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Walking in the World

My Inner Gudrun

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After a morning of immersion into the artistry of the medieval world at the V&A on Saturday, Jeff and I re-entered modern London and went our separate ways for the afternoon. I have recently been taking a new interest in the fashion world, carefully considering the way I show up in the world. Where do I conform, comfortably or not? Where do I rebel? Who do I want to be when I grow up? Because we work from home and most of our ventures out into the world are of a casual nature (and because I’m always cold), I tend to wear a standard uniform of jeans and sweaters. I think I clean up pretty well, but I don’t show up with the character and verve that I admire in others. I’m lucky enough to be living into old(er) age, so I’m thinking I might as well show up in colour!

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This all started when I was walking through Covent Garden with a friend last year and stumbled onto a colourful storefront that drew me like a magnet. Gudrun Sjoden. We went in and tried on a few things, but I was overwhelmed by the character and choice. And then the same thing happened in Stockholm in September. Same store, same experience, different country. The moment I crossed the threshold, I knew it was Gudrun. Again, I tried things on, but couldn’t decide… so I came home and studied my Gudrun catalogues carefully.

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I looked at women wherever I went, and I experimented with my existing wardrobe. Biding my time, I designated Saturday afternoon as my style pilgrimage. I went back to Gudrun’s Covent Garden store alone, tried on piles of clothes in varying styles and colours (to the point of exhaustion), squinted at my reflection with what I hoped was a lovingly critical eye. For hours. I probably drove the saleswomen nuts…. but in the end I had a good sense of my Gudrun profile, and I bought a couple of pieces that feel both edgy and perfectly right for me. For once, I didn’t settle, didn’t listen to anyone… I chose.

Gudrun has taught me some things: 1) it’s ok to be true to ourselves, even when we’re past 60. Or maybe especially when we’re past 60! One of her models has long grey hair… 2) Style can be playful and fun; 3) I can wear dresses and leggings; 4) it’s fun to show up in the world; 5) I really look best in darker clothes with colourful accessories; 6) I look best in clothes with a little shaping (who knew?); 7) I like my colour and style to be a bit coordinated, with an elegantly funky undertone; 8) I don’t like frills and ruffles; 8) layering is a life-altering experience.

Although my body has some sags and bumps, it tells my story. It’s a good strong body and I have a creative spirit who wants to play with colour and style, now more than ever!

07 Nov 2016

Opus Anglicanum

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We were lured into London yesterday by a wonderful exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery. We arrived when the doors opened yesterday, hoping to beat any crowds later in the day. Even though it is a ticketed event, we knew we’d want time to linger and press our noses up against the glass cases for a closer look. Interestingly, most of our fellow visitors were male – I’d expected to be crowded in with an audience of primarily female stitchers.

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No photography is allowed, presumably to protect the fragile fabrics, but there is an enormous book available in the gift shop – we ordered one to be shipped directly to our doorstep so we wouldn’t have to lug it with us for the rest of the day. (The photos above are from advertisements on the museum website.)

The wonderfully curated collection features exquisitely stitched items from around Europe, some of which have not been seen in Britain since they were produced many centuries ago. Most of the stitchers were professional craftsmen, primarily men, though some women also worked on them. Many of the items were copes and other religious vestments that were commissioned by Europeans seeking the best embroidery available.

The detail was truly remarkable. Not only did we enjoy searching out familiar religious symbols and motifs, but we also marveled at the accuracy with which people and animals were depicted. Jeff could actually identify the species of the stitched birds,still completely recognizable today. And I was delighted to see that the depictions of my pilgrim saint, St. James, were complete with tiny cockleshells and pilgrim attire.

It would be impossible for me to choose a favourite. I loved the many and varied depictions of Mary, each a miniature masterpiece that introduced me to the artist’s vision of the Virgin. But the contents of the last case really took my breath away – a stitched coffin pall loaned by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. Adorned with sea creatures, including double-tailed mermaids, it is a stunning dimensional piece of embroidery, and truly representational of the thriving fish industry in London, then as now.

Then, too, there were the little Green Man faces on a cope that was later re-purposed and made into several smaller objects when religious copes fell out of favour during the Reformation, and actually became quite dangerous to own. Reunited but not resewn, and illustrated with modern digital imaging, the pieces now tell a bigger story of English history.

It truly pains me not to be able to show you photos from the exhibit, but perhaps my words will inspire you to visit them for yourself – and that is always the best way to experience such beauty and craftsmanship. If you’ll be in London before mid-February, don’t miss it! At the very least, go linger on the Opus Anglicanum webpage to admire some close-ups of featured items. If you’re interested in embroidery, you’ll love this video on The Making of Medieval Embroidery.

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Afterwards, we wandered the V&A’s labyrinth of halls and stairways (which are beautiful in their own right) to navigate our way to a favourite piece of Gothic Revival furniture way up on the 4th level.

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Fortunately, photography is allowed in that part of the museum, and there was a helpful guard available to shut off the alarm when the camera got too close.

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It just wouldn’t seem right to leave without seeing it one more time!

06 Nov 2016

Southend After Dark

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The nights are drawing in but the weather has been dry, so we’ve wanted to be out and about. Last night we had a wander along Southend seafront to enjoy the lights without the crowds.

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Never Never Land was a popular children’s park back when Jeff was a child – he remembers going with his parents some 50 years ago. People tell me about the model train and the animated characters that were as scary as they were fascinating, especially to young children.

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It’s been closed for some years now, but it’s never been forgotten – the only part that remains is the fairy castle.

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Still, it was fun to see it standing humbly in the moonlight, below the Royal Terrace where Princess Caroline visited in 1803, and just along from the modern arcades and attractions, a faded memory caught between the pages of time.

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If you’d like to see some vintage footage of the seafront as it was in the late 1950’s, this video is worth watching. Never Never Land appears at the 20 minute mark.

 

04 Nov 2016

Great Socks of Love

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Candy corn is a contentious subject- you love it or you hate it, and rarely is anyone happy to agree to disagree. I love it, a fondness I owe to my dad – or so the story goes. As I have told you on past Halloweens, after the trick-or-treaters have gone home I make an effort to celebrate the sacred nature of Samhain by setting up a small altar to honour my ancestors. They say the veil is thinnest on this night, and I want them to know they are welcome in my home and my life, to know that I recognize my lineage and the roles they have played in shaping who I have become in this lifetime. Usually, I put out a few kernels of candy corn and some roasted cashews for my father, a glass of red wine for my mother, and a small assortment of little items that connect me to others who have passed on before me.

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This year I have no little stash of candy corn to draw from – and it’s one of those things I just can’t buy over here. I do, however, have a new version that is calorie and contention free: candy corn socks!

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Stitched by a knitterly BFF who knows my story and traditions, they will accompany me through the rest of my Halloweens, bridging old family with new, weaving them together with love and creativity. Candy corn socks…. who knew?

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31 Oct 2016

Assandun

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Leaving Paglesham the other day, we were happy and full, but we still didn’t feel quite done with our day. Not far away is St. Andrews church in Ashingdon, set up on a hill overlooking the fields and marshes – the best vantage point for miles around. We had to drive all the way around the hill and into the village itself to get to the road leading up to the church, which added to the anticipation.

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Built in 1020, the church is one of the oldest in the area. Originally called Assandun, the village is the likely site of the Battle of Ashingdon where the English fought the Danes in October 1016, and the church was then built on the site where King Edmund’s camp was believed to have been situated. Seriously old!

The church wasn’t open that afternoon, so we spent some time walking around it to see the walls and the surrounding graveyard(s). Jeff is always particularly interested in the walls of the these old churches as their contents give a good indication of where the building materials came from. As a geologist, this is one of the ways he makes sense of both community and culture.

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Can you see the little triangular flint embedded here (bottom left)?  And the dark brown cement stones? These tell him, for instance, that the materials probably came from Butts Cliff, four miles away, on the banks of the adjacent River Crouch. The red rectangle is most likely a slab of Roman brick also found in the area.

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We soon spotted two Mass dials, simple sundials marked with the hours of the masses, embedded in the wall, one at the front of the church where it would probably have been easily seen and used, and one at the base of the back (north) wall where it was probably part of an earlier wall that was later re-purposed:

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And just as Jeff looks to the land for his stories, I look to the people. As we walked around to the back of the church, we met a couple sitting hand in hand on the bench looking out over the landscape. They had been married in the church exactly 60 years before, and had come to reminisce before heading home to celebrate with a bottle of champagne. The husband, they told me, isn’t well, so coming back here was how they were choosing to celebrate. I found their story incredibly poignant, and was deeply moved as I later watched them help each other back down the path to their car. For me, this is the peopled meaning of these village churches, and the reason I am drawn to explore both the buildings and the graveyards.

 

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29 Oct 2016

On the Road to Paglesham

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The Essex estuaries are not just about riverways and coastal walks… it’s an interesting area dotted with villages that sometimes merge into urban sprawl. It’s an ideal landscape for us labyrinthine personalities as the roads (which are often straight due to their Roman origins) still manage to meander around the rivers and marshes. In other words, the roads you drive might be straight, but getting from one place to another is rarely straightforward.

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After leaving Wallasea Island yesterday, we wound through the back roads to the villages of Paglesham and Ashingdon to visit their churches and waterways. Dedicated to St Peter, the fisherman, the church at Paglesham is tiny but rich in history, having most likely been built over an older Saxon church during Norman times. nearly a thousand years ago, thus accounting for its short square tower.

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The carvings on the wall as well as on the gravestones laid into the floor are both interesting and impressive.

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I always find myself inventing stories to go with the imagery, and I have always had a strange habit of mentally calculating the age of the people buried beneath the headstones – some of them hint at heartbreaking lives, others at complicated relationships. The ones in the church are in remarkable condition.  Just look at the mix of imagery here:

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Next door is Church Hall farm, gifted to Westminster Abbey by Edward the Confessor in 1065.

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And a little further up the road? The Plough and Sail, which smelled too good to pass by, despite the fact that we had already had a picnic lunch out at Wallasea.

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So, we did the only thing we could…. we ordered dessert!

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And ate it under the watchful eye of their Halloween witch:

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28 Oct 2016

Autumn on Wallasea

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Sometimes we don’t have to wander far to find lovely and unusual landscapes. We have been watching the the transformation of Wallasea Island for the past several years as the sea has been allowed to breach the sea defenses in a carefully orchestrated and managed conservation project. As wetlands and lagoons are created, birds and wildlife are finding it a welcome place, as are the human visitors who enjoy seeing them while breathing in the fresh sea air. With new paths opening, we have more to explore each time we visit.

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The peace is profound. The tide moves in and out quietly, and the wide lagoons and mud flats give plenty of space for birds, insects, critters, and human daydreams. And yet, as this sign far out on the sea wall reminds us, the reserve really is a crossroads, not actually all that far away away from civilization, at least as the crow flies.

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The construction of the nature reserve was made possible by bringing in 3 million tonnes of spoil from the huge crossrail project deep underneath London. In recognition of this, a section of the cutter head from one of the tunneling machines has been installed alongside the Jubilee Marsh trail.

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Its enormity bears tribute to the magnitude of the project, and stands in contrast to the tiny lifeforms that are settling into their new home, like this late season Clouded Yellow butterfly (Colias croceus).

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27 Oct 2016

Collision of My Worlds

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I went into in London to take a textiles class yesterday, and lingered well into the evening for dinner and an after-dark wander back to Fenchurch Street. Most impressive was peeking into the deserted Leadenhall Market which was the setting for the original Diagon Alley in the first Harry Potter movie. Equally fun, though, was stopping to look at the advertising on the bus stops:

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Apparently London is not only open, but it also really loves San Francisco:

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And there you have my life in a nutshell: London, San Francisco, growing up in the 60’s, and a bit of literary fantasy.

16 Oct 2016

Macmillan Night

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Britain has the most wonderful cancer support charity imaginable, and every year they urge us to hold “coffee mornings” to raise money to keep the charity running. In this day and age, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis, and of course, we know that it could happen to any of us at any time. Sobering.

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Macmillan Cancer Support has the lofty ambition is to reach and improve the lives of everyone living with cancer and to inspire millions of others to do the same. They say this about themselves:

 We are millions of supporters, professionals, volunteers, campaigners and people affected by cancer. Together we make sure there’s always someone here for you, to give you the support, energy and inspiration you need to help you feel more like yourself again. We are all Macmillan.

macmillan_cakes2 photo Annie Roberts

The Bitter Knitters left our usual pub venue and had a coffee evening last week – and wouldn’t ya know, every special diet was provided for and we all celebrated our growing knitting community in style, eating amazing cake and donating money for Macmillan. According to our hostess/chief baker, Annie Roberts, the combined total for her coffee events this year came to an impressive £350!

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14 Oct 2016

A Ton of Wood

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We’re getting ready for winter. We’ve converted the old WW2 brick bomb shelter in our back garden into a woodshed and stacked it to the ceiling with fire supplies to keep us warm whatever comes. Some years are mild, others more cruel, but either way, we rank staying cosy as a high priority. We’ve got kindling, coal, and logs…. all we need now is a bowl of chestnuts for roasting!

woodshed

12 Oct 2016

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