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In A Roundabout Way

Since becoming an artist, I’ve found myself observing the world through different eyes, eyes that are now wide open, seeing shade and shadow and colour contrast where I never had before. Every season, every building, tree or field takes on a new meaning, none more so than when I am driving. Take the humble roundabout, for instance. How many of us, when in a vehicle, whether driving or not, actually takes notice of what is there? Most of us see it as just a means of keeping traffic flowing, without ever taking in what’s in the middle. It took several trips abroad before I began to look at roundabouts in greater detail.

For example, coming out of Mahon airport on Menorca, is a well-kept one with several large boulders and gravel well placed, accentuated by planting. A sight that now says welcome home to me whenever I visit the island. Over in Barbados, there’s Freedom Roundabout, with a large bronze statue of a man lifting up broken chains around his wrists, celebrating the end of slavery.

In Benalmadena, Spain, a town I regularly visit, each roundabout has a different piece of street art, each one forming a landmark people use to find their way around. One has a lovely sculpture of lots of windmills that whirl around in the breeze, another a bronze hulk of a boat, another a gigantic copper ball… the list goes on.

But one there in particular piqued my interest, taking me several days to work out what it represented.

Near to my apartment, I had only seen it at night. Always lit up in changing colour colours, from red to green, to blue to white, it was a white structure I couldn’t make sense of. Located on the main road through the resort, the large roundabout is odd-shaped, with one road leading to marina, the other to the upper part of town. Occasionally, I saw cars drive up to it and then disappear, never coming around it. It had me perplexed. Several days later I had cause to walk by it, and finally it became obvious: it was a sailing ship! Of course, because the road off it led straight down to the marina. At night, the sails would light up. And the cars disappearing? It was also the entrance to an underground car park. It was the car-park domes to the left of the sails that changed colour. Ingenious.

Seeing all the wonderful street art and creations abroad prompted me to take a closer look at roundabouts in England. Here, it is often just a patch of long grass and weeds, perhaps some wild flowers. A few trees maybe. Shrubbery – often overgrown and obscuring views of what is coming around it. Admittedly, that isn’t true for all of them. Some are well manicured, neatly trimmed, pretty flowerbeds.

Near where I live, is a large, modern business park called Aztec, meaning A to Z Technology, the entrance to which is a roundabout. When first created, the roundabout was grassed and planted up with saplings and thousands of daffodils bulbs which when in flower spelt out A to Z – something which could only be seen from the air. The trees have since grown large and the bulbs multiplied so the meaning is lost.

Close by too is a large shopping mall and leisure complex with busy roads and several roundabouts. Each has a different “sculpture”, all meant to mean something. The first simply has a large upright standing stone, known locally as “Patchway Tombstone,” as the building of the mall meant death to our small local shops and loss of peace in the area for residents. Apparently, the stone is meant to represent Avebury and/or Stonehenge – neither of which is nearby, let alone in the county. Another is a large round grassy hillock chopped in half, a gorge going through it. Some say it represents Cheddar Gorge – again, nowhere near here or in the same county. Others say it’s meant to represent Brunel and the GWR railway network here. At a push it could be Avon Gorge. The next roundabout has a tall grass mound with a metal cap on the top, said to represent Silbury Hill – again not even in the county. Whoever designed these obviously didn’t know their geography or history!

It would have been far more in keeping and more meaningful to have a model of Concorde on one, considering the Rolls Royce factory where the plane was built and now houses the Concorde museum is right on the doorstep. Why didn’t they choose some other landmark relevant and local to the county rather than obscure or obtuse edifices? But still, I suppose grassy hillocks with bits cut out and an upright stone that is possibly man-made, is better than nothing. And they are a talking point. But it would be so much better if the designers took a look at how roundabouts are designed and built abroad, and used a little bit more imagination to make more of a feature of out of these necessary traffic management measures.

However, there is one small roundabout locally on a road I often travel which always makes me smile. The roundabout is small, in the middle of a housing development and consists of nothing more than grass, which is always well trimmed, in the middle of which is planted with lavender bushes. At its centre is a white beehive (I don’t think it’s a real one!) and, before they were stolen, had large ornamental bees on wires that twirled around. A simple concept yet pleasing to the eye. Well done to whoever thought of it!

Would love to hear about any good or bad ones near you!

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A New Year And Reflections

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It can’t be 2019 already, can it? Where’s 2018 gone? Gone far too quick, that’s for sure. Seems like only yesterday I was saying a Happy New Year to you all. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the recent festivities. Ours was quiet, just as we like it, with my mother, Dave and I together over the period. This year, for a change we opted for a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, including sprouts, followed by Christmas pudding, something Dave would never eat once upon a time. Now he asks for it and is hoping when we go shopping next the store will have some left. He even enjoyed the mince pies,  Lebkucken biscuits and Stollen –things he’s always turned his nose up to before. He’s also ventured into the pleasure of eating yoghurt, and curries. (Okay, who is this man and what have you done with the real Dave?) Click here to read more:

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

At last April is here. Spring! Except here, spring is rather slow to get going, thanks to all the rain and wind and snow. Even this past weekend, Easter (I hope you all had an enjoyable one), parts of the UK experienced a white Easter, though not for the first time. Here where I am I the West Country, we didn’t have snow but it rained like it was never going to stop. Which means… (click here to read on)

 

Where Have All the Sparrows Gone?

100_6578So, where have all the sparrows gone? There’s plenty in my garden, a flock of at least thirty. There always have been lots here, mainly because I feed them all year round and they know I chase the cats away. However, if you wonder where all there rest are, I think I’ve found them, some of them anyway.

Rui Monica NerjaThey’re all over in Spain, at least the ones with any sense are, well, in Nerja anyway. I recently holidayed there, in a lovely hotel, the Rui Monica, on the beachfront. The hotel is Y shaped and within its form is an enclosed patio, only accessed from the basement, 3 floors down from ground level. The patio is surrounded by high walls. Growing within are several tall trees including palms, there is a constant supply of water from the dripping air-conditioning units hanging on these walls and, because of its location, is impervious to the many cats, mostly feral, that roam the resort. Thus, a perfect, safe haven for these delightful birds.

It was at dusk, on our first evening at the hotel, we noticed from our balcony, four floors up from the basement and just above the treetops in this area, hundreds and hundreds of sparrows flying in to take roost for the night here. Once they were perched on the various trees, you could not see them, such was the dense leaf cover. For a good half-hour flocks and flocks of them flew in. Once they had all settled, silence ruled.

Until dawn. The cacophony of these little birds was tremendous as they came awake, chatted and chirped to each other before, in twos and threes, they took off to spend the day wherever they spent the day (many stayed around the hotel gardens and outdoor snack bar). We didn’t mind the noise; we enjoyed the spectacle and it ensured during our ten days there we were never late for breakfast or missed the coach on the few day trips out we took.

I had hoped to take a small movie of their dusk decent on my tablet, but after that first evening, we were never there at the right time to capture it. Always a good reason to go back there, of course, as Nerja is lovely.

To read more of my adventures in Nerja, click here

I Hate Winter!

Garden snow small

January 2013

It’s official. I hate winter. Always have. Always will. I hate always being cold – but I’m that during the summer too, even my husband will tell you I’m the only one he knows who can be  under a tropical sun on a beach in Barbados and still have goosebumps! I hate wearing layers and layers of clothes which, in turn, means there’s far more washing in the winter, and how the hell are you supposed to get it all dry? Thank goodness for the tumble drier. No, I much prefer to feel the sun on my skin, only happy when I can wander about all day in a floaty cotton kaftan, when I’m not hungry all the time, and when don’t have to rush to the loo every five minutes to spend a penny.

Winter Wonderland

Here’s one I did earlier

And pretty as it might look, I absolutely hate snow. We’ve had our fill here yet more is forecast this weekend. The only good thing about snow is that it makes for some nice landscapes to paint.

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By the gate 1 February 2013

So, thank goodness January is over, always the worst month of the year, and we are now into February. On the first of this month, the snow had melted, the sun was out and it was mild, so I took a walk around the country estate garden, to see what  was happening. And joy of joys, the snowdrops were out, as were some crocus. Last year, these were in flower on New Year’s Day, so they are only one month late.

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1 February 2013

The daffodils by the hedge stood a foot high and buds showing that first tinge of yellow. The hellebores were nodding their pretty mauve, red, white and two-tone heads and the primroses were out. The hyacinths were up, as were the first leaves of the bluebells.

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My favourite hellebore in flower 1Feb 2013

In few weeks the forsythia hedge will be blossoming, and I see as I look through the gap between the houses opposite to the wood, the trees are showing hints of green. Yes, spring is definitely edging in. Yippee. And in a few more weeks’ time, hopefully, I can enjoy breakfast and morning coffee in the garden again. Bring it on, I say!

Christmas, Coffee and Song

Christmas for many is a time of excitement, expectation and merriment, a gathering of families to share and enjoy good food and the exchanging of gifts along with the sanctity and ritual of traditions, be they religious or familial. It is also a time of reflection, remembering those who are no longer with us, and those that cannot be with us for whatever reason.

It is at this time of year when I always miss my father most. He loved everything about Christmas, the pains he took in making our toys when we were little – the wooden forts and dolls houses and prams; all the secrecy, the pleasure he obviously took in finding the right things for us all, and the fun I know he had in putting up all the decorations and dressing the tree on Christmas Eve after us four children had gone to bed. He also took charge of bringing home and cooking the turkey.

One pleasure he took was in taking us all to see the Christmas lights along the Great West Road at Brentford, where we lived. Near to the Gillette factory was Firestone Tyres factory, which had a long, lawned frontage that to us children seemed to go for miles. Every year the factory put up a fantastic display of lights: trees, sleighs and all sorts. It was a magical sight and I continued this evening excursion with my own daughter, much to her delight.

Lights at Firestones. Copyright Clive Warneford

Lights at Firestones. Copyright Clive Warneford

Christmas is for children, the magic for me seeing the pleasure in their smiling faces as they see displays, the decorated tree, and that wonderful moment of pure joy when they rip open their presents.

Each year in late November, Oma, my German grandmother, would send over a parcel of Christmas goodies. These always included Advent calendars, our presents, and lots of foodstuffs that were not available at that time (back in 1950s and 60s) in England: things such as Stollen, Lebkuchen and Lebkuchenherzen (iced gingerbread hearts). She always sent candy canes – something normally associated with the USA. The origin of striped candy canes comes from Germany when these treats made to represent a shepherd’s crook were given out to children when leaving church at Christmas time.

There is one special tradition I now continue although at the time we came across this, it had nothing to do with Christmas but is now the time of year I preserve the memory of my father. One year, my husband treated my parents, my daughter and me to a holiday cruise down the Rhine in Germany. It was Easter time, and an incredibly hot one at that. One of the towns along the river we visited was Rudesheim, where they make Asbach Uralt– a type of brandy, and one of my favourite tipples (when I can get hold of it!). It was here we were introduced to Rudesheimer coffee – a type of “Irish” coffee, with a difference. Dad couldn’t get enough of it, insisting on this whenever we had coffee during that trip. Years later, when he and my mother spent many Christmases with us, I would make Dad his Rudesheimer coffee in memory of that lovely trip together. And each year at Christmas I still make myself one. Okay, maybe two or three over the festive break. I have included the recipe here. Unlike the spirited after-meal coffees we are used to in the UK, this one is served in a large mug, or, as I have, a special cup and saucer bought in Germany for the purpose of. I hope you give it a try.

Meanwhile in a time of reflection and sadness following several sad happenings recently, here is my tribute to the dreadful shootings in America last week:

Wishing everyone an enjoyable, peaceful and safe Christmas.