Thursday, 31 December 2009


I'm away for a few days so see you all on the other side in a new decade. Wishing friends followers and fellow bloggers a fabulous new year.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Favourite 2009 Reads

The last days of December mean looking back at my reading year. What have been the standout books for me.

Number One picks itself. The Outlander by Gil Adamson was one of Canada Reads choices but it does not seem to have made a big impact here, yet, but the paperback is not released until January.

The story grips from the start as you travel with The Widow being chased by revenging brothers across the Rocky Mountains in 1903. This first novel by Gil Adamson, it is full of adventure, history, characters and vivid descriptions. Happening on some photographs of this part of Alberta after reading this book it was as though I had seen it already. The book was nearly not published as it was pushed away in a drawer for some time (article and profile here). Go read it you won't be disappointed. I blogged it here
Number Two is Haruki Murakami's 'Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World', another adventure but one of the mind. Set in both an alternative Tokyo and a place called The End of the World. It is both a 'noir' mystery, fantasy and philosophical riff on the nature of self. I blogged it here Everybody raves about Murakami and this was my first experience of his work so I have lots more to discover.

Both these books were early year reads so I'm hoping that next year will be as lucky. Now for my two non fiction reads which were read at the end of this year which is a neat coincidence.
Number One.
I bought 'Miracles of Life' by JG Ballard when trying to add another book to complete the trio necessary to bag a book bargain in The Works. Like I have not enough books waiting for me on my To Read shelf/s. This is a fascinating short memoir of growing up in China and internment by the Japanese in Shanghai during the war, an experience he used as a basis for his novel 'Empire of the Sun' . He arrives back in a grey post war England and then writes about his life from then on and his reason for writing. The book illuminates the reading of Ballard's novels and makes me want to return to some of his work. I think I remember reading he knew he was dying when writing this autobiography and here he seems to be leaving us some of his memories.

Number Two is an old book but one I read after seeing a few of I've Been Reading Lately's musings. 'The Proud Tower. A portrait of the world before the war 1896-1914' by Barabara Tuchman is great and entertaining exploration of the shifts in power and society that led to the First World War, explored through various themed chapters. This is a page turning book about an age that was looked back on, after the carnage of WW1, as a golden era, this shows us with humour and learning how wrong this view was.

The only quibble I have is about the anarchists chapter which only concerns itself with the tabloid view of bomb throwers, but would guess this was an editorial decision to make a point about the violence and paranoia of the era. For a more rounded view of the anarchists George Woodcock's 'Anarchism' is a better starting point.

Series I've Only Read One of So Must Read the Rest

Fred Vargas's Adamsberg series. I read 'Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand' , set in both France and Canada, and thought this was a fresh take on the detective genre. I blogged it here and have another on my shelves waiting to go.

Like it seems the rest of the world I've read the first of Steig Larsson's Millennium trilogy 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' and have been bought the second one so I've cracked that open today.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

ABC Wednesday - X

Saltmarsh, Duddon Estuary
X marks the Spot

A favourite device of pirates to mark where buried treasure lies

such as the map from Treasure Island which also has arrows

for how else would you know the direction to set sail. Although this arrow gives direction to
the top and a trig point, which are as useful as directional x marks the spot and to hill walkers, especially in bad weather, as they eXplore the countryside. These were erected by the Ordnance Survey in Britain as they mapped the country. The metal plate on the top is for securing a theodolite or reflector to make eXact triangulations. With the rise of GPS systems they are not all in use anymore and I suspect this one is not, so is an eX trig, but it has been adopted, for it was newly painted this year in time for Remembrance Sunday.
It is surrounded by a wind shelter, very welcome in eXtreme weather on this eXposed spot. If you look north from this point

in the far distance, at the eXtreme end of my camera's zoom, there are not X rays, but radiation of a different type, the eX nuclear power station, which is now being demolished, but still in use as a nuclear processing plant. Constructed in the 1950s when safety in science used to be more gung ho it used to be called Windscale but after a few leakages the name was eXcised, it had a PR makeover and renamed Sellafield.
Could X also mark the vanishing point as the eXpress train races down the line
or stand for danger at railway crossing. Sherlock Hemlock certainly says so in this short clip from Sesame Street.

eXit here to see more interpretations of the letter X on the ABC Wednesday meme.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Frosty Flowers and Chimes

Skimmia Japonica on a frosty morning

"Chimes" by Alice Meynell

Brief, on a flying night
From the shaken tower,
A flock of bells take flight
And go with the hour.

Like birds from the cote to the gales,
Abrupt - O hark!
A fleet of bells set sails,
And go to the dark.

Sudden the cold airs swing,
Alone, aloud,
A verse of bells takes wing
And flies with the cloud.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

ABC Wednesday - Wind

It may be invisible but the direction can be seen as after years of a westerly wind the tree bends to its will. Used as a way point on a moorland walk I wonder how many years it has been here. If you click on the photo to enlarge you will see right through the bottom of the tree to the other side.

The Ancient Greeks stories tell us that Aeolus was the ruler of the winds and he kept them confined to a cave on Mount Haemus, Thrace.

He must have let one of them out to whistle through the Black Mountains in Wales. On a very warm and sunny day with a hat to protect against the rays, I sat down to have a drink and RB got his camera out. As he went to click
Whoosh away went the hat. You can see I am a coiled spring about to chase it down as it moves to the edge of the photo. An almost action shot.
A scenic windmill on Mont Dol seen through straight fir trees, they deal with the wind in a different way. Although this day was almost windless with just a gentle zephyr.
From the other side the still windmill and restaurant with umbrellas to shelter against the sun. The wind likes to play with umbrellas.
The wind turbines are not as attractive but the chequered pattern is rather appealing. This was taken on Kirkby Moor, the same place as the tree in the first photograph. It is a schizophrenic place, part of it is a wild and fragile moorland, then a fraction of it is a wind farm and then further on there is a slate quarry with spoil heaps. It could probably act a microcosm of how the human race treat the planet.

But lets move and go up up and away as the
wind takes the balloons. The Raiderettes having problems releasing and separating the balloons, which took on a life of their own, and winged their way into the atmosphere, never being separated from each other. Weeeeee

I leave you with one of Tolkien's riddles. Natural phenonomen are always a favourite in these puzzles. There are sometimes consequences in legends of not being able to answer a riddle. Riddle me ree

Voiceless it cries
Wingless flutters
Toothless bites
Mouthless mutters

We are nearing the end of the alphabet in the ABC Wednesday meme. To see what words the other participants have used whizz over here

Monday, 21 December 2009

Let it Snow

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

Well not until tomorrow at least. Looking at the sky could be more to come.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

ABC Wednesday - V

Oh look here is a sideways view of a V. Or perhaps it is a water skiing jump ramp, although best to veer away from it in this position by the banking, it is laid up for the season. In the summer it may be used by vacationing visitors when it will be at the other end of Hodbarrow Lagoon. At this time of year most of the visitors are wintering waterfowl and of course the locals stay year round

and are beautiful. It won't be long before this juvenile gets its white feathers When it was little mother would be very vexed if you came too near, now she lets them do their own thing. When tired of the lagoon walk over to
Hodbarrow Point, sit on the seat, perhaps have some victuals and enjoy the view across the Duddon Estuary.

Living on the coast and close to the Lake District means that water sports and messing about in boats are very popular pastimes. But sometimes you have to transport your equipment and may need some sort of vehicle
perhaps a van. What a fun paint job, notice the blue bars welded on the top. This was parked by a popular bay on the lake frequented by canoeists. It has a landing stage for larger boats although I have rarely seen one docked there and in the summer the main use is for children to run along it and jump off the end into the water. Bit too chilly at this time of year.
But now lets vacation or vacances in France. What a vivid blue sky and sign. You may be thinking to yourself. That's a bit of a boring picture. Well it serves two purposes, one by happy coincidence the bus stop is called Le Verger and two, I tend to take pictures of signs because being a procrastinator they act as a memory aid when I am vacillating and verify my volatile recall when I eventually label them.
Lastly, a photo taken because V is a tricky letter. I wonder who lives in a house like this?

Vault over to ABC Wednesday to view more interpretations of the letter V.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Sea Wall Lighthouses

A lovely day for a stroll on the Hodbarrow sea wall yesterday. Photo looking out to sea on the Duddon Estuary. Not on this picture, but to the north east of it. a shape was exciting a number of peoples attention, looking at first like a large ship but seen through binoculars it appeared to be a gas rig. There are large fields in the Morecambe Bay area so Centrica may be prospecting up here now.
But the title of this post is lighthouses so here is the first one, restored in recent times. The tilt is the lighthouses not mine, although I have taken a few unintentionally tilting objects in my time. The banking was built up to prevent further movement. I presume the lighthouse will be the same age as the sea wall (1905).
Walking up to the top of the sea wall to Hodbarrow Point and then turning to go along the old sea wall which is on the other side of the lagoon
and here is the old lighthouse. Not made of metal but
a sturdy brick build. This was constructed by the haematite mining company in 1866 to protect shipping in the estuary.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Everlasting Moments

A film directed by Jan Troell and shot on 16mm film and using available light where possible, is based on the life of his wife, Agnetsa Ulfsater, great aunt. She had been researching Maria Larsson's history through her family for 6 years, intending to make a documentary, instead they made this film.

It is a story of a working class housewife, Maria Larsson, living in Malmo early in the 20th century. Her daughter narrates the film, and tells us in the beginning her father, Sigge Larsson, bought her mother a raffle ticket with which she won a camera. He says the camera is his, but she says that he will have to marry her to share the camera.

The marriage produces many children but Sigge is a drinker with a temper and a womaniser. During a strike when money is short Maria tries to sell the camera but the Danish owner of the photographer's shop, Sebastian Pedersen, persuades her to keep it and take pictures. She has a wonderful eye and produces, against the odds, wonderful photographs, despite her husband's disapproval. As Pederson says she has "the gift of seeing"

As Jan Troell has said "I never knew Maria, of course, so I thought of her purely as a character, not as family. But I could relate to her very much as an artist. When I was 14, my parents gave me a camera, exactly the same as the one she used, with the 9x12 glass plates. It made me see the world very differently, preserving images and moments like that. It's a miracle, which is what Maria learns in the film. It changed her life. And mine"

The film follows the family from the beginning of the century, through the 1st world war and beyond, showing the changes in working class life and the transformation of Sweden and its people.

Maria Heiskanen who plays the main character gives a wonderful performance of a strong but gentle woman which draws you into the film. Mikael Persbrandt as the husband shows both sides of the character, the charming dancer and member of the Temperance Society and the faller off the wagon wife beater. Jesper Christensen as the tender-hearted photographer who accepts Maria as his equal makes up this strong trio.
Mikael Persbrandt, Maria Heiskanen
and Jan Troell on the set

The film runs for 125 minutes and it is one of those rare occasions when I wish it could have been a little bit longer. Here is the trailer, which I think does not quite do it justice.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

ABC Wednesday - Un

Unexpected to see these lying by the side of a narrow fell road, and unexplainable, but no-one with a camera can resist taking a shot through an opening to frame the signpost and track on the other side. Passing by a few weeks later, untraceable.
Uncooperative, a pair of swans facing each other, but, as one came up into the air the other dipped under the water in amongst the interesting water weeds and intent on food. Giving off an air of unconcern with their surroundings but just an allusion. I stood for ten minutes trying to get a shot of both with their heads out of the water, never happened, unbelievable.

This view is of the Lancaster Canal and I am stood where it ends in the north, at Stainton Crossing. Unfortunately this is the result of motorways and roads built over its path, originally there was another 14 miles from Tewitfield to Kendal.

And here surrounded by undergrowth is the dried up canal bed. The traffic from the road can be heard thundering past nearby. This is Hincaster tunnel, 380 yards long, the only tunnel on the canal, built to take barges close to Sedgwick Gunpowder Works.

The canal was built by one of the great engineers of the period, John Rennie, and hundreds of nameless navvies, the unsung heroes. Undoubtedly it is a great piece of surveying and engineering because it is mostly a contour canal, that is it follows the lie of the land at certain contour levels. The original surveys were done by James Brindley in 1771 (he died in 1772) so Robert Whitworth continued in 1772 but the scheme was dropped; however Rennie was asked to re-survey in the 1790s, but he had greater ideas of transporting coal and limestone as well as agricultural products (which happened) but of also linking it into the the other canal systems. Unfortunately this was unaccomplished.

An Act of Parliament was obtained and construction began in 1792 but progress was slow due to financial problems and so twenty two years past before the canal reached its full length. Rennie designed and built 22 aqueducts to carry the Lancaster canal over the many rivers that mainly flow from east to west, some are magnificent structures. Rennie had a flair for bridges and would go on in later years to build three of the capital's famous bridges, Waterloo, London and Southwark.

There is a scheme for restoring the northern reaches of the canal but the cost may be prohibitive although a suggestion has been made to do it in three parts, starting with the re-watering of the canal head for a mile and a half. In the meantime it is still possible to walk or cycle, unrestricted, the full length, and appreciate both the engineering and the ecology of this lovely stretch of water.

Rennie's dream of linking the canal to the rest of the network was not an Utopian one it just took a couple of centuries, and came to pass in 2002, with the opening of the Millennium Ribble Link. Its level is controlled by a rising sector gate near the tidal Ribble estuary and five locks along a 2 mile length, with a three rise staircase lock connecting into the main line of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. John Rennie's bones, which lie in St Paul's Cathedral along with the great and the good, no doubt said, about time too.

To see more participants of the ABC Wednesday meme go here

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Harris Museum and Art Gallery

The Harris Museum & Art Gallery is a Grade 1 listed building and I would guess this is because of the luscious interior. I could not resist taking a picture of the Dhruva Mistry 'Her Face' in this setting. The upper Egyptian Balcony is usually closed but there are a couple of tours in January. There was one today but I missed it, bad timing.

Apart from the fine art collection they also have an amazing collection of calling card cases from the times when it the the custom to leave your card when making acquaintances. There are many intricate and different styles, beautiful objects. One of the interesting pieces of information I gleaned was then if the corner of the card was turned down this would indicate you had called in person, rather than laying on your chaise lounge and sending a servant round.

The other large collection is Mrs French's Scent Bottles, over 2,700 of them. So many, that a lot of them are in pull out drawers. I wonder how many years it took for Mrs French to build up this collection and where on earth did she keep them all. When the collecting bug strikes it is difficult to resist.

Speaking of bugs here is one of the more unusually calling card cases.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

ABC Wednesday - Trams

Turned out to be a tricky letter so what could I find, trams. Location the seaside town of Blackpool. In the background the other T in the photo which is Blackpool Tower. We were there in July for a cup final. I've used this trip before, for the last ABC Letter E. Despite the team loosing, I have at least got two posts out of it, yippee. We did what you always do at the seaside, take pictures and have an ice cream;
although on a very windy day, not venturing into the water. Possibly not a day to go up Blackpool tower although it has been standing there since 1894 so no doubt people have been up in all weathers. Not sure what the black and white tower was but the crane is there because there is a lot of work going on to modernise the frontage.
so it will all look like this. More cranes on the right but on the left is part of the big dipper which is where this tram will be heading,

because it says on the front - Pleasure Beach. There have been trams in Blackpool since 1885, single deckers and

double deckers. It was one of the first electrical tramways in the world. Across the bay in Barrow they had just replaced the horse buses with steam trams but
in 1904 the British Electrical Traction Company completed a scheme of electrical tramways which apparently, I learned on the Tramways & Light Railway Society page, was of intermediate gauge. Unlike Blackpool the trams only lasted until 1932 when they were replaced by buses. As you can see this is also a double decker tram, but with an open top, they were hardy souls in the early 1900s. All the buildings in this photograph are still there but the road has changed considerably, not only because it is now jammed with cars, but there are also three sets of traffic lights down this end of Abbey Road.

This postcard was sent to my Great Aunt Rachel, who I never met, I think she and one of her sisters emigrated to Canada. The card wishes her a happy new year and is date stamped 1 Jan but the postmark is incomplete so the date is unknown.
Swindlehurst family at Hazelslack Tower farm
Rachel is the little girl in the checked dress on the left. The reason I have the card is that my Grandmother Winifred, who is the little girl standing in the middle leaning against her mothers knee, collected postcards in her early life. I like the way they have taken a table outside to put the family bible on and then grouped around it.

How quickly the world changed, at the time when the electric tram system was completed in 1904 Marconi was patenting his radio system in the USA, the summer Olympics were being staged in St Louis along with the world fair, the suffragettes were fighting for votes for women in Britain and the Russo-Japanese war was an ominous sign of wars to come.

To end on a lighter note, here are where notes float on the air for it is Radio City Tower in Liverpool also known as St John's Beacon.

And a tower that looks as though someone is building a rocket to take-off for Mars or the Moon, but is actually the scaffolding round the Hoad Monument (a lighthouse) while it is renovated and painted. I wonder what colour it is going to be. Watch this space, but unfortunately not outer space.

For more themes on the letter T go to the participants of the ABC Wednesday meme

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Twenty Ten Book Challenge

This is an interesting book challenge for 2010. I took part in my first book challenge over at Dolce Bellezza's place this year (I'm just about to open my next book for that one) and found that it focused my reading, rather than the freewheeling way it usually takes place.

So here is the challenge hosted by Bart's Bookshelf:-

The aim is to read twenty books over ten categories, in 2010 (Was this challenge based solely around the name? You decide!)

  • Read two books from each of the categories
  • The categories are intended as loose guidelines only, if you decide it fits, then it fits. (Apart from those marked with **)
  • Categories marked with a** have tighter rules, and these must be followed.
  • Each book can only qualify for one category
  • Crossovers with other challenges are allowed
  • Books read from 1/1/2010 to 31/12/2010 are eligible
So, here are the categories
  1. Young Adult. Any book classified as YA or featuring a teenage protagonist.
  2. TBR**. Intended to reduce that tottering TBR pile. Books in this category must be already residents of your bookshelves as of 1/11/09. No problem there. I'm running out of room on my TBR shelf.
  3. Shiny & New. Bought a book NEW during 2010 from a bookstore, online or supermarket? Then it counts for this category. Oh pretty new books I cannot resist you.
  4. Bad Bloggers***. Books in this category should be ones you've picked up purely on the recommendations of another blogger (any reviews posted should link to the post that convinced you to give the book a go). Bad Bloggers*** is hosted by Chris at Stuff as Dreams are Made on
  5. Charity. Support your local charity shop with this category, by picking up books from one of their shops. Lots of them to choose from, the best is the Oxfam shop which has a whole floor of interesting books.
  6. New in 2010. This category is for books newly published in 2010 (whether it is the first time it has been released, or you had to wait for it to be published in your country, it counts for this one!).
  7. Older than You. Read two books that were published before you were born, whether that be the day before, or 100 years prior!
  8. Win Win. Have a couple of books you need to read for another challenge? Then this is the one to use, as long as you do not break the rules of the other challenge by doing so.
  9. Who Are You Again? This one is not for authors you have never read before, this is for authors you have never even heard of before! This was the category that sold this challenge to me, I love discovering new writers.
  10. Up to You! The requirements are up to you. Want to challenge yourself to read some graphic novels? A genre outside your comfort zone? Something wild and wacky? Then this is the category for you. The only requirement is you state it on your sign up post. Someone once said that genres are walls that keep people out so I try and read across them all, however there are a few that I do not read, and one of them is fantasy, so that is the one I'm going with. It will be outside my comfort zone, but I like wild and wacky so hopefully I will be able to find something left field. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

ABC Wednesday - S

A Sand Glass, Sand Clock or Sand Timer. Called many things but at this size it is definitely not an egg timer. It stood in a refectory. Is it the length of time you have to eat a meal, or the length of time between meals? Or, because it is in what was a monastery, has it a deeper meaning, a meditation on the passing of time and lives. It is very plain and functional but its surroundings are not -
the Mont Saint-Michel which stands between sea and land in northern France. It is like an elaborate Sandcastle. At the moment there is a quite ugly concrete causeway between it and the land, with a very large car park along the sides of it. I have managed to miss them on this photo, but to see it with any perspective you would have to include them. Things are about to change. The silting up of the estuary and the causeway has meant that eventually the Mont would become part of the land, but this is not going to happen. A project is in hand to reverse this, the causeway will be demolished and a bridge put in its place. The impression of how it will, potentially, look in 2020 is rather wonderful see here The car park will be moved 2 kilometre away and a tram or their own legs will bring visitors to this UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
Lets go in the main door, and up the medieval street, the Grande Rue, and then up lots and lots of steps
to the Abbey itself. Up more steps until we reach the top

where there are beautiful views across the flat and shining sands. But this man is not looking there and is dazzled
by the sparkling gilding on the spire, topped with the winged Saint Michael the Archangel, protector of the Church Militant. I actually took it because of the amazing bubbly clouds that had appeared behind it.

The abbey of Mont St Michel dates back to the eighth century but over its long history new building have been piled on top of each other, mixing styles of Romanesque and Gothic. In past times it was also called 'the Mount in Peril from the Sea'

which is what this sign also warns of, dangerous bathing in stormy weather, although the french peril is a much more evocative word. It also tells us in the top right hand corner that 'the sea is not a dustbin', unfortunately a lot of people in the world do not appear to know this. Minor rant over, and lets go down to Saussaye Beach

on the 'Emerald Coast' Britanny, which has beautiful creamy soft sand with the occasional pieces of seaweed, and on the
rocks behind some sedum, a water storing leaf succulent plant, thriving in the salty air. Moving inland, what is that sssss noise I can hear
it must be a snake. This little adder was basking in the sun and coiled up when it saw me, unfortunately I did not see it. I happened to glance down a a couple of steps away from standing on it. Whoa. By the time I'd managed to get my camera out, realise it was set to macro, alter it and click, this shy creature with stunning colouring was slithering away to hide in the scrub.

All these pictures were from my September holiday in France. I am dreaming of those blue skies because we have had two weeks of almost continual rain. A fast moving subtropical jet stream moving over the ocean has brought lots of wet weather directly to Cumbria, still if there is a break in the clouds, and I get my camera out, I may have W sorted.

Slip over to the ABC Wednesday meme to experience more interpretations of the letter S