The Wonderful Flowers of Mary Delany or Age is no Impediment to Art

This week’s Charli Mills’ prompt is; in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fingers that fly.

So an historical tale about a delightful lady;

Mary Delany

“That’s beautiful my dear”

The girl placed the flower beside the old lady, her great grandmother’s dear friend

“Look, it’s the same colour.” She held a coloured paper beside the geranium.

“I wonder?” she mused, the little girl watched entranced as Mary Delany’s fingers flew over the paper, cutting and trimming, then other little bits of paper were expertly added. To her amazement a perfect paper flower grew in front of her, just like the real one.
The old lady smiled gently, admiring her flower, the most multi-talented artist of the eighteenth century had just invented a new art form.

Believe it or not this picture is made of pieces of coloured paper

This is the story that the delightful Mary Delany (1700-1788) told about how she invented her ‘paper mosaics’ of flowers. She was seventy-one when she first created her wonderful flowers, at the time they made her famous and now they are rightly one of the treasures of the British Museum.

 

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Carrot Cake or A Bloggers Dilemma

This week’s prompt from Charli at the Carrot Ranch is;

March 16, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about carrot cake. It can be classic or unusual. Why is there cake? How does it feature in the story. Go where the prompt leads.

Now readers of my blogs know that, as far as these challenges are concerned, I tend to go for an historical take. But this prompt gave me a great deal of difficulty, for Carrot cake is not an old variety of cake, it is very modern being first recorded in the early twentieth century (1903 to be precise). So what was I to do, clearly I had to mix carrots with another sort of cake, in this case a phrase (also modern, dating from 1538 – I am an archaeologist and for us modern, technically early modern begins in 1485). Hope you like it. In case you’re wondering the speakers are talking in Dutch.

Some old varieties of carrots.

Carrot Cake

 

“People lost so much money with those Tulips, no one is going to want to invest in a plant again.”

“But this is different.”

“Forget it, you can’t have your cake and eat it, as the English say.”

“But you can eat it, it’s delicious.”

The banker looked up, the gardener continued.

“What’s the full name of our king?”

“William of Orange.” The banker replied, puzzled.

He pulled a cloth off his basket, inside were carrots, not white or purple, but orange.

“A patriotic vegetable – we will certainly have our cake and eat it, we will make a fortune!”

 

Originally carrots came in a whole range of colours, then, in the late seventeenth century Dutch plant breeders developed the orange variety we have to day. It caught on because the colour was linked to the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Orange

 

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A Balloon Tragedy – The First Air Accident

This week’s prompt from Charli at the Carrot Ranch is

March 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a balloon. It can be a party balloon or a hot air balloon. How does it add to your story? Go where the prompt leads.

 

As readers of my blog will realise, I am fascinated by the early history of flight, so could hardly pass on this prompt. However instead of an inspiring, or amusing, tale, I have decided to retell the story of the first air accident and it’s tragic aftermath.

V0040874 A hot-air balloon in flight with a fire burning. Coloured en

“I’m frightened.” She looked up at the strange shaped balloon, rising over Calais.

“Don’t worry, he is the most experienced balloonist in the world.”

“But to risk everything, especially now.” Her hands moved automatically to her swelling belly.

Then above, in terrible silence, the balloon seemed to break apart.

She cried out and collapsed, by the time they found his body she, and her unborn child, had died.

The death of the first man to fly, in the first fatal air accident, had destroyed his entire family.

From now on the pioneers could not dismiss the dangers they faced.

 

Terrible and true, Pilâtre de Rozier had made the first flight in a balloon on November 21st 1783. On June 15th 1785 whist trying to cross the English Channel his balloon broke up in flight and he became the first man to be killed in an air accident. His death was witnessed by his pregnant fiancée who died shortly afterwards.

 

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The Village Snowbound – The Marlpit Oak Gibbet

A little while ago my brother posted one of our father’s poems, illustrated with some recent photographs, I have decided to do something similar, as our village is snowbound like the village in the poem – there the similarity ends – I hope!

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The Marlpit Oak Gibbet

 

For many years, according to an old New Forest Legend, there stood at the crossroads, known as Marlpit Oak, on the high plain between Sway and Brockenhurst, a great double-armed gibbet. Visible for miles around, and frequently bearing a grisly load, it must have been a fearful sight, brooding over the remote and lonely countryside. It was, therefore, a matter of widespread satisfaction when, in the early part of the nineteenth century, the gibbet was at last demolished.

However, superstition was very powerful in those far-off days and strange stories soon began to circulate among the Forest people.

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When I was young and not long from school
Like all braggart youth I was brazen and brave,
And I laughed him to scorn and called him a fool
Who spoke of the dead that returned from the grave.

 

‘When they are dead, they are dead -so much mouldering day’
‘And he who says not is drunk or insane!’
And the wager seemed nought in the bright light of day
To spend that night, alone, by the knoll on the plain.

 

By the time evening came and the winter sun set
In a great blood-red glow over Wilverley Hill,
Every soul in the village had heard of the bet,
And my arrogant heart had felt the first chill.

 

For I knew the story, like all of us there,
Of the Marlpit Oak Gibbet which, many years gone,
Had stood, high and grim, in the very place where
I’d boasted I’d spend the whole night alone.

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A hillock of bare earth is all that remains
Standing just a few yards from the well-trodden way
Which, crossing the miles of gorse-covered plain,
Brings the traveller at last to the village of Sway.

 

Even in Spring, when the moorland glows gold,
And the warm-scented furze calls the foraging bees,
The ground at this place stays mortally cold
And no skylark nests here, no pony takes ease.

 

No sun-loving lizard, no close-crouching hare,
No adder, loose-coiled, seeks this chilly mound.
No beast of the Forest, no bird of the air,
No grass, gorse or heather, is here to be found.

 

And a tale was told by the old men of Sway
Of a travelling merchant who would not take heed,
Who had to reach Lyndhurst by early next day
And who swore his two pistols were all that he’d need.

 

They said he was found with his hair turned quite white,
Eyes fixed and staring, and mouth open wide,
Silently screaming at some ghastly sight,
And no mark on his body to show how he died.

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Just tales? Superstitions of foolish old men?
But my heart filled with terror that pride would not show,
And I drank deep and waited the dread moment when
Someone would say it was time now to go.

 

Too soon came the moment, and into the night
Drunken and singing we lurched through the snow,
All close round the lantern, whose pale yellow light
In the menacing darkness cast scarcely a glow.

 

And I sung the loudest of all of us there,
And shouted with laughter at each feeble jest,
And I threw out the challenge that I didn’t care
If the Devil himself came -I’d soon give him best!

 

And then we were there, and the merriment died
As, suddenly sober, we stood in the snow,
But still I obeyed my obstinate pride
And in confident tones urged the others to go.

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The sound of their voices died quickly away,
The gleam of the lantern was soon lost to Sight,
As they hurried thankfully back home to Sway,
To bolt cottage doors and to shut out the night.

 

The air, when the snow stopped, was bitterly cold,
The darkness intense, the stillness profound,
And the whole world was silent as, no longer bold,
I fearfully stood by the old Gibbet mound.

 

Trembling, I looked to the left and the right,
While the terrible cold froze me through to the bone,
Then I suddenly knew, though no soul was in sight,
That, beyond any doubt, I was not alone!

 

How can I describe that unreasoning fear,
That primitive terror no thought can prevent,
Of knowing that someone, or something, was near,
And directing at me its evil intent.

 

Filled with blind panic, I turned and I fled,
Stumbling and sobbing and cursing the night,
Until, just as my strength was beginning to ebb,
Far ahead I discerned a faint glimmer of light.

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Faltering now, and filled with despair,
Like a desperate fox hunted over the moor,
Heart beating wildly, and gasping for air,
I staggered at last to the furze-cutter’s door.

 

Exhausted, defeated, I sank to my knees,
A pitiful, tremulous, cowering wreck.
And then, with infinite horror, I felt
Long bony fingers encircling my neck.

 

I remember no more -I fainted away
With that fearful pressure unbearably tight,
And they say that I lay there, half-dead, half-alive,
Till the furze-cutter came in the grey morning light.

 

I’m told that for weeks I was kept to my bed,
Mumbling and muttering and never quite sane,
Then at last came the Spring, and with it my strength,
And I became part of the village again.

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But the fear has remained, throughout my long life,
And I sometimes awake in the depths of the night
And though it be Summer my blood turns to ice,
And I cry out in terror as reason takes flight.

 

I was only a boy but my memory stays clear
Of that dreadful night, now so far and remote.
But you don’t believe me? Then what is this scar,
This ring of dead flesh like a noose round my throat?

 

And who among you, on this black Winter night,
When the fog is so thick and the village snowbound,
Will go out from his house, leave the fire and the light,
And keep vigil, alone, by the old gibbet mound?

 

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Upcycling A La Ronde

In a previous blog I described the amazing house at A La Ronde, that ‘temple to female ingenuity’, and the wonderful craft work of the Parminter ladies. At the time I wrote that, ‘there is plenty of further inspiration to be found at A La Ronde, perhaps I will try something else in the future.’

Looking through the National Trust catalogue of the objects preserved at A La Ronde I found these two bough pots. A bough pot is a type of flower vase that displays flowers individually, not in a bunch. They were usually made of china, and were very decorative, but these are not china, they are tin!

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Tin (or rather tinned iron) was, and indeed is, a material used for making a range of objects, in this case semi-circular boxes with holes punched in the top to take the stems of the flowers. The tin would protect the iron from rusting so the container could be filled with water to keep the flowers fresh. The bough pots have been decorated with coloured paper, doubtless by one of the Misses Parminter.

These naturally inspired me to try and create something similar. So I found an old biscuit tin and drilled holes in the top.

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This was then painted and decorated with coloured paper. A high quality wrapping paper with a design reminiscent of Georgian wallpaper was used. Then the tin was half filled with water and used to display daffodils for St David’s Day.

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The Parminter ladies would certainly have approved.

 

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Charity begins at Home, Sweet Home or A Regency Music Collection

Readers of my blog will know that I am an enthusiastic explorer of Charity Shops, having made several very interesting discoveries in them. Yesterday was, perhaps, my best days hunting so far. I had stopped in Bridport, after a mornings exploration of several churches, with the intention of buying a pasty for lunch. Walking up the High Street towards the bakers I passed the Sue Ryder shop, glancing in I was delighted to find an original fashion plate of 1818. Very happy with this purchase I debated with myself whether to enter the Oxfam shop or not. Fortunately I did.

Lying on a shelf was a battered volume with a card label ‘Ancient Sheet Music £5”, I idly opened it expecting a collection of, at best, Victorian parlour songs. Immediately I knew it was much more interesting, the paper was soft linen paper, the ink brown with age (and because it was made with oak gall), the title pages printed from copper plates. It was what the label had said, a collection of individual printed pieces of music, songs, dances and instrumental pieces mostly for the piano, though a few were for the harp. None were dated though the dedications gave clues. There were references to the Duke of Clarence (who became William IV in 1830) and the Duchess of Kent, but no Duke he died in 1820. Then I saw one of the most infamous pieces of music of the period, naturally I didn’t hesitate but bought the book straight away. I never got a pasty as I wanted to head home and examine my prize in more detail.

 

The book is a large quarto volume, not in very good condition at the front cover is detached. It contains 54 separate items, each with an elaborate title page. It was an expensive collection as none of the music sheets were cheap, some are priced, and the prices range from 1/6 to 5 shillings (a farm labourers weekly wage was 7 shillings).

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On the front is a label, Susanna Buck, who was the original owner. Miss Buck seems to have begun the collection when she was at school, as one sheet has the faint pencil inscription Mrs Waterhouse’s School – Music Prize – Miss Buck clearly she was a talented girl. Other pieces also bear Miss Buck’s name, I suspect that these may have been lent to her friends to copy, because of the cost it was normal to exchange music in this fashion. The volume was bound in Burnley, according to a paper label stuck in the back, so perhaps Susanna was a Lancastrian, other than that I can find no more about her from the book.

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The collection begins with songs, old and new, older ones by Dr Arne as well as modern examples such as Home! Sweet Home! which was written in 1823.

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Then there are a series of instrumental pieces, works by Mozart and Rossini to versions of songs such as Old Lang Syne.

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These are followed by a series of dances, all described as ‘New’ or ‘The Latest’, which doubtless gave Miss Buck and her friend a great deal of pleasure.

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Then tucked in the back is a piano manual, full of exercises, which this talented young lady may have used when she began to play.

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This collection is typical of those that were made by musical people and families in the early nineteenth century. As musical tastes changed they fell out of use and it is rare for them to survive. I was therefore delighted to add the volume to my collections illustrating Georgian and Regency life.

 

Now at the beginning of the piece I mentioned that one piece was very notorious, this one, The Battle of Prague

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The piece was very popular, it depicts a fictitious battle in which the various armies Prussian, Austrian, English and Turkish are all depicted in different styles which gives a skilled pianist a great opportunity to show their skill. What is unusual at this time is for the name of the composer, Frantisek Kotzwara (František Kocžwara ) to appear on the music. He was a Czech composer, and while his life wasn’t particularly scandalous, his death was.

 

In 1791 he visited a prostitute Susanna Hill, and after a heavy drinking session tied a ligature around his neck to ‘raise his passion’ – afterwards – he was dead! Susanna Hill was tried for his murder, and acquitted, both judge and jury believing her story that his death was accidental. The judge tried to suppress any account of his death as he feared it might encourage copycats, but one was published, and his death is now regarded as the first known case of auto-erotic asphyxiation.

 

And all that from a remarkable find in the Oxfam charity shop in a small Dorset town.

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They don’t write them like they used to – Christmas Crackers

On top of a cupboard, in my father-in-law’s house, my wife found a box containing a mix of old crackers. We had used them as Christmas decorations then, at New Year, we decided to pull them. Three were unremarkable but the one I pulled, had a rather unusual joke in it.

Cracker joke

The cracker had been unremarkable, made of red and green crepe paper, but when on earth did it date from? It certainly isn’t modern, a joke like that would have amused Bertie Wooster. 

 

All that can be said is – They don’t write them like that today.

 

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