Seeing Red; Gandalf the Grey; The End of The Seasons; and Peace Music

The skies have frequently been amazing of late, mainly in brief interludes at dawn and dusk, between grey, mild, and increasingly wet days.S1080057 (2)S1080058 (2)The sun is surely the same, but the cloud effects and the colours have been dramatic. Like the garden, it seems that simple pastels have been left behind, other than a few lingering Rosa ‘Bonica’ and the odd Erodium bloom, as the year careers onwards to the shortest day.SDIM4514 (2)SDIM4515 (2)SDIM4569 (2)

Maybe there’s anger in the air?

And the landscape?SDIM4573 (2)Our garden has very few red flowers through most of the year – I really do prefer the paler less dramatic shades to reds, oranges and yellows for much of the year. (An exception being made for spring, when the cheery daffodils give such a lift as we emerge from another winter).

But just now, everywhere I look, I seem to see red.

Sometimes dramatic and stand out.SDIM4594 (2)SDIM4588 (2)SDIM4541 (2)Sometimes fleeting as with the fading stems of Paeony ludlowii lutea, many of which very quickly drop to the ground.SDIM4586 (2)And sometimes needing a careful look to pick up on the almost meat like appearance, of the new buds of the fantastic Sorbus sargentiana, which has now lost all its fiery leaves to autumnal winds.SDIM4592 (2)Most of these pictures need no explanation.SDIM4533 (2)SDIM4549 (2)SDIM4599 (2)SDIM4475 (3a)SDIM4547 (2)SDIM4516 (2)SDIM4604 (2)

Perhaps the landscape senses there’s blood in the air.SDIM4641 (2)SDIM4653 (2)SDIM4662 (2) Do the turkeys?SDIM4665 (2) SDIM4667 (2) Do the starlings?

Which in two huge, blurry flocks in the images above, swept with a wave’s rush, overhead the chilly, dressing gowned figure standing behind the tripod as the thrice coloured sunrise unfolded over 45 minutes.SDIM4672 (2)SDIM4673 (2)

Angst over tupping time with a far too agile ram this year. He jumped a five bar gate, to leave his harem of ewes and temporarily gain access to the ewe lambs. Before being relocated he even managed, steeplechaser fashion, to clear the hurdles and end up in the narrow space between them and a different gate, before popping out again from a stationary position as we approached to apprehend him, tempted by a particularly flirtatious ewe lamb.S1080004 (2)Was followed by the home slaughter of our own lambs for the first time.

This was actually an extremely quick, humane and stress free event, which if you are a meat eater is an inevitable step in your food chain. The alternative to captive bolt dispatch at home by an experienced slaughterman, awaits the vast majority of the UK’s sheep and pigs. A long drive to a commercial abbatoir, then stunning with electric tongs, before bleeding out.

I was reminded just how much pre-slaughter stress may be involved when we passed a multi-layer sheep transport lorry resting up in a lay-by after visiting the local Dunbia abbatoir and meat processing plant in Llanybydder, just a few miles away. This abbatoir kills hundreds of thousands of lambs annually for the big British supermarkets, and the lambs come from far and wide. This particular Wm. Armstrong lorry, pausing before the journey home, had travelled down from Longtown, Cumbria in the very North of England, a few hundred miles away at least in part because there are now so few commercial abbatoirs left in the UK.

The rain beat down from slate grey skies as Chopin’s rain drop prelude played on Classic FM over the car radio, to commemorate the lone pianist protester playing in front of massed riot police in Kiev.  Click here for the image and report. The power of peace music, etching a moment in time.

Like many other aspects of life today, have we lost sight that whilst profitability may be improved, BIG is not always BETTER?

For the first time, I’ve thought a bit more about the central role that the imagery of blood as the life force has played, and still plays, in many religions. Imagery that when first used would have been extremely familiar to all involved, but now with industrialised food production is sanitised and airbrushed from the consumer’s minds. Click here for a little more on its use in Aboriginal Australian, Pagan European culture, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.


We’ve had two trips down to the National Botanic Garden of Wales recently, for 2 of their annually staged events. The first a craft fair, the second a food fair, both events being held in the Great Glasshouse. This is always a special venue but we did notice a slight chill in the air, and an exhibitor explained that the cast iron pipe which fed hot water underground across the site, from a biomass generator and into the greenhouse had fractured, and required a specialist welder in to repair. This explained the big hole in the ground by the Broad Walk pool which was filled in on our second visit…S1080064 (2)Mentioning this incident later in the day to a friend, who specialises in anti-corrosion techniques for pipelines in the oil and gas industry, may have saved me a disaster in my greenhouse heating compost heap: I’d been thinking of trying some cheaper flexible aluminium foil ducting pipe next year to replace the plastic drainage pipe, for a wider diameter and better heat conduction. Philip urged caution. Apparently, aluminium is the sacrificial metal used in cathodic protection rods used to prevent the rotting of metal pipes in the ground – it decays faster and spares the pipe wall, and he reckons such piping might only survive 18 months in the heat and chemical mix of an active compost heap.

Most pipelines, including the newish LPG pipe laid nearby to link the Milford Haven terminal with the National Grid network in Gloucestershire, have regularly sited cathodic protectors linked to data monitoring points, that can be accessed remotely via the mobile phone network to check on how the corrosion process is being protected. Very high tech stuff.

More on how the compost heating is working this year, in my next post perhaps.

At the entrance to the Great Glasshouse was a tent with some of the birds from the Pembrokeshire Falconry Centre. I was really taken with a young 5 month old Great Grey Owl called Gandalf, who isn’t being flown yet, but was having early exposure to the public. Being a huge fan of Tolkein and things to do with hobbits, I thought I’d include a couple of pics.S1080038 (2) He doesn’t quite have the Gandalf nose, but certainly does already look very grey and wise, and having the largest facial disc of any bird of prey, was easy to photograph from a distance!S1080040 (2)You can book private days out with Emma and Alex and actually fly their birds or find out a bit more about them by clicking here. And if you want to find out more about the natural range, ecology and life cycle of these large Northern hemisphere owls click here. I’m  very grateful to Emma for providing this link.

Inside the Great Glasshouse we said hello to Matthew and Della (below), who hand craft beautiful items from wood – boxes, spoons and other treen, as well as fairy wands and doors for younger visitors. We’ve been able to supply Matthew with some wood which he’s gradually giving a new life, using his skill and aesthetic flair. It’s wonderful to see previously hidden grain being exposed to human gaze for the first time in his pieces. They can be contacted on 0758107227 or (2)

No photo from inside the food fair, though these 2 pictures from the landscape outside.S1080044.JPGa (2)S1080046.JPGb (2) But I MUST provide a link to the spectacular chocolates of the local husband and wife team at Chocolate Fusion. Nick gave an engaging summary of how their business has grown spectacularly in a short space of time by producing simply wonderful tasting chocolates. Very sadly for me, I rarely eat chocolate these days, but if you fancy something unique for a special occasion, do check out their website, by clicking here.   

(Addendum – we sadly learned a few years later, that due to a major health issue, Nick has had to give up production).

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We’ve also just taken down our ‘Seasons’ exhibition of silk scarves, and moth, moth art and garden images from the Welsh quilt centre after an extended run. This has been really well received, and we’re very grateful again to Jen and Roger for giving us exhibition space for these past few months. Many of our silk scarves have been sold – some are now completely out of stock until we get another print run done. You can check on the separate web page here, what our current designs look like.

For me, the biggest boost came from reading some of the kind comments that appreciative visitors to the exhibition had left us – this is always so encouraging after any creative endeavour. Some of the photographic prints we’d used to enhance the theme of the exhibition sold – one even finding its way to Germany, and tourists from across the the UK and the globe evidently visited (Hungary, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark). Jen is even now honing the new exhibition she is planning for the quilt centre for next year. Click here for more.

But as anticipated, we have a number of images which now have to be found a new home. Fortunately, their return to Gelli coincides with us just finishing a punishing spell of restorative work in our kitchen (Gegin). This is the hub of the house with an unusual traditional wicker chimney hood, which used to sit atop an open fire. A triumph of using to-hand materials – woven hazel rods plastered with chopped straw, mud and cow dung to infill and seal the structure – when it was first constructed perhaps 300 years ago. S1080024 (2) Our wood burning stove with double insulated flu pipe now heats a large part of the house from this position, and allow us to do most of our cooking with home sourced wood. The kitchen has come on a lot since our first Christmas spent here in this room, nearly 20 years ago, with plastic sheet stretched over the broken window panes.b IMG_0085 (2)Indeed there had never been mains electricity in the house before we began to bring it back from the brink of collapse after 30 years of lying empty in this damp, unforgiving climate.b IMG_0084 (3)This illustrates that whilst it can be challenging taking on a derelict property, eventually things improve (Oh, and Fiona made most of the large item furniture you can see).S1080062 (2)Perhaps it’s a sign of our advancing years, but our latest ceiling repairs tested our ability to work together to the limit. I concluded that distressed finishes are best achieved by distressed operatives. We were undoubtedly saved by music, and whilst our Brennan JB7 houses a huge array of our eclectic music collection accumulated over the years, we found that the often delightful random track selection which the Brennan excels at, was simply too erratic. After a favourite, though noisy, Roxy Music track played at a particularly tense moment, I felt enough was enough.

We needed long spells of consistently soothing, peaceful, and melodic music. And since we know that for many, the lead up to Christmas is often very frantic and stressful I shall below provide links to our number one and two selections, which kept us both sane and smiling (mostly).

If the festivities become too taxing, why not curl up and listen to these to recover? More peace music?

Number 2 – The complete Chopin Nocturnes, played here as one example by Arthur Rubinstein. Click below:

Number 1 – The complete Mendelssohn Romances sans Paroles – Songs without Words – Lieder ohne Worte here played by  an unnamed pianist, though on our recording it’s by Marie-Catherine Girod, bought from the now defunct Virgin Mega Store on the Champs Elysee. This is over 2 hours of uniformly romantic, imaginative, stress busting music. Do sample if you’re unfamiliar with these gems. Click below:

And as we re-discovered in a song from a Gallaher and Lyle CD which ended being played a bit “The World’s too frantic for a TRUE Romantic“. Click below:

Finally, and since this will probably be my last post before Christmas, may I wish all my readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and provide a final link to one of my favourite pieces of seasonal music. Click below for the original French version of Cantique de Noel, (Oh, Holy Night), composed in 1847 by Adolphe Adam sung by Andrea Bocelli:

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SDIM4597 (2) The new gardening year beckons – our first Cyclamen coum buds, 2 months later than last year.

6 thoughts on “Seeing Red; Gandalf the Grey; The End of The Seasons; and Peace Music

  1. Oh! Such a lovely posting Julian…I SO enjoy your photos!!! The grey owl “Gandolf” is absolutely beautiful. Seeing your charming home’s historical photos shows just how much time and effort you and your wife have put into creating this unique environment. If my friend, Suzette, and I ever are fortunate to visit your country again we will be seeing you!!! Holiday wishes for peace and contentment to you both…

    • Hello Jenny,
      Lovely to hear from you and thanks for the kind comment. Gandalf was almost too beautiful to capture, so I was really pleased with result from my Camcorder. Actually doing this latest post has been light relief from what’s been happening here of late …
      We wish you all over there a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas time as well,
      Julian and Fiona

  2. Lovely sunset photographs and glimpses of the garden in winter. Sensibilities about meat eating are very different in France, they are more realistic. Some of the adverts for chicken on French television would not be appreciated in the UK.

  3. Julian, I always enjoy your beautiful pictures and your wonderful sense of humor. Please tell Fiona that I love the kitchen furniture. Having done extensive renovations in our previous ‘character’ home I found the following words of yours especially funny … “I concluded that distressed finishes are best achieved by distressed operatives.” Once Ian and I papered our dining room together only to find all the paper on the floor the next morning. All I could say was thank goodness we had not quarreled while working on it as it would have been the last straw. We have not used wallpaper since. 🙂

    Blessings for 2014 ~ Wendy

    • Hello Wendy,
      Thanks for the comment, and Fiona is chuffed that you liked the furniture! I love your wallpaper story, we can’t compete with that one – for now! Fortunately here we have no wallpaper at all in the house, but I fear your comments about it falling off… today I’ve been throwing lime plaster at a wall (apparently that is the correct way to do it). This is an entirely new experience for us both – Fiona mixes, and I throw. Perhaps by the time we’ve finished we’ll become a bit more competent. For now I must admit that for no obvious reason a lot of the plaster seems to stick ….but some falls off straight away. How durable it will be remains to be seen. This process will occupy us on rainy days for weeks to come.
      Anyway best wishes to Ian and you for a happy and peaceful New Year,

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