Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Eve is the time for one of our small family rituals.
Anna, Grandpa and I go hunting for the best piece of holly we can find to decorate the top of our Christmas Pudding (which must of course, be served with custard).

Happy Christmas to all my family and friends in 'blog-land'. It's a great time of year with an amazing thing to celebrate; I pray that you all have a fantastic time!

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of, all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

Oh the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour

The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.

The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.

The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall, a
nd Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
I can't resist also sharing this piece by Anna that she did for her art course-work.
She was given the title "Ordinary Extraordinary" so she chose to use the score of The Holly and the Ivy for her background and use her felting skills to create the ivy leaf & acrylics for the holly.
The little doorway flap with the woodland scene behind was inspired by
Sue Blackwell and Arthur Rackham. Anna's had quite a week first hearing she achieved grade 7 harp with distinction then a few days later, distiction for her singing grade 6,
proud Dad time :) !

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Leas, Sheppey.

As you can see, I have finally painted the beach scene (promised in my recent 'Moody Sheppey' post). Partly from Rita's encouragement, I have stayed with watercolour rather than my original intention of using acrylics. Watercolour takes on more of a life of its own giving a greater feeling of spontaneity but at the expense of a degree of control - you can see that the dark reflections have bled into the wet wash a bit too much (especially with the middle poles). I think I was too impatient to put these in and needed to let the wash dry for a few more moments. But I am pleased with the sparkle effect which helps to provide extra contrast with the distance. This was achieved by leaving the whole thing to dry off completely then rubbing lightly over the surface in places, with some fine-grade sandpaper. The best part of painting this though, was that it took me right back to the day I was there. I could still see in my mind flocks of Brent Geese in the distance and Sanderlings on the tideline (both of which you'll just have to imagine!). Plus of course, the aura of rather dull winter light that we get here in England this time of year.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Harty Ferry Road

After my recent visit to Sheppey, I hinted in the previous post that I fancy painting a beach scene.
I think I'm going to paint it in acrylics but I'm currently using them to paint a harp decoration (its to
be a surprise for the recipient). So in the mean time, I've taken up a suggestion from Sonia and painted
this quick watercolour of Harty Ferry Road; the road near Capel Fleet Raptor Watchpoint.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Moody Sheppey

 I still have some days holiday left to fit in by the end of this year so I decided to use one today and return to Sheppey. My highlight was visiting the RSPB raptor watchpoint - can there be a more 'arty' raptor watchpoint than this? However, I found that the wild birds and scenery outshone the  sculpture.

As the landscape here is so flat, the watchpoint is just a slightly raised area creating fine views of the surrounding marsh and farmland. I had a great time watching Marsh Harriers quartering the reeds and a Bearded Tit 'pinging' away in a nearby ditch. Three Buzzards were loping around the fields plus one 'ringtail' Hen Harrier and a couple of Kestrels. Redwings seem to be everywhere and in good numbers already this Winter and now plenty of Fieldfares are joining them.

 Dusk was moody but extremely windy so I found a sheltered spot beside some dense hedgerow and was rewarded by eight Marsh Harriers coming in to roost. On one occasion all eight were visible at the same time through my telescope - a fabulous sight!

Earlier in the day, I found this great piece of coastline - I think I feel another painting coming on.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A Productive Time in the Shed!

4oz raisins and 2oz sliced root ginger plus...

the juice and zest of 3 lemons
and one very large marrow (this one was from our courgette plant - it grew too big for a proper courgette so I let it grow into a marrow). Once it was diced, I added... 

4 L boiling water
1 small tin of white grape concentrate
1 Campden tablet
1 tsp. pectic enzyme
the 'must' for my first go at marrow wine!

After it has steeped for a few days, I'll add (about 1kg demerara) sugar to get the specific gravity to around 1080 - 1090
and then add the 'magic ingredient' -
yeast and yeast nutrient to get the bubbles starting.
Yummy - well hopefully!!!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Rye Smile

Sorry about the dreadful pun but Karen and I spent a superb weekend at Rye on the South coast. We didn't wish to travel too far from home; for various reasons we've been feeling rather tired lately and needing a little time just to ourselves to recharge the old batteries and put a smile back on our faces. We love this area as it always seems to delight us with its fabulous wildlife, fresh air, beautiful landcsapes and 'skyscapes'.

This hut is so photogenic situated on the shingle beach accompanied by Yellow-horned Poppies.

I find being beside the sea so inspiring.

The other great feature of this weekend was the amazing food and hospitality that we received. On Saturday evening we strolled around Rye enjoying the many old buildings (these cobbled streets must have many tales to tell).
We also dined in style at Rye's superb Webbe's Fish Restaurant. Karen kicked off with 'Tiger prawn, aubergine, courgette tempuraThai cucumber and chilli dip', whilst I tucked into  'Hastings potted crab and toasted soda bread'. For main course Karen chose 'Grilled Flounder with smoked bacon, pan fried potatoes and cider sauce'. I treated myself to the 'Steamed panache of fish ( plaice, salmon, prawn, mussels, bass, cod & grey mullet!) with baby vegetables and saffron sauce. I finished off with 'Pear and blackcurrant crumble with vanilla custard and ice cream' - phew, it was sumptuous. I promise we did lots of energetic walking the rest of the time!

We were completely 'spoilt' by Tony and Diane Hayes, the owners of Oakland's B&B. In our all too short stay they made us feel like true friends and took time to chat with us and put us at our ease. Their house is on the ridge overlooking Rye and just down the road from Hastings and Battle (the whole area is known as 1066 country). Our room had stunning, uninterrupted views to the sea and over all the surrounding, beautiful countryside.  They were also responsible for the fact that we did not need any lunch - their wonderful breakfasts seemed to last us right through to the evening (well, apart from a cup of tea and cake at around 4pm)! Our breakfast cosisted of:
Fresh fruit and fruit juce, croissant pastries, perfectly cooked porridge, followed by bacon, sausage, tomatoes, eggs, black pudding & mushrooms - all made with very high quality ingredients. Then (just to make certain), toased homemade bread with their own delicious jams and marmalade. They even made tea just how we like it best - a 50-50 blend of 'Earl Grey' and 'breakfast tea'. Well we do have a certain reputation to maintain here in England!

I have NEVER seen so many dragonflies before. It is their breeding-season and the lovely sunny weather had brought them  out... all at once.

A final view looking over to Camber Castle. Henry VIII should really have named it Winchelsea Castle and I don't think the locals have forgiven him yet. In ancient times the town of Winchelsea stood on a shingle bank, behind which was situated a large bay called the Camber, which made an ideal safe anchorage for ships. In the 13th century the shingle bank was washed away and Winchelsea was submerged. Winchelsea was rebuilt on higher ground farther to the west in 1288.
When Henry VIII enbarked upon a vast coastal defence program (undertaken to protect vulnerable or important places on the south coast) Camber Castle was built at the location of Old Winchelsea.
History lesson now over; I'm off to join weightwatchers!!!


Monday, 1 October 2012

Exquisitely Sad Music!

I love listening to all emotions conveyed in music; whether it be thrillingly loud and triumphant, witty and humorous or perfectly serene, and peaceful. But why is it that sad music often has the strange ability to make me feel complete bliss, even happiness?

On a basic level, does this type of music simply help stimulate some sort of dopamine function in my brain? Or perhaps it is more to do with a thought process that allows the experience of sad emotions but in a 'safe' unthreatening way with no actual bad consequences occuring, such as when watching a good film that you know in the end is just 'pretend'. On the other hand I suppose it could be nothing more than the fact that I enjoy the music regardless of whatever feelings it is portraying; the fact that it is sad or tragic is unimportant.

Hmmm - I think I'm probably getting a bit too analytical but that, in a way, is the point I want to make. Great music can be analysed to see how it is constructed etc. but  actually you don't have to undersatand it to enjoy it. These days, most music is only heard in a half-hearted way as background to something shown on TV or the radio playing at work. However, I do find that the more I concentrate on it and engage my brain with it (often helped by closing my eyes) the more ejoyment I can get out of it.

 I could have attached so many pieces to this post but I think this short masterpiece by Thomas Tomkins is certainly one that deserves the full 'eyes closed' treatment. Tomkins was born in 1572 and died in 1656 and is polyphonic music from the Renaissance era. Polyphonic means that each part is as important as any other and this I think, helps to add to the intensity and beauty, with phrases weaving in and out - even more so as it is in five, rather than four parts. It clearly expresses so movingly David's grief at the loss of his son Absalom but the music remains tender and I think, also shows his deep love for his son.

To start with, Tomkins sets the scene and establishes the C minor key. Then the music begins to 'turn the screw' (from bar 23) with David pouring out his grief. Remarkably, E flats are often replaced by E naturals which should create a 'happier', major key feel but somehow it still feels fully minor key. From around bar 40 the expressiveness is notched-up even more as the music becomes more and more chromatic and pleading and David wishes that he had died instead. Strangely, the final bars do settle fully into C major, perhaps as if David is exhausted from expressing so much sorrow and has nothing more to give.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

They did it for Seve!

Olazabal gets a hug from Seve
One of the greatest days in the world of golf
(and with Woods conceding a 4 foot putt at the end, that includes the sportsmanship and dignity shown by the USA team).

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Morning Glory Harp Designs

A customer liked this design but with butterflies instead of faries. They are also unsure about colours etc. so I painted the two samples above. Which do you prefer - the Adonis Blue butterfly version with chromium oxide green leaves, or the Peacock butterfly painted in metalic colours?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Our Church Weekend at Ashburnham

It was a great pleasure for us to spend time with our fabulous church family on a weekend break
at Ashburnham Place in East Sussex.

The grounds are amazing; full of nostalgic signs of the past.
I loved this doorway to an old service area for the walled garden.

Looking back the other way through the same doorway.

We enjoyed spending time with old friends or getting to know others in our congregation that we knew less well. We attended excellent meetings and meal times together and also quiet times, with relaxing strolls around the extensive grounds.

This impressive glasshouse is being restored - a delightful plae to simply sit and relax.

There were many echoes of past activity. The kitchen garden would have required a large workforce in its hayday.

But many things have now fallen into a rather beautiful decay.

These Dahlias looked so 'at home' here and added to the lovely air of nostalgia.

"Dad, you should see the pumpkin over here; it's this big!"

A string of enormous onions hanging in a shed accompanied by some old cart wheels plus a few late Swallows nests.

Couldn't resist a watercolour doodle.
The weather was heavy and damp but with a warm light that added to the wistful atmosphere.
But the best thing was being able to share our faith with so many warm friends in such a supeb setting.

No prizes for guessing that the grounds were designed by the genius that was - Lancelot 'Capability' Brown.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Scottish Holiday Snaps

We stayed in an adapted log-cabin at Benderloch, by Loch Linnhe.
We loved relaxing on this balcony overlooking a wonderful view...

The view from 'our' balcony.

I notched up a few 'new' moth species including this Chevron.

The weather was rather varied but produced this spectacular rainbow. I also like the cloud formations coming off the top of the Pap of Glencoe in the distance.

We were very amused to see the name of this Chinese restaurant
especially as the football team we support is Crystal Palace!!

Thomas looks very pleased to have found the local distillery!

We took a ferry over to the spectacular Isle of Mull. The scenery is some of the most rugged and beautiful anywhere in the UK. Along this huge glen we saw a Golden Eagle but  our main mission was to try to find the UK's largest bird of prey, a  White-tailed Sea Eagle. The information centre on Mull had given us directions where to go and we were thrilled to be able to see one resting on its nest before flapping its huge wings as it seemed to fly off in slow-motion. We'll never forget it.

On the ferry back to the mainland we saw lots more interesting wildlife, including Porpoises, Manx Shearwaters and Guillemots.

Just one minute's walk from the log-cabin was this lovely bay on the shore of Loch Linnhe.

Anna enjoyed sitting on the beach and painting the beautiful loch.

Oban at dusk.

It would have been illegal to photograph the Sea Eagle on its nest so here is a sketch instead. It is the world's 4th largest Eagle with a wing-span of around 8 foot 6 inches (over 2.5 meters)!