Umbrella Street

Well, what a surprise… we went to Bath, a lovely and historic city for a pleasant visit, maybe a coffee and a numnum. maybe some lunch, maybe buy a few somethings in some shops.. and instead we entered a wonderful place!

This installation which first appeared in 2016, is called ‘Umbrella Street’ as you might imagine.  Ir’s in St Lawrence Street and Southgate and also has a lawn beneath it which is patterned by the umbrellas shadows, and old red telephone boxes filled with flowers. Apparently there are a thousand umbrellas!

it is absolutely amazing! everyone was walking along, just grinning and smiling at it. There was such a lovely atmosphere! If by any chance you are anywhere near Bath, then do, do,do go and see it! I guarantee it will cheer you up and make you smile!

http://www.bathchronicle.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/thousand-umbrellas-suspended-above-southgate-50493

A day out in Bristol

Up to Bristol today to meet my daughter, and no doubt we will wander around from here to there, maybe we will gt a water taxi right into the city, maybe we will just use shanks’s pony… Shanks’s pony… the phrase did not come from a Mr Shanks, it didn’t come from the company now called Armitage Shanks, in fact it just came from the word for a bit of a leg, the shank, he bit between knee and ankle. We still call it a shank in an animal, but not so much i think for people. It’s a Scottish word apparently, but it’s origin was Old English from the German, so I guess it just lingered on in Scotland after it became less used in England… and of course there was a king who was called Longshanks, Edward I …

Back to Bristol… this is what I wrote a little while ago:

Bristol has been an important city and port for centuries but in earlier times there had been a problem with tides, that ships would be stuck waiting for the tide to be at the right height in the deep natural harbour… however in 1809 a floating harbour was created – for a while I stupidly misunderstood her term; of course it means a harbour in which ships could float. 80 acres of tidal river was used to create the harbour which enabled ships to remain afloat all the time.
This led to an absolute boom in shipping, trade and commerce for the city; once the Great Western Railway was established thanks to the giant of nineteenth century industrial architecture and engineering, Brunel the city expanded beyond any expectation. This was reflected in the buildings from the time which had a certain style, with Byzantine, Moorish and Venetian style of architectural design of many commercial buildings such as warehouses and factories. The style is very distinctive, described as “robust and simple” and using bricks with bold distinct colours, particularly red, yellow,  black and white brick. Sometimes the style included archways and upper floors which had a particular of horizontal or vertical arrangement windows.
Architects and influences of this style included Richard Shackleton Pope,  William Venn Gough, Archibald Ponton, and John Addington Symonds .  Sir John Summerson may have been the person who named this distinctive Bristolian building style, and it perfectly describes the elegant and handsome buildings s you can still see today.

A view of the world…

I don’t watch a lot of videos, but I think I might watch more by these guys…

We were in Hereford recently, and in the magnificent cathedral, we saw the Mappa Mundi… I first saw it when I was a child, now it is protected by a glass screen, then it was just flat on a table. It is an amazing work – literally a map of the world dating from about 1300…

So back to videos, here is a video about the Mappa Mundi:

JAY FOREMAN and MARK COOPER-JONES are Map Men

Manchester

Many years ago I left home to move to Manchester to study for a degree, I moved to a city where I knew no-one and had only visited briefly twice before – once for a weekend A-level studies, once for an interview at Manchester Polytechnic.

It took me no time at all to fall in love with the city, and I started my life there, and stayed for over thirty years. Circumstances took me away, but I still visit as often as I can, visiting dear friends, but visiting the dear city too.

I was horrified and saddened by the news late last night, of the cowardly and despicable attack on children and the parents who might have been with them. There are no words really to describe the immorality and depravity of the individual who carried it out – looking round him at those innocent young people as he detonated his weapon – yes, a suicide vest is a weapon.

As a mother my heart goes out to the victims, and those whose lives have been changed forever. A senseless and meaningless act, because it will not achieve whatever its warped ambition was…

Manchester has seen much horror of a similar kind over the years, other ‘events’ have murdered the innocent, but only made the city and its people, old and young, stronger and more united. This pathetic act will have the opposite result of what was intended.

The victims will be remembered and be the heroes.

Visiting a stately home…

We visited Tyntsfield today, a National Trust property near Bristol. There is a wonderful house to visit, and if the weather had been a little less windy and chilly, we might have wandered round the beautiful gardens too!

This is what the Trust say about it:

Tyntesfield, just a stone’s throw away from Bristol, was not built as a bold and extravagant statement of wealth, power or politics. Its purpose was simple; to serve as a family home. Once hidden and inaccessible, the ordinary and extraordinary lives and possessions of four generations of the Gibbs family are ready for discovery. The garden and estate balance faded beauty and function with an abundance of nature; celebrated in ornate Gothic carvings that decorate the house. Flower filled terraces, an empty lake, woodland, champion trees and productive kitchen garden give further opportunities for exploration.

… and this is what Wikipedia says about William Gibbs who bought it in 1843:

In 1843, the property was bought by businessman William Gibbs, who made his fortune in the family business, Antony Gibbs & Sons. From 1847 the firm had an effective monopoly in the import and marketing to Europe and North America of guano from Peru as a fertiliser…  The firm’s profits from this trade were such that William Gibbs became the richest non-noble man in England.

In my latest e-book, Earthquake, there is an old ruined house – not a bit like Tyntesfield I have to say, except for the fact that my fictional owner of the house had also made his fortune from guano. In my story, the old house became a school, until it closed in 1932 and fell into disrepair:

The actual school building in the grounds of a large estate, had been the home of a branch of the family who’d owned the big mansion in rather lovely parklands – well, they looked lovely from the old photographs I found. The mansion, with two wings and no doubt dozens and dozens of rooms, had been the residence of a man who’d made his money out of bird poo… Yes, it’s true! There were other such entrepreneurs apparently, who made millions shipping bird poo from distant rocky places back to England to be used as fertiliser… I mean honestly, who would have thought it? Whoever first thought oh I know I’ll put all this bird shit on the garden and see what happens… oh my goodness what lovely roses I have and how fine my carrots are
It was in 1841 apparently that the first Peruvian guano, about 2,000 tons of the smelly stuff, left on a ship destined for Liverpool, and it was in the 1860’s just as Samuel Oxfleet was starting his school in Strand, that Mr. Bird-Poo built his mansion.
The smaller house which became the school was built for the second son who was not going to inherit the bird poo empire. As happens with such large places, it fell on hard times as the family did, and for a short while, between the 1890’s and 1900’s the mansion was what was then called a lunatic asylum, before it became used as a convalescent home.
The smaller building became a hospital for wounded soldiers in the First World War, for those with ‘shell shock’ as they called it or ‘battle fatigue’ as it was also known.

If you want to fins out more about the old school, as it became, and more about the earthquake in Earthquake, here is a link:

Magnolia

Yesterday we visited the National Trust property of Knighthayes in Devon, and although we have visited many times before, this was the first time we managed to catch magnolias in their glory. There are several magnolia trees in our village, smallish, between five and fifteen foot high, maybe some a little bigger, and I love their glorious display, the soft, velvety flowers, the pure colours, which are so striking against the leafless dark wood of the tree.

The magnolias at Knighthayes were extraordinary; as well as the smaller varieties we knew there were huge, wonderful trees with enormous plate-sized flowers, petals bigger than my hand and of fabulous colour. The day wasn’t brilliant, the weather wasn’t perfect, but the blossoms were.

Most of the trees we see now are hybrids, but these ancient trees have been on this plant for millions upon millions of years, before there were even bees – originally they were pollinated by beetles, which accounts for their massive and distinctive flowers. Fossilised magnolias have been found which are older than twenty million years, and related plants are even older, going back to nearly one hundred million years ago!

I’ve learned a new phrase,  ‘disjunct distribution’, which means  a distribution ”that has two or more groups that are related but widely separated from each other geographically’ so magnolias can be found naturally mainly in east and southeast Asia, but also in eastern North America, Central America, the West Indies, and  South America.

Their name was first given to them in 1703, in Martinique, where Charles Plumier named the trees he found after the famous botanist Pierre Magnol. as with most natural things, the tree has other uses than being spectacularly attractive, Chinese and Japanese medicine, as timber, the leaves as food wrapping, and the flowers are state symbols for Mississippi and Louisiana, and the national flower of North Korea.

As you might imagine there are many artistic connections, the films ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Steel magnolias’, and songs by The Grateful Dead and JJ Cale. However, perhaps the most famous, moving and tragic song which mentions magnolias is Billie Holidays ‘Strange Fruit’ which mentions the scent of magnolias – the trees from which many lynchings took place…