Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Saturday 28 August 2010

Riding the white elephant to the river

If you live in or near Cambridge you've probably heard of the "Cambridgeshire guided busway" and if you haven't try typing it into google, life's too short to explain what's been going on! Anyhow, let's ignore the dream and missed deadlines, what we have snaking it's way along the old railway line from from St Ives in the Fens to Cambridge city centre is this . . .

. . . a white elephant it may be, but it's a very useful white elephant if you have a bicycle ;-)

This afternoon Cliff and I packed our bikes into the car and headed over to the outskirts of Cambridge to The Daily Bread Co-op where we stocked up on essentials. We then parked the car in the industrial estate just around the corner from the co-op and hopped onto our bikes; a short ride to the end of the road and then we were whizzing along on the white elephant.

We then joined a cycle path leading to a foot and cycle bridge over the A14 and we were soon peddling through a busy country park. On we peddled to the river . . .

We sailed along beside the water, passing willow trees exploding with fungi . . .

Eventually we reached the bridge at Clayhithe, and The Bridge pub where we had lunch before heading off further into the fens. The little building in the photo below houses a pumping engine, essential for keeping the Fens drained – without the pumps this land would return to the water.

We crossed the river at Bottisham Sluice . . .

And meandered our way back to the river path, barges chugged along at a stately pace, dragonflies and swallows skimmed the water . . .

Eventually we'd left the countryside behind and we were back on the white elephant, whizzing along on the smooth concrete past unused bus-stops and the brambles and wild flowers which are gradually taking over the tracks.

I had to work this morning to keep my freelance illustration projects on schedule and I felt as if I was going down with a cold but agreed to Cliff's bike ride idea – and I'm so pleased I did! Riding the white elephant to the river has blown all the cobwebs away, the cold has blown away too.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

If I seem a bit quiet . . .

It's because I'm busy doing this . . .

I've lots and lots of illustrations to do over the next few weeks, so I'm here sitting at my 'pooter' (as they say here abouts) and I may tweet occasionally, but mostly I'll be concentrating on the vectors!


Friday 20 August 2010

Take 2

Tonight it didn't rain, we were able to enjoy our picnic sitting on a garden bench in the beautiful setting of King's College Gardens – I think the trees in this garden stunning, so many different ones and on a majestic scale!

And then we enjoyed the performance of Shakespeare's 'Henry V' against the backdrop of swaying branches and the tower of the University Library.

There was much blood and mud besmirched visages, gnashing of leeks and cries of God for Harry, England and St Geooooooooorge!!!!!

We gave the troupe a rousing applause and then wended our way along the leafy paths to home . . .

Good night – have a lovely weekend

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Rain stops play

It seemed like a good plan, when we left home this evening and drove towards Cambridge the sun was shining, although there were dark clouds in the distance we could see brightness beyond them. We arrived and parked just around the corner from King's College Gardens, carried our picnic into the garden and settled down on a bench next to a colourful flower bed to eat our picnic before seeing the performance of Henry V.

We had just started munching our cheese and onion pie when we felt a few spots of rain, "It'll blow over" we said. When the rain got a little heavier we retreated to the cover of a large Lime tree where we settled down on some convenient chairs and waited for the rain to ease up.

But it didn't, it got heavier! The girls who had arrived to sell tickets for the play ran for cover and joined us under the tree with the other picnickers.

The rain got much, much heavier; so heavy that the tree gave us no protection at all from the monsoon-like deluge. We were soaked, the picnic was getting soaked, it was time to call it quits and run back to the car carrying our soggy possessions.

The camera got stuffed into my bag so you'll just have to imagine the next scene as we ran around the corner through ankle deep puddles, water was spurting out of the drain-covers in the road like fountains!

Back at home – would you believe it – it had hardly rained at all!

We spread the salvaged remains of our picnic onto a tray and put it onto the table – not quite what we'd planned! But it still tasted pretty good.

Maybe we'll try again tomorrow night?

Sunday 15 August 2010

Public hanging

This morning I took my framed linocuts to the Michaelhouse Centre in Cambridge for the 'hanging'. We'd been told to hang our pictures using fishing line as we were not allowed to hammer hooks or nails into the walls; there would be hooks at the top of the wall that we could use. No probs! I thought.

is a 14th century church right in the heart of the historic centre of Cambridge, it has been stunningly converted into a café, gallery and cultural and spiritual meeting place. The Summer Art Exhibition in aid of the Arthur Rank Hospice is displayed around the ground floor and the mezzanine gallery; the lower area was already hung with prints by the late Pamela Hughes, we were directed to climb the open tread spiral stairs to the upper lever were my work was to be hung alongside the meticulous detailed wood engravings of Andy English and Judy Logan's moody and mysterious etchings from her 'Crow' series.

We arrived at the top of the steel and wood spiral staircase to find Judy and her husband contemplating the task of how to hang fishing line from the very very high walls! I was so relieved that Cliff had helped me carry the pictures from the car and that he was able to stay to help me hang my pictures . . . and I'm so lucky he's very tall and not averse to climbing a ladder.

You wouldn't believe the sweat (and almost tears) that went into hanging five pictures! I think I may have heard Andy mutter something about what he's give to be able to hammer a nail into the wall . . . but I may have imagined it! I suppose the public sipping their cappuccinos and eating the quiche of the day, will think the pictures just appeared with a wave of a magic wand!

I hope some of you will be able to see the exhibition – it's well worth going in for chef Bill Sewell's food and to see the interior of the building, from the mezzanine gallery you get a panoramic view across the nave – the glass in the west window is stunning!

Tomorrow evening is the Private View, it will be good to see Andy and Judy again – by then we may have recovered from the 'hanging' and be able to enjoy looking at the pictures.

The exhibition continues until 4th September, the Michaelhouse Centre and Café is open Monday to Saturday 8am to 5pm. All commission on sales and proceeds from donated work will be donated to the Arthur Rank Hospice.

Thursday 12 August 2010

The lost pocket

Lucy Locket lost her pocket
Kitty Fisher found it
Not a penny was there in it
Only ribbon round it.

As a child that little rhyme always puzzled me, how could someone lose their pocket? I'm not sure who explained to me that the pocket was a little bag, but until the other week I didn't really understand – then I found these . . . pockets.

The smallest one is obviously a child's, it is hand stitched – do you think it might have been made in a school needlework lesson? The larger white cotton pocket is machine stitched and is made from very sturdy fabric and the black one is very carefully constructed from smooth cotton satin – I wonder who wore that under their coat or skirt?

Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher. In nursery rhyme books they are sweet little girls in long dresses and neat white pinafores. Old rhymes are often based on real incidents, was there a Lucy Locket who lost her pocket? did a girl called Kitty Fisher find it and keep it?

The true story turns out to be highly inappropriate for young children! In the 1760s, Lucy Locket was a bar maid at The Cock pub in Fleet Street. She dumped one of her lovers after she'd spent most of his money; Catherine 'Kitty' Fisher, a celebrity courtesan 'picked him up', it didn't matter that he was pennyless, it was good enough that he was good looking!

Catherine Maria Fisher's portrait was painted by Nathaniel Hone, it's now in the National Portrait Gallery; and look, next to her is a kitty fisher! The window reflected in the goldfish bowl shows a crowd of people looking in watching her – the price of being a celebrity call-girl!

Catherine Maria ('Kitty') Fisher, by Nathaniel Hone, 1765 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London
© National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1766 Kitty Fisher married retired MP John Norris, but only four months later she caught smallpox and tragically died. She is buried in the Norris family crypt in the village church at Benenden in Kent.

Tuesday 10 August 2010


Yet again fruit outshines our vegetables this year . . . after the Strawberries; Gooseberries; White, Red and Black Currants it's now the turn of the Figs.

To be absolutely precise a Fig is not a fruit, it is a flower – the flower is inside-out, it flowers within the fleshy pouch and there's a teeny little hole in the end just big enough for a Fig Wasp to crawl to pollinate it. Isn't nature amazing?!

A few years ago, and we've forgotten to make a note of the year, we picked so many Figs from our tree that we had to eat Figs for breakfast and lunch and have Fig Tarte Tatin for supper. I have a vague recollection it was a hot summer after a particularly cold winter, so when the recent winter of 2009/2010 was one of the coldest on record and temperatures began to soar in May, June and July we crossed our fingers and eagerly waited . . .

Sure enough this year we have figs, not in huge quantities but we have picked between 2 and 4 figs each day this week. You can just see our fig tree in the photo above, it's the spreading green tree in the distance in the corner of the walled garden. We didn't plant it – it's in the coolest and least sunny corner, which isn't the best position for a Mediterranean tree. But it's roots may be restricted as it is planted on a pile of rubble from demolished cold frames – and that's what the gardening books say is a good thing.

The most common Fig variety grown in Britain is the Brown Turkey, but from the size and colour of the fruit and the shape of the leaves I think our is a Brunswick. It's a waiting game, picked too early and flesh is dry and bitter, left too long it collapses into a mess covered with wasps!

Picking them isn't easy, it involves walking sticks and much stretching through the forest of giant leaves to bend down the springy branches and pluck the prize! Best eaten straight away, no need for cream, the fleash melts in the mouth and tastes like an exotic conserve . . . mmmmm!

We have a second tree in a sunnier spot between our house and the garden wall and next to a little outhouse. I grew this from a cutting – I was pruning the big Fig tree and noticed one of the low branches had 'layered' itself and was growing roots. I just stuck the branch in the ground and it grew – it's now as tall as the wall (3.5 m) and this year bears Figs for the first time.

In years when the Fig crop is small (some years we get only one or two) we can enjoy using the leaves . . . not as Adam and Eve a fancy dress costumes! but in the kitchen, use the leaves to wrap chicken or fish and bake in the oven. The leaves give off an exotic coconut flavour – just right for a summer supper in the garden.

Sunday 8 August 2010

Lunch at t'mill

It's been a busy few days – a lot of driving and a long way from home, so spending today just pottering about and gardening has been good therapy. On Saturday afternoon Cliff and I were traveling home from Liverpool and we decided to stop at one of the National Trust properties along the route for lunch (after all, a NT card is really a pass to a posh chain of cafes – isn't it?) . We chose Quarry Bank Mill at Style just up the road from Manchester Airport; we had a lovely lunch, had a look around and bought some tea towels in the shop before setting off on the long journey south.

No, wait . . . there's more . . .

It was so much more fascinating than we expected . . .

Quarry Bank Mill is a cotton mill founded in 1784 by Samuel Greg to spin cotton thread, it is now one of Britain's most important industrial heritage sites.

Next to the mill is the house built by Samuel Greg for himself and his wife Hannah. She commissioned some fashionable landscape gardeners to create a terraced garden along the river gorge (I think she deserved a nice garden, after all it was her family contacts who lent Samuel the money to build his mill). Samuel and Hannah's son Robert took over the business and introduced weaving as well as spinning to the mill. The workers lived in a nearby village and many of them were unpaid child 'apprentices'; Robert Greg employed a doctor to look after the children's health – Dr Peter Holland, Elizabeth Gaskell's uncle. Elizabeth knew Mrs Greg and visited her at Quarry Bank – imagine Mrs Gaskell and Mrs Greg taking a walk in the terraced garden and discussing the day to day gossip of life at the mill . . . what an inspiration for a novelist!

'Don't you find such close neighbourhood to the mill
rather unpleasant at times?'

She drew herself up:

'Never. I am not become so fine as to desire to forget the
source of my son's wealth and power. Besides, there is
not such another factory in Milton. One room alone
is two hundred and twenty square yards.'

'I meant that the smoke and the noise--the constant going out
and coming in of the work-people, might be annoying!'

'I agree with you, Mr. Hale!' said Fanny. 'There is a
continual smell of steam, and oily machinery – and the noise
is perfectly deafening.'

From 'North and South', Chapter XX 'Men and Gentlemen' by Elizabeth Gaskell

So, what can you see inside the mill? – basically it's the whole process of spinning and weaving cotton, from a bale of cotton fibres to cloth. There were some fascinating demonstrations of handloom weaving, but the highlight was seeing and hearing the machines at work. The first part of the process was a carding machine which turned a big bale of cotton fibres into a soft fat rope which could then be spun into finer and finer and finer thread. The power behind all of the machines was the massive water wheel – look at the film and you'll see people walking across behind the the wheel. Today the 200 year old water wheel still provides the power for the looms; the noise on the weaving floor was deafening (and not all the looms were in use!) with the rhythmic clatter of shuttles flying back and forth – no wonder mill girls were good at lip-reading!

Oh yes, and the looms are weaving those tea towels.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Woodland creatures

Today, the studio assistants have chosen to sleep 'en plein air'.

Monday 2 August 2010

Etymology and pinnies


The protective garment was once known as
a "napron." from the French "naperon"
which in modern French means
a napkin. However there was a
process in English of the "n" moving
from the article "an" to the noun
and "a napron" became "an apron."

I find that etymological fact both pleasing and amusing, so I thought I'd share it with you. It also gives me an excuse to show you a collection of vintage aprons/naprons/pinnies or what you will, which have come into my possession (long story far too complicated to bore you all with here).

They were a bit grubby, so I flung them in the washing machine . . . and here comes a word of warning, a lesson I have learnt and will now pass on my wisdom to you: if you wash ten aprons together the strings form a knot of amazing complexity!

Once I had untangled them (and this took a while)
I hung them up to dry . . .

I think some were bought, others home-made; the fabrics look as though they date from the 1960s and 1970s. Here's a gallery of the designs . . . aren't they jolly! Some need a few stitches here and there, then I'll have to decide what to do with them.

By the way, there are other "n" words that by a process called junctural metanalysis became transformed into the English words we use today: a nadder became an adder; a nauger became an auger; a numpire became an umpire and a norange became an orange*.

Here endeth today's lesson.

*I admit that the evidence for "a norange" is a tad hazy – however it does come from the Arabic – "nāranj"