Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Arch

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The kids picked Arch as the theme for #Halftermphotofun and in my mind I thought, ah it’ll just be all bridges and churches and while we certainly got some of those we had lots of other great interpretations proving yet again that my kids know better than I do.  The humble arch is, once you start looking, everywhere around us both in nature and the built environment as it it is the building block to so much of the world around us from an architectural point of view.  Writing that sentence I’ve just noticed that architecture begins with arch !  I did know that there were different styles of arch but didn’t realise that there were quite so many designs, I think I came across about 15 styles doing a little bit of research – the Ogee arch anyone ?  I’m not sure how many styles we’ve managed to have represented here but quite a few I reckon.

What I particularly liked when you see all of the arches together here is how inquisitive it made me feel, what’s through there ? adventure ? mystery ? are they portals to another world ? and then there were the different interpretations, arch enemies/ rivals of the rugby team forming an arch in the scrum, the arch of the foot or the eye, the fun the little boy is having making an arch and I think it was this photo that made me put the family photo at the top, if you can’t find an arch you can just make your own.

As always thanks so much to all of you who took part contributing and interpreting throughout the week, it’s been great fun as always.  I hope I haven’t missed any out but if I have then do get in touch and I’ll amend the gallery.  We’ll be back for Easter, unless we throw a random weekendphotofun in so if you are reading this and want to take part then you are more than welcome, just follow me on twitter @ianstreet67 or keep an eye on the twitter hashtags #halftermphotofun, #easterphotofun, #summerphotofun etc you get the drift.  Thanks everyone.

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Roll of Honour – by Phil Dean

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When the Boys Book Club go away for the annual trip we have, over the last few years, done some of our own writing as well as reviewing whatever the book happens to be.  The year in Barcelona we had a theme of Reliance and could come up with whatever we wanted to around that theme.  We hunkered down in a bar and read out our own pieces to each other, it was a special moment for me and a real highlight of the trip.  It’s one thing to critique published authors, it’s quite another to have a go at something yourself over a short time-frame (we had three weeks) and reveal that to others.  Phil is, alongside me, one of the earliest members of the bookclub and he wrote a beautiful piece called Roll of Honour inspired by his visits to the stunning Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red installation at the Tower of London.  He has published his piece on his blog so make yourself a cup of tea and go and have a read of Roll of Honour 

I’ll post a couple more of our interpretations on here hopefully over the coming week with the authors permission.

Malaga Weekend

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I really enjoy getting away to another city for a couple of days when possible, it’s amazing how much you can pack in while still taking it easy having plenty of chill time.  After a weekend, though often tired I feel completely refreshed, it’s so good to see other places, see how people live, shop, eat, drink etc.  As I gaze out of my window at the torrential rain I can still feel the warmth in my bones from last weekends trip to Malaga which is, in my view a simply brilliant city to spend a couple of days in.  Small enough to wander around on foot easily, relaxed, warm and with plenty of options of things to have a look at and experience as you wander around which is the perfect mix for me.  In fact I enjoyed it so much I’ve got a few different blog posts to write such was the variety of the experience.

If at all possible I like to try and go somewhere in Southern Europe in May as it feels like a huge reward to be able to stroll about in shirt sleeves, the sun warming the bones, a cold beer sat outside somewhere watching the world go by which is in stark contrast to the last few months hunkering down in the cold and rain of Northern Europe.  Malaga fits the bill perfectly for this, couple of hours flight but feels like a different world and a solid 25 degrees C.

Of course many (perhaps most?) of the planeloads landing at Malaga airport go nowhere near the city as they head off to the beaches and resorts but walk out of the doors of the airport and twenty minutes later a fast train from the station across the road will have whisked you into the city centre.  Once there ditch the bags and head out to explore.

Malaga spans almost 3,000 years of history after being founded by the Phoneticians falling subsequently under the control of the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Moors before finally settling under Christian rule in the 1400’s.  The history is reflected in the remains of the Roman theatre right in the heart of the city, the castle of Gibralfaro, numerous churches and a huge Cathedral.  When you combine this history and architecture together with the cities three fantastic art galleries (modern, Picasso and traditional), a regenerated harbour area and a beach a mere ten minutes stroll from the centre you have all the ingredients for a good city.

The city centre is pieced together by a maze of old streets and squares with a seemingly endless supply of eateries making it perfect for just wandering around.  At night the atmosphere was really special as seemingly the whole of the city comes out for the Spanish tradition of el paseo where all ages stroll around, chat, greet friends, eat ice cream and create an atmosphere that just makes you want to smile.  Pitch yourself on an outside table with some wine and people watch to your heart’s content, it’s as far removed from the average Saturday night in any British town or city as it’s possible to imagine.  I can hugely recommend it and hopefully the pictures give an overall flavour of the city.

Girona

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I’ve recently had a couple of days in Girona, Catalonia, escaping the ice and snow here and enjoying the feel of early spring warmth on my skin.  Girona has been somewhere that’s been on my radar for a while so it was great to finally have a chance to go and I have to say it’s a fantastic city for a few days.  For me if you’ve only got a weekend or so in a new city then I like a smaller city that I don’t have to spend time traveling around, trying to figure out the transport system etc, I want a place I can potter and mooch around exploring on foot and seeing what I can find and Girona fitting the bill perfectly for this.

The city is packed with history as it’s on the Via Augusta way that linked Spain through to ancient Rome and as well as the Romans has been ruled by the Visigoths, Moors and French, has had 25 sieges of the city and been captured 9 times.  I think that this is mostly due to it’s fantastic strategic location raised up as it is with views across the plains and bordered on one side by the Pyrenean mountains and the other by the sea so whoever controlled the city controlled vital trade routes in Southern Europe.  This history has of course left it’s mark on the city, churches, chapels and a massive cathedral dominate the old town which contains one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Europe and is fantastic to walk around.  The area has the feel of a film set with narrow alleys and staircases vanishing off in a maze like structure willing you to explore.  Flanking the back of the old town are the town walls which you can walk along, they gave super vantage points across the city but also down into the old town and it’s maze of alleys and houses and you could pick out some fantastic walled gardens and hidden balconies that you would never have seen from street level.  The walls form a rough semi circle with the remainder of the border of the old town being the River Onya which is criss crossed with numerous pedestrian bridges.  At street level you cannot see the river and would not know it was there as the houses are jutted right up against it but little gaps appear where the bridges are.  One of them will look very familiar in construction methodology to anyone who has seen a certain landmark in Paris as it is indeed designed by Gustave Eiffel and completed just before his more famous tower.  The bridges take you over to the newer side of the city but there are still some beautiful squares and tapas bars to while away the time.

I love the whole concept of tapas and no matter how much we attempt to imitate it back here we never get it the same.  It was great to sit and watch how the Catalans were going about ordering and eating and as much as I loved the tapas (Iberic ham mmmmmmmm) the way of eating I really enjoyed was Pinchos, trays of mouthwatering morsels on sticks in bars.  You help yourself and then they tot up your sticks when you are ready to pay.  It’s a great way of trying something without worrying about the cost and I like the whole vibe around it.

As well as wandering, history, eating and drinking there was plenty of culture available as well with museums covering art (classical rather than modern), archaeology, history and a fantastic one on the early years of the cinema.  There were also a number of the ancient buildings that you can go in (the Cathedral is the big draw) but I also really liked the Arab Baths.  I was lucky to be there over Palm Sunday and while not being religious myself it was great to soak up the atmosphere and watch what was happening around the cathedral as family groups met and chatted all with huge palm leaves or laurel plants.  The feeling I got from the city and the people throughout the few days was one of warmth and friendship.

Of course you need somewhere to stay when you go to another city and the choice is usually to stick to the tried and trusted hotel chains or try to find something interesting and locally owned and run.  I always try and go for the latter and this time came up trumps with one of the nicest places I’ve stayed, a B&B (Montjuic B&B) 10 mins walk from the old town with views over the town out to the mountains.  Carmen and Michael were the most perfect hosts who simply could not do enough for you but were never fussy or formal and provided exquisite homemade delicacies for breakfast that made it tricky to actually want to leave and go exploring.

I felt extremely fortunate to have visited Girona and would definitely go back (in fact I think I could live there).  It also happens to by a cycling mecca as well and I’d love to go back and do some riding but whether you ride or not it’s a great city.

Happy 1st Birthday

First birthday cupcake

Photo credit: Punchbowl.com

A year ago today I wrote my first post on this blog after setting it up with my good friend Phil.  It was not the first post I’ve ever written as Phil had been encouraging me to write for a long time and kindly hosted a bit of my writing over on his own excellent blog.  Sometimes however you need encouragement in life and Phil, together with other members of our boys book club had, for a while, been coaxing me to write.  The problem was where and how as until a year ago I was avowedly anti social media.  We were mulling this over in a bar in Malaga at the time and hatched an idea for a collaborative space where any of us could contribute if we wanted to, I liked that idea so Phil and I launched this blog.  I felt like a nervous toddler at first as I took my first tentative steps into this online world and into actually writing stuff down not just talking about it !  I, and all who have contributed this year have kept to the premise of this blog which is to write about what we experience, see and like hopefully from a positive perspective and in an interesting way.

From my own perspective I’ve very much enjoyed the experience and have experimented in how and what I write about and I’ve become much more observant, both in noticing things I can write about but also in a visual sense as well.  Some of the stuff I’ve written has been OK but there have been a few that I’m genuinely pleased with.

One of things that I did not think I would do would be to join Twitter but again after some gentle nudging and explaining on how it will help in ‘publishing’ my posts I have embraced all that is good about it.  Many friends have been made, either on line or in person, none of whom I’d have had any contact with if it were not for that medium and in embracing it I have become aware of the pros and cons which I feel will help me to guide my own children through this ever changing digital world.

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Very early on I wrote something and had a response from someone in America, this blew me sideways to be honest as I queried how anyone there would have come across the blog but this contact from people all over the world has been one of the amazing things.  I don’t get bogged down in the whole stats thing but the picture above is all the countries that have visited the blog this year (95 countries in all) which I find quite mindboggling.  When the blog was set up I wanted to write regularly and between us we have written 205 posts in a year which I think is a decent effort.

When I write I never have any idea if anyone will see what I write and that is never why I write, I write what’s in my head at that moment be that something I’m just musing on or a reaction to something I’ve seen.  However people have read the blog and liked some of the posts and commented.  I’m hugely grateful to any of you who have taken the trouble to do this and would like to thank you all.  I would however most like to thank Phil for giving me the push in the first place, for continuing to contribute both a unique visual look but also brilliant book reviews to the site from our book club nights out, despite his busy online profile involved in other blogs.  Nice one mate.  We’ve also had a few other contributors this year who have all written really interesting pieces (I’ve linked a few below) and hope that will continue.

This brings me onto the final bit, now that we have found our legs, if you like what we do would you like to join us in the Orchard ?  The whole idea is that this is a collaborative space so if you don’t have a blog but fancy writing something on what your interests are or what you are up to wherever that is and you think it would fit with what we do then let us know.  You might be someone who has a specific blog on a specific issue or theme but would like to write posts that don’t fit with your blog then again maybe it would fit with us here so again leave a comment if you would like to contribute.

In no order whatsoever these are my favourite posts of the year.  I’d love to hear what you have made of the blog or any of the posts that have appeared this year.  Cheers.

  • Merrion Rhapsody – by PB – which gives a unique look on the Brutalist architecture of the Merrion Centre
  • Master and Margarita  – Phil – one of many great reviews written this year
  • Castle People – Eleanor – a fascinating look at a unknown figure in history
  • Russian Underground  – Leon – Our man in Moscow gets to grip with the underground system
  • Art and Bikes – one of a few posts on the subject but I was happy with this
  • Chip Shop Etiquette – the different way of ordering in chip shops
  • Sci Fi Books – a look at some of the great sci-fi books and the prejudice that exists towards the genre
  • Sleep – how do you become aware of art

Cilgerran Castle

If there is one thing that gives you a glimpse into the turbulent history of Wales it is the castles that litter the land.  Many people will be aware of the huge ring of castles built by Edward Longshanks at Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth, Aberystwyth, Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris that he built to crush and control the rebellious Welsh but the bloody history of Wales means that there is barely any reasonably sized settlement in Wales today that does not show traces of fortification.  I was staying down in West Wales over the summer and the little village of Cilgerran is a classic example of a small place that was once the scene of significant history as it was here in 1109 that Nest (the Welsh ‘Helen of Troy’) was abducted by Owain, son of the Prince of Powys causing a major conflict within Wales.  The area was the scene of much conflict of the next few hundred years as Welsh clans battled the English invaders.  The final rebuilding of the castle as you can see it in the ruins today dates from the 13th century and although it’s entrance is somewhat hidden in the village you can quickly see what a strategic setting it had, two sides being easily defended by the steep sided, and beautiful, Teifi gorge.

I’m no expert on castles but there were a couple of features that I thought somewhat unusual – first is that there was no keep, all of the living quarters were situated within the two huge towers.  The second I discovered is that the architect of the towers constructed the spiral staircases the wrong way round which meant that it was easier for soldiers attacking (with swords in their right hands) than it was for the defending soldiers to defend.

It is a beautiful site in a lovely area and a reminder that you don’t need to go to one of the well known huge castles as there are plenty more dotted all over Wales to have a look at.

Castle People

Carlisle Castle gate – who worked in a place like this?

I’m a castle person, no doubt about it. I visit them, watch TV programmes about them, I’ve even studied them at university for heaven’s sake. But what about the people who actually built them, lived and worked in them? It’s the stories of human interaction with these wonderful buildings that often bring them to life.

Obviously there’s the grisly – the executions within the Tower, the traitors’ body parts being displayed around the country and the ludicrous story about Edward II’s demise at Berkley Castle (though probably not as far-fetched as the tale about him skipping the country and living for another decade or two as a hermit in Italy). After all, there’s no getting away from the violence that went on in the medieval period. Yet there are far more ‘normal’ stories about the castle people that also deserve to be remembered.

At the top of society is the monarch, possibly not the most normal of people, but we have to thank them for our castle legacy. Edward I, for example, is a famous castle builder, and a pragmatic one at that. For him, castles in Wales were just another tool, with several functions. There are the obvious, like a safe place to sleep and a base from which to launch attacks, but no less important and perhaps more so, were the logistical and symbolic. There were already castles in Wales when he arrived, but they were in the wrong places for protecting his supply lines. After all, an army won’t last for very long without its vittles. They were also a very clear statement – here I am, I’m not going anywhere, so you’d better just get used to it. On the other hand, he didn’t do much building from scratch when he turned his attention to Scotland, because he didn’t need to. He just took the ones that were already in convenient locations, like Berwick, which was described as being at the centre of his administrative web. You can just imagine some bureaucrat sitting in the castle above the river Tweed, waiting for his minions to bring him the latest news and despatches.

What about the men who really did build the castles, rather than just giving the order to do so? Edward’s favourite architect seems to be Master James of St George (St George being from St George d’Esperanche in Savoy). His trick was to bring together various innovations from around the world to produce a new type of castle for the British Isles. These new castles had projecting towers on the curtain wall, concentric rings of defences and vastly strengthened gatehouses from what had gone before. Sadly he wasn’t given the same scope in Scotland as he had been in Wales (though not for the Scots), with his minimum 1290s budget of £250 per week reduced to a measly £20 per week at Selkirk and Linlithgow in the 1300s. Quite a comedown really, but possibly made up for by the rewards – a salary of 3s a day, a promised pension of 1s 6d for his wife should she survive him, the position of constable at Harlech, worth £66.66 (100 marks) and a manor worth £25 a year. This was certainly more than other master masons got for their troubles.

Andrew de Harcla defends the siege of Carlisle

Someone I’ve come across that I feel rather sorry for is Andrew de Harcla, who was keeper of Carlisle Castle for the decade or so until his death in 1323. Here was a truly dedicated public servant, defending various parts of northern England from the Scots. After the battle at Bannockburn in 1314 he “dared not leave his post for fear of Scottish attacks by day or night”. And importantly from my point of view, his tenure saw considerable investment in the maintenance and development of the castle. There were several surveys in the 14th century, highlighting its deficiencies and need for works, but they were largely ignored or only received a token response. This makes the amount spent during his watch stand out all the more. In recognition of his service, he was elevated from a humble knight to a baron and then an earl. So what went wrong? To put an end to the destructive Scottish raids he agreed to recognise Robert Bruce as King of Scotland, an act deemed to be treason, and for which he was executed. After being hanged, drawn and quartered, he then had the further indignity of having a quarter of his body hung on the walls of his own castle. Harsh enough, but only five years later the new king, Edward III, signed a truce and recognised Bruce as king (because it’s ok when the king himself does it). Edward also gave the macabre order, on 10th August 1328, that the quarters be returned to his sister for burial at long last. An apology perhaps?

Perhaps the most interesting though are the glimpses into the lives of those who don’t usually make it into the guidebooks. More than a decade after I read a few short lines about him, I remember the name of William Barber. On 20th December 1339, he was granted custody of the gate of Carlisle castle for life, in return for his “good service” in Scotland and Antwerp. He crops up again the following March – his appointment had merely said he should receive the “usual wages and fees” and this made him rather uneasy. Suspicion of government is clearly nothing new! Apparently worried that he’d have to wait a while to receive anything he, probably wisely, asked for clarification. He was given the news that he would have 4d a day (significantly less than Master James) plus the same fees as his predecessor. Only days later, though, is a very intriguing entry. Barber is allowed to use a deputy to carry out his duties as he is away “attendant upon other business for the king”. What does this mean? If only I knew! Unfortunately, Barber’s reward was short-lived. In March 1343, custody of the gate was granted to Peter de Routhe as Barber had died. Interestingly, the bureaucrats didn’t make the same mistake with Peter, and specified his wages straightaway (the same as Barber’s).

Obviously there are many many more stories like that, hiding away in obscure places. Some will be enlightening, others will be frustrating because they ask more questions than they answer. But all will be fascinating. The trick is knowing how to find them.