Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 19 December 2014

A Christmas Mystery

I could post a whole gallery of pictures from Christmas meals over the years. It’s one of the occasions when families and friends gather together around the table and somebody has the camera! However, I’m going to choose just one Christmas Eve in 1963 as my offering for Sepia Saturday over the Christmas and New Year.

This is my Dad in festive mood and looking fetching in his party hat and facial add-ons. The calendar behind his right shoulder is the clue as to the exact date and proves that the 35mm slide was scanned the right way round. This is towards the end of the meal as it’s coffee and dessert time. Dad still smoked in those days and I just hope that the ash didn’t end up in that sherry trifle! I think the ‘disguise’ was probably his little table gift. This was the house of my parents’ friends to which we were often invited on Christmas Eve. Judging by the napkins which have not been unfurled, somebody people didn’t make it on time. I know this because ‘that person with the camera’ took a picture of the splendidly set out table before we all descended upon it.

There were eleven places laid (I don’t think Mr Snowman was a guest, although it looks that way). I see we had melon ‘boats’ for starters, and the first pictures shows that we had trifle and fruit salad for dessert, but I have no memory of what came in between. It was probably a cold meat salad of some sort. I was trying to work out what was in the bottle with the quaint wooden bottle-stopper and why it was already opened before the guests were seated. If it contained wine I don’t think it would satisfy ten adults, but I came to the conclusion that it was probably sherry.

The guests have now been ushered into the dining room and ‘that person with the camera’  has instructed us all to wear our party hats  and raise our glasses, except I can’t as I am a minor so mine is empty. Yes, that’s me bottom right aged eleven and feeling very grown-up with the sherry-quaffers no doubt. I’m sure some orange squash would have been handed to me afterwards. There’s Dad again, standing behind our host and winking at the camera. The lady with the fluffy white collar is our hostess and My Mum is seated on her left. The young man between me and Mum is a family friend. The mystery of at least one of the unused napkins is now solved as I am wearing my party-pinny instead! But who is wielding the camera? Judging by the first photograph, Dad would have resumed his place next to the lady in pink. Ten of us are present at the beginning of the meal, there is an unassigned napkin in the foreground, next to me and even more mysterious three unused by the time we reached the coffee course.

No more pictures at the table and after the meal we’ve moved to what our hostess called ‘the lounge’. Two more guest have joined us, and we are now wearing a new set of headgear. These hats are more substantial than the first set and appear to fashioned from gift wrap. I wonder if it was a party game, if so it appears that I won first prize; no not the dog, he was mine already. It looks like an Easter Egg but I think it was a similar confection brought out at Christmas. The latecomers seem relaxed and this time it was probably the host pointing the camera whilst the hostess washed up and cleared the kitchen (that’s the way it was in those days). So now we have accounted for eleven people, but we haven’t solved the mystery of the phantom photographer - or have we?

No wonder he looks so pleased with himself! We will never know the answer as sadly, only four of us are left and two are elderly. I prefer to remember the happy times we had more than half a century ago. Walking the short distance back to our own house, the pavements were always glistening with frost in the streetlights. As soon as we got home we would rush to get ready for bed, as the house was unheated, and snuggle down with our (new-fangled) electric blankets to wait for Christmas Morning.

Join other Sepians sometime between now and 4th January, to see who gathered round their Christmas Tables. Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year to you all.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Looking Back at the Bigger Picture

Who is this young girl and why is she looking back over her shoulder? She was on her way past a flower stall in the market square when her attention was caught by something or someone.

The group behind her don’t seem at all interested and are engrossed in conversation.

The stallholder’s curiosity is piqued however, and everyone else in the market square is going about their business as usual as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Ah, but wait a moment; there’s a bit of a clue here. The large lettering above the shop says “SALZBURG...”, possibly Salzbuger something or other. It’s not a high street bank, although it looks imposing enough. The lady in blue isn’t using an ATM, even if it appears that way. This is 1966, ‘hole-in-the-wall’ cash machines had only just been invented and weren’t in common use in Salzburg.

Yes, this photograph was taken in a square in this famous Austrian city. There are more shops as a clue, and if I really wanted to, I’m sure I could spend hours on google street view and find the exact location. I’m not going to do that however, because it’s not the place, or the time that’s important, it’s the bigger picture.

And here it is. The smiling group in the corner are my mother and the mother (in blue) of my Austrian exchange friend. Her younger brother is standing just in front. My parents and I were on holiday in the Tyrol and my friend, with whom I’d spent the previous Summer, had persuaded her family to travel from Vienna for the day, just so that we could all spend a few hours together. It was a great success and resulted in further extended visits of each family to the other’s home.  My Father would have been trying to get as much local colour into the picture as possible. Just a wee bit further to the left and he’d have nailed it, but what an interesting image it is and worth taking a second glance when you’re passing by.

This week’s Sepia Saturday encouraged us to look into the backgrounds rather than the foregrounds of our old images. It’s a useful exercise and allows us to see what we might otherwise miss.

Don’t miss a visit to other Sepians this week; they’ll all be looking back and sharing the big, and the small pictures with you

Friday, 5 December 2014

Sepia Shots

Sepia shots being fired from sepia guns in 1950. My brother is acting the part of one of his cowboy heroes. I’ve no idea which one, although Roy Rogers is a name I seem to remember being mentioned. There’s a strong possibility that the outfit he’s wearing was sent from America, where my Mum’s Auntie Millie lived. There are also pictures of my brother wearing a shirt made of print fabric, the design of which is cowboys and yes, cowgirls; perhaps Rogers’ wife Dale Evan who appeared alongside him on TV and in films. I’m sure I spot a cactus, a horse and possibly a steer, and is that the steam of a Old West train puffing over the prairie?

In the 1960s the folklorists Iona and Peter Opie catalogued “Children’s Games in Street and Playground” and at that time ‘Cowboys and Indians’ was still a great favourite, both in Britain and on the continent. The games were usually named after whatever TV programme was popular at the time and they list: Raw Hide, Wagon Train, Pony Express, Cheyenne, Totem Pole, Cavalry and Indians, Gun Law, Apache Warpath, Laramie, Wells Fargo, Lone Ranger and Cisco Kid. I have vague memories of Tenderfoot (Sugarfoot), Bronco (I can even sing the theme tune), and later, The Virginian and The High Chaparral. Last year an article in The Daily Telegraph was titled, ‘Cowboys and Indians more popular than computer games’ although I’m not sure how in-depth the survey, commissioned by the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, was. The conclusion was that outdoor pursuits were still number one, but whether they actually mentioned ‘Cowboys and Indians’ I have no idea. I’m just a wee bit sceptical as I’d have thought the genre was fading fast. I can’t think of any current TV programmes or films that would fire the imagination in the same way as those racially insensitive examples of the 50s and 60s wher the Indian was always the bad guy and pioneer cowboy or the cavalry always won the day.

By the 1980s children’s education was a little more enlightened and the curriculum at my daughter’s school included a project on Plains Indians and offered a more sympathetic view of their way of life. My daughter was captivated by the theme, and Christmas 1982 brought dressing-up outfits for her and her younger brother. Unfortunately he wasn’t quite so impressed by his outfit and I’m afraid there isn’t a happy shot of the photo shoot. It was no way for a sheriff to behave of course, but they were both just getting over Chicken Pox and were still a bit emotional. I have his permission to use the images below, and it didn’t get in the way of his subsequent career as a ‘lawman’ - no sheriff’s badge though.

By the time of my daughter’s birthday, ten months later, he was much more relaxed about joining the other cowboys and cowgirls at the party and to enjoy a piece of themed birthday cake.

He still wasn’t overly fond of that hat though and decided it was better removed at the table.

Sepia Saturday 257 has a young cowboy lassoing his father and posing on the porch of his house as our prompt. Why not mosey on over there and see who’s been drawn into the Sepia Saloon this week?

Friday, 28 November 2014

Rag Weeks and Carnivals

The earliest pictures in my album of a carnival or float are actually of my Great Aunt Maude in 1909. It’s a wonderful image but as it has already featured in my blogposts twice I’m moving further forward in time to Lincoln, England in 1971. It was the college ‘Rag Week', as far as I remember, and these were my hurried snaps of a couple of the floats. I’m afraid my memory of the event is as hazy as the images. They’re very much of their time with students dressing up as all kinds of characters and it’s difficult to see what the theme of the floats is. I’m sure we all had a lot of fun. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the origin of  “ ‘Rag' is from the act of ‘ragging’; especially an extensive display of noisy, disorderly conduct, carried on in defiance of authority and discipline.”

Further forward in time to 2001 and we’re on holiday in Cyprus during Mardi Gras festivities. The floats were somewhat more professional than the attempts of the 1971 students and it was an unexpected treat during our week’s break in the sun.

Finally, more recent images of the carnival parades here in Lanzarote over recent years. Carnival in the Canary Islands is a big event and the television channels carry coverage from all the islands over a number of weeks. Here in Lanzarote all the towns have their parade on designated days and sometimes it seems to be going on forever. Our favourite float was the magnificent steampunk design which won first prize in the parade in Arrecife, the capital, where the huge carnival parade culminates in the ceremony of The Burial of The Sardine. Here’s a post which describes some of the possible reasons for this weird celebration. Even Goya depicted it somewhere between 1812-1819.

Goya scholar Fred Licht writes about it in the Wikipedia entry  and states:

We have arrived here at the perfect balancing point between the early tapestry cartoons and the later Black Paintings.All the riotous gaiety of the former appeals to the eye from the surface of the painting. But in the darkening of the colors, in the masklike ambiguity of the faces... and especially in the overwrought gestures and expressions, one begins to feel the obscurely disturbing undertones of mass hysteria underlying the fiesta.”  

So not much has changed then; lots of gaiety, overwrought gestures and expressions and plenty of hysteria in today’s carnivals too. 

Join the parade over at Sepia Saturday where this week’s 1930 image prompted the above post.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Rock On Pedro!

This is my nephew in 1975, clearly enjoying his ride on Pedro the rocking donkey. He wasn’t the first owner, that was his Mum’s cousin, who received him as a gift for his first birthday in 1966. Researching similar toys led me off in all sorts of directions; I never knew there were so many different types of donkey toy, both rocking and push-along. I’m almost sure that this one was made by Merrythought, a long-established and traditional British toy manufacturer. Their website has an interactive timeline showing the history of the family company from 1907 to the present day. Scroll forward to 1961 and you will spot the push-along version of the "particularly popular Pablo Donkey”. Yes, he was originally called Pablo and I don’t suppose anyone will remember how he came to be called Pedro instead, but Pedro he was and Pedro he is to this day.

By 1978 my nephew had outgrown Pedro and he came to live with us.  Here is my daughter being introduced to him. No, I’m not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, it really is Pedro, albeit with a new coat.

By the time he joined us he’d been so well loved that he was threadbare in places and his mane was looking a little patchy, so I asked if I might give him a makeover. I had a large quantity of very good quality fur fabric made in in a Lancashire mill, and the colour of Pedro’s coat was dictated by what I had in my fabric cupboard. He was given new reins and jingle bells and more realistic glass toy 'safety eyes’. There was no pattern of course, and from what I remember, I fashioned his coat by cutting appropriate sized pieces of fabric and sewing them to the original coat. I remember the hardest part being the ears.

Here my daughter is joined by the son of a friend, and the fact that Pedro was able to support them both uncomplainingly is testament to his sturdy and steady disposition; just like a real donkey. Who needs reins when you can dig your little fingers deep into that furry mane?

This is the last photo I have of Pedro whilst he was in our care. Shortly after this was taken we were posted to Germany with the RAF and we reluctantly parted company. He went back to his original owner to be stored for a while until his own two children had need of him. When my nephew’s son came along in 2006, Pedro was groomed and brushed ready to meet yet another new young owner, and his sister joined him a couple of years later. During this time I believe he had yet another new coat to keep him going a bit longer. The latest news is that he is about to return yet again to his original owner where he will rest until he is needed by the next generation. I wonder how many more makeovers he will have. How many tiny fingers will curl in that furry mane? We may all be long gone and patient Pedro will still be Rocking on.

This week our Sepia Saturday picture prompt featured three brothers and their dog posing for a famous sihouettist in the 1930s. One of the boys is sitting astride a toy rocking horse.

Why not join us there to see what other contributors have shared from their toybox.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Stepping Stones

Why I am dressed all in black in this photograph,  on what is obviously a hot sunny day, is a mystery. This is Toadsmouth in Derbyshire, so called because there was a rock nearby which looked like a toad! My Mum is being very sensible, sitting on the rock, the better to cool her feet in the mini-waterfall, whilst I attempt to make a crossing over the rocks. The lady behind her is a friend and I know we were on one our Sunday picnics with other families to the Derbyshire countryside from our homes in urban Nottinghamshire.

Fast forward to August 1983 and my own daughter is practising the art of walking on stepping stones. This time we were in the English Lake District, returning to one of my childhood haunts, Tarn Hows. This is a man-made beauty spot; the beck was damned in Victorian times creating the ‘tarns’. The ‘hows’ are the surrounding wooded hills.

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week is a gentleman assisting a lady who wishes to keep her feet dry when crossing a river.

My daughter’s feet are definitely below the water and I’m sure mine were at some point in my rock-stepping; however, it mattered not one bit as we had sensibly removed our shoes. The gentleman above is being very gallant and allowing his own shoes to get soggy in the process, but who was standing with a camera ready to record the event I wonder? Was it a regular occurrence or had the normal means of crossing been lost, destroyed or submerged? We will probably never know.

Why not take off your shoes and socks and wade into the stream of sepia stories that await you at Sepia Saturday?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Fishing Trip

This is my Dad Les c 1931, with his siblings and cousins fishing for ‘tiddlers’ in the River Trent, Nottingham, when he was about ten or eleven years of age. Dad is standing behind his younger brother John (holding the fishing net) and next to his cousin Betty. Dad’s little sister Jean has hold of Betty’s brother Dougie on one side and on the other John is holding his little sister’s hand. Both girls have their dresses tucked in their knickers to save them from accidentally getting wet.

In this clip of a larger photo Dad has hold of the net but he looks decidedly worried about it. I wonder if it was shared by all the children and if they took turns to fish with it.

No-one in my family can be described as a fisherman and nobody owns a rod and line; this is is the nearest we get.

Years later Dad painted this watercolour of a young boy with his fishing net.

Here in Lanzarote locals can often be seen along the coast, standing on the rocks, fishing for their family’s supper. They are quite determined and occasionally one loses his life when he is swept from his perch by a rogue wave.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features three miners in 1916 Alberta, relaxing on a fishing trip.

Why not cast your line and see what other fishy business the Sepians have been up to this week. You’re bound to catch some wonderful stories and images.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Help Yourself

No prizes for guessing the era for this wonderful repast in the picture above. There are many clues: the decor - two different garish patterns for the wallpaper and the linoleum floor covering; the plastic fruit and the folk-art egg-cups on the wall; the homemade sherry trifle in the cut-glass dish and ‘things’ on cocktail sticks. I see pickled onions and mini sausages, a couple of salads, mince pies, sausage rolls, cold meats, slices of pork pie and some sort of dessert made in a chocolate-covered cornflake flan case. How do I know so much about it? Well, this was my family home at Christmas 1974 and someone, probably my Dad, had taken a picture of the table before the hungry guests descended like a plague of locusts to devour it. This was the kitchen (we didn’t have a dining room) of the Nottingham council house where I grew up, and the scene of many such gatherings.

In this picture, with the guests helping themselves, we can admire the panel of brightly burnished reflective wall covering on the rear wall, the pale tangerine-gloss painted cupboards (slightly ajar), the cooking utensils and yes, the actual kitchen sink!

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week is picture of a dining queue at a 50th anniversary dinner* with people helping themselves from a rather more ornate buffet table in 1952. I don’t believe we ever had an actual cook pot on the table but the 1970s and 80s, we would often host fondue parties. I’m sure many readers will remember the sizzling pot into which we communally dipped our forks!

A year or so later and we’d moved into the living room for a more intimate buffet, where guests could wander over and pick at the canapes as they pleased. I remember the orange plastic device for nuts and other small bites. It toned so well with the curtains don’t you think?

In 1981 a friend and I held a silly buffet party for our families, dressing up and serving cones of chips (French fries) with burgers and hot dogs.

Tupperware dishes of chutneys and relish graced the table and the guests helped themselves to a glass of something at the end of the table. The RAF Married quarters decor wasn’t much better than that of the 1970s. In fact it stayed that way for many years after and wherever we were posted we felt ‘at home’ with the swirly patterns in the stretch covers and the brightly patterned carpets and curtains, none of which matched.

That’s my very own Laura Ashley plastic tablecloth though; I had two small children by then. In case you’re wondering, yes, I am wearing a doily on my head!

It’s Hallowe’en tonight and my daughter’s birthday tomorrow; the grandchildren are visiting and the house will be full, so a buffet-style catering is what’s called for.

There will be lots of visitors so I need to crack on shopping, baking and putting ‘things’ on sticks. I may dress up - but I won’t be wearing a paper doily this time.

Have lots of fun this weekend and don’t forget to go Trick or Treating round your Sepia Saturday friends. You’ll get some nice surprizes in your goody bag!
*Tyrrell Historical Library via Flickr Commons

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Looking Back

I love this photo of me for so many reasons, not that I can remember it being taken of course. I’m in the arms of my much-loved grandfather as he walks towards the seashore. Who am I looking back at? My own father, who knew a photo opportunity when he saw one. This would be one of his earliest snaps of me. We were on a family holiday in 1952 and I was only a few months old. In my infant face I see my own children and grandchildren so in a sense I’m also looking forward into the present day.

We’re all looking back when we pore over old photo albums, when a sepia print prompts us to question a relative about what is happening in the photo, or a seaside postcard reminds us of a happy family holiday.

In this 1979 photo my own son can barely focus on his father; at only a few weeks old the images he saw would have been something of a blur. I’m looking back today at these treasured images but I’m looking forward to my son’s visit tomorrow. He’s bringing his wife and the twins of course; his Dad and his sister are already here and we’re going to have a great time. We don’t all get together like this very often, perhaps once or twice a year for a day at a time, so we’re going to be packing a lot into the next few days. There’ll be lots of photos to look back on and remember the happy holiday they spent with us.

Join us at Sepia Saturday this week and see how other contributors have looked back.

Friday, 17 October 2014

An Honest Living

I took this picture of the Cypriot mosaic artist on a street in Nicosia in 1992. He was working just inside the doorway and shaded from the intense heat of the sun. He appears to be referring to a book of reproductions of ancient mosaics which he may have been trying to replicate for the tourist market. Cyprus of course has many examples of the real thing so I can’t blame him for cashing in. He makes it look easy but I suspect it is just as painstaking as the originals.

Our Sepia Saturday picture prompt* this week is a street artisan found on a hand-coloured lantern slide of the 1930s. This gentleman is a shoemaker and mender and is surrounded by the tools of his trade.

There are no pictures of shoemakers or boot menders in my family album and the mosaic artist is the nearest I can get. However, just last week, we came upon this street artisan in the village of Maguez, here in Lanzarote, and he graciously consented to having some pictures taken.

He told us that the clays came from the surrounding volcanic landscape. The pots are probably very close  to the pots made by the earliest inhabitants of the island who would have used whatever materials came to hand. Their craftsmanship was born of necessity not to feed a tourist market, but one has to admire the potter here for using his craft to make a living.

As luck would have it, only yesterday, whilst in the island’s capital Arrecife, we had a coffee in the old ‘Recova’ market, which itself is steeped in history, and I was delighted to spot the shoe maker in one of the artisan booths. I have written about the Recova before in From Fish Stalls to Fiestas, where you can see the shoemaker in context and view some real sepia images which decorate the market walls. Once again the artisan kindly allowed me to take his picture and was eager to show us his catalogue of shoes all made from the finest leather, as well as some goatskin sandals. You can even spot some tools of the trade which match our prompt picture. I expect he would also repair shoes or boots if asked, but I think he was mainly a craftsman, designing and making shoes from scratch; an honest way to earn a living.

Why not join other Sepians this week to see what they made of the prompt.

* From The Powerhouse Collection courtesy of Flickr Commons