Saturday 30 November 2019

Weak Ending

I've been feeling increasingly tired as the week has gone on. There have been lots of things to do. Friday was interesting- in the morning it was the school play. The children were brilliant - funny, tuneful, bright, entertaining...mostly planned. Two unexpected humorous moments. Firstly,when Robin Hood's band and the Sheriff's men were fighting.
They had a carefully staged sword fight- but the swords, although brandished with enthusiasm, never actually clashed. Halfway through, Robin's hat fell off. His opponent stopped fighting and picked it up, then tried politely to replace it on Robin's head. Once done, they returned to battle. The second moment was towards the end of the play, when the herald announced "The Old Beggar From Worksop" but mispronounced one word. I don't know if he realised quite why the audience was so amused.
In the afternoon I went off to a different school, to have a craft table at their Christmas Fayre. I'd seen an appeal for "different stalls" on a local social media page, and rang the organiser to ask if she was interested in "personalised gifts" She said they'd never had that before and it sounded good.
So I loaded the car with bibs and facecloths and my embroidery machine. I got off to a bad start- I was half an hour early, and even then couldn't get a parking spot anywhere nearby. Then I found I'd been put in a classroom with four tombola stalls [two bottle stalls, one sweet jar stall and one soft toy stall]. All of these appeared to work on the same principle- buy a ticket and you have a 50% chance of winning something. Almost all the prizes had been won within 45 minutes. What surprised me was the fact that the two bottle stalls were soft drinks [50p ticket] and alcoholic drinks [£1 ticket]- and there was no age restriction. Small children were happily coming in and wandering away with bottles of booze in their hands [is that legal?] I watched the comings and goings, but my bibs and facecloths were no match for the gin and cuddly penguins. I had just three customers. Once I'd subtracted my £10 table fee, and costs, I'd made a grand profit of £1. Bob applied the Micawber Principle and said £1 profit was better than £1 loss. It won't go far towards paying for my recent car repair though...
There were some really good moments in the day however
In the morning, as they were getting into costume, a pupil came up to tell me it was her Gran who had commented on the blog last week. When I went out into the entrance, to wait for Bob, her Gran came and introduced herself- Lesley, it was lovely to meet you. Thank you for coming up and introducing yourself. You must be very proud of your granddaughter's performance !
In the afternoon at the Fayre, I saw half a dozen friends, parents and pupils from the school. It was good to hear of the safe arrival of a new baby [I sent Dad & big brother home with a bib for the little one] and to catch up with other news.
I was saddened by the incident on London Bridge - my thoughts and prayers are with those affected. And I'm so grateful to Liz for sending a message saying they were all OK. She's very thoughtful about such things. 
This afternoon will be busy with the town Christmas Light Switch on. So the boxes of play costumes will have to remain unsorted until next week. I am learning to recognise when I need to take a rest!

Friday 29 November 2019


Kezzie asked about Lightopia - well, it is an amazing outdoor experience which we visited in Manchester on Saturday night with Steph and Gary. S&G had bought tickets as Bob's birthday present. We had such a fun evening
The event was held in Heaton Park [Europe's largest municipal park] and we wrapped ourselves up well, against the rain and cold and got the tram to the venue. Our timed tickets said we were booked for 5pm entry. There was a huge queue when we got there- we all seemed to have 5pm tickets!
There was a clearly marked route to walk all around the park, looking at the light displays. They seemed to be made of wire frames covered with colourful ripstop nylon, with electric lights inside. Also there were lights playing on the trees and ground as you walked past.
There were so many things to see.
It was hard to take photos of the light displays with my camera - this was the entrance with fairies guiding the way.
There were animals, plants, Chinese characters, vehicles, and the inevitable Manchester bees. 
At one point, there was a special light display over the water which we stood and watched
Then we walked along to the food area. It was raining and chilly and we needed some refreshment. Bob and I opted for chicken paella. It proved to be good value for money both in terms of taste and portion size. "This chicken paella is really good!" I said to the guy selling it. "Can you say that in a louder voice, please?" he asked, grinning.
So I did, in what Bob calls my Best Playground Voice -I hope it got him a few more customers!
I liked this event - plenty to see, good walkways for families, buggies and wheelchairs, plenty of food, decent loos, and easy access via the trams as well as onsite parking.
I found the official 2 minute video online - watch it and enjoy!

I'm increasingly concerned about firework displays. This had the same magic and sparkle- but none of the scary bangs, and it can be repeated night after night - and relocated to different locations. Thank you Steph and Gary, for a thoughtful and creative experience we could all enjoy. 

Thursday 28 November 2019

Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye...

I spent much of yesterday making Christmas presents [no pictures yet in case intended recipients are reading this] and listening to the radio. The BBC Newsreaders began bulletins with "The death has been announced..." for three different people. 
This morning, it was Gary Rhodes- aged only 59, the lovely British Chef. I have always been fond of GR - in his early days his youthful enthusiasm and quirky spiky hair set him apart from the traditional TV chefs.
Even as he grew older and had his hair cut shorter, he retained the impish spikes. He was a great chef - paving the way for younger men like Jamie O and High F-W. 
I really enjoyed his style- particularly that despite his training in classic French Cuisine, he was really skilled at being a champion of good British food. 
He lived in Gillingham, and Orpington [two towns where I have also lived] and was happily married for many years to Jennie, whom he met at catering college. They have two sons, Sam and George. He had a reputation for being both generous and encouraging to those who he employed and trained. I must revisit some of his recipes. Here's one of his Christmas clips...
Then around lunchtime, the BBC announced the passing of Dr Jonathan Miller. He was 85 - and an awfully clever chap. He'd studied medicine at Cambridge and was a qualified Dr - but also appeared in revues and was part of Cambridge Footlights. After graduation, he worked for a while at a hospital in London - then got together with old friends Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to write and perform in the revue "Beyond The Fringe"in the early 1960s.
My Dad found their humour very amusing. Although I was very young, I remember asking why he was weeping tears of laughter as he watched TV- he explained the term 'satire' to me. Miller went on to have a varied career - producing plays and opera, making TV programmes and much more. From a Jewish family, he was an atheist and spoke and wrote much about his 'disbelief' For some years prior to his death, he had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. 
Then finally, at 4.30pm, the Media Show began with the news that Clive James had died. He was 80 - and had been suffering for 10 years with terminal cancer. He'd been very open about his diagnosis and faced it with bravery - and the wit, candour and commonsense for which he had become famous. Named 'Vivian' when he was born in 1939, he changed his name to Clive as soon as he could [because he felt that after Gone With The Wind, everyone would only consider Vivian as a girl's name] 
Born in Australia, he'd made his home in the UK - studying at Cambridge alongside other well known Aussies [like Germaine Greer] He was funny and clever, and amazingly gifted with words. He managed the crossover between highbrow and lowbrow effortlessly, making him popular with both the intellectual elite, and the ordinary bloke down the pub. He said his one sadness was that the illness meant he was unable to fly- so he would never get back to see Sydney again. He lived out his days in Cambridge. His daughter gave him a Japanese Maple, and he wrote a thoughtful poem about his impending death and the beauty of the maple.[in full here]
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends 
This glistening illuminates the air, it never ends
Whenever rain comes, it will be there
Beyond my time, but now I take my share
Gary, Jonathan, Clive - RIP - thank you for the pleasure you brought to so many different people in so many different ways.
Update - this morning, the Gentle Author has published a fascinating piece about JM here which is very different to all the other obituaries you may read today... 

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Mad As Hatters In Manchester

We spent a wonderful weekend up in Manchester with Steph and Gary. It was very exciting to actually go with Steph for her scan and see the baby on screen. We did loads of things, and I will post later. But it was definitely cold and damp. On Saturday Bob and I wore our crazy Scandi hats to keep our ears warm at Lightopia. Sunday we visited the People's History Museum - Bob had his leather hat on, but we all tried on the hats in the dressing up area.

We had hoped to visit the Hat Works Museum in Stockport, but it is currently closed. I'm sure you know that milliners formerly used mercury and the fumes affected their brains.
We have returned to Dorset and the next few days are going to be rather busy. I'm grateful for a few days of relaxed family time before we get onto the Christmas Roller Coaster. 

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Monday 25 November 2019

Christmas Fog Warning

Did you know that the festive season is one of the worst times of the year for FOG-related problems? Not fog, the meteorological condition where water droplets in the atmosphere restrict our visibility - but FOG which stands for Fats/Oil/Grease.
We've all heard of the problems relating to people flushing wetwipes down the loo. These wipes are mostly made of plastic fibre, they do not decompose, and they cause major blockages in the sewers. Our water companies are reminding us to "only flush the 3Ps - pee/poo/paper"
But if any items which will not decompose get into our sewers, via the loo, or the sink, or the drains, then they will accumulate and become gross 'fatbergs' which will block the sewers and cause all sorts of nastiness. Local papers frequently show photographs of these, to alert the public to the issue- the Museum of London even has one on display in a glass cabinet!
These solid items are able to amass into a berg because they collect the fats, oils and grease which are also in the water, and then congeal into solid lumps.
People who are very diligent about not flushing the wrong things down the loo can sometimes be a little more forgetful when it comes to the kitchen sink.
Ferndown is in the Wessex Water region, and they clear 13,000 blockages every year, costing more than £5million. WW have reminded us to be more thoughtful when we are preparing our festive feasts, and think carefully about how we dispose of FOG. Because FOG CLOGS!

Here are some top tips to avoid fat, oil and grease clogging our drains and building up in the sewer.
·         Save it - Use containers like butter tubs or yoghurt pots can all be used to collect cooled fat and oil – then just put them in the bin
·         Scrape it– scrape any leftover food, or grease and fat residue from plates, pans or cooking utensils into the food waste bin
·         Separate it - use a bathroom bin for anything that isn’t pee, poo or paper
·         Strain it – use a sink strainer or drain protector in the bathroom and kitchen to stop hair, food bits etc blocking your drain.
·         Sort it - compost your food waste [uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings]
 So please remember to deal with FOG sensibly. It is easy to develop lazy habits when you are tired and there is a huge Christmas Meal to clear away. And occasionally family members who don't normally venture into the kitchen offer their help - make sure they know what they should be doing!

Sunday 24 November 2019

Have Mercy, Lord.

I am just so saddened by the state of our nation at the moment; Inequality between rich and poor, racial tension, unemployment, people made homeless by floods, fires, and other misfortunes, family disharmony... In recent days I have found myself singing Graham Kendrick's song as a prayer
In the Father heart of God
For the children we've rejected
For the lives so deeply scarred?
And each light that we've extinguished
Has brought darkness to our land
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

We have scorned the truth you gave us
We have bowed to other lords
We have sacrificed the children
On the altars of our gods
O let truth again shine on us
Let your holy fear descend
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

Who can stand before your anger?
Who can face your piercing eyes?
For you love the weak and helpless
And you hear the victims' cries
Yes, you are a God of justice
And your judgement surely comes
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

Who will stand against the violence?
Who will comfort those who mourn?
In an age of cruel rejection
Who will build for love a home?
Come and shake us into action
Come and melt our hearts of stone
Upon your people, upon your people
Have mercy Lord.

Who can sound the depths of mercy
In the Father heart of God?
For there is a Man of sorrows
Who for sinners shed his blood
He can heal the wounds of nations
He can wash the guilty clean
Because of Jesus, because of Jesus
Have mercy, Lord

Saturday 23 November 2019

A Fine Kettle Of Fish

I finally got round to making the Christmas Cake and Puds this week. Bob and I decided that rather than one large pud, I should make individual ones- I have some little silicone moulds which are just the right size. And If you have a big one, it is tempting to eat too much...
So I shut myself in the kitchen with all the ingredients and a play on the radio and set to...
The cake was mixed, and put into the tin - same recipe as ever, the Good Housekeeping one I've used for over 40 years.
But I still miss the girls helping to give everything a stir - even though it's decades since they left home. Maybe one year soon I shall have Rosie's help...
Then once the cake was in the oven, I started making the mix for the puds.  or the last few of years, I have steamed my puddings in the fish kettle. 
This sits happily across two rings on the hob, and bubbles away efficiently. Small puddings don't take too long.
So I called Bob through to the kitchen, to ask him to fetch the fish kettle down from the top cupboard. "I think there's something in it" he said. There was...

Two large puddings from Christmas 2018! I had completely forgotten they were up there. [in my defence, I wasn't very well in January, and overlooked many, many trivial things] They looked and smelled fine. So one has already been eaten. 
This year's smaller puddings have been put into a large, labelled Tupperware box. At least Xmas Puds don't "go off" if properly wrapped. But had I realised they were up there, would I have bothered to make 10 small ones?
The cake turned out beautifully - but after last year's icing fiasco I shall endeavour to get it marzipanned and iced before it travels up to East Anglia!

Friday 22 November 2019

Ho Ho H.O. ?

What's H.O.? I wondered, and what are H.O. Circulars?

My friend A. had given me some box files, and they were quite heavy. "They're my Mum's knitting patterns" she said - "and I wondered if you could do something with them?" Her Mum was the loveliest lady, and she died a few months back. She was kind, and thoughtful, with a beaming smile, and twinkly eyes and she shared the love of Jesus with everyone she met. And boy did she knit! Even into her late eighties, she was churning out garments and gifts for people [another friend is completing the jumper she had started for her daughter before she became really ill]
What a treasure trove! On Sunday afternoon, I began going through the boxes just to see what was in them. This task is unfinished, but will merit its own blog post.
But then I found something tucked away which was not a pattern
This certificate, over a century old
And underneath it a faded sepia photograph.
I sent a picture to A. "Oh wow! That's my Great-Grandma!" she replied. I do not know which of these ladies is her GG. But how lovely to find these tucked away between the patterns for gloves and jumpers!
During WW1, 90,000 people were trained by the Red Cross and worked in VADs [Voluntary Aid Detachments] up and down the country. 
At the outbreak of the war, many people were inspired to train to help the sick and wounded. Women needed to be taught first aid, home nursing and hygiene by approved medical practitioners. They also took classes in cookery. Men were trained in "first aid in-the-field" and stretcher bearing. Talented VADs could take specialist classes to become a masseuse or use an x-ray machine. VADs had to pass exams to receive their first aid and home nursing certificates. 
VADs carried out duties that were less technical, but no less important, than trained nurses. They organised and managed local auxiliary hospitals throughout Britain, caring for the large number of sick and wounded soldiers. Many were also deployed abroad to help in field hospitals.

Famous women who volunteered for the Red Cross during the war include:
  • Agatha Christie, who served at a hospital in Torquay, saying it was  “one of the most rewarding professions that anyone can follow”.
  • Vera Brittain [author, and mother of Shirley Williams MP] became a VAD in 1915 and was posted to France in 1917.
  • Enid Bagnold [author of National Velvet ] served in London as a VAD.
  • Clara Butt  [legendary singer of the Victorian era], was a VAD nurse in Bristol

A's GreatGran was neither rich, nor famous - but the service given by conscientious ordinary people such as she, in a time of national crisis, was utterly invaluable.
They gave their time freely, and worked incredibly hard, often in appalling conditions, and are fuully deserving of recognition and honour.

[I have yet to discover from A. what HO stands for!]

Thursday 21 November 2019

Love To B Beautiful

There we were enjoying some soup on Tuesday, in The Furlong shopping centre in Ringwood. I noticed a lady come in and go up to the counter to speak to the manager. "That's Julie" I said to Bob, and reminded him who she was. Then Julie started coming round to the diners, giving our her business cards and small soap samples.
Julie has a really interesting story;
About ten years ago, her daughter Bea suffered with terrible eczema. Julie set about finding an effective [non-steroid] treatment. She rapidly concluded that neither the cosmetic industry, nor conventional medicine had the answer. She began researching historical, natural remedies...her conclusion was that simple plant-based products would supply the answer. Bea's skin rapidly improved - and Julie discovered a life changing passion. 
What began as a "kitchen table project" developed into a natural cosmetics company. You can read the full story here. She named her company "love to b" after her daughter, who had inspired it. Julie worked from a small unit in Ringwood employing local people to help her combine fruit extracts, essential oils and more to make a whole range of beauty products. There is an online store, and the range covers beauty products for the whole family, women, children and men - as well as perfumed candles.
And the reason Julie was in the coffee shop yesterday was that she was promoting he latest venture- she has now opened a shop in Ringwood, just by the Horse Sculpture. So you can go in and actually smell the perfumes, and try out the creams. 
These products are all handmade, they are not tested on animals [but on Julie's willing friends!] and they are palm-oil free. 
The shop is delightful - with attractive displays, autumnal floral arrangements, and friendly staff.
Here's Julie behind the counter, working at her new till.
If you are local to Ringwood, please drop in - and 
do check out the website for more information too...

Wednesday 20 November 2019

This Is A Con, Marie!

Five years ago, Marie Kondo introduced the world to her KonMari method of tidying and decluttering. She wasn't the first to try and get us to do this - I checked back and discovered I did someone else's declutter challenge more than 10 years ago.  
I admit that I'm still a work in progress, and admire my daughter's determination - she's way better than I am at this.
But what has really annoyed me this week is the news that Ms Kondo has opened her own shop. Having got rid of 95% of your stuff, you can buy other stuff to replace it.
Now I'm keen on good design, items that work well, and prefer to buy "things to last" rather than cheap plastic tat. 
But $65 for a brass bottle opener? No way would I spend that! Especially when the instructions warn you not to drop it, or hit it. My steel one is ancient and tough as old boots, and it cost next to nothing. Or $60 for a French Market tote? 
I made mine 5 years ago with £1 of jute string from Wilko. And it does the job and I love it. 
I'm bothered that the people who are following KonMari methods to get their homes in order will feel the need to spend a fortune on "authentic" homewards from the online shop. 

You can declutter, and work towards minimalism but keep the best of the stuff you already have. You shouldn't feel pressured into buying costly replacements. Credit card debts do not "spark joy" for anybody! 

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Fish Tales

When we were engaged, back in 1978, Bob came over to my flat one Saturday morning and said "I've brought you a present" - and he placed a newspaper-wrapped bundle on the table. It was a pound of sprats! He'd seen them on sale that morning in St Albans and decided to buy some. 

"You'll have to cook them" I declared, having no idea how to deal with this multitude of small silvery fish.
He dusted them with seasoned flour, quickly pan-fried them, and we ate them for lunch with bread and butter, and much laughter. 
We have often spoken of that day - particularity in those conversations where people say "What is the strangest gift you have ever been given?" but not eaten sprats again. Until last week - I was in Ferndown, and there was a fish van parked in the car park. I looked at the pescatorial produce on his table - all in trays of ice - and said "What are those ones?" "Sprats!" he said "£1.50 a pound" I considered this for a moment and asked "How many would I get for that? and would that feed two people?" He assured me they would, and measured out some fish into his scale pan, declaring "That weighs a pound" "I'll take them, please" and I fished out some change from my purse.
"I've slung a few extras in, and a bit of ice to keep them chilled" he said "And I'm here every Thursday" I discovered that Dorset is one of the best places to get fresh sprats, as the shoals swim here just off the Jurassic Coast.
I bought a lovely crusty wholemeal bloomer loaf - and Bob cooked them for tea. This time we were a little more sophisticated- squeezing over lemon juice, and dipping some into mayonnaise. They were surprisingly delicious. We agreed not to wait 40 years before we try them again.
Sometimes all you need is just a simple meal of loaves and fishes - however could I have forgotten that?

Monday 18 November 2019


Definition: The phrase “godspeed” is a personal blessing. The intent is to convey true concern, hope or desire for another person to successfully accomplish a difficult task, or journey. Oftentimes the endeavour at hand is dangerous and may have little chance of success.
This is Otley Hall, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. It was here that Bartholomew Gosnold was born in 1571, in the reign of Elizabeth 1. Gosnold was from a wealthy landowning family, and studied law at Cambridge - he married and settled down in Suffolk and he and his wife had seven children, all baptised in the Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds.
But then he gave up law, and took up sailing - he wanted to explore the 'New World' - in 1602 he travelled on "the Concord" to check out the land in New England. He landed in Maine - and named one area "Cape Cod", then travelling along the coast, he found a beautiful area where lush wild grape vines were growing. In memory of his firstborn infant daughter Martha- who had died 2 years before, and was buried back in the Suffolk Cathedral, he named the place "Martha's Vineyard"
Uncertain that their provisions would see them through the winter, he and his men sailed back, with a cargo of cedar, furs and sassafras. He worked hard to persuade wealthy London Merchants to fund another expedition. Returning a few years later in 1606 [with the support of King James] Gosnold set up a proper colony - Jamestown, Virginia. His second ship was called the "Godspeed"
Sadly he died [only three months after arriving] during an outbreak of malaria, in 1607 - far from his beautiful Suffolk home. The whereabouts of his burial were uncertain, until 2002 when archaeologists found a grave containing the bones of a man, who had died in his mid to late 30s, height 5 and a half feet - matching descriptions of Bartholomew. This statue created using the skeleton for inspiration' now stands outside the Williamsburg Courthouse
Various replicas of Godspeed have been built over the years, as people have sought to replicate Gosnold's hazardous voyage.
I knew nothing of this story, until we visited Bury last month whilst on holiday - although I'd heard of Jamestown, and Cape Cod, and Martha's Vineyard. But many regard this wise and gentle man as the "Forgotten Founding Father of English America" 
He lived and died a century before George Washington and the other FFs, his tiny ships sailed across the Atlantic, finding safer, faster routes for those who were to follow [like the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620]
Benjamin is commemorated by a sculpture in the Cathedral gardens.  It represents his perilous final journey to the New World. I found it utterly beautiful - it is simply called Godspeed

Sunday 17 November 2019

Christmas Is Coming...

We know Christmas must be approaching, because the ads on TV are all reminding us. I'm really behind with preparations this year. 
I am hoping to get the cake made this week though -but it doesn't matter if I don't. 
The important things about Christmas for me have nothing to do with tinsel, crackers, fancy foods or Edgar-the-Dragon pyjamas from John Lewis.
Things like quality time spent with the family and friends, sharing love, peace, joy and hope - these are the best ways to remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Don't forget to sign up if you want to share in our Advent Pause [details here]

Saturday 16 November 2019

Like A Diamond In The Sky?

Don't they look lovely? There is something about lights piercing the darkness which gladdens the heart.
For centuries, these lanterns were popular in China. It is believed they were initially used as part of military strategy - if you needed help, you sent up lanterns at night, so other troops would come to your aid. Then, throughout Asia, they became part of traditional rituals - both to celebrate festivals, and also to mark the passing of loved ones.
Then two significant things happened to make these sky lanterns part of the UK scene.
In 2002, following the Bali Bombings, 202 lanterns were released as part of a memorial ceremony - 28 Britons were among the dead. 
Just a few years later, HSBC Bank released a beautifully filmed advert about the Chinese New Year, voiceover by Sir Michael Gambon [aka Dumbledore, Maigret etc]
And many shrewd sales teams started marketing these lanterns in the UK. In 2018, an estimated quarter of a million of these were lit at weddings, parties, funerals and festivals. 
BUT these things are dangerous. Please let's stop being sentimental, and recognise the facts! You are setting light to a candle in a wire and paper frame, which then rises into the sky and drifts away gently into the darkness.
THEN it eventually lands somewhere else...maybe miles away- you have NO CONTROL over that lantern once it has left your hands!

  • It can possibly travel up 30 miles, carried by the winds to who knows where
  • It may drift out to sea, and be mistaken for a distress flare by coastguards or passing boats.
  • It may confuse pilots coming into land, if it is near an airfield
  • It may land somewhere where it sets light to buildings, or crops, or even animals.
  • Its wire frame may get entangled round the legs of animals, or be ingested by them, causing distress, injury, or death.

The whole issue of sky lanterns is being raised as a storyline on The Archers this week. One enraged farmer posted flyers through the doors of Ambridge showing pictures of distressed and dying animals. [I will not do that - if you cannot imagine the horror, then you can look it up elsewhere] But whilst I think Tony Archer's actions were maybe ill-considered, I support his desire for a ban on these things. Our firefighters and farmers have enough else to contend with right now.
Five years ago, the government issued guidance about use of these lanterns. But now the NFU and the RSPCA are backing campaigns to have them banned. Many local councils have actually taken the decision to make it illegal to set off lanterns from Council-owned lands. Check out Countryside OnLine which has more information, and a list of participating councils.
Yes, I do believe this statement. But I think you should keep your candle close, and blow it out when you need to, and dispose of it carefully!
And don't trust the UK's biggest supplier of sky lanterns, just outside Romford, when they say their product is "Safe and easy to use. 100% biodegradable" They may have developed a 'wire-free frame' for their product - but it is still free-flying-fire.

Friday 15 November 2019

Spinning A Yarn

The silklegend goes like this - around 5000  years ago, Lei Zu, wife of the ancient Chinese Emperor Xuanyuan, sat in the palace gardens under a mulberry tree, and the cocoon of a silkworm fell into her bowl of hot tea. As she tried to retrieve it, she discovered this apparently never ending length of strong fine thread...and thus the silk industry began. Firstly the women of China were responsible for organising silk production, and it was a closely guarded secret. In the 6th century, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian found two monks prepared to smuggle silkworms out of China - and then this fabric began to be produced the world over.Silk can be woven into a strong, beautiful fabric, and takes dyes very well. It is considered extremely luxurious - and natural [unlike synthetic fibres which will never break down, and be in landfill forever] It's not considered ethical, however - the poor silkworms are boiled alive to produce these threads.
But did you know there is another sort of silk? It is called sea- silk, or byssus? If you buy and prepare mussels for eating, you need to 'de-beard' them - and remove those tenacious fibres from the shells.
That fibre is called byssus, and is what the mussel uses to attach itself to a rock or rope, to prevent it being washed away by the tides. Scientists have only recently discovered the amazing properties of these threads, which are formed by the bivalve's saliva.
One particular mussel- the pinna nobilis [aka pen shell or fan mussel] grows in the Mediterranean, up to 120cm long [that's bigger than our Rosie!] and produces amazing byssus, which can be woven into a beautiful cloth called 'sea-silk'. Unlike regular silk, these threads can be harvested by divers without harming the creature [although it takes 300-400 dives to gather 200grams of material. When properly washed, processed, 
spun and woven, it produces a wonderful golden fabric. It can also be dyed in lustrous colours.
Cloth made from sea silk has been around for millennia - legend** says that the cloth Moses laid on the altar in the Tabernacle was made of byssus [there are lots of references to byssus in the bible - sometimes the word is translated 'silk' and at other times 'linen'] Justinian [him again] gave gifts of cloaks made of byssus- and by the end of the 18th century, it was the height of fashion - Nelson gave Emma a pair of byssus gloves. Jules Verne dressed the narrator of his story "20,000 Leagues under the Sea" in "a greatcoat of byssus, lined with sealskin"
But the pinna nobilis is a protected species now - sadly the creatures are in crisis, affected by a fatal  parasite. There are few examples of byssus work in existence - and one woman, Ciara Vigo continues to spin and weave the cloth, in her Sardinian home on the little island os San'Antiocca. This is a lovely little video clip about her work. [Longer ones with subtitles here and here]
If you'd like to own something made of byssus sea silk, I am afraid you've just missed your chance- this rare 1920's knitted hat was sold at auction in New York on Wednesday. The winning bid was $12,000!

What a beautiful fabric, and such a skilled craft. 
*** Bob suggested I titled this post "When Moses Pulled A Mussel"