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Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Advent windows 9

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

This whimsical cut-out is just part of a double spread window in the old Salts Hospital building, now apartments. It was created by the people who make Saltaire Soap, high quality soap handmade from natural ingredients. They sell it through local fairs, markets and online (HERE). I must admit I've never tried it. I do now use soap bars, after years of using the plastic packaged liquid stuff, and have finally worked out how to stop the bars going too soggy. (Sit them on a silicone pan scrubber!) One bar lasts me ages and I'm still working through a stock of soaps I've been gifted at various times. I understand that the Saltaire soap is very good, with lovely scents and gentle on the skin. I'll have to treat myself one day.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Advent windows 8

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

This is an interesting window. The Rydals Museum in Mark, Sweden is housed in a former mill that still has working looms. It was built around the same time as Salts Mill, by their version of Sir Titus Salt, a man called Sven Erikson. This year they have worked in partnership with Saltaire to produce their own first Advent Calendar event and they have exchanged a window with Saltaire. The window sent to us shows Rydals Mill, with snow on the ground and a smoking chimney made of cotton from the mill. Red linen thread combines with the cotton to form a Christmas wreath. In return, Saltaire sent them a window which they unveiled on Christmas Eve.

Isn't it heart-warming how these partnerships come about and foster good relationships across the miles?

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Advent windows 7

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

Our local first school, Saltaire Primary, has a celebration of dance through the ages in their advent window. I was born too late to be in on the jitterbug scene of the 40s, though Saturday Night Fever in the 70s doesn't seem that long ago! Oh dear... I've never been a great dancer, I must admit, but Top of the Pops was a 'must watch' programme for years in my youth.

Here's another window that used silhouettes, this time of cats. Cat-themed windows seem to have been quite popular this year. I suppose it reflects the number of cats that live around the village.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Advent windows 6

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

Some of our local shops get involved in decorating their windows as part of the Living Advent Calendar festival. I always enjoy the display in Louise Perry's bridal shop on Caroline Street - angels this year.

The homewares and gifts shop, Rad Studio, on Victoria Road, is also in on the act, with a new Christmas bauble being painted in on the window every day. You can't really see the painted picture in my photo but I thought the shop looked very colourful and welcoming with all the lights on.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Cookie chaos

I had a really lovely Christmas with my daughter and family. Our Christmas dinner was roast beef, for a change from the traditional turkey, and very tasty it was too; vegetables cooked to perfection and very tender beef from the local butcher in Hebden Bridge. Then we all lolled around, as you do, in a contented glow and played board games and charades, with much hilarity. I forgot my camera so I only have a few phone snaps and nothing worth sharing!

On Boxing Day, though it was dull and drizzly, we had a walk with our extended family plus Cookie, my grand-dog. He's still only a puppy but he's pretty well-behaved. He runs ahead sometimes but he keeps running back to check where the family are and he comes back when you call him. We were, however, in an unfamiliar area so my daughter mostly kept him on his lead. Leads are for playing with and getting tangled up in, of course! Motherhood is quite an art with two lively kids and a puppy!

Cookie seemed to like the new, soft bed I bought him for Christmas, anyway. It'll probably get chewed... Most things do! He is settled in with the family quite happily and even I, unused to dogs and initially not keen on the idea, have adjusted. In fact, I think he's a real softie (or perhaps it's me that's the softie!)

Thursday, 26 December 2019


The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, 
and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to do us sinners good

The traditional English folk carol, The Holly and The Ivy, is often sung around Christmas, and holly, with its cheery red berries, has been gathered for centuries to bring colour into our winter homes. At Christmas time, my grandmother always placed sprigs of holly above the oval mirror that hung above her mantelpiece. That same mirror now hangs in my bathroom. Somehow, I never think of putting holly in there!

If I wanted to, however, there is no shortage of the stuff locally. Sir Titus Salt loved it and planted it all over his estates. His salesmen and buyers brought back specimens from all over the world and there are believed to be at least 26 different cultivars growing in Roberts Park alone. I found this bush along the canalside near the lock. The leaves of this one are much less spiky than some holly leaves. 

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

The Madonna della Sedia

I think this is possibly my most favourite painting in the whole world - certainly my favourite Madonna painting. It is, of course, the famous and much-copied work by the Italian renaissance artist, Raphael: 'Madonna della Sedia', painted around 1513-14. I went to see it in 2004 when it was on loan to our National Gallery for the exhibition 'Raphael: from Urbino to Rome'. It's normally in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. It is circular, about 70 cm in diameter and painted on wood. It feels almost like I dreamed it now but I remember standing in front of this 500 year old painting, with tears streaming down my cheeks. There was just something about it that touched me very deeply.

One of my friends has studied Art History (as, incidentally, did my daughter). She recently hosted a couple of sessions where a group of us looked at some nativity paintings and discussed them. It was fascinating to explore the many different styles of painting and to notice the symbolism. Mary is often dressed in red and blue, as here. We didn't actually study this work but we did note how many 'Madonna' paintings have very improbable babies in them. Raphael's infant Christ is a hefty and healthy looking toddler, by the looks of it. I do love the protective embrace in which his mother holds him, and her expression. She looks tired to me. (That may be a projection from my remembrance of this stage in my own mothering experience!) But her gaze also holds something, I think, of the wonder and the deep, deep love of a mother. So touching.

Anyway, it seemed a good image to use today, Christmas Day, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. So much seems wrong in the world and Christmas has become a consumer-fest more than anything. It can, however, be a time of great joy, healing and renewal when we recognise God's love for us, shown in the birth of his Son into our world.

'The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. 
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 
Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.'
Luke 2: 10-11

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you a happy day full of many blessings.

As one of our Living Advent Calendar windows says: Be kind this Christmas. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Christmas pleasures in song

'O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
Such pleasure do you bring me...'

There seem to be as many translations of the German song 'O Tannenbaum' as there are Christmas trees in Shipley. Whatever words you choose, it seems only right that they have a song celebrating their beauty. Some of the loveliest trees are to be found inside Salts Mill. The height of the vast rooms allows them to use substantial trees and the lack of wind and weather means they can decorate them far more lavishly than those in our town squares. I always get pleasure from visiting Salts Mill anyway, at any time of year, and count myself very fortunate that it's only five minutes' walk away. I could spend hours in the bookshop (and often do!). At this time of year, particularly, I like to buy a few books there. You can get them cheaper online but I know if we don't support the bookshop, it wouldn't be able to sustain itself. The pleasure of browsing would cease and that would be a tragedy. I'm hoping the recipients of my gifts enjoy them as much as I enjoyed choosing them.

The other pleasure in song happened last night when the Hall Royd Brass Band played carols around the village. It was enjoyable to listen to, hard to photograph (dark, movement, too many people!) and by the end I couldn't feel my hands or feet, it felt so chilly in the night air. But I'm in a proper Christmassy mood now!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Advent windows 5

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

'Veg on the Edge' are the local folk working together in their spare time to grow fruit and vegetables for the community on odd bits of land in Saltaire. (See my post HERE for more info.) They seem to have persuaded Santa to fill a sleigh with cheery veg for Christmas dinner. Veg on the Sledge - ha!

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Advent windows 4

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

This wonderful tissue paper creation, in a window on Albert Road, depicts another vulnerable species, the whale. He looks quite a friendly one, blowing a very colourful water spout. Its creators, Katy and Rick, say they 'had a whale of a time' making it! I'd say it was well worth the effort. It was tricky to photograph. I had to avoid a large van and a tree in front of the window, so it is a little skewed but still shows the lovely detail.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Advent windows 3

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

I like this one! It's been created by The Hedgehoggery, a small organisation in Shipley that rescues and cares for hedgehogs. A worthy cause and a beautiful window.

See HERE (their Facebook page) for more information about the work the rescue centre does. Hedgehogs are important as well as cute, eating slugs and garden pests. Our changing and unpredictable climate is making problems for them, causing food scarcity and disruption to their life cycle, so they are increasingly endangered. Organisations like The Hedgehoggery that have skills in caring for and rehabilitating them are vital to support local populations.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Christmas Bandstand Concert

There was Christmas entertainment in Roberts Park last weekend. The Hall Royd Brass Band were playing Christmas songs and carols from the bandstand. There was also a stall selling food and drink; the mulled wine and festive cupcakes looked appetising. Last year at the same event, I seem to remember I was given a free cup of mulled fruit juice but that wasn't on offer this year. Never mind, it was a good atmosphere and it's always nice to bump into friends there. 

I wonder whether Sir Titus Salt himself, surveying the scene from the top of his plinth, approves of such revelries or not. He used to enjoy giving his mill workers treats like an annual trip to the seaside, so he probably looks on benignly.

I almost considered asking him... but then I wasn't quite sure whether the chap with the long white beard was Sir Titus with a Santa hat on or Santa Claus himself, having a day off before all the hard work and sleigh-riding begins. Perhaps he was trying to mingle with the locals... though it's hard to blend into the crowd with a bushy white beard as lush as that one.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

So wet...

October, November and December have all been rather wet months hereabouts. The rain has been steady and drizzly, only occasionally torrential, so the River Aire has been coping, just about. It is, as you can see from the picture below, rather full and very fast-flowing.

Everywhere is exceedingly muddy. In low-lying areas, lakes have appeared where usually there is grass. I think it is groundwater rather than overspill from the river. The 'pond' in the photo above is on the low land between the Upper Coach Road estate and the river itself, where they are trying to create a new nature reserve. The houses overlooking it are at a rather higher level, luckily, but even so, the residents may be a little wary, remembering the horrendous floods of Christmas 2015. Thinking positive, the reflections of the trees in the pool at least add a little interest to the scene.

On a personal note, I noticed a bit of damp appearing in the corner of the kitchen near the back door. Further investigation traced the problem to water dripping from the roof and I realised that I had a little hebe plant growing in the guttering, offspring of a bush in the neighbours' garden that had been allowed to get way too big. The new neighbours cut the bush down, thankfully, but I keep finding its babies all over the place! It was a difficult job to get a roofer to come out and deal with it; the roofs of these old houses are pretty high up and many don't like working so high without scaffold. The job has now been done, phew. Hopefully the damp patch will dry out in time...  Old houses are always throwing up problems!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Advent windows 2

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

This crisp, creative and punchy window can be seen at 3 Whitlam Street. It is a Saltaire street scene, with a couple of our local alley cats gazing at the moon. The good news is that Santa Claus and his sleigh appear to be speeding through the sky, so I might get my stocking filled!

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Advent windows 1

Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2019

Advent: expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas and for his return at the Second Coming. In Saltaire, the season of Advent means the village becomes a Living Advent Calendar, with an illuminated window unveiled every day from 1 December up to Christmas Eve. It's a lovely tradition and one that I enjoy photographing. Where better to start than the Nativity window above the door of the iconic Saltaire United Reformed Church.

Monday, 16 December 2019


I happened to be passing a local garden centre that does big and elaborate Christmas displays, so I popped in 'just for a quick look'. An hour or two later and I was still mooching around, taking photos and marvelling at the lavishness. I suppose someone must buy this kind of stuff... but it's not me! I came away with some ribbon, some gift tags and a bird feeder. My inner child, however, revelled in the sparkly lights, the pretty colours and the tinsel feel of it all.

I don't really have space even for a Christmas tree in my tiny sitting room, so I usually just drape ivy and foliage along the mantelpiece and twine a few lights through it. It looks pretty enough. I also have a little wooden tree of German origin that has wooden baubles and charms. I certainly don't have space for a half-sized reindeer, magnificent though he is...

... nor a large, furry polar bear, though the smaller ones were cute as well.

There were some elves and ho-ho-ho Santas...

and a large inflatable sleigh with reindeer at the entrance. For a fee, I could have taken my grandchildren to visit the real Santa Claus inside (or maybe one of his helpers) but I guess they are probably getting a touch too old for that these days. The magic of the make-believe doesn't last forever.

It did all leave me a little bemused as to the mixed messages we peddle at this time of year. There was a small nativity scene in and amongst, but the 'reason for the season' seems scarcely to be remembered commercially. The derided 'Winterval' is perhaps truly a more apt term for the money-driven festival we celebrate. I wonder what penguins with santa hats have to do with Christmas? I was also left wondering whether all the winter/snow/artic symbolism is only used by those of us in the Northern hemisphere where Christmas and winter are concurrent. Do they have reindeer and polar bears in the Christmas shops in Australia? Perhaps someone can enlighten me?

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Saltaire lights up

The Saltaire Christmas lights were switched on at the beginning of December but I wasn't able to go to the event and have only recently found time to go out after dark to see them. There aren't many; just a tree in front of the Victoria Hall and some small trees on the shops up on Gordon Terrace. Quite tasteful though. We don't like too much bling around here! The floodlights are always lit at night, to show off the wonderful architecture and our four lions. 'Peace' looks very peaceful lying beside the Christmas tree. The tree must be 15 feet high but it seems dwarfed by the huge bulk of the Hall. 

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Bring me sunshine

Well, that was a bruising result in the General Election. I spent most of the 'morning after the night before' feeling numb and disbelieving. I think at the moment what hurts most is that lies and obfuscation seem to have won the day. I haven't the heart, nor is this the place, to go into detailed analysis. I do, however, fear for the future and for my grandchildren's future. I hope (pray) my fears are proved wrong. 

On a more positive note, my extended family went out for a Christmas meal on the evening of election day and we had a very happy time. Back at my daughter's house afterwards, I noticed these two pictures pinned up in the kitchen. Both were created by my granddaughters at school. Both brought rays of sunshine into my life.

Elodie's sunflowers were a response to Van Gogh's famous picture (left) and I really love her version. Inspired by but not a copy of; she has really interpreted it in her own way. It's interesting that from quite an early age she seems to have particularly enjoyed making paintings from her careful observations of actual objects or other images, rather than from her own imagination (though she also does that too, of course). In this painting, I particularly like the freedom she's allowed herself in some of the paint strokes. 

Madeleine's figure drawing is maturing, as it does. There's an interesting article about a child's development in art HERE and it suggest she is quite age-appropriate. (She's just five.) Her figures have 'a clearly differentiated head and trunk, with arms and legs in the appropriate locations'. There are details: hair, fingers, fur on the dog. She has also included a baseline, with the figures lined up along the bottom of the paper rather than free-floating in space.  Clearly, she feels the dog is an important part of the family now, though they have only had it for three months. She has drawn her daddy with his arm in plaster. He broke his wrist a few weeks ago!

Friday, 13 December 2019

Carols at Costa

It was the day before the General Election and I was feeling really down and despondent. I needed to get myself into a more Christmassy and generous spirited mood. Shipley Christians Together were advertising 'Carols at Costa' in Shipley, an event in the local coffee shop to raise money for Christian Aid, so I thought I'd pop down and join in. I met up with some friends there and we had a good time singing carols and joining in the general merriment. There was a fiendish quiz, to try and work out the names of some well-known carols! Music was provided by local musician and legend, John Froud, and his daughter. We sang familiar carols and some Christmas songs, including a local version of 'On the first day of Christmas':

'On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a fat rascal and a cup of tea; 
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me: two flat caps and a fat rascal and a cup of tea; 
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me: three Brontë sisters, two flat caps and a fat rascal and a cup of tea'

and so on, in the same Yorkshire vein! (For the non-Yorkshire folk, a fat rascal is the name of a sweet fruit scone that is a local speciality, especially those made by the famous Betty's Tea Rooms.)

Walking through Shipley market place to get to Costa, I stopped to take a phone snap of the Christmas tree. It has flashing lights, so that is hard to convey in a static shot. It looks, in reality, a little brighter and more colourful than it appears here. It's spoiled every year by the railings around it!

Thursday, 12 December 2019

The Brontës' birthplace

After we'd visited the Christmas Tree Festival, we went in search of the house on Market Street in Thornton where most of the Brontës (Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne) were born. It was the parsonage in their day, since their father Patrick was the minister at the Bell Chapel. It later became a butcher's shop and had the curious projecting frontage added. There was a short-lived attempt to turn it into a museum, before it became a private residence again.  Last time I visited in 2012 you couldn't go in but for the past few years it has been Emily's café/bistro. We were able to have a coffee there, right beside the dining room fireplace in front of which the Brontë children are said to have been born. I wonder if they had stockings hanging up at Christmas when they lived there?

Some of the tables in the café had been ingeniously fashioned from old-style school desks.

It had a nice ambience, full of books and memorabilia  - and very good coffee and cake (though I managed to resist the cake!)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

St James and the Bell Chapel, Thornton

St James Church Thornton, where the Christmas Tree Festival was (see yesterday), is an imposing church with a huge spire, on the road leading to the village of Thornton, a suburb of Bradford. The existing church dates from 1870. With all the Christmas trees inside, I couldn't really see the interior properly but it has some fine William Morris & Co stained glass.

Across the road is the Bell Chapel, which has Brontë connections. Charlotte Brontë and her sisters were born in Thornton and baptised in the Bell Chapel, where their father Patrick was minister for five years from 1815-1820, before they moved to Haworth. The chapel is now ruined. I thought you could explore it, but it was roped off so I assume it is considered dangerous. The octagonal bell tower, covered in ivy, looks like a romantic folly and the surviving east wall, with the tracery of a window and a date stone showing 1612 is also being overgrown by ivy. The late medieval chapel was rebuilt in 1612 and again in 1818 when Patrick Brontë was in charge. It's a pity it is now in a poor state again, as I know that a few years ago a group of volunteers did a lot of work to restore it and make it safe for visitors.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming! Everywhere is starting to sparkle, with lights in our towns, lots of festivals and markets. I must admit I can get a bit 'Bah, humbug' about it on occasion, when I focus on how consumerist it has become. I do, however, try to get into the spirit of it, so when friends suggested we visited a Christmas Tree Festival, I decided to go with them. It was held in the church of St James, Thornton. There were 49 trees, each one decorated by a local group, organisation or charity. Each had a donation bucket for the relevant cause, so it is a way of raising money for good - a worthy aim at this season.

It proved to be quite tricky to photograph but I did my best, so here is a selection of shots to give a flavour of some of the innovative themes.

I couldn't decide whether I liked the football club gingerbread men best or the rather cute little cricketers, representing Thornton Cricket Club.