Thursday, 23 February 2017

What Have The Romans Done For Us?

Well , for one thing, they provided a fascinating afternoon for Bob and myself on Tuesday. We were away for 2 days at the Southern Counties Baptist Association Annual Conference for ministers and spouses [what a mouthful] staying in Cheltenham.  We had a couple of hours of free time so we popped over to see Chedworth Villa, a National Trust property just up the road.
This villa started as three detached buildings, probably built around 150AD - but grew and grew into one lavish construction, reaching its heyday between 360 and 380AD, when it would have housed around 100 people. Most of these would have been servants/slaves of the rich owners. The villa itself was luxurious and had an extensive underfloor heating system and set of wonderful baths - ranging from cold, through tepid and lukewarm to hot - where the wealthy householder and his friends could enjoy a lavish lifestyle. Even in a cold British winter they could bathe in waters as warm as their beloved Mediterranean Sea! But the Villa was neglected, and over the years collapsed and was covered with earth. 
This preserved the mosaic floors and many dropped items - until back in 1864, an agricultural worker unearthed something - and alerted the landowner, Lord Eldon. Eldon called upon his uncle James, an archaeologist, and he set about uncovering the hidden treasures. In the middle of the site, Eldon built a little museum to house the treasures, and built sheds to cover the sections of mosaic floor. The NT has improved these enormously, and a programme continues to reveal more buried artefacts and display them sensitively.
The NT website shows this Museum with the rest of the site around it. I took loads of pictures - we were really impressed with the displays and information panels. As usual the NT works hard with their educational stuff- helmets and costumes for families and school groups to try on - replica artefacts to hold and draw...

The felt servant hats were strange [and small] I looked like an elf, and Bob looked like a Bishop!
 There was beautiful variation in the colour and shape of the pottery, and also a row of engraved brass discs on leather thongs [reading "Hold on to me, for I am a slave"]

 I am Maximus Decimus...and this is my crazy wife...

I think I prefer the scent of Bob's usual after shave!
The mosaics were amazing - so detailed and carefully put together. They are maintained in a carefully controlled environment, to prevent further deterioration or algae growth. The engineering and construction of the baths is amazing - the way that as one moved through a series of rooms, the temperature of the waters changed.
Outside are the lower parts of walls surrounding other rooms - with notes explaining their purpose - and beyond, sheep graze happily in the fields and snowdrops bloom in profusion on grassy banks.
In the Museum were a couple of quotes [one from a local yokel, the other from an eminent historian] dating from the 1860s when these hidden treasures came to light

This was a good outing, and slightly different from most of our recent NT excursions, which have been in properties dating from Tudor times to the 20th century. A bit of older history is always thought provoking.
It is also fascinating to realise how the Victorians approached such excavations in a very different way from 20th century archaeologists - and now in the 21st century with so much advanced technology, techniques and attitudes are still changing.
C19 - dig it up, put it on a shelf in the Museum behind glass, with little handwritten label.
C20 - uncover it, put a roof over it and type out some information [on a typewriter]. School children get a lecture and then write an essay or draw a picture. Maybe a guy in Roman Armour will come and chat to them and make them march round the field [Sinister, Dexter, Sinister, Dexter...]
C21 - minimal disturbance but high tech equipment means things can be revealed under the surface, and computer technology can recreate accurately things like the missing section of mosaics and paintings. Children can dress up in costumes, pretend to be Romans, use interactive computer programmes to recreate life in 365AD...
Engaging with history is getting easier, and definitely becoming more fun for children [poor Rosie is doomed, she has a family of people who like this sort of thing!!]
Here is Bob outside the Museum. He is concerned about his waistline! The food at the Conference was plentiful and delicious. It will be Back to Banting next week!!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Utterly Bananas!

My February Pointless Gadget of the Month has to be this Banana Slicer. 
Isn't this remarkable? It costs £7.95 plus postage. 
You feed the banana in at on end, press the top and voila! 5 perfect slices of banana. 
Repeat the exercise till your entire piece of fruit is chopped up.
I am not sure what you do when you get near the end and find your piece isn't quite long enough. I suspect there is rather a lot of banana-wastage. 
This gadget would take up a fair bit of drawer space too
And those little blades- how difficult will they be to clean if your banana is squishy?
What if you want to slice your banana very finely, or very thickly, or even on the diagonal? Oh, wait a minute, if you need thick, thin or diagonal, you could use a knife.
Like these...
I bought a set of these Swiss paring knives years ago - I have one in Norfolk, and one here, and gave the third one away. They are brilliant, and the sheath keeps the blade safe in the drawer. They slice bananas and a lot more besides. And they cost less. 
Do share any pointless gadgets you've discovered...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Feeling Capricious [With Goats And Hedgehogs]

There is debate as to whether the name of the Isle of Capri derives from the Greek word kapros  for wild boar, or the Latin caprea for goats.  Both of these have lived there. What is not in dispute is the name Capri Pants, referring to those cropped above-the-ankle slimfit ladies trousers.  These were popularised by film stars Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn in the 50s. Mary Tyler Moore  [who died just a few weeks ago]  caused a sensation by sporting them on the Dick Van Dyke show, where she played the long-suffering housewife married to DVD. Her perfectly reasonable argument was that normal women didn't do the hoovering in dresses and petticoats, so why should her character?
I did not have enough blue fabric for another pair of trousers, but did manage to make these little CPs with a lace trim
And here is my first project from my new book of dolls' knitting patterns - a turquoise jumper to go with them. The neckline has a velcro fastening to make it easier for little fingers! 
I looked up the origin of capricious - whimsical- to see if that word had any connection with the island. I was delighted to discover that one dictionary said this;
Capricious comes, via French, from Italian capriccio, a shivering, 
a shudder, [influenced by Italian capra, goat] a whim, from capo, head [from Latin caput]+ riccio, hedgehog [from Latin ericius]. The basic idea is that of a head with hair standing on end, like the spines of a hedgehog.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Safer, Saner Places...

Last Tuesday [Valentine's Day] we had to go out and buy a new kettle and afterwards we stopped off for coffee.
Full marks to Costa at Castlepoint Retail Park- note the glass of water with Bob's espresso, and the romantic chocolate hearts in our saucers!
Costa is upstairs in WHSmiths.
It does seem to me these days that I only go into branches of WHS for their instore coffee shops or Post Offices. 
WHS seemed to be so much more interesting when I was younger - more serious books, useful stationery items [not just pretty notebooks and colouring pads for adults] Now there are stacks of celebrity cookbooks and novelty gifts.
There were piles of Ladybird books with titles like 'How It Works -The Wife'' "Mindfulness" "The Shed" "The Hipster" and more. 
Also they have some spoof Famous Five titles [Five go Gluten Free, Five on Brexit Island, Five go on a Strategy Away Day]
Now they are doing a range of alternative I-Spy books too. I loved the original ones as a child, when we went on long car journeys. 

I hadn't seen these ones before. I looked through the one about signs and instructions that you MUST obey.
was tickled by the sign telling tractors to slow down. It suggests that if you spot this, you will have made it to one of those 'safer, saner regions... like Norfolk' - but the sign depicted was printed in Dorset.[We discovered last year that the epicentre of such signage is actually Ferndown - many of these roadsigns are created in a workshop here!]

Sunday, 19 February 2017


I said a few weeks ago that this year I planned to reread some of the older books on my shelf, and see if each one was still "A Book That I'm Keeping". I began with a book from the mid 1980's- Gordon MacDonald's "Ordering Your Private World". When it was first written, many of the great preachers and scholars declared it to be brilliant, helpful, inspiring...
At the time of my first reading, I was a stay at home Mum with two very small children. Both our mothers were unwell, we'd had to move unexpectedly within a few months of Steph's birth, our tiny income had fallen even further. Bob was coming to the end of his theological studies, and we were starting to look for the church where he would be the Pastor [yet another house move] and there were just so many things causing external stress. I really was struggling with all the pressures of life.
This book helped me to get things into perspective, to realise that if I got myself sorted out and back to some sort of spiritual equilibrium, I would be able to cope better. 
I looked forward to reading it again - these last two years have seen major upheavals for me - giving up my various teaching posts in Leicester, moving house, leaving old friends and making new ones, helping my daughters through significant changes in their lives...So yes, it was probably time to dust off this book and read it again.
MacDonald divides his way of ordering one's Private World, maintaining a strong and healthy 'Inner Life' into five sections
1 motivation  2 use of time  3 wisdom and knowledge  4 spiritual strength5 restoration
The book is peppered with quotes from Christians and non Christians alike, and full of anecdotes about those who have succeeded, and those who admit to failure, in managing themselves.

I don't think I disagree with any of the points he makes, or feel they are not valid. It is good to remind ourselves that we need 

  • to step back sometimes, to say NO to the demands which others unfairly make on our time, [I have to realize that there is nothing wrong with laying aside other work for the purpose of enjoying Godʼs gift of special time]
  • to listen for God's still small voice directing our actions.[Make a commitment to have time with God early in the morning and do not compromise it]
  • to take a Sabbath, [A rest-less person is a restless person.] 
  • to be intelligent, thinking people.[ Some Christians appear to be afraid to think.] 
  • to develop habits of Christian Mindfulness [God wants us to be mindful people, not mindless people. Mindfulness is a matter of discipline and hard work. Mindlessness is the result of laziness and fear]

BUT My big problem with the book now is that it is so dated. Written at a time when Yuppies,Wall Street and Thatcherism were the big news, it now feels aimed at those striving to be successful AlphaMales, or liberated Superwomen who had it all. 
Which I suppose it was. It was telling the reader to step back from the relentless 24/7 treadmill and get some peace with God, inner calm amidst the raging turmoil.
And the contemporaneous anecdotes he shares reflect that - but he also has a penchant for quoting old hymnwriters, missionaries and preachers from a century or two ago. In some sections it feels almost 'quaint' now. Too many of these names would seem irrelevant or unknown to people today. I suspect he is also aiming at preachers and Bible students who would be more tuned in to the references to characters from Church History. 
Furthermore MacDonald was writing in a pre-Internet age. He doesn't cover the impact on our inner calm of social media, easy access to inappropriate websites, or the relentless tones of the mobile phone, tablet or laptop, telling us someone wants our attention through text, email, or Facebook. Because those things just weren't there when he wrote the book.
The book was updated in 2003, again to good reviews. It would be interesting to see what the author has added [although I note from here that the chapter titles remain unchanged] But even the update is 14 years old now, and life [and technology] has moved on even further.
There is an excellent piece [based on the original book] which summarises the chapters and gives salient quotations. Read this  if you want to get a better idea of the book and its contents.
CONCLUSION -  I think I would want to rate it just **** - back then I might have said 5*. I am not sure that now it would be my first choice to lend to someone. So this one, whilst it is good, and did prove helpful to me 30 or so years ago, is actually not going to make the ABTIK list after all.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Bubbles, Biscuits And Bags

I have never done this type of quilting. Known as biscuit, bubble or puff quilting, it involves sewing a large square of fabric onto a smaller square and filling the inside with wadding.  Ones from the USA seem to be very stuffed, British ones are less so!
A friend at church gave me some bags of fabric which had belonged to his late wife- and inside were 4 panels of these squares.
Not quite enough to make a baby quilt - but I didn't want to waste them. I sewed them in pairs, and lined them with some of the white sheeting from another of the bags, then put lace round the top.

And here are two pretty 'sleeping bags' for the American Girl Dolls.

I am so glad I could put these pieces to good use. I am sure the lady who originally made them would be glad they were not just staying in a carrier bag in the back of the wardrobe.

Friday, 17 February 2017


 ...I completely forgot. I meant to do a post about this little chap's birthday on Wednesday, when he turned 40, and it slipped my mind. Morph - the lovable little Plasticine character created by Peter Lord in 1997 has reached middle age. 

Back in 1977, Aardman Animations, run by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, was a very low budget outfit. 

They made their little models and painstakingly moved them and took a picture, then moved them again...Stop - Go animation was a slow and incredibly tedious process. No computer animations and CGI back then. 
Morph was a feature on the brilliant long-running "Vision On" art programme, fronted by the gifted and inspiring Tony Hart. In brief film clips he delighted and amused us [I used to watch the show in my student digs, with my landlady] 

Aardman went on to great things and win Oscars, and Nick Park [Wallace and Gromit creator] joined in 1985.
The girls loved Morph too - we had a Morph Bendy toy - but eventually his squishy rubbery skin perished and sharp wires protruded and he was reluctantly removed from the toybox.
Bleated best wishes - I hope you had a great birthday Morph! Thanks for all the years of laughter you've given!
Below is the video released by AA in celebration!