Tuesday, 9 February 2016

750 posts and still at it

As is customary, I mark every 150th post by producing a hard-backed book and this post will end up in the collection spanning numbers 601 to 750.  Apart from it being a vanity project (no, Carly Simon was not singing about me but the lyrics fit), I do this in the hope that one day someone in the family might be vaguely interested in learning a little about one of their forebears (and if that happens to be you, hello and have a good life).  It's also timely to consider why I’m still blogging after all this time (since January 2010 actually, since you ask). Here are a few reasons:

1. I like writing. There’s a little narrating voice in my head as I write, sometimes talking sense, sometimes talking absolute rubbish. But more often than not, I listen. (What do you mean, you don’t have that? That's a shame. You are definitely missing out).
2. Why not? No, really: why not blog? For me, blogging has always been fun. I’m an introvert living an extravert’s life, in many ways, and writing allows me to socialise in a very comfortable way.
3. It’s fun to pick new themes. Sometimes the voice in my head gives me a subject and I'll see if I can write something to fit. It's fun when it works and, to be honest, it's still enjoyable when it falls flat (and believe me, it does fall flat quite often).
4. Some thoughts are better written. Or, to be more accurate, I find that the process of translating thoughts into writing helps me to better shape my response to whatever the subject is. Sometimes, having to articulate thoughts verbally gets in the way of clarity of expression. It's difficult to edit what's just come out of your mouth!
5. The blog as a journal. The content has become an archive of my life and my little online room. I share it with the world, true, but at the end of the day, I’m blogging just for me.

6. You! By comparison with the output of some bloggers, I’m not popular by any stretch of the imagination, but I know I have a handful of steady readers. And I’d be a pillock not to acknowledge (and thank) you for that. So thanks! Allow me to buy you a coffee the next time we meet.
7. And because....if I wasn’t still blogging, I wouldn’t be able to say "I wonder where the narrating voice will take me over the next 150 posts?".

Friday, 5 February 2016

The tragic tale of Maria Fassnauer, the Tyrolean Giantess.

Another dip into Dolph and Mabel's Post Card Treasure Trove and I come across one that disguises a very sad tale of exploitation in the name of entertainment (Today we've got Celebrity Big Brother, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent which do exactly the same). The post card refers to the visit to the Plymouth Palace in 1907 of Maria Fassnauer, billed as Mariedl the Tyrolean Giantess.

She was born in 1879 in Austria and from the age of three she grew at an incredible rate and by 15 had reached a height of 7' 10". Soon she was “discovered" and found local notoriety as the “tallest female person of Tyrol". She left school early and worked on the family farm until she came to the attention of side-show operators who wanted her as an exhibit in the very popular 'freak shows' of the time. They pressured her parents constantly and offered to pay the family well for permission to put the young girl on display but although her parents urgently needed the money, they initially refused all offers. Almost inevitably, Maria eventually yielded to the constant stream of propositions and began a seven-year tour across Europe, accompanied by her 'normal' sized sister. She was the star attraction at fairs, festivals and music halls and was described in newspaper advertisements as the “tallest woman who ever lived”. By all accounts, she saved the money she earned to give to her parents, spending very little on herself. In all her appearances she wore a traditional peasant costume and Tyrolean hat, designed to make her appear even taller and more grotesque. Despite being in the limelight Maria led a very isolated life. The side-show operators did not allow her to show herself in public outside of her performances as that would lessen the mystery and reduced their profits. A deeply religious woman whose letters to her parents are full of her loneliness and homesickness, Maria would regularly visit churches, in order to pray. “Come one, come all! Come and see Mariedl, the giant woman of Tyrol, the Monster for Millions" was the cry. Her weight and height meant that it was hard for her to stand for any length of time and she suffered from ulcerated legs, but as no-one wanted to see a sitting giant, she was made to keep moving whilst on view.

By 1913 Maria had had enough of her life as the “Monster for Millions” and returned to the Tyrol. Emotionally and physically damaged, she spent her last years on her parents’ farm where she died, only 38 years old, on 4th December 1917. Nowadays she is remembered through a rather mundane carved statue in a folk museum in Berlin. Perhaps better to be remembered this way than not at all?


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Chagford break: two walks

I've written about seven bridges and five churches around Chagford; now it's time to describe the main reason for our January break - two walks.  
The first walk started in the lee of Kes Tor at Batworthy and was a circular route that took us to the Long Stone on Shovel Down, across the North Teigh to Scorhill Circle and Buttern Tor, then to Wonson and Gidleigh and back to our starting point. Our guide book said it was 7.5 miles, my GPS logged it around 8.5 and it felt like around 10. But it didn't rain.
Kes Tor. Our guide book said "head for the nipple" and that's what we did. We didn't make any boobs with our directions and managed to keep abreast of the route instructions.
The Long Stone on Shovel Common. About 3 meters in height and associated with a number of stone rows that converge on this monolith. Exact age unknown but estimated to be around 5000 years. It's also known as the Three Lads because its side are engraved with the three parishes it forms the boundary of - DC (Duchy of Cornwall) which can just be made out on this side, GD for Gidleigh and C for Chagford.
Lots of archaeology on Shovel Down and here are two double stone rows, one directly ahead and the other veering off to the right. With hut circles to the right of us and hut circles to the left off us, we bravely strode on into the Valley of the Teign.
The stone row that veers off to the right in the photograph above. At one end of it was a circle of stones - a hut, perhaps, or something of ritual significance?
The Tolmen Boulder on the banks of the North Teign. Formed by erosion, one myth claims that anyone who does manage to pass through the hole will have immunity from all rheumatic disorders. We didn't try as the river was in full spate and we're not daft enough to risk falling in. And, besides, our aching joints wouldn't let us be so acrobatic. Oooh, maybe we missed a trick.
Scorhill Circle, one of the largest on this part of the moor. Despite the lens flare, I think this photograph gives a feel for its surrounds.
A bit of rubbish wall building. It would have taken just as much effort to lay the stones properly. Only 3/10, I'm afraid.
Unexpected findings by the wayside Part XXV: why a coffee jug in the hedgerow? A minimalist café? A branch of Starbuck's perhaps?
Since the passing of the anti-smoking laws, 'smoking stations' of varying degrees of grandeur and comfort have sprung up outside of pubs. Here, at the Northcote Arms in Wonson, a delightfully rural solution has been found. A few old chairs and a tatty table place in a horse box. I wonder if anyone has thought of closing the doors when the smokers are in full puff, driving them to a remote spot on the moor and leaving them there?
Unexpected findings by the wayside Part XXVI: a gert big gun. It was pointed at Cornwall.
The route of our second walk. From Fingle Bridge and up one side of the Teign and down the other. Four miles of level walking and a nice contrast to the previous day's exertions.
In its heighday, nearby Castle Drogo used the power of the River Teign to generate electricity through a turbine. I liked the contrasting colours and textures of this sluice gate machinery.
Navelwort or Umbilicus rupestris. Very, very common in damp places and obviously finds a bed of moss to its liking. The fleshy leaves are nice to nibble on if you fancy a snack whilst out on a walk.
A grinning tree. Happy that it wasn't raining, perhaps?
I've mentioned, in a previous post,  the 'Teign Spirit' outdoor art installations along the river. They are still there and just as evocative on the second/third viewing as they were on the first. This is the one entitled 'The Mill'. A fire destroyed nearby Fingle Mill in 1894. The photograph depicts the scene as if it has just happened, with the miller's wife and children having escaped the fire.  
A rubbish photograph of a goldcrest, our smallest native bird. Its yellow crest can just be made out. It was a fidgety little devil and that's the best I could do before it flew off.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Chagford break: some churches worth visiting

Apart from walking, another free pleasure that we indulge in whenever we can is visiting local churches. And there were a goodly number of these around Chagford. All open and all clearly much loved by their communities. But with declining congregations and the general dissociation of the public from the church, how much longer will they remain this way? Jump forward 30 years to a time when most of the present churchgoers have gone to meet their Maker, who will be there to maintain these churches in their present form? Particularly those in the more isolated hamlets and villages? It's going to be a big problem and I have yet to read how the C of E is intending to address the issue. Let's put the pessimism to one side for the time being and enjoy those we did visit.
Starting with St Michael the Archangel in Chagford, which was consecrated it in July 1261.
The interior with a nicely carved screen and an impressive barrel roof. There are some good carved bosses in the ceiling but, unfortunately, the light was not good enough to make them outA toddler's group was in full swing when we visited and it was good to see the church being used. We got a good welcome from the people there.
Now to the Church of the Holy Trinity in the hamlet of Gidleigh. I have to quote verbatim something I came across in a booklet: "On the Dartmoor Richter Scale of architectural magnificence Gidleigh church would hardly register a reading. However, in the spiritual sense the place quakes with tranquillity and reverence like no other moorland church". A rather harsh assessment but I know what the author means. It's a lovely little church, Saxon or Norman in origin and situated in an area that has been of religious significance for thousands of years. One of its claims to fame, apparently, is that it is one of the very few churchyards with a stream running through it, the line of which can just be made out. Thinking about it, with so much water in this part of the world, it would be more surprising if an area the size of the churchyard didn't have a stream running through it. With the remains of a castle/fortified manor house next door, there's more than one reason to visit Gidleigh.
An unusual carved wooden font cover, dating from early Victorian times.
The ornate rood screen, dating from the 1400s, was the main feature of the simple and light interior. It has had a chequered career and spent some time in another church before coming back to its original position. The regilding was done by the Victorians (who else?).
From the Church of the Holy Trinity to Holy Trinity Church in Drewesteignton, a serf's throw from Castle Drogo. Dating from the fifteenth century, this one isn't as old as some but still worth visiting. We had a friendly 'flower lady' tell us a little of the history, including one fact that really please me. And what was it that please you so, Deri? That the Reverend Keble Martin was an incumbent here for a while in the 1950s. Who he?  None other than the author of the Concise British Flora, my indispensable companion during my A Level and undergraduate Botany courses. I've got a well-thumbed copy some where; I'll have to dig it out.
 Hanging over the entrance is a well preserved and recently restored board showing the Royal Coats of Arms of Queen Elizabeth I. This showed the churchgoers who was in charge and gave them permission to hold protestant . Apparently each monarch should do something similar but this practice seems to have died out a long time ago. It's rare (unique?) for us to come across one as old as this.
Our penultimate church, St Mary the Virgin in Throwleigh.
The first recorded rector was in 1248, but most of the present church dates from
the 15th and 16th centuries. The church guide tells us that Throwleigh has attracted some fascinating (code for extremely eccentric) church leaders over the years, particularly George Gambier Lowe and Herbert Leslie Drew. Well worth looking them up on Google.
The remains of the rood screen were at low level and fragments of the original had been incorporated into some modern panels. What was interesting was that the rood beam was there and supported a modern rood (the cross and the crucifixion). The original rood stairway was in the wall to the right.
On the way home we called on in St Petroc's Church in Lydford. Given that Lydford was a well-developed Saxon town, it is no surprise that the original church on this site was built of wood. It was burnt down by Viking raiders and the present building, dating from the thirteenth century, was erected on the site.
As good a collection of inscribed slate headstones that we've come across anywhere. What was unusual about these was that, although they dated from around the mid-1700s, the writing was still very clearly discernible. The absence of lichen on them suggests that they have been well looked after.
The three aisles in the church are covered with magnificent barrel roofs in oak. Not all of the wood is original but any restoration has been done extremely sensitively. The uplighting really sets of the features and it's a pity that more churches don't do the same. All too often you have to peer into the gloom to make out what's up there.
The questions ask "who is she and what did she do?". Clever clogs me knew the answers to both. She was Violet Pinwill and what do she do?
She carved wood, that's what. Her splendid work can be found in many churches in West Devon and East Cornwall and her carved screens here at Lydford are typically impressive. It's a thrill just to run your hands along the surface wood, admire the skill and feel a connection with her workshop in Ermington.
Not a casualty of war. Frederick Fry's service number prefixed by TR7 indicates that he was in the Training Reserve and not on active duty. A quick search suggests that he was killed in a training exercise accident.
I'm not sure that a modern day carver would have recommended some of this lettering. Unless, of course, it was true......

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Chagford Break: Bridges over troubled waters

Just back from a delightful three night break on the outskirts of Chagford, staying at the very pleasant Mill End Hotel (recommended: very comfortable and with great food). We got out and about and, as might be expected from the recent wet weather, we were never far from the sound of running water. And where there's running water, there's generally a bridge. We came across bridges of all shapes, sizes and ages. Here are the ones that prevented us getting wet feet as we walked.
A  mediaeval clapper bridge over the North Teign River, out on Shovel Down. Two massive slabs resting on a central pier.
Just down stream for the previous bridge is the Teign-e-ever bridge of similar vintage. Two single slabs bound by iron bands.
And just up from the other two but over the Wallabrook, just before it enters the North Teign, is this single slab bridge.
Another single slab bridge, this one was over a stream near Ash/Aish/Aysh, depending on what sign we were looking at.
A few miles lower down the North Teign, but reached by a much more circuitous route, is this bridge down in the woods associated with the Gidleigh Park Hotel.
Another day, another walk and we come across this bridge over the Teign just below Castle Drogo. The river looks deceptively calm here but it wasn't that way as it flowed down the rapids.
The famous Fingle Bridge. The present structure dates from the 1700s although there is good evidence that it incorporates something much older.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Anonymous Lives

In a recent post (here) I mentioned the tragic consequences for the US troops involved in Exercise Tiger off Slapton Sands. In the process of finding a little more about it, I came across a whole batch of photographs, including one that, for some reason, struck me more than the others.
It shows some American troops presumably getting ready for their part in the exercise. I don't know where it was taken, when it was taken or, for that matter, who captured this moment in time. The very anonymity of the image provides the viewer with a sort of freedom to explore - there is no one face you are connected to and there are no known consequences to cloud your investigation.
Whilst trying to enhance the original, I was taken by how cropping can change the context, creating a more focused image. Whilst the first image can be taken to be about wartime logistics, the second is about wartime troops.
And the third, with more cropping still, is about people. People caught in a moment of time. People caught in a moment of war. I wonder what happened to them. I'll never know: they are anonymous.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

I do love a nice birthday party..........apart from..

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
 Yes, summer is certainly coming in and the cuckoos are arriving early in the shape of the frenzy being whipped up by the Queen's 90th Birthday celebrations. It's a time for much frothing at the mouth: from the Royalists, who love this sort of thing and from the Republicans who are booking their Eurostar tickets for June. Going anywhere. Please, anywhere.
The request has gone out on behalf of Mrs Windsor: "Please come to my birthday party. It’s a really big one. My 90th! What a great thing to celebrate. To acknowledge how jolly busy my life has been, I’m inviting along all you special people who work for the hundreds of wonderful charities to which I lend my name. There’s just one thing. It will cost you £150 for the privilege. Each".

You really would have thought that someone at Team Windsor would know that it is terrible bad form to charge people to attend one’s birthday party? It's billed as Britain’s Biggest Street Party, if The Mall can ever be described as a street. Ten thousand people from the 628 national and Commonwealth charities of which the Queen is patron will be invited. Each charity will have to pay £1,500 for a table of 10 people. There will be 1,000 tables. Amazingly, some charities seem slightly lukewarm about shelling out hard-won cash so they can attend their patron’s big day. Ungrateful lot! But there is a silver lining inside that particular cloud, for charities can “sell on” 40 per cent of their tickets. Brilliant! Forget about the volunteers. Enter the open market, where tickets will be flogged to people who won’t blanch at coughing up £150. Even if they have zero connections to the charity. So this “once-in-a-lifetime” event quite probably will not be attended by the kind of people who support the Cornwall Air Ambulance or the Royal Home for Discarded Retainers or whatever charity at all, but by corporate fat cats who would jump at the chance of having a 90th birthday poncho or nodding corgi as a souvenir.

And in case you didn't know, Peter Phillips is organising the event. Yes, the Queen’s grandson is in charge. Phillips admits he is being paid an “undisclosed” fee for organising the do, selling tickets and rustling up money from sponsors. So people who work for Great Ormond Street Hospital, Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Nurses etc will pay a relation of the Queen to organise a party for the Queen. Nice one. I do hope none of the charities I support will get sucked into this charade. Because if they do, they may find themselves one donor short.

It’s almost as daft as the notion of getting everyone to spend their spare time walking around with bin liners, picking up rubbish from the streets in an attempt to make our filthy nation look clean for our Queen’s big day, lucky people that we are. Oh, wait a moment… Yes, another bright idea for we serfs to show our loyalty. As the publicity says "What better way could we show our gratitude to Her Majesty than to clean our country?". As we are told so often by Posh Dave and his mates that "we are all in this together", I'll join in when I see Mrs Windsor setting a good example and putting on one's Marigolds.