Friday 29 November 2013

Odds and Sods...

America Today!

Because I live most of my 'real' life on-line I tend to live with my friends in many different countries but I have few blog readers, e-mailers and Facebook contacts who live in the UK.  As a result I know nothing about UK politics (upon which it was once my job to be an expert),  a tiny bit about politics in some other countries,  and lots about American politics.  But the problem with American politics is knowing what is real and what is just a joke.  OK, a sick joke.  Like this -

"To the Missouri State Senate, women aren't people. They aren't American citizens. Pharmacists in Missouri can refuse to sell them birth control pills. It's about belief. If your pharmacist believes you, a woman, shouldn't be using birth control, he can refuse to sell you the drugs. It's about his belief. He has a right in Missouri, according to the Senate, to see to it that you behave as he thinks you should. This is what it means to be a woman in America today? We're back to this?" - Anne Rice

 Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta

  Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta - 'Model Making Mischief' [c.1885]

The Goddess Wiki tells us "Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta (Rome 1841 – 1920) was a Spanish realist painter.  He was born in Rome, but after 1860 he lived mostly in Paris, where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts under Léon Cogniet, and eventually established a studio. His remarkable technical ability made him a highly successful portrait and genre painter in a Salon style.  As an artist of international standing he commanded premium prices for his work. His $2,000 fee for painting Secretary Root from life moved the scale for official portraits beyond the traditional modest progressions and into 20th-century levels."

I like his style because so many of his portraits suggest the model has a sense of mischief.

Detail from a portrait of Aline Masson, 1876

Dama con sombrero

Helen, and other arachnophobes, don't read the rest....

 I follow Wirral Newsbeat on Facebook.  It's a really good site for keeping up-to-date with what is happening in my area.  But occasionally it posts some utter rubbish.  It has just posted a picture of a spider and said it is a False Widow Spider, that it has recently invaded The Wirral, and is dangerous.

What a load of rubbish. Firstly, they have been around over 100 years.  The false widow spiders that have been blamed for a small spate of bites in the UK are Steatoda nobilis, which arrived in the country from Madeira and the Canary Islands in some bananas in 1879.  (We know the exact year because they had their little passports stamped.)

Secondly,  the poor innocent chap pictured on the Facebook page is not a Steatoda species.  So it's a false false widow.  Wirral resident Sarah Ravenscroft commented "This poor innocent spider has now been wrongly accused, he'll have to go into hiding now or his life will be made a misery!"

Thirdly, they will only bite if threatened, and generally live in cracks or holes, for example within walls or garden sheds.

Fourthly, whilst the occasional widow has killed people...

no incy wincy spider has ever done so in this country.

This species does, however, carry a poison to which you may have a reaction if you are one of the few unlucky people to be allergic to it.  But then bees, wasps and peanuts also carry such a poison.

Fifthly, in the 1970s I was bitten by one that was hidden in some bananas and which felt threatened when I went to eat it!  The base of my thumb swelled up and it was painful for about twelve hours.  That was it.  No more than the sort of bite one can get from many other British invertebrates and certainly a lot less unpleasant than being bitten by a cleg or horse-fly.

Sarah Ravenscroft said "Wonder how many people will ring in sick with the excuse 'Sorry I can't come in I've been attacked by a false widow'".

P.S. If you do get stung by a bee (far more likely) treat the sting with baking soda, aloe vera, honey, cider vinegar, onions or egg yolk.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

May all of my readers in the States have a good Thanksgiving - I wish you turkey aplenty and friendships and (good) relations galore.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

On the road from Hay to Eardisley.

Some photos taken from the car during a rainy drive from Hay-on-Wye to Eardisley (in Herefordshire) in October.

The briefest bit of sunshine.

It's wet again.

Some of the time this was what I got -

The barns are full of straw

or turned into housing.

More barns...

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Surprising Book Facts

I'm not sure I agree with the last 'fact' - it will depend upon your field.  But an hour a day for a few years will certainly make you pretty expert in any field.

Monday 25 November 2013

Croeso i'r Gelli / Welcome to Hay-on-Wye

Herewith, by popular demand, some more pictures from our brief holiday in October.  (I'm not sure if the demand was a positive thing or a desire to have me stop blogging about potoos, buttons and Charles II's sex life....)

 It was my birthday and after breakfast we headed from Staunton-on-Wye into Hay-on-Wye.  Hay-on-Wye is world renowned for books and bookshops.  Its unique position on the border between England and Wales make Hay ideal for visitors to explore and enjoy the beautiful border country.  Hay-on-Wye lies on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English Border in the County of POWYS, Wales. Although as far as the Royal Mail is concerned, it is better, apparently, to use the County of HEREFORDSHIRE, not to be confused with the county of HERTFORDSHIRE; a very popular mistake ! The Town Council's site shows the majority of the postal addresses are either 'via Hereford' or 'Herefordshire'.

It was wet.

Very wet!

Very, very wet.

This is the castle.

It was easier to take photos of the ground since pointing the camera horizontally just got the lens soaked.

The ground in one place was littered with red 'berries', except they aren't really berries. 

 The trees from which they have fallen are English Yew trees which go by the scientific name of Taxus baccata.  

Baccata is Latin for bearing red berries.  In fact the so-called berries are highly modified seed cones;  each cone containing a single seed 4–7 mm long partly surrounded by a modified scale which develops into a soft, bright red berry-like structure, open at the end, called an aril.  The gelatinous aril is sweet tasting and edible but the seed itself is extremely poisonous and bitter.   Notwithstanding this they are opened and eaten by some bird species including Hawfinches Greenfinches and Great Tits.

Next time I venture into my October holiday pictures it will be for a wet Herefordshire and some of its wonderful architecture.  See you there, I hope.

Sunday 24 November 2013


A lot about buttons – with thanks to Wikipedia and other on-line sources.

In modern clothing and fashion design, a button is a small fastener, most commonly made of plastic, but also frequently of seashell, which secures two pieces of fabric together. In archaeology, a button can be a significant artefact. In the applied arts and in craft, a button can be an example of folk art, studio craft, or even a miniature work of art.

Buttons are most often attached to articles of clothing but can also be used on containers such as wallets and bags. However, buttons may be sewn onto garments and similar items exclusively for purposes of ornamentation. Buttons serving as fasteners work by slipping through a fabric or thread loop, or by sliding through a buttonhole.

The word button comes from the French word 'bouton' meaning a knob, bud or pimple.

Ian McNeil (1990) holds that: "The button, in fact, was originally used more as an ornament than as a fastening, the earliest known being found at Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley. It is made of a curved shell and [is] about 5000 years old."

The earliest functional buttons were found in the tombs of conquering Hungarian tribes from the late 9th century. Functional buttons with buttonholes for fastening or closing clothes appeared first in Germany in the 13th century. They soon became widespread with the rise of snug-fitting garments in 13th- and 14th-century Europe.

King Francis I of France who reigned from 1515 to 1547 once wore 13,600 gold buttons on a court costume.  That seems a bit OTT to me!

Chinese coats usually had five buttons on the front to represent the five principal virtues recommended by Confucius – Humanity, Justice, Order, Prudence and Rectitude.  Certain Chinese officials in the days of the Empire wore buttons on their hats to show their rank. The men of highest rank wore ruby buttons. Then came buttons of coral, sapphire, lapis lazuli, crystal and finally other materials.

The British Army in France during World War I is said to have used 367 different kinds of buttons.  Buttons were considered so important to front line troops that any kind of a button could be requisitioned and delivered within eight hours. The British Army spent £250,000 per year just for the paste used to polish brass buttons.

During the second half of the eighteenth century, manufacturers of metal buttons began to ‘brand’ their products by marking the backs with their names and often their addresses. These ‘backmarks’ can provide useful information for dating the buttons, as details of the various companies, and when they were operating, can be found in contemporary trade directories and other documentary sources. The marking is invariably produced by die stamping, which is an inherent part of the manufacturing process, and backmarks produced in this way continue to be used to the present day.

Some museums and art galleries hold culturally, historically, politically, and/or artistically significant buttons in their collections. The Victoria & Albert Museum has many buttons, particularly in its jewellery collection, as does the Smithsonian Institution.

Hammond Turner & Sons, a button-making company in Birmingham, hosts an online museum with an image gallery and historical button-related articles, including an 1852 article on button-making by Charles Dickens. In the USA, large button collections are on public display at The Waterbury Button Museum of Waterbury, Connecticut, the Keep Homestead Museum of Monson, Massachusetts, which also hosts an extensive online button archive and in Gurnee, Illinois at The Button Room.

And the fact about buttons that I found most fascinating - why men's and women's clothes are buttoned on opposite sides.  Apparently it is because in high society, men generally dressed themselves whereas women were dressed by their maids.  Reversing the buttons on women's clothes made the job faster and easier.

Friday 22 November 2013

Friday My Town Shoot-out – My Weakness

 The Friday My Town Shoot-out challenge this week is to show one’s weakness.  I wish I only had the one!  Looking through my recent photos I found a few weaknesses…

Doing crosswords over coffee in the local café at Upton…

Visiting Patisserie Valerie in Chester…

‘Collecting’ post boxes.  This one is in Weobley in Herefordshire and is an ‘anonymous box’ – i.e. it is one produced for a brief period in the Victorian era and mistakenly had no crown and cipher on it.

Wearing jewellery – there are times I wish I was a girl and could wear lots of it.  There is so much attractive jewellery out there.

Watching the doormat, waiting for postcards to arrive….

And selecting postcards to send to my friends…

Having eyes bigger then my tummy as my Mum used to say….

If you would like to see other bloggers’ weaknesses please visit the link here.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Charles II – what school didn’t tell me

At school I learned the history of the Stuarts (1603 - 1714) but for some reason our teacher never went into any detail about the children of Charles II born outside of his marriage to Catherine of Braganza.  We had to be taught about the Duke of Monmouth because he featured in various aspects of English history including the Monmouth Rebellion against his uncle James II.  But our teachers totally failed to mention that Charles had a number of other mistresses besides Lucy Walters – Monmouth’s mother. 

I don’t know what the total number of mistresses was but as well as Lucy Walters they included Lady Orkney and Lady Dorchester.  

The following mistresses all gave him children –
Elizabeth Killigrew (one daughter Charlotte FitzRoy)
Katherine Pegge (one son Charles FitzCharles)
Barbara Castlemaine (two daughters, Anne FitzRoy and Charlotte FitzRoy, and three sons, Charles FitzRoy, Henry FitzRoy and George FitzRoy)  She also claimed that her daughter, Barbara was the cghild of Charles II but she was more likely to have been the daughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.  Among Lady Castlemaine’s other lovers were the Earl of Chesterfield, Ralph Montagu (the English Ambassador to France) and Jacob Hall (the rope-dancer).  Quite what her husband Roger Palmer, Earl of Castlemaine, thought of it all is not recorded. 
Nell Gwynne - his most famous mistress – (two sons Charles Beauclerk and James Beauclerk who died at the age of nine).
Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth (one son Charles Lennox).
Moll Davis (Mary Tudor).

The present Dukes of Buccleuch, Grafton, St Albans, and Richmond are all descended from these liaisons.

When the mob jostled Nell Gwynne’s coach, mistaking it for that of the unpopular Catholic Louise de Kerouaille, Nell leaned out and said “Pray, good people, be civil I am the Protestant whore.”

Charles didn’t hold the record for illegitimate children fathered by an English king – this is thought to be Henry I who had twenty or possibly twenty two by his six mistresses.

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