Sunday, 17 August 2014

I don't normally 'do' envy but....

Without wishing to sound smug and complacent, I'm very lucky with my lifestyle and usually don't feel any need to acquire more trappings. And yet....and yet...recently I've been afflicted by the Green Goddess of Envy. Perhaps sharing my uncomfortable thoughts will make me feel better about them?

First of all, there's the lens envy I've been feeling. One thing I've noticed since being the VPO (very proud owner) of a 'proper' camera is that we photographers (as I now call myself - immodestly) can always be seen surreptitiously taking sideways glances at fellow photographers to see if their lens is bigger or wider or both.  Even with my Canon 100D, 18-55mm kit lens, 55-200mm zoom and 50mm 1.8 prime dangling around my neck, yesterday I felt like the man with a small penis standing at a urinal: I kept looking at everyone else's lenses, wishing mine was bigger! I really, really need a 300mm and a 500mm would be so useful, not to mention a decent wide-angle lens and, before I forget, a good macro lens is close to being essential. I'm sure I'm not the first person to feel this way! 

And if that's not enough, extreme envy hit me again the minute I saw what the Sage of Pempwell had before him - a Travelling Desk. A combination of an attaché case and a writing desk, complete with functioning porcelain ink well!

Choose between light and dark ash wood

It was made of wood and is lined with green felt but the great, great thing about this briefcase is that I could write on it, wherever I was! As the inventor says on his website, I could use it "Waiting for the train or the plane, or on the move, in the bus or the car, or on a park bench, or in bed! So it saves you hours of dead time. Armed with pencil and paper and a desk, you can work, you can play, you can think, you can fight boredom, that “delicate monster”. Whatever the hurly-burly around you, you can retreat to a safe and familiar place – a place of words, of thoughts – an intelligent place." Who could fail to be beguiled by such a description? And if that's not sufficient, consider their final inducement: "A STATEMENT OF STYLE: Altogether, the The Travelling-Desk® makes a nice statement: it speaks of an unhurried, nature-friendly, thoughtful man." Yep, if that isn't something to be envious of, I'll eat my lens - if I can get one big enough.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Warleggan and its environs

The second time we've put our boots on this week and this time it was for a wet 7.5 miler on the western fringes of Bodmin Moor. An area not visited much by ourselves, or anyone else for that matter. Off the beaten track it surely is and that's a good thing as it's quiet. Our circular route took us from Pantersbridge to Warleggan, up the Glynn Valley to Cardinham Moor and then back to our starting point via Fore Downs and Mount. A good stretch of the legs, great scenery and lots of history.  

The only village of any size we passed through - and it really was a case of blink and you'll miss it - was Warleggan. Apart from being the name of some character in that dubious costume drama set in Cornwall, Poldark, it's known for its eccentric (not mad) vicar, the Reverend Frederick Densham, its incumbent between 1931 and 1953. Rev Densham's eccentricity and autocratic habits led to a boycott by parishioners and caused him to preach to his dead predecessors' name cards, otherwise an empty church. It is said for over twenty years he preached to an empty church and, week after week as the service reached its conclusion, he would note poignantly in the register, “No fog, no wind, no rain, no congregation”. His death in 1953 was as lonely as his life had been. He died on the staircase of the vicarage where he lay undiscovered for two days. When they finally found his body, his arm was reaching for the bell rope, his last moments having evidently been spent attempting to summon the assistance of his alienated parishioners. There's one more thing to say about Rev Densham: his ghost is supposed to haunt the church grounds, trying to entice people to join a service.

There's always something interesting, if not downright strange, around every corner in Cornwall.
Here's the route, way to the west of Bodmin Moor and just outside of St Neot.
The first mile was a bit of a slog uphill along a very old track. The wet slate bottom of which made it quite tricky to negotiate. It leads up to Warleggan village/hamlet and at one time would have been an important access route. Warleggan had the reputation of being one of the most isolated villages in Cornwall and has only had a decent road to the outside world since the mid-1950s.
I couldn't work out what was old. A band room for old musicians, perhaps? Or an old room for all musicians? It was originally a brew house before it became the place where the Warleggan band would practise. The band has been long gone and was probably a product of the population increase due to the thriving local mines in the mid-1800s.
St Bartholomew's church at Warlegggan, dating from the 11th Century, with a short and squat tower. Up until the early 1800s, it had an elegant spire but this was lost in a fire and was never rebuilt. Something else of interest is its circular graveyard, a regular feature of old Cornish churches that have Celtic origins.
And in the bell tower a fern shadowing a plaque to repairs made in 1754. Looks like they have a little problem with damp.
Shall we call this one 'dead tree with lichen'?
This is something we haven't encountered on our walks for a while - waterlogged tracks. Lots of those today. In fact, the rain was so heavy at times that my camera was kept covered up for a lot of the walk.
An attractive combination of gorse and heather. Interestingly the heather was much further advanced than it was on our Dartmoor walk last week.
These are the remains of the Glynn Valley china clay workings on the side of Cardinham Moor. #1 are the two spoil heaps that are visible for miles. Once excavated the sandy clay mixture was mixed with water and run through narrow concrete channels (#2) in which the heavier sand settled and the china clay suspension piped into large circular settling tanks (#3). From these the gelatinous sediment was removed from the bottom and then dried in drying 'ponds'. The workings date from the early twentieth century but were run-down by the late 1940s. 
A view of the landscape towards the higher pars of Bodmin Moor. But look more closely and there's a lot more to see. #1: the diagonal line heading down shows the sites of various tine workings, dating as early as the 18th century. #2 and #3: leats carrying water to various water wheels and extractive processes for tin. #4: you can just about make out the remains of an old furnace. #5: those with keen eyes can make out the circular shapes of a series of buddles used in tin ore refinement. It's all there if you know where to look and how to interpret the remains.
On a wall of a house in Mount village. Foreign spirituous liquors? Probably referring to brandy and rum and dating from the mid 1700s when excise duty was a big deal. Think smugglers.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Along the Teign River from Dunsford to Chagford

A slightly different walk for us today as we followed the River Teign from Dunsford to Chagford - no open moors and no wide-raging panoramas. Ten miles of relatively easy walking for five friends and a dog! A couple of showers but nothing worth putting our wet weather gear on for. A stop half-way for lunch at the Fingle Bridge Inn and refreshments at the end in Chagford. A great day and a route to be repeated.
Here's our route. A linear walk this time, made possible by a little car shuttling. If you study the contours of the map you'll see that most of the route was in a pretty steep gorge. If only I had the geological knowledge to explain the reasons for this landscape.
Along side a river you get....river views. This was just at the beginning looking up from Steps Bridge, our 'formal' starting point.
All along our route there was ample evidence (weirs, leats) that the water of the river has been used to provide motive power for many years. This is the remains of the central hub of one of the waterwheels at Fingle Mill.
Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) was in evidence in patches along our route. An imported thug of a plant but with a very pretty flower and explosive seeds pods.
Another river scene, this one entitled 'The Dipper that flew away just as I pressed the shutter button'. The Teign was not this placid for most of the stretches we followed.
In the distance, under the giant plastic bag, is Castle Drogo. Owned by the National Trust, it is undergoing extensive renovation and stabilisation. Castle Drogo was built in the early 1900s and is a memorial to what too much money and too little sense can get you. Like many others, I think that the Trust's money (and some of it comes from me) could be far better spent elsewhere.
Now this is something you do not see very often nowadays - an outside swimming pool. This is the Chagford Lido - long may it continue but it will have to do so without my patronage. Cold water? No thanks!
In the distance, our goal - Chagford with its church tower to the left. In the background looms Dartmoor.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Short walk from Postbridge up to the East Dart waterfall.

Nice weather for a Dartmoor walk as we headed north-ish from Postbridge to trace the East Dart up to 'the' waterfall. Admittedly not on the scale of Niagara but very impressive when the river is in full spate: today was not one of the days.  We walked to a prostatic trickle, reaching it through some wonderful panoramas. Just under 5 miles and well worth doing - as we will again in the future.
Not the time of year for many flowers but the broom is just getting into its stride, with its bright, cheery yellow dotting the landscape.
A hoverfly on a knapweed flower. The scientific name for this one is Helophilus pendulus, meaning "dangling marsh-lover" (from Greek 'helo-, "marsh", -phil, "love", Latin pend-, "hang"). It is the commonest member of this species in the UK so no kudos for spotting it. How do you tell a hoverfly from a bee or a wasp? Easy peasy: hoverflies have the typically large eyes of flies and just the one pair of wings.
Open spaces - with no people in view. A little misleading as there were more walkers than we normally encounter when we are out and about.
This cloud formation looked like a sailing ship when I pressed the shutter but that's not the way it turned out. Use your imagination.
Grass waving in the wind - perhaps there's a hint of movement here?
Some early heather. Give it a few more weeks and this part of the  moor will be purple with it.
The oblong structure in the distance, on the slopes of Stannon Tor, is the ruin of a sheep fold,  sometimes known as the Scotch Sheepfold. It's also known as the Potato Farm or the Starch Factory. Why? Because at one time it was used as a factory to produce starch from potatoes. It's unlikely that the potatoes were grown locally as the harsh environment would not be suitable for decent crops. Yet another example of a failed enterprise on Dartmoor and yet another weird piece of trivia.
Sheep will sleep absolutely anywhere. Here they are as dozing (and dozy) gatekeepers.
The East Dart leading up to the waterfall.
The waterfall, looking rather more splendid than just the trickle I mentioned earlier. It's a great spot to head for and, for those who like their mining history, it's the start of a fascinating zone of old workings. Unfortunately we didn't visit them this time around.
A semi-regular reader asked me to include maps of our walks so here's one for this perambulation.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Still protesting after all these years...........

To Tavistock this morning to help out at an information stall in the middle of the town organised by the small, but determined, Tavistock Peace Action Group. We meet monthly to promote the causes of peace, nuclear disarmament and human rights. Every now and again we erect our stall on Market Day and try to engage the passing locals in a relevant topic. Today our twin themes were the current situation in Palestine and the anniversary of the dropping of the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. And we were also trying to raise some money to send off to the Palestinian Relief Fund.

No-one pretends the situation is anything but incredibly complex and controversial or that there is an obvious solution. Our discussions with passer-by's reflected this, with all shades of opinion being voiced - with varying degrees of heat. From what I saw and heard, I'd say the score was 'Palestine 100: Israel 1'.  Lots of signatures were collected for our petition and a reasonable amount of money collected for the charities.

Will our activities change anything? In the wider context, no. Locally, yes, because it brings the issues into the spotlight for a while and gets people thinking about them. A small, infinitesimally small, step along the way......

Getting signatures for our petition was much easier than we expected.
No-one wanted to speak to Marlene!
Lots of literature available for people to take away and we did have a reasonable level of interest
Not a good shot of our banner which is a shame because it's rather well designed around a dove and olive branch motif.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Family at War: Part 2: Charles Bowyer

The next subject in this WW1 themed series is my great-great uncle, Charles Bowyer, son of my maternal great-great grandfather, also Charles Bowyer. I know very little about the personal details of Charles Jnr but I do know that he was born in Old Sodbury, Gloucestershire, in 1888 and was, according to Cousin Beattie (who was in her late 90's when I talked with her many years ago), "a nice quiet boy". I also know that he crossed the Atlantic in 1911, leaving Avonmouth in the SS Royal George on 22nd February and arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 1st March. His immigration papers suggests that his final destination was Montreal but, after that, the trail goes cold. I've got no idea what he did in Canada: perhaps he followed his stated occupation of 'motor car driver'?

Whatever happened in between, Charles returned to the UK (Was he answering the patriotic call to arms?) to enlist in the 1/4th (City of Bristol) Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment. The date of his enlistment is unknown but, as the entry on his Medal Roll Card shows, he was certainly with them when his Battalion entered the French Theatre of War at Boulogne on 31st March 1915. After a relatively quiet 1915, the 1/4th Battalion had a horrendous 1916, taking a full part in all aspects of the Battle of the Somme and suffering heavy casualties in the process. Sadly Charles was killed at the very end of the Battle of the Somme, on 6th November, when the 1/4th was operating in the Bazentin Le Petit/Martinpuch area. The Battalion war diary does not suggest any significant contact with the enemy at the time and it is likely that Charles was killed during the sporadic shelling of trenches that was a regular feature of frontline life. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial - the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. He is also listed on the Westbury-upon-Tryme War Memorial, which was where his mother was living at the time of his death.

Where are his medals? Hopefully still with a family member somewhere. He did leave a will and his mother received his estate of £200, worth around £10,000 at present day values. But this would have been of little comfort to her as, going back to Cousin Beattie's recollections, "she never got over the death of her beloved son".
Not a good photograph and not one that enlarges with any clarity. Which is a shame as it is the only one I can find of the 1/4th Battalion on the Somme. It was taken in June 1916 and shows the men posing with some captured armaments. The chances are that Charles in there somewhere but which one?

Westbury-upon-Tryme War Memorial on which Charles is listed.

Charles's Medal Roll card showing his entry date into France and his posthumous medal entitlement. His fate is acknowledged with the terse 'KIA'. Killed in action.
An extract from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record.
A copy of the probate entry covering Charles' will and estate.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Family at War: Part 1: Clarence Wilfred Stiff

Unlike those politicians who seem to think the First World War should be either 'celebrated' or 'glorified' (but happily not reflected in the TV coverage I have seen), I think it should be a time for sober reflection about the consequences of war. As part of this, I thought I'd remember family members who were involved, starting with Mrs P's first cousin once removed (her grandmother's brother's son), Clarence Wilfred Stiff.
Clarence lived in Clomendy Road, Cwmbran, in a house next to that of his grandparents. He enlisted in the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment in October 1914, and went to the Western Front in 1915, landing in France on 17th February. He was killed in action on 6th May 1915, aged 17. His obituary in a local newspaper noted “Though only 17 years of age he was a fine youth, towering over 6 ft. Up to the time of the reserve battalion leaving Pontypool he was in the bugle band. He was an enthusiastic cricketer, and a member of the Cwmbran Cricket Club. He was also a scholar at the Cwmbran Wesleyan Sunday School. His father, Mr J. J. Stiff, of Clomendy-road, Cwmbran, has been an honoured official of the Wesleyan Church for 21 years, and is at present treasurer of the Trust Funds.”

He was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres, when the trenches sheltering his regiment came under sustained and heavy German bombardment with shells and gas. His body was never recovered and he is listed on Panel 50 on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres in Belgium. He is also commemorated on the Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds' (GKN) panels on the Cwmbran WW1 memorial in Cwmbran Park and on the British Legion Memorial in St Gabriel's Church, Cwmbran.

That Clarence is mentioned on the GKN memorial panels indicates that he was working at the steelworks in Cwmbran and it may be that he joined many of his work mates in enlisting in the 2nd Monmouthshires. It is clear that he was under the official age of enlistment at the time but, in the fervour of the times, this was not an unusual occurrence.

We are lucky in having copies of much of the documentation received by the family after his death and these are shown below. Collectively they show the price of his death - some bits of metal and some pieces of paper.
The letter accompanying the medals, awarded posthumously, gained by Clarence Stiff.
The family of everyone killed in WW1 received this commemorative plaque, known as the 'Death Penny'.
The scroll that accompanied the Death Penny.
The GKN panel on the Cwmbran War Memorial.
The British Legion memorial in St Gabriel's Church in Cwmbran.
Clarence's entry on the Commonwealth War Grave Commission's Website.

Friday, 1 August 2014

More coprophilic literature for the young

In an earlier post (here) I mentioned the poop-themed childrens' book 'The Story of the Little Mole' that I had enjoyed reading. Well, here's another one in a similar vein that was brought to my attention recently. Entitled 'The Dinosaur that Pooped a Planet', its heroes are Danny and Dino the Dinosaur who venture into space. But when Danny realises he's forgotten Dino's lunch box, the very hungry dinosaur eats everything in sight, including their only way home - the rocket! I won't give away the plot but I will say that there's poop, planets and pandemonium galore.

It is a perfect book for my three year old grandson as it has two things he loves - dinosaurs and poo. To be honest, I'm quite partial to such plotlines as well. And I do like the fact that the book rhymes throughout. And what a lovely ending:

"And just when you thought all the pooping was done,
 A Mars cat plopped out of the dinosaur's bum."

A closing thought: if there's ever a film made about the book, then how about this as a basis for a poster campaign (with apologies to Ridley Scott)?