Foggy Street Scenes

Looming out of the fog is this abandoned old house. Its plaque informs us that it is dated from 1884 and named Clifford Place.Photo of empty building in fog

Incidentally, 1884 was the date of the Post Office Protection Act, part of which made it an offence to set fire to post boxes. Photo of post box in fog

Protection of Post Offices, Postal Packets, and Stamps.

Placing injurious substance in or against letter boxes.

3. A person shall not place or attempt to place in or against any post office letter box any fire, any match, any light, any explosive substance, any dangerous substance, any filth, any noxious or deleterious substance, or any fluid, and shall not commit a nuisance in or against any post office letter box, and shall not do or attempt to do anything likely to injure the box, appurtenances, or contents.

Any person who acts in contravention of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding ten pounds, and on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a period not exceeding twelve months.

You have been warned.

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St Nicholas’ Day

This comes a little late as the feast day of Saint Nicholas is on 6th December. However, I have just received some chocolates in the shape of St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet, from a friend in Belgium.Photo of chocolate St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet

St Nicholas was the bishop of Myra (in modern day Turkey) during the 4th century. There are various stories of him performing miracles during his lifetime, including saving a ship during a storm. He was renowned for his charitable works and secret gift giving and is the patron saint of sailors and children.  Saint Nikolaos was known as Sinterklaas in Dutch, which is just a hop, skip and a jump to Santa Claus.

Painting of Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas by Francesco Guardi [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is traditional to give gifts on St Nicholas’ Day in many countries and a lot of folklore has been built up around this event. St Nick is represented as an elderly gentleman with flowing beard and bishop’s robes, riding a white horse and carrying a book with lists of who has been good and who has not.

Illustration of Saint Nicholas

By Clara Bruins (Groot St. Nicolaasboek) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He is accompanied by Zwart Piet, a controversial figure. The pair were thought to represent night and day/light and dark/good and evil. Some suggest that the dark skinned Zwart Piet represented Spanish Moors, others that he was a chimney sweep. He is dressed in 16th century clothing and his role seems to be to beat naughty children while Sinterklaas hands out sweeties to good children.

Illustration of Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas as Santa Claus – By unknown, publisher is Fisher & Brother of Baltimore [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Protestant reformists abolished such frivolities as Saints’ feast days and gift giving, but the festivals remain in parts of Europe where Catholicism prevailed. St Nicholas is also highly revered by Eastern Orthodox Christians. However, he has clearly made a revival in many of the Christmas traditions we know today. Interestingly some people think that the St Nicholas traditions themselves can trace their origins to Pagan times. Similarities exist with the Pagan god Wodan/Odin who rode through the air on a white horse checking on whether people were behaving themselves or not.

Illustration of Odin riding Sleipnir

Odin – Lorenz Frølich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One ceremony performed on the Feast of St Nicholas was the ordaining of a Boy Bishop. The chosen boy would perform all of the ceremonies of the Bishop from 6th December until 28th December, Holy Innocents Day. In England this ceremony was abolished by Henry VIII in 1542. However, it was revived in my home town of Hereford in 1973 where Hereford Cathedral selects a Boy Bishop annually.Photo of Hereford Cathedral

Oddly enough, this whole train of research was started by my purchasing this cute ratty Christmas decoration from my friend in Belgium via her website, and her kind gift of some chocolate! Some of the proceeds of the sales of her adorable figurines go towards her rat rescue.Photo of rat decoration

Armistice Day

November 11th is Armistice Day, which marked the end of the First World War at the 11th hour. The following Sunday is known as Remembrance Sunday. Photo of WWI Bench

Paper poppies are sold by the Royal British Legion to fund their work supporting those who have served, and their families. They are worn as a mark of respect for the sacrifice made by those who serve.photo of remembrance poppy

Blood red poppies grew in the killing fields of World War I and are a poignant symbol of the bloodshed. It is always hoped that people will learn the lessons of history.Photo of field with poppies

Birch Polypore

This fabulous fungi growing on the fallen silver birch branch is a birch polypore, Piptoporus betulinus. It is a parasitic fungi that causes brown rot in birch trees, but continues to flourish after the poor tree has died.Photo of birch polypore

It is also known as the Razor Strop Fungus; barbers used to cut thin strips off this leathery fungus to make strops to sharpen their cut throat razors. It can also be used as tinder to start a fire with a spark, it will then smoulder and hold the flame. In the Scottish Highlands it was used to start the fires to celebrate the festival of Beltane (now May Day). Two pieces of this fungus were found on the body of Ötzi the Iceman, who died in the Alps 5,300 years ago. Poor Ötzi was found to be suffering from whipworm parasites, the birch polypore is now known to contain ketones, terpenes and aliphatic alcohols which can act as anti-inflammatories along with polyporenic acid which is apparently effective against intestinal worms. Clearly Ötzi had yet to complete his medicinal course before he met his end. Amongst its many other uses it also acts as food and home to many species of insect.Photo of birch polypore

Double Rainbow

The reward for the torrential rain yet again today was a double rainbow. I admit this is not the most glamourous setting for a double rainbow, but it will have to do.Photo of double rainbow

As you all know, a rainbow is created when sunlight hits raindrops, and the light as it passes through is refracted. Red light has a longer wavelength than blue light and so bends less. This is why rainbows always have a longer red band at the top and a shorter blue band at the bottom.A double rainbow is created when the light is reflected twice off the raindrops. The second reflection has less light so the second rainbow is dimmer as well as upside down.Photo of double rainbow

Painting of Richard III

1520 Portrait of Richard III. Unknown, British School [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the UK we remember the colours of the spectrum, or rainbow with the mnenomic, “Richard of York gave battle in vain” – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. This relates to the War of the Roses. The Yorkist Richard III lost the battle, and his life in 1485, to the Lancastrian Henry Tudor who became Henry VII. This saw the transition of the British monarchy from the Plantagenets to the Tudors. I presume that this mnenomic is not used in other parts of the world.

 

View from the Bridge

I have previously shown you the view from under Greyfriars Bridge, the “new” bridge that crosses the River Wye in Hereford.Photo of the underside of Greyfriars Bridge

Perhaps the view from the top of the bridge is more interesting, especially as the sun is setting over the River Wye and the steps of the rowing club.Photo of sunset over River Wye

If we zoom in we can just make out, in the dimming light and grain, the Hunderton Railway Bridge. This is an iron bridge built originally in 1854, then rebuilt in 1912. It was part of the line between Hereford, Abergavenny and Newport. Closed during the Beeching railway cuts in the 1960s, it is now a cycle and foot path.Photo of Hunderton Railway Bridge

Let’s have another look at the sunset, after all who doesn’t love a sunset?Photo of sunset

Looking over the other side of the bridge, Hereford Cathedral is beautifully burnished by the setting sun.Photo of Hereford Cathedral at sunset

Funny looking tree though.Photo of bendy tree and Hereford Cathedral

Victoria House

One of my early morning suburban strolls took me around the grounds of Victoria House in Hereford. A once fine building falling into dereliction.Photo of Victoria House

It was built in 1912 to accommodate the resident surgeon of the Victoria Eye Hospital. This hospital used to be next to it, but has sadly been closed and turned into residential accommodation. Victoria House was then used as an administrative centre for the local health authority. Several years ago they also moved out and the building has been left empty.Photo of Victoria House

There are plans to knock it down and build a retirement village or some such. However, many local people feel that it is an iconic and significant building. Although they failed to get it listed, they would prefer that the building be preserved and restored.Photo of Victoria House

A local school backs onto this building and they have objected to the planning proposals on the grounds that, “… if the site is developed as proposed it will back immediately onto an area within the school grounds that has been developed as an outdoor classroom and as a haven for wildlife. It highlights the importance of the area for improving children’s understanding of their environment .” I should imagine the bunny I encountered would agree!Photo of rabbitThe gulls also seem to have made a home in the chimneys.Photo of gull on chimney

I have also found that if you look for buddleia, you will find it.Photo of buddleiaOne last look while it still stands.Photo of Victoria House

View from the Bridge

Now that summer has arrived and the sun has made an appearance, I thought we should take another stroll down to the River Wye and admire the view from the Old Bridge. Don’t lean over too far!Photo of River Wye and arch of Old Bridge

The river banks are looking very green and bushy.Photo of River Wye in Hereford

On the left you can see Hereford Cathedral.Photo of Hereford Cathedral

Walking back into town there is an enticing little continental cafe with a rather natty advertising sign.Photo of bicycle decorated with flowers advertising a cafe

This is apparently also the site of Nell Gwynne’s old home. Hereford claims her as its own, but there seems to be no actual evidence for this. Nell was famously one of Charles II’s mistresses and bore him two sons. Photo of Nell Gwynne plaque

She seems to have started out rather unpromisingly as the daughter of a drunken “madame”. She managed to get herself into the orange selling trade at the London theatres before becoming an actress. It was quite a new fangled thing to have actresses in the seventeenth century; previously men had played all roles. This was where she caught the eye of the merry monarch, and they began an affair in 1668. Apparently the King’s dying wish was, “Let not poor Nelly starve,”. His brother, James II did indeed pay off Nell’s debts.

Portrait of Nell Gwynne

Portrait of Nell Gwynne – Peter Lely [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

She died three years after Charles, probably of syphilis, in 1687. She was renowned for her quick wit, Samuel Pepys referred to her as “pretty, witty Nell”. She is also credited with persuading the King to found the Chelsea Hospital for poor military veterans, now famous for the Chelsea Pensioners.

Photo of Chelsea Pensioners

Chelsea Pensioners – By Chelseapensioners (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hawthorn Blossom Reprise

The local hedgerows are a-glow with white fluffy clouds of hawthorn blossom, as though wearing 18th century powdered wigs. I thought I really must take some photographs for my readers. Photo of hawthorn blossom

Between thinking about it and actually doing it we had a thunderstorm with torrential rain. Most of the blossom has been knocked off, and what is left, looks a little bedraggled.Photo of hawthorn blossom

Painting of Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette: François-Hubert Drouais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By the way, powdered wigs ceased to be popular in Britain after a tax was levied on powder in 1795. Whereas the outrageously huge French poufs got the chop in 1798, not being quite so de rigueur after the French Revolution.

You might also like some of my previous posts: Hawthorn Blossom, Hawthorn Berries and Hawthorn Hybrid.

 

All the Fun of the Fair

Ah the sickly sweet smell of candy floss and fear; it must be the May Fair!Photo of Big Wheel Hereford May Fair

There has been a fair held in Hereford for over 900 years. It used to be known as St Ethelbert’s Fair and was run by the Bishop of Hereford. In 1838 control of the Fair was handed to the local authorities in exchange for twelve and a half bushels of wheat paid to the Bishop annually (I understand he is happy to accept a cash alternative these days).Photo of catapult ride Hereford May Fair

So for three days commencing on the Tuesday after the first Monday of May the civic buildings of the Town Hall, library and War memorial are cluttered by various stalls selling hot dogs, burgers and sweet treats, alongside traditional games such as hook-a-duck. Then there are the helter skelters, big wheels and the lunch lurching, retinal detaching catapult thingies.

There is just under five minutes of footage here at the British Pathé site of the May Fair in the 1920’s. The entertainment is more sedate and seems to be exclusively enjoyed by adults! It also looks to be pouring with rain.

Nosey Parker

Mrs Fancypants Squirrel is such a nosey parker. She came to watch me weeding the garden, as if that is such an unusual event!Photo of squirrel

The term “nosey parker” refers to anyone who sticks their nose into other people’s business. The first example of it in writing seems to be from 1890. London actress and sensation novelist, Mary Elizabeth Braddon began editing her own magazine, “Belgravia“. It was in the May 1890 edition that she wrote,

“You’re a askin’ too many questions for me, there’s too much of Mr. Nosey Parker about you, an’ I’d ‘ave you to know as I’m a laidee.”

I don’t have the full intriguing story so I don’t know if she is referring to a specific Mr Parker, or if perhaps she is referring to an overly inquisitive park keeper, who were known as “parkers”. No doubt the Victorian parker was the nemesis of many a courting couple.

Eignbrook Church

The church that I mentioned in “Backlit Clouds“, nestling between two pubs (bars) with the flowering cherry tree, is Eignbrook Church.Photo of Eignbrook Church

It is a Grade II listed building. Here are the details according to British Listed Buildings:

Mid C19. Yellow brick with dressed stone plinth, and
red brick to rear; Welsh slate gable roof. Dominant tripartite
window with cinquefoils, ringed shafts and lattice-leaded
lights under polychrome stone arches, and stone-coped
pediment, over buttressed porch with Corinthian pilasters to
moulded polychrome arch; oak doors in moulded arch; to right,
entrance with cinquefoil rose window, over, in projecting wing
with hipped roof; to left, entrance, to tower with light,
ashlar detailing and clerestory to spire, with further lights
to left side. Body of Church has 5, 2-light stone mullion
windows, with lattice-leaded glazing, under brick relieving
arches. To rear, apse with trefoil lights in stone arches,
under trefoil rose-window; lean-to to left and right.Photo of side and back of Eignbrook Church

A quick Google search shows that it belongs to the United Reformed Church. This was formed in 1972 by a merger between the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales, and then later with the Re-formed Association of Churches of Christ and the Congregational Union of Scotland. I quite often see people there who look very much down on their luck, so I presume that this church does good practical work in the community. I must also commend their gardener; what with the cherry tree, magnolia and fuscias it always looks blooming lovely.Photo of front of Eignbrook Church

St George and the Dragon

April 23rd is St George’s Day. He is the patron saint of England as well as Bosnia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and many cities across the world (Eastern Orthodox churches, using the Gregorian calendar celebrate on 6th May).

Photo of dragon ornament

This is my tame (but hot to handle) Welsh dragon – he does not need slaying!

Russian WWI poster of St George

Russian WWI poster – Mykola Samokysh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

St George was an important figure for the 12th century Crusaders, his emblem of a red cross on a white background was adopted as the flag of England during this time. In the 1300s Edward III put his Order of the Garter under the banner of St George. During the 15th century his feast day was celebrated by compulsory church attendance and a prohibition of work. The importance of St George’s Day has waned since the 18th century, after the union with Scotland in 1706 created the United Kingdom. The English are much more reticent to celebrate their nation than the Irish, Scottish or Welsh. Perhaps wary of nationalism after two World Wars, the Balkan conflicts and the wars amongst former Soviet Union countries, not to mention the near break up of the UK after last year’s Scottish independence referendum. Sadly the symbols of England and St George have all too often been appropriated by right wing, rascist nationalist organisations. Fortunately this seems to be starting to change and people of all races and religions are finding the confidence to be English within a United Kingdom.

So who was St George anyway? He was born around 280 AD to a Greek Christian family in the Middle East, controlled by the Roman Empire.

Painting of St George slaying dragon

By K1959x (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

He followed his father and joined the Roman Army, serving the Emperor Diocletian. This pagan emperor was getting paranoid about the increasing influence of Christianity and ordered the execution of all Christian soldiers. Holding George in high regard he attempted to convert him and tried to persuade him to make offerings to the Roman gods. However, George refused to recant his Christianity, even after torture, and was beheaded. However, he did manage to convert Alexandra, Diocletian’s wife to Christianity. She swiftly followed him to martyrdom!

So where does the dragon slaying come from? This seems to be a legend from the Middle East, brought back by Crusaders. Apparently a city had the misfortune to have a dragon that lived in their only water source. The only way to get water was to appease the dragon with a sheep to eat. When they ran out of sheep the sacrificial offering inevitably became maidens, drawn by lots. One day it was the bad luck of the daughter of the king. In a remarkable turn of fortune St George happened to be passing as she was being offered to the dragon. George slayed the dragon, rescued the princess, converted the city to Christianity and saved the day.

Icon of St George slaying dragon

By nun Agathe Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Art from all over the world depicts St George slaying a dragon as a maiden looks on. This is of course metaphorical; the dragon represents Satan and the maiden is the Empress Alexandra saved from Paganism.

By a serendipitous coincidence April 23rd is considered the birth date of William Shakespeare, it is also thought to be the day he died 400 years ago (1616). It seems apposite to leave you with a quote from his play, “Henry V”; the rallying cry prior to the battle of Agincourt:

“Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

1879 And All That

It is a little known fact (because it isn’t true) that Victorian house builders added a different totemic animal to their houses for each year. This is why you see grand Victorian houses resplendent with fabulous peacocks, majestic lions and fantastical phoenixes. Sadly, in 1879 it was the turn of the pigeon.Photo of pigeon on roof

While the finishing touches were being made to this house in 1879, ready for this pigeon to perch upon, other stuff was happening: The British/Zulu Wars with the famous battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift;  saccharin was discovered; the first patent for a gasoline driven automobile was filed;  the first railroad opened in Hawaii; British troops occupy Kabul, Afghanistan; the US Congress allows women lawyers in the Supreme Court; Albert Einstein is born. Changes were afoot!

Old Sign in HDR

I thought the air of dereliction surrounding this old sign next to an ivy clad water tank lended itself to an HDR photograph.Photo of enamel advertising sign

HDR stands for “high dynamic range”. Put very basically it increases the differences between the light and the dark bits and reveals more details. I used the auto exposure bracketing (AEB) feature on the camera (attached to a tripod) to take three photographs of different exposures. I then merged these three photos using software called Photomatix Essentials and fiddled with the settings to pop the reds and greens.

The enamel sign seems to be from the 1920s or 1930s, advertising shag tobacco. This is loose tobacco rather than ready made cigarettes. I don’t need to tell you to disobey the sign. Please don’t smoke tobacco, it is very injurious to your health! The only reference I can find to a company called Stansfield, dealing in tobacco, is in a book referring to a shag price fixing deal in 1792 – James Stanfield & Co of Bristol. Many companies in the port cities of Bristol and Liverpool made vast sums of money importing goods such as tobacco and sugar from the Americas, exploiting slave labour.

Polish Shop Signs

There have been a few Polish shops popping up in Hereford in recent years. Apart from the unfamiliar products and packaging, the most notable thing about them to my mind is their penchant for cute signs.

Painting of raspberries in basket

Sarah Miriam Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With the advent of polytunnels the local farming industry is now more intensive with longer growing seasons. Eastern Europeans, particularly Poles, make up a large part of this agricultural labour force. Many Eastern European states joined the EU in 2004 which allows for the free movement of labour. Many also work in skilled jobs such as plumbing and carpentry. Many, many years ago I did a stint of fruit picking and the labour force was mostly made up of students, housewives and travelling folk. One of these travelling folk was sacked for putting rotten raspberries at the bottom of her punnets. She cursed the farm manager with rain that would ruin his crop. Sure enough, the next day torrential rain meant that the raspberries we picked were only good for jam making. I suspect she had been listening to the weather forecast on her transistor radio.

Photo of WW2 Hurricane

“126 Adolfs” – German aeroplanes shot down by No. 303 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Painted on a Hurricane, via Wikimedia Commons

Hereford already had a significant Polish community. In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland bringing the UK into World War II. Many Polish servicemen managed to escape to Britain where they served in the Free Polish Forces. The Polish aircrews were the second largest contingent (after the British) to fight in the Battle of Britain, the decisive campaign that ended Hitler’s ambitions to invade Britain. After helping to liberate Europe from Nazi fascism, these Poles then saw their country consumed by Stalin’s brutal communism and many elected to settle in the UK. As well as there being an RAF (Royal Air Force) base in Hereford, there was also a resettlement camp set up in Foxly, Herefordshire for Polish military personnel and their families many of whom made new lives for themselves in Herefordshire.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Photo of daffodilHappy St David’s Day, or as the Welsh would say, “Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!”

The 1st March is St David’s Day, he is the patron saint of Wales. He was born in Cardigan (a place in Wales, not the knitted outerwear) around 500AD. He travelled extensively as a pilgrim and ended up becoming the Archbishop of Jerusalem. His monasteries were renowned for being sparse and harsh. His monks rebelled and attempted to poison him, but he miraculously lived. Or maybe they got the dosage wrong! He did eventually die in 569AD on 1st March. He is buried at St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire, 2 pilgrimages there are said to equal 1 to the Vatican.

Photo of daffodilIt is traditional to wear a leek on St David’s Day, as he told Welsh warriors to wear leeks when they fought the Saxons, so that they could tell who was who. The Welsh won the battle. During his last sermon he urged his followers to “… do the little things …”.

In more recent times people have chosen to wear a daffodil, the national symbol of Wales, rather than St David’s personal symbol the leek, unsurprisingly.Photo of daffodils

You can read more about daffodils in my previous post, Blooming Narcissists. I shall leave you with the last verse of William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud“.

“For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.”

Happy Leap Day

Today, February 29th 2016, is an extra day for it is a “Leap Year”. My infrared camera trap caught a squirrel leaping for joy at the extra day, or maybe it was because she found some peanuts.

Every 4 years we have to add an extra day to the Gregorian calendar to catch up with the Earth’s revolution around the sun, which takes 365 days and 6 hours. On Leap Day, women are allowed to propose to men (traditionally it wasn’t the done thing otherwise). If the man refuses then he has to buy the lady 12 pairs of gloves. It seems that this all started in the 5th Century when St Bridget complained to St Patrick that men took too long to ask women to marry them, so he allowed women to do the prompting every 4 years. More worryingly, there is some debate as to whether people are working the extra day for no pay!

St Ethelbert’s Well

Actually, St Ethelbert isn’t well; in fact he’s been dead since 794. This is a holy well dedicated to St Ethelbert.Photo of St Ethelbert's Well

Ethelbert became king of East Anglia around 779. He travelled to the kingdom of Mercia to marry the daughter of King Offa of Mercia, albeit reluctantly.

Photo of coin of Ethelbert

One of the three known coins of Æthelberht II, King of the East Angles
By PHGCOM [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He had a sense of foreboding due to visions, a solar eclipse and an earthquake. King Offa turned out to be the future father-in-law from Hell. Whilst a guest at Offa’s palace at Sutton Walls fort (just north of Hereford) Ethelbert was restrained and beheaded on Offa’s orders, by a chap called Grimbert. It is said that Ethelbert’s severed head tumbled off a cart and cured a man of blindness. The road to canonisation and sainthood had begun.

The site of his well, near to the Castle Green, is said to be where his body was rested on the way to Hereford Cathedral. It has undergone several makeovers over the centuries. The exceedingly worn carving at the top is of a king’s head, but it is not known if it actually represents Ethelbert. It has been dated to the 14th century and probably came from the Cathedral. This was when the canopy was built over the well. The earliest reference to the well itself is 1250. It was cleaned out during the 1800’s and a vast quantity of pins were found. Presumably pilgrims dropped pins into the well in the hope of being cured from ailments. The modern frontage dates from 1904. It was a public drinking fountain until 2000.