February 26, 2016

Five sundials

Here I am again with a post for Amy's Five on Friday meme. Link at the bottom, as always. Go visit other participants!

This week I'm doing sundials. I've been sorting out my photo collection and realised I have lots of pictures of them. Let me share a few....

First up is a fine example from Peterborough Cathedral. In this photo you can clearly see that sundials work 'backwards' - noon is at the bottom and the other hours go the opposite way from a clock. The sun that casts the shadow comes from above and moves from east to west, so it's obvious that they have to be that way round, but it makes me wonder why the early clock makers made them go the other way.  

Here's one from Whatton Gardens near Loughborough. I love its inscription "I mark no hours but the bright ones". Without sunshine a sundial doesn't work - so dark hours don't count!

I really like this one. It's one of two on the outer wall of Rudston Church in East Yorkshire. I'm reliably informed that they are called scratch dials, and probably date from the Saxon era.  Rudston is a very important village - though it looks rather small and insignificant these days - with a long and varied history.  I'll do a long post one day on the other blog. Meanwhile take a look at the sundial. It has no gnomon (the bit that casts the shadow) and would have been worked by putting a stick in the hole.

Long before the days of town clocks people still needed to know the time, so the worthies of Berwick Upon Tweed provided this handy piece for their residents on the end of a main thoroughfare bridge. 

And here's one of my personal favourites. It's at Norton Priory near Runcorn in Cheshire and was created by Bevis Sale.

February 23, 2016


This isn't going to make me popular, but I wish museums wouldn't work quite so hard at getting children to visit. I went to one at the weekend because I had a couple of hours to waste while my other half saw a friend in hospital. It was pouring with rain and I took what I thought was a sensible option to see a museum and art gallery. I forgot it was half term.

The place was heaving with annoying kids, running round, yelling, leaping on and off things and totally ignoring the 'don't touch' signs. OK, so a few of them were wandering round looking for things on an I spy sheet in a rather well thought out treasure trail, but the majority were just irritating.

And the parents were doing nothing to stop them being monsters. They probably all went home thinking they'd had a good day and contributed to their angels' education. But they weren't learning anything, they were just in the way. And noisy.

See, I told you I'd be unpopular!

February 19, 2016

Five green men

Here I am again joining in with Amy's Five on Friday  - and this week really IS her anniversary. I was a bit premature last week with my congratulations.   As before, there's a link at the bottom of the page to take you to her site to see who else has taken part.

This week I'm on the Green Man. I'm very keen on spotting this ancient symbol of the spirit of the woods. He turns up a lot in churches - even though he predates christianity by a very long time - but as my five choices show, he's not just found among dusty old architecture.
I'll start with a modern one. You can find this on a wall in Glastonbury, Somerset. Now there's a place you'd expect to find the Green Man in abundance, and you wouldn't be disappointed. But this is one of my favourites.

From the modern to the very old. The parish church of St Michael with St Mary at Melbourne in Derbyshire. There's a church mentioned in the village's entry in the Domesday Book (1086), but the present building is believed to be a little younger. (1133!) It certainly has some obviously Norman features and this Green Man possibly dates back that far.

I found this one last year in Norwich, under an arch leading to the cathedral. Apparently there are several in the area, if you know where to look, including a lovely gilded one in the cloisters.

Of course, not all green men are men. This wonderful 'Green Lion' is in Sheffield, near the cathedral, though not on any church building. I think he's over the door of an insurance broker's.

And here is possibly the most unusual of all. He's called Barry Patterson, and he spends much of his time travelling around as the Green Man (and the wild man of the woods and Mr Beetle) teaching schoolchildren about the environment and how to protect it. (He plays a mean bodhran drum too!) For more on his work click here.

February 16, 2016

Car Names

“Hey Henry. What are we going to call this monster?”

“Model T”


“Because it’s taken a few models to get it right and T is the next letter in the series.”

Unimaginative Henry Ford didn’t think he needed to give his new, mass-produced car a fancy name.  Model T isn’t the most attractive name to give a new product, but let’s face it, Old Henry didn’t have a lot of opposition when he started out in the motor trade. His attitude of “any colour you like as long as it’s black” doesn’t really suggest that his customers’ views were important to him.

But as demand for cars grew and more companies joined the battle for market share, designers had to become more creative.  They needed names for their vehicles that would make people choose their model over anyone else’s. And the whole idea of car marques started.

Take Rolls Royce, for example. Silver Ghost and Silver Cloud, Phantom, Wraith, told you that you were in for a smooth, silent and above all, opulent ride. Even the mascot was called Spirit of Ecstasy. British Leyland cars, however, were much more workaday. While the Triumph marque hinted at success, and the Morris Oxford and Austin Cambridge implied something upmarket, many others were known simply for their engine size.  My family owned a Morris 1000 and an MG 1100, to name but two of the cars the company offered.  There were some names that made more effort. Spitfire, for example, Stag, Marina, Princess, Allegro, Acclaim.  But Mini Moke?  And the MG Midget would probably be dismissed as politically incorrect these days.

There was a brief spate of naming cars after people, but the Ford Edsel, named after the company founder’s son, was a spectacular failure – notably because of its unusual ‘toilet seat’ grille design.  Mercedes was more of a success story.  That began as a side shoot of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) company and was so-called by racing enthusiast Emil Jellinek who favoured the cars and competed under his daughter’s name – Mercedes.

A few spectacular mistakes have arisen in translation. The Mitsubishi Starion, for example, is believed to have arisen from a Japanese engineer’s inability to pronounce “stallion” correctly, although the company now says it’s a corruption of Star of Orion.  They renamed it Conquest for the US market though, so I don’t believe them!

So what of modern day cars; do the latest names follow a trend? Well, looking at some of them it’s hard to decide what on earth they mean. My researches have revealed some interesting explanations.
Take the Toyota Yaris, for example. Apparently it’s from an ancient Greek word symbolising beauty (Charis) and the German for yes –Ya – and is supposed to attract customers in Europe.  Didn’t it make you all go out and buy one?  No?  Me neither.

When it comes to attracting the European market Toyota has a long record of using western words without taking too much notice of whether the market will understand them.  Supra, Celica, Auris, Corolla, Prius, Corona, Avensis and Previa all derive their names from European or Latin words. If you want to know how, see Toyota’s blog by clicking here .

But what about some others -  Juke, for example. In Scots dialect it means to dodge, or feint, in sports such as boxing, or rugby. But it’s much more likely that Nissan chose it for its juke box connotations. They were named for a Gullah creole word meaning disorderly, or wicked, but are so well entrenched in modern parlance that the origin is irrelevant.

And what of the most perplexing of all, the Qashqai?  It’s apparently a group of nomadic people from around Qashqay in Iran. But it’s often referred to as the “cash cow” owing to the number of them sold making a mint for the company.

Personally, I drive a VW Fox.  (VolksWagen is an interesting name in itself – meaning car of the people.) It’s nippy, small, can get into some surprisingly tight spaces and is mainly designed for city use - a typical current-day fox habitat - so it’s well named.   But I’m sorry to say that I bought it because it was a good price. 

February 12, 2016

Five sculptures for a Friday

I've decided to join in with Five on Friday. It's a weekly meme that I read on other people's blogs but haven't joined before. It's celebrating its anniversary this week. That means it has a history! (See the bottom of the post for a link to find other blogs that join in.)

Here's five sculptures that commemorate some history of their own. Enjoy.

This links to a post on my other blog, about the tunny fishing club in Scarborough in the 1930s. The sculpture is by Ray Lonsdale and this is just a detail of it. Huge fish used to swim just offshore in the North Sea and anglers caught them with rod and line in spectacular battles against the very powerful animals. I suppose it depends on your view of "sport" but it was popular with the rich and famous.

This sculpture is near a path around East Midlands Airport and was made by children at the local primary school with the help of a professional artist. It's all to do with flight - as you can just see from the insect on the first slab. They're about the size of stepping stones.

I took this one years ago during a business trip to Jersey. It's in St Helier and remembers the jubilation when the Channel Islands were liberated from the Germans at the end of WWII.

This one's a favourite. It's in Birmingham city centre and is called Industry and Genius. It commemorates type designer John Baskerville's factory, which stood nearby. The uprights represent individual letters from a press. They spell out Virgil, because that was the first book Baskerville produced.

Another Birmingham, and another favourite. They're Spitfires, of course, and the monument stands on a roundabout near where the fighter planes were once manufactured. It's huge. You can get the scale from the chevrons near the bottom of the photo. (It was also very bad weather when I was there!)


February 02, 2016

Blast from the past

Isn't it strange how some things can bring back vivid memories? Wandering around a museum in Sheffield a couple of weeks ago I came across an object that took me straight back to my childhood. It wasn't supposed to. It was illustrating a typical bench in a cutlery factory and it was just a dumping place for the bits and pieces that would otherwise make the area untidy. It was an Ostermilk tin. Ostermilk was a powdered milk baby food which - presumably - I was raised on. I make that assumption because there was an empty tin in our pantry when I was growing up. Well, it wasn't empty exactly, just empty of Ostermilk.

Mother used the tin to keep control of her cake decorating gear: icing bits, piping nozzles, plaster Santa figures and waxed paper holly leaves, cochineal, glace cherries and a folded sheet of candied angelica. I used to love that tin and - wicked child that I was - often stole a sliver of the angelica and a sticky cherry as a naughty treat when no-one was looking.

I have no idea what happened to it. By the time she died, mother had transferred the gear to an old tea caddy, and not a particularly special one at that. I know the bits and bobs went to my sister because she inherited the cake decorating gene (I had Dad's painting gear.) but the Ostermilk tin was long gone by then,

To be fair, until I saw the one in Sheffield I had forgotten all about it. It's weird what a trip to a museum can do to you. Can't say I remember much about cutlery making after my visit, but I have a vivid picture of the pantry in my head!