Monday, 17 November 2014

Please, touch the exhibits ... Avebury Manor

I've been meaning to write this post for weeks, since my weekend in Wiltshire back in, when was it, September, but a project at work, trying to impress a new boss and being a good all-rounder got in the way, and then there were some compelling books that I picked up and couldn't put down and now it's November and that means NaNoWriMo and so ...

Enough excuses?  Enough excuses!

Avebury Manor, which pictures will remind me of late-summer and gardens filled with bumble bees and blossoms and oh, it was such a nice, friendly place to visit and a real antidote to the disappointing B&B where I'd spent the night.

Avebury Manor has been home to many families since it was built in the 1550's. In 2011 a team of historians, designers, craftsmen and volunteers transformed it for a major TV project.

The rooms are decorated to reflect key moments in its history, linked to the real stories of the house and its occupants (National Trust

The entrance is through a delightful garden. In September it was filled with dahlias which, I was told, would soon be lifted and stored for the winter. I spent a great deal of time dallying among the dahlias, taking photographs that would, I hoped, be the subject of some amateur art-work when time permitted and which, so far, it hasn't, so that's another reminder to myself to make time in my busy life to do that which pleases me.

A colour-coordinated bee.

I love the detail of his wings, I think that he may be my first subject when I dig out my sketchbook.

The garden was, of course, filled with the buzzing of industrious insects which, with the autumn sunshine and the scents of flowers created a very relaxing and zen atmosphere.

I could sit here uploading dahlias all day, and why not?
It occurs to me that digital photography is one of modern life's blessings, Does anyone remember the days when you took a roll of film to the chemist to be processed and received back a motley collection of prints, some of them over-exposed, many of them of people missing their feet, all pot-luck and a pretty pricey exercise.  

When I could finally tear myself away from the flowers I entered the manor house.

I'm accustomed to being greeted by stern-faced guides and that silky red rope that keeps the public away from the furnishings. No matter how hard I try I can't help feeling a sense of inferiority, like one of the staff grudgingly permitted to venture upstairs on special occasions, when faced with those red ropes. I do understand that we can't be trusted, I once spoke politely but firmly to a rather large American tourist who plonked her posterior on one of Victor Hugo's chairs in his house in La Place des Vosges in Paris, but still, I dislike the red ropes intensely.

So I was surprised and delighted to be greeted by smiling guides who invited me to wander at will and please, sit on the sofas and finger the furnishings to your heart's content.    

The Elizabethan room was one of my favorites.
Sad to say that I was so busy chatting to the guide and admiring the room that I only took one picture. Which means that I'll have to return before too long to take more. Such serendipity!

Upstairs in the Queen Anne room the guide asked me to climb onto the four-poster bed and, accompanied by another visitor, I sat and listened as she talked about the room and its restoration. And then a family came in and the small children clambered onto the bed with us and I told them a short bedtime story before wishing them goodnight and tip-toeing out.    

The next room was my second-favourite, or perhaps joint second with the kitchen,  because I could imagine sitting on the chaise longue with a book, the sunlight streaming through the window, a clock ticking companionably nearby and a dog snoring on the rug. It was a room in which a lady would loosen her corsets, let out a sigh of relief and relax.        

Downstairs again because sadly the Elizabethan bedroom had recently suffered a floor-malfunction when great chunks of plaster fell into the room below and a close inspection revealed woodworm and rot in the timbers. Such are the pitfalls of living in an old house.

The dining room, like the other rooms, had been decorated and furnished to match the era of one of the house's owners and I'm afraid that I can't recall who or when, but the hand-painted wallpaper was produced in China and is quite lovely.

I sat at the table, I tried out the cutlery and raised a glass of wine and imagined dinners taken there,  and all under the smiling gaze of the guide.  

My friend H.H. would love this room, quite manly and with riding boots under the side-table and crops nearby.

She also would appreciate the hunting scene. We've had many a disagreement over the cruelty, or not, of hunting foxes with hounds, she having been a keen huntsman (woman)  and me being the type who takes dead pigeons home to cremate in the fireplace and who rescues snails from busy footpaths.  

Each to their own ...

In the kitchen a couple of children were mixing bread.
"This is so cool," one of them said.
"Yeah, I'm going to peel a spud," said her brother.

The tea in the pot was hot. I poured a cup for a fellow visitor, and it struck me that we were interacting with the house and the exhibits but also, equally importantly, many of us were interacting with each other. And that was nice.

I did, however, decline to black-lead the range.

In the sitting room the time was the 1930's. On the radio Chamberlain was declaring, " This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a Final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.  I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany."

I sat in a chair and felt a chill run down my spine, and the realisation that they heralded another war with all its horror, and a sense of the futility of nations fighting nations. But I also felt a sense of pride that this little island was, once again, one of the first to stand up against tyranny.

It's strange, and it was unexpected, but it was in this room that I could, had I been given to such flights of fancy, have felt the presence of people who once lived here. Later I realised it was because it was familiar to me from my childhood and my paternal grandparents' home. It was quite comforting, feeling that connection to my own past.

And so to leave the house having only described those parts of it that appealed to me the most, and to enter the other gardens.

Of course I coveted the vegetable garden, whose produce may be purchased, although in late September there was only a marrow on offer. A large and splendid marrow of course but ...

I pinched a sprig of lavender to take with me, mea culpa but it could be considered an act of pruning, perhaps?

And so to the end of my visit to Avebury Manor.

I recommend it, in fact I encourage you to visit, especially if you have children or if your inner child is not far from the surface, because it really is as visitor-friendly and welcoming as I hope I've portrayed. And as much fun.

Is there room for another dahlia picture?

Of course there is!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red

It is Remembrance Sunday and so I'd like to post a few of the pictures that I took yesterday at The Tower of London's poppy tribute to the 888,246 British and Commonwealth lives that were sacrificed during the First World War.