Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

fire catchingAlthough we’ve escaped without seeing any snow here in South Wales, it has turned decidedly chilly. Breaking out the newspapers, the kindling and the mysterious blocks of what appears to be compressed sawdust (it took a while for our logs to be delivered, and actual firewood was not to be had in the shops for love nor money), we have ceremonially lit the woodburner, and are spending as much time as possible snuggling in front of its cheerful glow.

For Eoin, the whole experience has been a combination of fascination and terror. He loves watching the flames dance from a safe distance, and will spend ages gazing into the fire, imagining goodness knows what. However, we have clearly dinned our warnings about not touching hot objects into him well: he gets really nervous whenever we are re-fuelling the stove, and has even tried to shut the door of the fireguard with me half-way though it, shouting “Close! Close! Hot!” in a rather panicky fashion. Gates are there for your safety, and should be closed at all times, you know.

For me, the lighting of the logburner has involved a crash course in laying a fire, and particularly in the making of eeks. This is a family idiom for those long strips of rolled newspaper which you fold into knots and lay beneath the kindling. When my mum was a little girl, my grandfather used to tickle her with the rolled-up newspaper strips, while making an “eek eek!” noise. My mum was so convinced that these newspaper strips were actually called eeks, that she described them, quite seriously, as such while taking the test for a Girl Guides badge, in which laying a fire was one of the required skills. Whether or not she received the badge, history does not relate, though apparently she gave the examiner a the best laugh they’d had all day.

logburnerNow that the stove is lit, it’s beginning to feel an awful lot like winter, rather than just the chilly, damp, dark tail end of autumn. All we need is a stove-top kettle and some potatoes to roast in the hot ash, with maybe a snifter of Glühwein or a hot toddy when the nights really draw in, and we’ll be set for a few months of hunkering down, staying cozy and generally going into semi-hibernation.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Green

There’s note a great deal of green in evidence at the moment, so I’ve done a little digging in the archives for some verdant goodness. Here’s my green gallery:

Brassica in Kennixton farmhouse garden; sheep snoozing against a mossy tree-trunk; green-tinged seascape at Penarth; wild garlic and fresh wild garlic pesto; Charentaise shawl in Posh Yarn Daisy 4ply, colourway “Kew”;  green shoots at Cosmeston; leeks in Kennixton farmhouse garden; Ginkgo leaf shawl in Malabrigo Yarn Lace, colourway: “Lettuce”.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal

An iPhone picture again this week, I’m afraid, but it depicts a genuinely renewing experience. This was the beach by the aforementioned geometric hotel in Turkey: as you can see, there were no crowds and no frills to speak of, but all I wanted was the warm, clear water and the shade of the juniper trees. Three days of swimming in the Aegean and knitting on the sand is all you need to make you feel like a new person.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Geometry

Before you judge me on the quality of this week’s image, bear in mind that I’m working with just my iPhone and a rather sporadic Internet connection: sadly I couldn’t fit my lovely DSLR into my carry-on bag along with the clothes and yarn necessary for an unexpected but very welcome trip to Turkey. We are, however, staying in a fabulously geometric hotel (it was described yesterday as looking like a Soviet-era Black Sea holiday resort, but clean), which has left me spoilt for choice in terms of subjects. With that in mind, please remember that this week’s image is the best I can manage with with a mere 3 megapixels and a handful of editing apps. I hope I’ve managed to find something pleasantly abstract, though.

To be honest, the really obscene thing about this picture is not the resolution, but that it was taken in blazing sunshine and 24 degree heat in the middle of November. Somehow, I think that going back to Cardiff might be a bit of a shock to the system.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

I’m usually reasonably at home in different situations: as my dad was in the RAF, I grew up all over the place. I don’t expect to live around the corner from the same people I’ve known all my life: for as long as I can remember, I’ve been used to people around me having different accents, different regional backgrounds. When I was very small, we lived in Germany, so it was quite normal for me not to be able to understand what people were saying in shops, to eat paprika flavoured crisps instead of salt and vinegar, and to get my pocket money in Marks and Pfennigs instead of 50p pieces.

Whenever I have felt particularly foreign, though, is when I’ve suddenly realised that a concept very familiar to me has a completely different meaning to people from a different background. Call me naïve (and you’d be right to: I was), but it was only when I met my Irish husband and his family that I realised not everyone saw Oliver Cromwell purely as an early Republican and political idealist. When I visited Tokyo, I was discombobulated not only by jet-lag, but also by a city where the architecture seemed to swing between Bladerunner and The Tale of Genjii within the space of a few city blocks, in which I was suddenly rendered utterly illiterate, and where people would ever-so-politely move away if I sat next to them on the underground. I think that’s the point about this feeling of foreignness: suddenly you see the world, and yourself, though somebody else’s eyes and from a completely different perspective.

I looked through my photo archive to try to find something which encapsulated this feeling: unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from my trip to Japan, which is in the days before the ready availability of digital cameras. I did, however, find another picture which demonstrated two different points of view on a particular event.

This is the war memorial in Nizhny Novgorod. This rather stark and dramatic panel stands in the centre of a large open space, facing a permanently-burning flame. The square itself occupies an impressive position behind the Kremlin, at the top of a steep slope looking over the Volga.

What gave me the feeling of foreignness in this case, though, was the dates of the war which it commemorates. For me, the Second World War ran from 1939-1945, and, stupid though this may be, I suppose that, subconsciously, I had always assumed that these dates would be on any memorial to the conflict. Of course, this isn’t the case if you’re Russian: they were actually fighting the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis instead. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that, in America, WW2 starts in 1941. In Ireland, they don’t talk about the War at all: rather, it’s known, officially, as the Emergency (An Éigeandáil). It’s a small thing, but it’s easy to assume that your own point of view is the universal one, until you realise that a vast swathe of people, just as reasonably, think of things in a rather different way. It’s rather salutary, I think, to be brought up against this feeling of foreignness: it’s a little jolt to shock you out of complacency and parochial thinking, and that can only be a good thing.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Near and Far

Although my love of the beach in general and the pier in particular is well-known, I do find the area under the pier to be rather a creepy spot. I’m not sure why: it might be the fact that, in the semi-darkness, one is irresistibly drawn to imagine the rising tide trapping you against metal and rock. Or perhaps it’s just that it can be dank and drippy and a bit over-barnacled? Whatever my personal feelings, though, it’s certain that it gives you a lovely opportunity to take a photo demonstrating perspective:
Click to embiggen: there’s more detail than the default size will let me show.

Near and far, with added barnacles… Just don’t let the tide get too high.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Free Spirit

I know I’m behind again, but I took the photos for this on Friday morning, UK time, so technically – technically – I’m within the deadline for the week. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Friday is Eoin’s morning out with the childminder, which makes it my morning of no responsibility. It’s the one time in the week when I can swim, go back to bed for a nap, get to grips with the sewing machine… All the little, mundane activities which make me feel more human, more sane, more like me. As much as I love Eoin, I do cherish these few hours of freedom every week, and I think I come back to him a better, happier, calmer person for them.

This Friday, I was tired and had no energy for swimming, but I didn’t want to go back to the house and sleep: the weather was too good, and who wants to waste one of those early September days which feels more like the beginning of summer? I sat on the beach, listening to the waves and getting dazzled by the brilliant early morning sun, which was making a track over the water away from me, towards the English coast.

There was nobody else in view: no boats were out, and the dog-walkers all seemed to have gone elsewhere. With nobody to judge me, I went for a paddle in the sea, shoes and all.*

It seems to be rare enough that anyone has the chance to be a free spirit: in a week of nappies, laundry, budgeting and worrying, I’m very grateful that I have this little window of time to be alone with the sea and the sky.

*Don’t worry: they’re Crocs, and this is basically what they’re designed for. If I did ruin them, I doubt anyone would miss them. Well, I would, but the fashion gods would be cheering.