our own accommodation was an equally satisfactory one-storey building that had been a small dairy long ago. I suspect it had been a "granny annex" after that, and very charming it was, furnished in traditional style, with a crooked apple tree growing around the back door, with blossom just coming out and daffodils everywhere, including on the kitchen window sill.  

On our first day we awoke to the sound of birdsong and roaring engines.  A quick look out of the window showed this in the farmyard....   

It's a Chevrolet wireless truck from WW2, in full working order, right down to the tin hat hanging on the table inside, and a pick and shovel on the back.  It's among a group of trucks made for Britain by Canada, after so much equipment was lost in the evacuation from France, so it has a right hand drive.  These wireless trucks were specialist vehicles with huge copper extending aerials to give them a wide radio range. 

The equipment includes a "19 set" radio transmitter and receiver, a piece of kit often found in UK WW2 tanks.  This one has both Western and Cyrillic labelling so it might originally have been in one of the thousands of tanks that Britain sent to the USSR during WW2. 

Right behind this arresting vehicle was a British Austin junior staff car, a far more modest little thing. Sara had already warned us that her husband was a military vehicles fan, and that he and a friend would be going out to an open day nearby.   One of them would be driving the truck, the other little car, which did not have the luxury of glass windows. Luckily, the weather was pleasant, so it must have been a nice ride.  

After the two of them chugged off for their day out, we set out too.  We planned a visit to the seaside. Hadn't seen the sea for ages, and also had not been to the little town of Walberswick for years, so that is where we decided to go.   

Walberswick is in a corner of marshy land formed by the sea and the mouth of the River Blyth.  Across the Blyth is the pleasant and interesting seaside town of Southwold, which has a lighthouse, an excellent brewery (Adnams) and a wonderful quirky little pier.   When we first knew it, Southwold was a half forgotten gem of a seaside resort, but has now become a bit too busy for our taste, and anyway,  Walberswick still has a slightly cut off feeling, which we like. There is no pier, no lighthouse, no brewery in Walberswick, not to mention no beachfront shops and - well, there's nothing much, really, except sea, sand and pebbles, plus a collection of black-tarred weatherboarded huts, an attractive mix of houses, a couple of teas/gift shops and a lot of marshland and reed-beds.     

We had the beach almost to ourselves, because, despite the bright sunshine, it was freezing.  I was really glad I'd bought windproof coat, scarf and gloves.  The people in the picture were going at quite a speed, more or less blown along by the wind, which comes straight from Russia. 

Although there are no icecream stands on Walberswick beach, there is an icecream van in the car park, and that was doing a surprisingly good trade.  Admittedly, it's sheltered from the freezing wind there, and has even put out a couple of tables for people to sit at and enjoy their icecreams. It also does a sideline in hiring out crabbing equipment, and I noticed from  the solar panel on its roof, that it was running off solar electricity, hence the slogan across its windscreen, FROZEN BY SUNSHINE.  If I'd been able to feel my hands I'd probably have bought an icecream from these enterprising people, but I'm just not as tough as the locals.  I needed my gloves.

Walberswick is small, but has a long history and many interesting buildings.  The local church presents a strange sight, though. Those ruins exist because Walberswick had been a very prosperous port for hundreds of years, and in medieval times had built an incredibly large and splendid church, one of the most notable in East Anglia. 

  Unfortunately, a combination of coastal erosion, which silted up the port, the turmoil caused by Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, extensive damage in the Civil War and attacks on its splendid fittings and fixtures by fanatical local Puritans, meant that the church became a liability to the increasingly beleaguered parishioners. Finally, in the 17th century, they sold off the lead from most of their now crumbling church's roof, as much good stone as they could, and whatever fittings and fixtures could raise some cash. They then repaired and adapted part of one of the original aisles to create a much smaller, but still very beautiful and interesting church. 

The church has unique features, including a splendid pulpit from the 1400s and lovely altar fittings made from driftwood, but I was puzzled by one unique feature I spotted - strange rune-like carvings running around the bottom of the West Window.  Can you see them on this picture, beneath the elaborate old flint work?  I couldn't find anything about them in the church guide.  They seem purposeful, and are not symmetrical or, apparently, symbolic of anything Christian.  This is the runic alphabet

but I'm not sure if the symbols match these.  However, if they're from way back, then they might well have been put in upside down or in random order - people often re-used dressed stone because it was so expensive to quarry and manufacture.   But the carving doesn't look, say, a thousand years old, or anything like that, so I can't imagine why anyone would have been allowed to carve this on a church in more recent times. I asked son in law G, who knows a lot about folklore, but even he seems puzzled. 

Mind you there are some pretty odd things on this church, including at least one very rude sculpture, high up on the roof, which should not be reproduced in a polite blog like this one.  Ancient churches were often covered in symbols of evil as well as of good, and discovering these remnants of past lives is one of the reason I love exploring English country churches so much.   There is a lot we don't know about how ordinary people lived, thought and worshipped centuries ago, when witchcraft and fairies, gnomes, demons and dragons were so very real to them.  

I can show you this face, though, marooned in what once a window, now blocked with odd blocks and bricks and tiles. That too looks like nothing I have ever seen before. Is it a person? A fish? A lion that has lost its ears?

Walberswick seems to have a thatcher and there are examples of his work throughout the place. I liked this roof just up the road from the church, with animals created from thatch on the ridge. 


So we revisited familiar places and met up with friends in Suffolk, and returned to London just before Easter. We spent Easter day with K and family and enjoyed an Easter Dove cake which they had lugged home all the way from a little bakery in Italy.  It is a kind of panettone flavoured with citrus and almonds.   It was beautifully wrapped in orange

It was hard to make out the shape of the dove, which it is supposed to represent.  Still, it tasted good! 

And oh, the Navettes de Marseille I mentioned above.  All French towns seem to have their traditional  biscuits andlocal delicacies.  These little boat shaped, orange flavoured biscuits are typical of Provence, and widely sold in Marseille.  (The other biscuits shown are also from Marseille, similarly flavoured with orange but also full of nuts, and have a different name which I forget.) 

The orange flavour comes mainly from orange-flower-water, a distinctive taste. They're not too sweet, and if you'd like to try them, I don't think they are too hard to make. I found a recipe from "Chef Sylvain"  here. (Sylvain has good recipes for other biscuits too).  I think I will give them a go.

So we had a good Easter week and Easter celebrations.  In this world, where we are bombarded constantly with distressing news, it is good to do what we can to help, but also to remember there are many happy things to do and think about.  I hope your Easter was also happy and peaceful. 

Friday, 8 April 2022

Lights, Flamingoes and a Fortified Town.

 So what happened there?? I had half a dozen photos and a half written post about some interesting things in London, but we were just off to France, so I saved it and went off to catch the Eurostar.  My plan was to publish the London post on my return, and take my time writing about France.

BUT, on my return from France, both pictures and text about the London stuff had gone! I don't understand it... but anyway here I am -  and I'm going to write about France right now.  

We went by train, something we're aiming to do more of, partly for eco reasons, partly because it's so relaxing but also because when travelling on the Continent, stopovers can be such fun.   So, three hours after boarding in London, we were in Paris, where we would spend our first night.    

To be honest, I'd fallen a bit out of love with Paris the last time we went, which must be ten years ago now.  It had seemed dirty and traffick-y, and first impressions of the bear-garden that was the Gare du Nord didn't suggest anything had changed.  

But it had!  

 We took the metro across town to an inexpensive little hotel very near the Gare de Lyon train station. I was sure the area had been a bit of a dump, ten years ago. But now, the Gare de Lyon was in the throes of a massive renovation.  Wow!  Below is a picture of some splendid murals showing some of the enticing places you can reach from it by train, (or could reach around 100 years ago when they were painted.) They're doing a beautiful job of the renovation, and it all looked wonderful. I wished I could be standing under the tree in the far right panel and look out across that azure sea.

This area is also near the Coulée verte, a railway line now made into a linear garden and chasing away the faint aura of dirt and drabness that I had recalled.  And all the street-clogging traffic that had bothered me so much before had been replaced with - well, the sight and sound of people.  Some on bikes, but mainly just strolling around. There is no doubt that Paris has made real progress towards its aim of becoming a green city.  

It was pleasant how the old streets reflected sounds of voices and laughter, not traffic,  and I almost fancied that the atmosphere might have been similar when all those famous and soon-to-be-famous painters were hanging out in Paris at the turn of the last century.  It really felt like a nice, lively, creative place to be.

My friend and fellow blogger Jeanie had impressed on me that we must see Atelier des Lumières, a sound-and-light show in an old foundry. Its programmes usually centre on painters with a connection with Paris - and there certainly were a lot of those. The present main programme features Cezanne, the shorter one is about Kandinsky, and the theatre's about half an hour's walk from our hotel. It had a late opening, so we arrived around 9 PM to find it quite busy with people coming and going. 

Jeanie has described her own impressions of the place here, and I hope you'll enjoy reading it.  As she says, it's an immersive all-round experience.  You are free to wander around in a large space with pillars and huge walls, a long gallery above the main concourse, and even a sort of railed water pond in one corner (something to do with it being an old foundry, I guess.)   The imagery is projected everywhere, and at times the whole place seems to move around you or sweep you away with it.

I thought the musical accompaniment was terrific - every piece well chosen and all of it well performed.  Even though you do have to be there to get the full effect, here's a clip of one of my favourite parts.   It is a couple of minutes of the Cezanne programme, performed to the music of the Savages'  Dance in Rameau's opera-ballet "Les Indes Galantes".  

It was worth missing an evening meal for - in fact we stayed to see some of it twice - but I wished we'd arranged to stay longer in Paris, because there were also some really nice, friendly, interesting and inexpensive restaurants on the way to it.   Still, next day we were due to take the train to what is normally one of the sunniest cities in France - Montpellier.  

As we rushed through the countryside at 200 km an hour, though,  I couldn't help noticing that the beautifully sunny Paris weather was gradually giving way to greyer and greyer skies ... and as we drew into Montpellier, the windows actually began to streak with rain. By the time we were out of the station, cold rain was falling steadily. How had I managed to choose one of the few times in the year when Montpellier's weather was as dismal as London at its glummest? AND I'd made the fundamental mistake of arriving all ready to sightsee on Monday, the day in France where almost everything is closed!  I put it down to the fact that I am simply out of practice in booking trips abroad after two  years of Covid.  

There was little point in trying to look round Montpellier in freezing drizzle with nobody around and nowhere to go indoors.   So we drove to our Airbnb, which was nice enough, an apartment in a modern villa about 15 km out of town, & we hoped the weather would improve next day...

Oh, dear.  It seemed that in the whole of Europe, only Spain had worse weather than us.  Still, it had stopped raining even though the gale force winds were still arctic, not that the flamingoes feeding in the salt marshes in the coastal area Mageleone seemed too bothered.   It was all a bit like November on the Essex coast, where the winds rush over the ocean from Russia.  Quite nice, really, if you imagined it as that, and there were also white peacocks, which I don't think you get on the Essex coast.  

 But I was feeling tired - a legacy I think of my Covid infection, which had cleared up but still returns now and then for a few hours.  I wasn't in the mood for Maguelone's big attraction,  a gigantic medieval abbey, built on a spit of land in the sea.  It is a place of high dark ceilings, long flights of ancient stone steps, and intense spirituality. Although it's partly restored, and does at least have electric light, its atmosphere is still very austere.  The Friends of the Cathederal were operating a cafe nearby, and it was packed, but they seemed to rather enjoy telling us we were too late when we turned up desperate. 

I'm glad to say that I felt better the next day and the weather reverted to its usual sunny self. It stayed bright (though not that warm) for the rest of our trip.  On our first day, we took a six or seven mile walk to a neighbouring village, Murviel-lès-Montpellier, which has Roman ruins, a friendly village shop, nice woodland, several quaint old corners and interesting old buildings ....

and a few curious characters.  

 It was a good way of getting a feel for the area at this particular time of year, and even though we got lost in the woods on the way back, it was still a good day.    Next day we visited what turned out to be one of my favourite places on the trip.   Sète is one of the Occitanie region's main ports. It has a small network of canals, lots of interesting boats, fishermen ancient.... 


and modern....

It is a relaxed, laid back place, where you feel people come to enjoy themselves. The weather was not yet right for being on the beach, but there is a great sweep of blue flag beach which is a big attraction in the season. We were happy just exploring.  The highlight might have been a delicious lunch in the nice little restaurant you can see in the picture below: LA MAISON VERTE - belly of pork casserole for me and asparagus for T.   It was a good meal but the main thing for me was simply sitting out in the sun in a tranquil French square, with a magnificent sculpture of an octopus to look at. 

 I don't think I've ever seen a sculptured octopus before. It was part of a large fountain,  with two water-spouting dolphins, a clear reference to Sète's fishing industry.

T and I spent a long time taking pictures of this octopus. The sculptor, Pierre Nocca, did a fine job  considering octopi are so wriggly, aquatic and boneless, and it is genuinely imposing. Which makes it seem sad that one of the local delicacies is octopus pie.    The pies look nice, but I didn't try eating one.   Octopuses are very intelligent and I am told that if you get to know them you find they are real characters, as much as a cat or dog would be. Still, I was fighting a lonely battle in Sète about this.

 the town also had one of the nicest icecream shops I have seen. Wouldn't anyone like to have one of these? 

There were also adverts around for a local biscuit made in the shape of one of the shields used by competitors in the remarkable sport of water jousting, popular in the region.

I didn't see it as the big tournament is on 25 August, but I found this on Youtube.   It looks a bit slow and a bit rough but I'd love to see those beautiful boats shooting along the canals in real life. 

  Sète was in striking contrast with Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, which we visited on another day.  This ancient place is in the gorges of Hérault, away from the flat coastal region, and in an area of big craggy wooded hills and cliffs.    Its name means "St Guilhem the Deserted" and its huge abbey, a site of pilgrimage, was established there in the Middle Ages because it was so remote and inaccessible.  

It's no longer deserted, and in fact I think it could become uncomfortably crowded in the height of the tourist season, but it was quite delightful when we went.  Below is a picture taken in the main square, showing part of the abbey on the right hand side. 

If you look very closely indeed at the top of the tallest crag in the picture, you may spot ruins - the locals have named them the "Giants Castle"  and created a fanciful legend about them, but in reality they are very old fortifications overlooking the whole area. We walked up one of the narrow, stony donkey paths in the hills and got a fine view of the village (below).  You can see more of the Giant's Castle on the left, but you're warned not to climb up to it because it is now unstable.

 On another day we went southeast of Montpellier to Agues-Mortes, where the Camargue region begins. The Camargue has miles of salt marsh designated as a Ramsar Wetland Site and we would have liked to explore it more.  We had glimpsed some of its characteristic salt marsh and flamingoes at Maguelone, but it and Aigues-Mortes are too near Montpellier and are too built up to offer glimpses of the wild horses or bull ranches for which the area is also famous.  We only caught a few glimpses down forgotten side roads of a different and older landscape of reeds and water, which I found very attractive.  Here's a spot outside a farm near Aigues-Mortes. 

So, Aigues-Mortes (thought to mean "Dead Water" in the Latin of the Romans who lived there first) is a  well-and-truly fortified town.  

It has four gates, which are open to motor traffic since people actually live inside - because it is a proper town in there, or at least a large village.  And the local people need their cars and shops and church.   The visitors, of course, have to walk.

And here's a map of the place - it is a decent size but you can see how contained it is.  It must seem very strange to be there if they ever put the portcullises down. 

I liked this lighthouse, which was added onto one of the enormous towers a few centuries ago and must have offered a welcome but dim and flickering light in a storm. 

And then, we found we had run out of days.    I wished we'd stayed longer and explored more. I really do think Covid has narrowed my horizons more than I realised.  I had, in some strange way, almost forgotten that you could get on the train and go somewhere else, and I'd booked our tickets back to London far too soon for my taste.

Now I'm keen to look at the idea of another train trip to France, perhaps in autumn, and perhaps even getting as far as Italy or Spain.  It still blows my mind to think I can cycle to the train station in London, catch a train, step out into the middle of Paris a few hours later and be all ready to catch a train to the centre of Biarritz or Barcelona.   

Vive l'Eurostar!

Friday, 4 March 2022

My Little Life....

Please forgive me if I mainly write about my own little life in this blog - and I'll enjoy reading about yours, too. 

But before I tell you about my doings, I have to say how devastated I am about Ukraine. Here's the sunflower - we all know what it means to have it at the top of a post. I am contributing to help Ukrainians flee from the catastrophe, and to look after the ones that manage to make their way to safety.  I'm also doing my civic duty to pile political pressure on our government.   I am ashamed that Britain's ruling Conservative party, government ministers and even the PM, have been shown to have taken literally million of pounds worth of perks, gifts and "donations" by billionaires close to Putin, and I do think we need to know what they've given in return.   I am also thinking about the ordinary Russians, many of whom are having their lives turned upside down or ruined by this nightmare situation. 

So I've said that, because I need to, and because it needs to be said. But now I will try to stay off the subject if I can.  It is hard, but I know there is no point in worrying and fretting. We are just ordinary people and can only do what we can do.  

Since all Covid restrictions were removed here, people have started to travel again. And I do like that feeling of normality.   I've been delighted to receive gifts from returning travellers too.  This is Persian pistachio nougat, which comes from the city of Isfahan.  I've had it before and it's not sweet and sticky, but delicate and nutty. 

And here are saffron filaments in a beautiful box, also from Persia.  I'm planning to make a saffron cake for Easter. 

This is a rather trendy ginger beer concentrate from Belgium.  It's promoted as an alternative to alcoholic drinks, and since I love ginger, I'm looking forward to trying it. 

And these chocolates, also from Brussels, are beautiful.  I (almost) feel I'd be happy not to ruin the display by eating one, and just admire them for a while.   

AND (talking of travel) we've booked a short holiday abroad.   These days, I don't anticipate too much, because we've all found how things can change. But, all being well, we'll soon be heading to a village near Montpellier, in southwest France.   It's on the edge of the national park of the Haut-Languedoc, and not too far from the sea.  We're booked in an Airbnb whose main feature seems to be a very friendly dog  (the owner has included several pictures of this dog in his listing).

The twins missed their birthday party in February for a second year running, because their dad had Covid, but they feel they had a great birthday because 1. they both got watches, so they happily spent hours timing each other doing things, and 2. They had an early morning doughnut each in the old fashioned patisserie on the way to school. They're never allowed doughnuts and so this was a massive treat.  and 3. At school, they got cake and were applauded in class. And, 4. After school they went to the Community Centre playscheme and everyone gave them cake and cheered them there, too.  

This Community Centre is hugely popular.  The staff pick up children from the local primary schools and look after them till six.   All the ages mix together and are kept very busy with arts, crafts, games, music and projects, with a bit of TV to wind down.   The centre also gets donations from all the nearby fancy bakeries at the end of the day, so there are heaps of bread and cakes - what doesn't get eaten is available for parents and carers to take away. I am not kidding, i've never seen a kid there who wants to go home.     

Last weekend we had the twins to sleep over a couple of nights. It was tiring but fun.  
Both twins are in their primary school's football teams (one for boys, one for girls), so during the weekend, we spent quite a while outdoors while they kicked balls around.   

They also went to a schoolfriend's birthday party at a place called "Go Ape."   It's a sort of daredevil outdoor activity centre involving zipwires high up in the trees. Boy Twin, who swarms up trees as easily as an ape at the best of times, absolutely loved it.   Girl Twin was the opposite: "My hands were slipping, I couldn't hold on, I thought I was goanna die'"'  she reported.   She hadn't actually noticed that she'd been clipped into a harness, she'd been so scared.   But she doesn't show her fear readily, and just said she only wanted to be three metres up, and not thirty metres (like Boy Twin was aiming for). 

T and I have also been on a couple of outings, whenever we've been able to get decent weather. Last week we cycled down to the South Bank to see the exhibition of the Worshipful Company of Broderers.  It's one of the City Guilds, (also known as the Brotherhood of the Holy Ghost of the City of London) (great name I think).  It originated centuries ago as a union of embroiderers, a highly skilled trade which was, of course, much in demand in the heyday of hand-embroidered clothing for the wealthy, 

I am sure the Broiderers had a hand in the gold trim of this fellow's fine outfit, for instance, but, then as now, they did all kinds of work, ranging from delicate flower designs almost too fine to believe, to bold, intricate braiding. 

There was some remarkable work at the show, in all kinds of different styles. I think my favourite piece was the one below of night-time London from above.  The only bit of flying I like is if I approach a city by plane after dark, and we hover above while the lights spread below.   The bright twinkling of this piece against the black velvet reminded me of that.

Talking of flying, we're going to try and cut down on plane travel.  I've noticed several people are doing this now, if they can - but it's a big "IF" because it is still so much cheaper to fly.   Since Covid, European train companies have made it easier to change and cancel tickets, and I think prices have gone down a bit too.  But they are nothing like comparable to flights.  However flights to Montpellier were at extremely inconvenient hours, so it was worth factoring in the cost of train travel to avoid the misery of hanging around airports at 3 AM.  The ride city to city in 7 hours, but we decided to spend the first night in Paris. It's silly to just rush through Paris when you haven't seen it for ages. We'll catch a morning train the next day.    

Our other outing was one of our daughter V's gigs, held by candlelight in a fascinating half ruined almshouse chapel in Peckham, SE London.   It really was fun.  One of our neighbours heard about it too and turned up with his little girl, who is a friend of the twins.  Here they are playing with their umbrellas as the rain hammered down after the show. It was only about 6 PM but  they were thrilled to be out and about after dark.  I remember how big-time it seemed to me when I was a child, too.  Even to the grown ups calling back to stop fooling and keep up!

Not sure if you want an update on the bathroom.  Ah.    Since I last wrote, nearly a month ago, there's been no progress on getting it working, other than what T has done on preparation and painting, and, I'm afraid, fixing some messes. The original contractor has now left the job and we're feeling a lot more relaxed.   We think and hope it will be possible to get someone more suitable. 


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