Saturday, 13 October 2018

My Word! Feghoots!

"The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain." Well, it's certainly doing so with a vengeance at the moment. Hold that original idea (the Elocutioner's Song from My Fair Lady?) for we shall make an approximate return to it later. You're possibly wondering "what's this all about?" I would be, in your boots. The answer is  feghoots!.

Let's start, dear reader, with a bit of derivation. A feghoot is simply a poetic jest, a humorous short story ending with a pun. I thought a few blogs of an amusing nature would be go down well in the week of World Mental Health Day - laughter being a priceless medicine. The feghoot was originated (and named) by the American science-fiction writer Reg Bretnor who wrote a series of shaggy-dog sci-fi tales known collectively as 'Through Time And Space With Ferdinand Feghoot.' Young Mr Feghoot apparently travelled through all dimensions as a trouble-shooter on behalf of the Society For The Aesthetic Re-Arrangement Of History. Now there's a job! His bizarre adventure stories, often only a few paragraphs long, always ended with a deliberately terrible pun based on a well-known phrase. Do you begin to see where this might be going?

Actually, I've never read any of Bretnor's Ferdinand Feghoot japes, but I did as a child enjoy listening to the radio panel show My Word! which always ended with an extemporaneous feghoot from team captains Frank Muir and Denis Norden. Each would be given a well-known phrase at the beginning of the show and at the end would have to tell a tall tale culminating appropriately in a punning rewrite of the given phrase. The fact that I still remember some of them fifty years on must be testament to the pair's ingenuity and mastery of story-telling.

By way of illustration, I'll recast as best I can one example here. The given phrase was "Where there's a will, there's a way." The resulting feghoot might have unfolded somewhat as follows:

An over-wrought cinema proprietor was standing outside the Sydenham Scala on a sunny Friday afternoon, prodding his odd-job man accusingly and gesticulating up to the light-box than ran above the width of the foyer. It read in letters two feet high: SHOWING TONIGHT  -  MOB   DICK
"I can't have that up there like that," said the proprietor. "What on earth will people think?"
The affronted odd-job man shrugged hopelessly and replied "I'm sorry Mr Blinkhorn. When I opened up the crate they sent with the film and the posters and titles and all, well there was one letter missing. I checked twice. Not there. What else could I do sir?"
"You could have come and found me for a start Bodger, before proceeding."
"I'm sorry sir. You were showing the new usherette the ropes and it looked like you didn't want to be interrupted."
"Yes very well, but we can't leave it up there like that. You'll have to fettle a temporary stand-in for tonight. I'll get onto the distributor to send a replacement in the morning.  You'd better get that dick down first and then go to the art shop for materials. Strong red card or something."
"It's closed, sir. Shuts at noon on a Friday sir."
"Damn and blast the inconvenience of it, Bodger. What do you suggest then? You're the odd-job man. By the way, no need to mention the usherette business to Mrs Blinkhorn."
Bodger shifted uneasily from one foot to the other before replying.
"Couldn't we just leave it as it is for one night sir and trust to people's intelligence to sort of fill in the gap? Surely sir, everybody knows that where there's a whale there's a Y."

I found the conceit both clever and entertaining as a thirteen year-old. Some might say I've not travelled very far since! Or course I've liberally re-written Frank's (or was it Denis') script, but what the heck? We're all in cahoots when it comes to feghoots.

Right then. To round out today's blog I'm going to attempt the feghoot as "poetic jest" in its simplest form; actually a double-hoot - don't ever say I don't give value for money :-) None of the customary preamble then, just the poem as pun in tribute to one of my favourite visual artists, the creative conduit and "wild beast" that was Andre Derain (1880-1954). Here's a selfie of M. Derain in his studio circa 1905 as he contemplated launching the Fauvist movement upon an unsuspecting world - vibrant post-impressionist canvasses in bold, vivid, unnatural combinations of colours. He was just doing what he had to do. Of course the critics thought he'd gone mad.

Piece Of Mind
The brain, inflamed,
flails madly to explain...
Derain 'insane'
feels mainly others' pain.

That's all folks. Thanks for reading. Stay grounded and have a good week, S ;-)

Thursday, 11 October 2018

A Feghoot by any other name ...

15:28:00 Posted by Adele Robinson , 1 comment
I have to admit that when I read that this week's blog theme is Feghoots, I had no idea what it meant.

Naturally I did some research and to my amazement, I realised that I actually have a stock pair of feghoots in my comedy repertoire. Who would have guessed that these two tall tales that dwelt in my cluttered brain for over forty years, nameless and uncelebrated, are actually feghoots? At last they can be brought back into the spotlight where they belong.

Feghoot One
A long time ago, a Romanian Count, thought to be a spy,  was captured by the Russians. He was taken to a dark dungeon and tortured for days but refused to give up his secrets.

Finally, his Russian interrogators told him that they would cut off his head. He was put on the block and told that if he did not agree to give up his secrets before they counted to three, he would die.

They counted one … no response. Two … no response. Then just as they reached three, the Count shouted, "Alright, I will tell." Unfortunately the axe was already falling and his head was cut off.

Of course - they should have remembered the proverb:

 "Don't hatchet your counts before they chicken." 

Feghoot Two
During World War II, a brave Russian spy was given a daring assignment, to parachute behind enemy lines to rendezvous with a shepherd who would take her to meet with the French Resistance fighters. It was hoped that with better training and weapons that the French would be able to undermine the German occupation of their country.

Under cover of darkness, the small Russian plane flew over the French countryside and the brave Russian woman jumped out.  Unfortunately she was never heard of again!

Of course - they should have remembered the proverb:

"Red spy at night  - shepherd's delight."

Thanks for reading, Adele.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Feghoots - A Pink Elephant and a Water Bottle

This is not my own work, though I wish it was. I consider it to be well thought out and clever, and when I first heard it, some years ago, I couldn't stop laughing. Forgive me if I'm repeating something you readers already know. If, by any chance it is new to you, I hope you find it amusing.

"A frog goes into a bank and approaches the teller. He can see from her nameplate that her name is Patricia Whack.

"Miss Whack, I'd like to get a $30000 loan to take a holiday."

Patty looks at the frog in disbelief and asks his name. The frog says his name is Kermit Jagger, his dad is Mick Jagger, and that it's OK, he knows the bank manager. Patty explains that he will need to secure the loan with some collateral.

The frog says, "Sure. I have this," and produces a tiny porcelain elephant, about half an inch tall - bright pink and perfectly formed.

Very confused, Patty explains that she'll have to consult with the bank manager and disappears into a back office. She finds the manager and says, "There's a frog called Kermit Jagger out there who claims to know you and wants to borrow $30000, and he wants to use this as collateral."

She holds up the tiny pink elephant.

"I mean, what in the world is this?"

The bank manager looks back at her and says, "It's a knick-knack, Patty Whack, give the frog a loan. His old man's a Rolling Stone." "
And another, again not my own work. I found this hilarious.
The Lord of the manor had a butler named Wibble. One day he called Wibble and said, "What about running my bath, Wibble?"

"Certainly, Sir," replied Wibble. "Will there be anything else my lord?"

"Yes, Wibble, what about my dressing gown."

"Certainly, Sir. Will there be anything else my lord?"

"Yes, Wibble, what about my carpet slippers."

"Certainly, Sir, will there be anything else my lord?"

"No, Wibble. If I require anything else I shall call you."

With that, the old lord lowered himself into the water and let go a long, loud fart. Five minutes later, Wibble returned with a hot water bottle on a silver tray.

"Here you are, my lord, your hot water bottle."

"I never asked for that," said his lordship.

Wibble replied, "But you did, my lord. As you lowered yourself into the bath, I distinctly heard you say, "Whadabowdawadderboddlewibble."

I hope these examples can be classed as Feghoots. In any case, I hope they have made you smile or even laugh out loud.
No poem today. Nothing could possibly complement.

Thanks for reading, Pam x



Saturday, 6 October 2018

A Fine Pear

It falls to the Saturday Blogger to round out a week of fruit-themed posts and I'm feeling particularly autumnal tonight, so figured I would 'big up' the oft-overlooked pear. It's ripe for reappraisal...

Although it is habitually relegated to second place behind the apple (lower on the stairs, so to speak), there is a good case for arguing that 'a pear a day' will do you more good than its more famous cousin; (not that they are closely related, but they are both members of the plant family Rosaceae - yep,  roses believe it or not).

Here's what is so good about pears. Firstly they are hypoallergenic. Fewer people have an adverse reaction to pears than to just about any other fruit, which is why pear is commonly found in baby-foods and why it is often the first fruit that infants are exposed to. Pears are also high in dietary fibre (especially the skin) and one pear a day will provide all the fibre a person needs to maintain a healthy digestive system and to lower bad cholesterol levels. Next they are low in both calories and carbohydrates and low on the glycemic index, so are great for diabetics or anyone needing to keep their blood sugar levels low. In addition they are full of anti-oxidants like vitamin C and copper; also vitamin B complex, E and K all of which boost the immune system, boron which helps the body retain calcium and counter osteoporosis and phytonutrients like beta-carotene and lutein which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Given all of those health benefits, it's not hard to understand why the miraculous pear came to symbolise immortality in ancient China.

What is more difficult to account for is the marked ascendancy of the apple over the sumptuous pear.

Is it simply because apples are hardier and longer-lasting, (not given to bruising and rotting so quickly)? Is it because pears are messier to eat? I suspect both to be major factors. In my opinion, however, there is nothing finer than a just-ripe pear sliced and accompanied by a little cheese. Mouth-watering (and healthy).

Nowadays, like so much else, the vast majority of the world's pear production is centred on China - a quite staggering 80% (that's over 20 million tons of pears annually), with Argentina (at slightly under 1 million tons) a distant second. Of course, most of the pears consumed in Europe are grown within the EU (Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and France in descending order of tonnage - and the UK doesn't even feature on the list).

Given the predominance of China as a pear producer and given the rapidly rising levels of pollution in that country as it heaves itself to the top of the world's table of industrialised nations, I began to speculate about what might happen to its vast orchards as the problem of climate change escalates - widespread air pollution, a ravaged bee population (with a nod to last week's blog), smog-filled skies through which the sun rarely penetrates and frequent dousing of acid rain - not a great environment for growing fruit!

In keeping with the conceptual pun of the blog's title, I offer you two poems this week. The first is posted as confirmation (for those who doubted it after my somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog about the Romantics a few weeks ago) that I really do like the poetry of John Keats, (Keatsy to his mates). It paints a rich picture of a harmonious and untainted natural world. The second, per my dystopian musings above, is the latest bitter fruit of my own tree. I hope you will enjoy both and maybe muse about the changes that 200 years of messing with the planet have wrought (progress at what price?)

To Autumn
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, late flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor.
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep
  Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
  And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wilful choir the small gnats mourn
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
  And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden croft;
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
                                                         John Keats (1819)

Perry Groves
Before this latest revolution
turned the natural order
upside down, these orchards,
framed since ancient Cathay days,
would fill the fruit bowl of the world
with golden pears to spare,
ripe with the juice of immortality.

Now sunshine rarely penetrates
vast layerings of toxic smog,
so serried rows of stunted trees
struggle perennially to put forth
their show of snow in spring,
and decimated colonies of bees
are labouring against the odds
on ravaged wing to do their thing,
while caustic rains
have blighted leaf and limb
in every fast-declining perry grove.

the harvest of man's immorality,
for paradoxically
nothing is pear-shaped anymore
and suddenly everything is.

As a bonus, here's a hyper-linked musical mood-piece redolent of the time of the season, courtesy of Pink Floyd:  Fat Old Sun

Thanks for reading - this blog counts as one of your five-a-day, S ;-)

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Three Oranges, One Apple, Some Peaches and Half a Melon

22:47:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography 3 comments
I love fruit, I always have done, but I did wonder how I could actually stretch my love of fruit to fill a full blog post.  Then I realised I had at least four very vivid memories of fruity experiences, evoking strong but varying emotions.  I've recorded them in chronological order - I wouldn't normally mention my age after about twenty five, but for the sake of continuity I made an exception to the rule for the final scenario. 


I am three or four, standing on a stool in the kitchen, watching mum peel oranges.  

They are still quite scarce - it's not been long since rationing ended.  She slices them thinly, places the slices in five small dishes and sprinkles with sugar.  I'm not sure why oranges needed sweetening in those days but I can still taste the tang of the fruit and feel the crunch of the granules. The grand finale, all flesh devoured, I am allowed to tip the bowl and drink the juice.  My happiness is complete.


I am five and just home from school. 

I’m tired and hungry, and gazing longingly at the fruit bowl. Mum says briskly, ‘After tea,’ puts on her apron and leaves the room.  

The apple perched precariously on top of oranges and bananas is looking at me, its skin smooth and shiny.  It’s one proud apple. I glance at the door, I hear the clatter of pans and mum humming in the kitchen.  I know exactly how that apple will feel in my hand. I know how it will feel as its skin touches my lips, as my mouth opens to bite down, as I crunch the juicy flesh. 

I listen. The gas pops. Mum’s humming stops. And starts up again. ‘One Enchanted Evening.’ It’s always, One Enchanted Evening.’  I find it strangely reassuring.

I reach out to the bowl, grab the apple and take a bite. It’s just as I’d imagined: cool and crisp and juicy. I wipe my chin with the back of my sleeve. As I start to take a second bite the humming stops. I hear slippered feet on the hall’s wooden floor.  Swiftly I replace the apple, damage at the bottom, hidden. Somehow it doesn’t look quite so proud now. It looks sad. I feel guilty. 

After tea mum says, 'You can have an apple now,' and reaches for the bowl. My heart stops. Before I can tell her I don’t want one, she is lifting the top one, the proud, sad one, and exposing it’s browning flesh. 

I deny it as only a five year old can. With no defence but with indisputable damning evidence against me, I don’t stand a chance. I’m guilty as charged. 

The look of disappointment on mum’s face is worse than any punishment dispatched to Eve.  Mum returns to the kitchen. I hear water running, but no more enchanted evening.


I am sixteen, and in France for the summer, working in a Children's Home high up in the mountains.  

Each morning we sit outside at long wooden tables, slicing the endless supplies of peaches.  Not neat slices as we might find in a tin, but random chunks of varying size, it doesn't seem to matter.  We fill bowls for an hour or two.  I listen to the gentle buzz of the French speaking workers, and feel lonely and homesick for England.  Mechanically slicing, my mind wanders to home and mum and dad and brothers.  A tear rolls down my cheek and mingles with the sticky juices.  

Each evening we eat outside at the same wooden tables, now clean and cool in the evening breeze.  After the first course, we wipe our plates with bread and wait for the ladle that will deliver a generous portion of peach slices to every bowl.  I watch as the children start to eat, and wonder which bowl contains the tear.

I am fifty and on holiday.  

It's very hot and extremely sticky.  We stop for lunch on the beach.  I peruse the menu, skipping past burgers, pizza and pasta.  Under desserts there is a faded photo of half a melon, a large scoop of ice cream in its hollowed middle.  It has a sprig of mint on top.  The waiter approaches, I point to the picture and await its arrival.  I'm not disappointed.  It's cold and juicy and creamy and minty.  I'm in sweet heaven.  It's a simple but delicious concoction.  

When I get home I buy a melon, cut it in half and remove the seeds. I fill the hollow with the best ice cream, pick some mint from the garden and arrange it on top.  I pull my chair up to the table and plunge my spoon into the dessert, through the mint, making sure I have equal portions of melon and ice cream, with just a hint of green.  I open my mouth expectantly.  There's something missing.  I continue to eat my way through the contents of the bowl.  It's a big disappointment.  I throw away the scooped out melon, put the bowl in the dishwasher, and watch the rain against the window.  

Just Like Eve 

Just like Eve 
I am tempted 
By the shiny lusciousness 
Of that perfect apple

One bite is all it takes
The piercing of the golden peel 
By teeth no bigger than the apple’s seeds
The crunch
The juice meandering 
Down my five year old chin

The guilt as I replace the apple
Now imperfect 
Bite side down 
Atop a wobbly pyramid of fruit

Eve ruined everything 
For the whole of mankind
I am lucky
Just one evening spoilt

by Jill Reidy

Thanks for reading.....Jill Reidy

Monday, 1 October 2018

I'm Kinder After Fruit

The below will be split into three sections, you are most welcome to read just one or perhaps none.
If carrots make you see in the dark, does the kiwi have the equal potential to be as exquisite? 

Recently I used a kitchen tool that de-cores an apple whilst simultaneously cutting it into 6
identical sized pieces. It was the most excessive and significant moment of my day. Extremely unnecessary. I ate each satisfying segment before bed.
Once there was a boy with an apple head. A big juicy apple head. Core n all.

Banana holders aren’t necessary objects.
A banana coffin created to keep it alive before it is killed.
Primary protection.
I quietly question the use.

Sometimes after a big greasy curry I want to slop and complain.
I wonder if I ate fruit all the time, would I be a better person? - say kinder.
Kind-er. Kind-er-er. Kinderrrrrr.
Things would be less, all the less / lessons.

A banana provides a slow release source of energy.
It contains a superior source of carbohydrates, potassium and vitamin B6, which in turn can help boost our energy levels.

I wonder if I strategically ate bananas throughout the day, at regular intervals, would I always have energy?

I try this for one day. 

03:00 - I set an alarm, wake up and have 1 banana
05:00 - I set an alarm, wake up and feel sick so don’t eat 1 banana
10:00 - 1 banana
13:00 - 1 banana
16:30 - 1 banana
18:15 - 1 banana
20:00 - 1/2 a banana
22:15 - 1/2 a banana

If my body devours a high quantity of fruit everyday, I imagine I would have unlimited energy. Extra assertive. Fruit fuel.

There’s no scientific evidence indicating this task will have the predicted correlation but it’s still something I want to pursue. A friend told me that the potassium intake of eating 40 consecutive bananas could kill you, so I just ate six.

Fruit fuel. I may write six arts applications, smash a 10 hour work shift, maintain my social
commitments effortlessly and still feel revitalised the next day.
It might be like drugs. Healthier drugs.
Is the banana a drug? Dunno.
Maybe I would make more time to support people, put extra thought into birthday presents, maybe I could stop procrastinating and claiming it was because I was ‘tired’ and ‘needed my body to catch up with itself’.
How far in front is my body?
If it is always a step ahead then that explains why sometimes my brain is behind, forgetting names of people and places like sieve water.
If my body linked perfectly with my body would that work better?

Catching up is difficult but it can be done.What if my body held my body really close so it never escaped itself, so it would work in tandem always?

I imagine the whole world eating bananas strategically. We all wake up at 3am and 5am to chow down so we aren’t tired later. When we kissed would it be for ages because we had more breath.
Everyone’s walk would be bouncy and people would frequently skip.

The banana is bruised - wounded.
I hold it on the bus like a fallen bird.

Martha Pailing, 2018

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Hexagons: As Close As Science Gets To Magic

Hey, it's hexagons this week! Be prepared to thrill... 

Are you still with me? What a fun topic for a Saturday night - but don't worry, I'm not going to try and blind anyone with science as I'm neither clever nor painstaking enough to understand all the technical stuff that's involved. Can we just acknowledge that hexagons are the closest science gets to magic?

I think of it like this. When the wise and the wonderful (alchemists and their ilk) talked about "squaring the circle", what they were always going to end up with in practice was a regular hexagon: something slightly more engineered than a square with the corners knocked off (which would be an octagon), something with six sides which would be de facto the most efficient building-block that the universe has thrown up - maximum structural strength from minimal material resource, plus infinitely extensible in all directions in three dimensions and beautiful in its perfect symmetry...

We can find the hexagon in everything from snowflakes to honeycombs, from turtle shells to basalt columns, from insects' eyes to those carbon allotropes known as fullerene nanostructures (as illustrated above). It's nature's way of demonstrating survival of the best fit; and we in turn have incorporated the magic hex into grand designs ranging from the modern football to vast geodesic domes (as first pioneered by the American architect Buckminster Fuller) such as those housing the Eden Project.

We are probably most familiar with this hexagonal structure in honeycomb. Adele has already covered that angle admirably in her blog on the topic (check out Hexagons - A Bee Story), so I'll limit myself to a quick alert as to the more general plight of the bumble-bee and other species of small furry animals (arthropods in this case).

There are two hundred and fifty species of bee in the UK, of which over two hundred are species of solitary bee, twenty-five are species of bumble-bee and there is just one species of honey-bee. All bees are vital to the environment, principally as pollinators of everything from flowers to fruit and vegetable crops. Bee numbers have been in serious decline for the last several decades, climate change, disease, habitat loss and pesticides collectively taking a heavy toll. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has created a Bee Health Inspectorate and that body along with the National Bee Unit is at the forefront of stalling the decline.  Bees need all the help they can get. If I had a larger garden I'd seriously consider acquiring hives and becoming a bee-keeper.

Sweet Honey-Bee
And so to this week's new poem, which takes as its starting-point Hamlet's famous soliloquy, re-engineered for our anxious honey-making friend and constructed in the shape of the week...

To be
 a bee or not to be 
a bee - that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the hivemind
 to suffer the stings of narrow possibility,
that highly rigorous  regime subjugating
 one's very will, or strike out lonely to fly
 brave  into the unknown,  pursuing one's
 own individuality,  inciting wrath
from the hex in so doing.
Aye, there is the
Thanks for reading. Support your local Bird & Bee, S ;-)

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Hexagons - A Bee Story

Bees are fascinating creatures. They pollinate plants to make them fertile. They produce wax. They turn pollen into honey. Yummy. Bees are beautiful.

Bees are also extremely clever. They make their own storage facility to deposit their honey. They produce honeycombs to store precious honey and lay their eggs. Honeycombs are made from wax hexagons. Have you ever considered why they chose to mould their wax into such a complicated shape?

Bees need to make cells to store their honey but they also need to be able to climb inside the cells. So why not make circular or triangular cells? Surely that would be easier. Well - consider a circular cell. When circles or cylinders are used to build a structure, the surface area that actually touches is very small. There are gaps and because they don't share much surface, the amount of wax used to produce a structure would be far greater. For the honey bee, producing wax is very energy intensive.

Bees need to build a structure that minimises the amount of wax they need to produce and a straight sided cell uses less energy. So why not build honeycomb with triangles? Consider the shape of a triangle. It narrows at the angles - this is not an easy shape to accommodate the bees body. The triangle would have to be bigger and use more energy consuming wax. 

So why chose a hexagon shaped cell?  During their evolution bees began to build hexagonal shaped cells in their honeycombs and there are several reasons.  Firstly the hexagon is a similar shape to a circle so it is a good shape to accommodate the bee's body, maximizing the volume of the cell. Secondly the six surfaces of the hexagon makes it strong, therefore the walls of the cell can be thinner. The hexagon has six flat sides that are shared with the adjoining cells, therefore less wax is required to produce the adjoining cells. As the energy needed to produce the wax is less, the bees have more energy to produce honey.

The hexagonal cell shape is structured in a way that several bees can work closely without overlapping. The construction of the hexagonal cells can be shared so that it becomes a building site with many bees working together, reducing the time and effort required to complete the structure. Oh what clever little bees.

Clever little honey bee,
Master of geometry,
Waxing cells in symmetry,
to store your pollen hoard.

Clever little honey bee,
Hexagonal assembly,
built for durability,
to store your honey gold.

Inspiring ingenuity,
A mathematic mystery,
Constructing your community.
Clever little honey bee.

Thanks for reading.  Adele

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Hexagons - The Patchwork Quilt

I loved needlework lessons at school. It was something I excelled in and the highlight of my week. All through secondary school I was joint top of the class with another girl who, like me, had a mother and two grandmothers, all knitters and stitchers, teaching their skills to our generation.  My Nanna Hetty used to give me a scrap of fabric and a handful of buttons to sew on. I would set them out in a pattern. It kept me busy for hours and I was very accomplished by the age of seven or eight. I also learnt to respect the sharpness of a sewing needle. No harm done.

At school, besides the curriculum stuff of making a cookery apron, a netball skirt and a pin cushion, our teacher introduced us to smocking and classic patchwork. The smocking was part of the baby dresses we made from calico and gingham. The patchwork was a bit more involved.  First we had to make hexagon shaped templates from squared paper. The six sides had to be exactly the same, so lots of careful measuring. Next, pieces of fabric were neatly folded over the hexagon side, taking care to keep the correct shape before pinning or tacking.  Each piece had to fit perfectly with another. I was very proud of mine, which became a beautiful patchwork cushion cover, later included in my exam collection.  I was equally proud of a patchwork gypsy skirt that I made for myself in the mid-seventies.

When I was told the gender of our first grandchild, I set about making a patchwork cot quilt. These days, plastic and metal templates are readily available to buy in all shapes and sizes, much easier to draw round and cut out. I chose the classic hexagon set and an assortment of suitable fabrics. Preparing the pieces was easy but hand stitching them together was more challenging for my poor eyesight. My first grandson is now three. He has a two year old cousin, a one year old brother and a sister on the way. My patchwork quilt remains unfinished, (my photo), but I will manage it, eventually, with the help of a hands-free magnifying glass.

I can relate so much to my chosen poem. It’s given me an idea for another needlework project.
Repairing the Heirloom
By Deborah Browning

The pattern was "spider web" -
Scraps of fabric forming hexagons,
Their paisleys, dots and plaids
Repeated until the shapes stopped,
Some incomplete, at the edge,
And over the whole a web, quilted,
Seven stitches to the inch drawing each corner
To the center.

In the patchwork I recognized pieces
Of my grandmother's gingham apron,
The apron itself cut from the skirt
Of a faded dress. Her family's clothes,
The work of her hands, for years
Were conserved. Winters passed to the scrape
Of scissors trimming those rectangles.

I trimmed a scrap of fabric from my old sundress,
Appliqued it over the threadbare original,
Bright red against worn calico.
I laid on the design by drawing needle
Across fabric, quilting the impression
That would disappear like the needle's imprints
In my fingers. My stitches met hers
And I knotted the thread of this net
That would catch another generation of small hands,
Clenching in sleep and letting go.

Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 22 September 2018

That Greek Cottage!

This is the story of the  cottage  that got away! It was the late summer of 1974, the year ABBA won Eurovision, Nixon resigned as US President, Harold Wilson's Labour Party came back to power and blockbusters from John le Carre ('Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy') and Robert Pirsig ('Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance') hit the bookshops. Bob Dylan was touring for the first time since his motorcycle accident of eight years previous, the Moody Blues had just disbanded, Cat Stevens released 'Buddha and the Chocolate Box' and everyone seemed to be 'Kung Fu Fighting'.

It also happened that in July of that year, the military junta which had been ruling Greece since a coup d'├ętat in 1967 was finally replaced by an interim civilian government. For some of us who had been longing to visit Greece, but felt it unethical to do so while the Generals were in power, the timing was almost perfect - three months of summer vacation from university stretched ahead. The only problems were the cost of getting there and the small matter of a war in the region: Turkish troops had recently invaded Cyprus and Greeks and Turks had resumed their age-old hostilities in the eastern Mediterranean.

The first problem was solved fairly easily. I got a holiday job with some fellow students from Warwick university as part of a contract team going in to steam-clean industrial plant in Birmingham factories during their two-week annual shut-down. It was a filthy job hosing down rolling mills and heavy machinery but it paid fantastically well, enough to cover a couple of months back-packing around Greece. The second problem actually played into our hands, for the Cyprus war put off thousands of would-be holiday-makers to the region, flights emptied and ticket prices fell.

My girlfriend and I decided that Crete would be our destination, well out of trouble's way; and so armed with tent, drachmas, books that we had to read in advance of the next university term, a camera and some light clothing, off we jetted, courtesy of Dan-Air (anyone remember them?). The flight was delayed by several hours but it meant that we flew down across the long string of Greek islands just as the sky was turning from black to rose and we landed in Irakleion at sunrise. Magical.

To say that it was like a coming home would be an exaggeration - but I certainly felt an extraordinary affinity with the place that has abided down the years.  It is why I've been to Greece more times than any other country and why I did once seriously contemplate retiring to live there (before austerity and Brexit reared their complicating heads).

As I've said, there were almost no tourists visiting Greece that year because of the war and we were welcomed with open arms wherever we went as soon as it was established that we were English and not American. (The Greeks blamed most things at the time on the Americans. They thought US foreign policy was behind the rise of the Generals. They didn't like the fact that Turkey was armed with American weapons and warplanes and that American forces were stationed on Turkish soil.)

Greek people are so friendly and generous. We were given - literally gifted - so much food everywhere we went, especially fresh fruit and vegetables grown for the summer tourists who never materialised; figs, oranges, tomatoes and watermelon to die for! I could enthuse at length about that holiday - Knossos, Aghios Nikolaos, Vai (close to heaven on earth) but I must cut to the chase.

We made a leisurely tour along the north coast of dusty Crete and in one place we decided to stay in a pension for a few days as a break from rough camping - a proper bed with clean sheets, hot shower, luxury. It was in the coastal town of Siteia, quite small in 1974 - now a centre of the island's wine industry and a bustling tourist resort with its own international airport. There we met some young Americans. They were quite pleased to find non-Americans who didn't treat them disdainfully. Most of them were just hanging out there for the summer but one of them, a young woman, was - or had been - working in Siteia as a teacher.

Unfortunately for her, she was in the process of being expelled from the country for having told her pupils that the returning prime minister, Konstantinous Karamanlis, was a shit of the first order. Such a fervently expressed opinion was unlikely to go unreported and it found no favour with her employers or the new Greek government with its anti-American bias. It was probably the excuse they had been looking for to move her on.

She was devastated to be leaving and was desperate to recoup the $1,000 dollars (or its drachma equivalent) she had spent on buying her little cottage in Siteia. We were asked if we were interested.

$1,000 or near offer in 1974!
The cottage was small, simple, sturdy and beautiful; cool inside in the summer because the walls were thick, warm in the winter for the same reason. There was a grapevine in the tiny yard.

$1,000 was about £450 at 1974 exchange rates. That was about triple what our holiday to dusty Crete cost (and was comparable to the price of a new Mini Cooper)! I should have gone straight to the main post office in Siteia and wired my parents to lend me the funds. I didn't do so. To a poor student, it seemed like a lot of money at the time. We said our goodbyes and continued on our tour. With the benefit of hindsight, it was an absolute bargain. Of course we laughed ruefully afterwards and I harbour a mild regret about it to this day.

Quite by coincidence, the song 'If I Laugh' by Cat Stevens (born Steven Demetre Georgiou to a Greek Cypriot father and Swedish mother) from his album 'Teaser And The Firecat'  seems remarkably apposite in its sentiments, given the story of the cottage that got away...

If I Laugh
If I laugh just a little bit
maybe I can forget the chance
that I didn't have to know you
and live in peace, in peace

If I laugh just a little bit
maybe I can forget the plans that
I didn't use to get you
at home - with me - alone

If I laugh just a little bit
maybe I can recall the way
that I used to be , before you
and sleep at night - and dream
If I laugh, baby if I laugh
just a little bit...
                                      Cat Stevens (1971)

If you'd like to listen to it, for it is very beautiful, I've included a hyperlink here: Cat Stevens playing If I Laugh live

I'll sign off this week with a new poem of my own. I hope it pleases.

Late September Grecian sun,
given latitude, still strikes me
as warming to the bones,
to the sleepy spirits
that invest these olive groves,
to the white-washed
stone-wall cottage clusters
with their fragrant, dark interiors
of homely mystery
and cats the colour of molasses
rolling lazy in the dust,
quite unprovoked
by dancing end-of-season butterflies.

Before me, the epic story
of Odysseus lies open to the page
where Hermes bids divine Calypso
let our captive hero go, but I,
fuelled by a lunch
of cool retsina and dolmades,
cease reading and allow my gaze
to fold to Homeric sightlessness.

Sunlight licks my eyelids
like the charming snake of old,
cicadas drone, a hint of oregano
spices up this timeless afternoon
and I drowse
happy to the very soul, thinking
that unlike our bold adventurer
I might prove fickle and be tempted
not to risk another sinking
in the wine-dark sea.
I might elect to stay a while
on this idyllic isle...
but then I never knew Penelope!

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, S ;-)