Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Close Encounters of the Elephant Kind

We are back in Africa now as I still have a couple of posts to do about my visit there earlier this year. For Steve and Hannah it was still term time and although they took some leave there were a couple of days when Juliette and I had to amuse ourselves. On one of these days we went to Elelphant Whispers.

There are six elephants living here and all have been rescued from planned culling operations at various game reserves and now spend their time as 'elephant ambassadors'. They are used to teach visitors about elephants and to allow close interaction with these magnificent animals. All are young elephants the oldest being Tembo who is 27 years old. The four in the above photo are Medwa, Andile, Shamwari and Ziziphus.

Andile has been asked to lie down so that we can go up and really look at her closely. She is a young elephant still in her teens.

A good portion of an elephant's foot is composed of fibrous fatty tissue which acts as a shock absorber. It's like an elastic spongy cushion which helps the elephant maintain its grip on the ground and also allows it to move silently. When I pushed on the sole of Andile's foot I could feel it give quite substantially. You can see the huge toe nails here as well but these aren't actually attached to the toes and there are only four toenails whereas there are five toes buried deep inside the foot.

I found this illustration which shows the inside of the foot which doesn't look the way you'd expect. The elephant essentially walks on tiptoe!

Andile is showing us her teeth and tongue in this photo. Clicking on it will give you a better view. Her tongue feels like smooth satin when you touch it. An elephant has six sets of molars during its lifetime and as a tooth wears out from the constant grinding another one pushes forward to replace it. The worn down teeth wear off onto a shelf which eventually breaks off and falls out.The final set of molars appear when an elephant is about 30 years old and last until around the age of 65.  As the final molar breaks down it becomes increasingly difficult for the elephant to break down and digest food and the main cause of death in mature elephants isn't old age but starvation.

The thick, wrinkled skin helps elephants stay cool because water gets trapped inside the wrinkles and evaporates slowly thus cooling the elephant. And just look at those eyelashes!

Elephant's use their ears to help regulate their body temperature. The back of the ear has a huge network of veins and capillaries and the hot blood from the arteries is cooled as it filters through them before returning to the body.  They are used for signalling too - if you see an elephant with its ears spread wide it means it sees you as a potential threat!

Time for Tembo to take centre stage now as we take it in turns to stand between his front legs to have our photograph taken with him. I'm actually leaning against him and feeling extremely small!  Those magnificent ivory tusks are used to dig for water, salt or roots, for debarking trees and on occasion for fighting.

There was only one young couple there at the same time as us and they had only booked to do the interaction. Juliette and I had also booked to go for a ride and there were just the two of us for this part of session. We were lucky as the previous day had been very busy and we wouldn't have had quite as much time with the elephants when a large group were there. I was riding Lindiwe as she is the smallest elephant and as I have back problems I was told that the smaller elephant was a wiser choice.

Riding an elephant is an odd feeling to begin with, like camels they get up front feet first but the motion is different once they start to walk - I've ridden both horses and camels and it isn't like either. Apparently some people get motion sickness and we were told to tell our handler if necessary as there is an emergency stop command for the elephants!

Happily Juliette and I were fine and once I had adjusted to the rhythm I felt I could have gone on all day. Although only two elephants were being ridden all of them came on the walk presumably because they like to move as a herd.

Here I am saying 'thank you for a lovely ride' to Lindiwe, she is very keen to accept the treats I'm offering:) Her trunk is incredibly sensitive and can pick up something as small as a blade of grass. It's used for smelling, drinking, feeding and as an exploratory organ rather as we would use our fingers. It also gets used as a snorkel when they are swimming.
It was a really wonderful experience, being so close to these magnificent creatures and spending time with them was a real privilege and something I shall never forget.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Tudors Again!

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Diane of Heart Shaped and Rosie of Corners Of My Mind at Haddon Hall. I hadn't intended doing a post about it as I still had the Tudor Revels post and at least a couple more from my Africa trip to do. On reflection though I decided I would write a little about it as I had such a lovely time with them (in spite of the rain!). Both have written much more extensively and with many more photos than I'm doing so do go and visit their blogs.
The photo above shows the fabulous topiary in the Gardener's Cottage which lies at the foot of the slope that leads up to the Hall itself. The Boar's Head and the Peacock are emblems of the Manners family who have owned Haddon Hall since the mid 16th century. Haddon itself dates back to the 12th century though and is one of the best kept secrets of the Derbyshire Peak District.

The reason for our visit was to see the Tudor Re-enactment that was taking place over the weekend. As we climbed up towards the Hall we met these Tudor youngsters on their way down.

I couldn't resist putting in this photo of the old stone trough planted up with wallflowers even though I know Diane and Rosie have both used it in their posts. It made such a lovely splash of colour on what was a decidedly grey day.

Gathering herbs to be used in some of the dishes being prepared for the Lord of the Manor and his guests.

In the Great Hall the menservants are receiving instructions on the correct way of approaching the Lord of the Manor's table when they are serving the meal. There was a very strict and formal way of doing this in Tudor times. I've visited Haddon many times but this was the first time I've seen a fire burning in the great hearth and it made such a difference to the room.

Pastry being prepared for one of the many elaborate pies that would form part of the meal. I have a green glazed bowl exactly like the one on the table but I confess that I've never made pastry or anything else in it in case it gets chipped!

Haddon has the most wonderful medieval kitchens and it's fantastic to see them being put to use again. The young man has the fiddly task of removing half the shell of these quail eggs so that they can appear at table looking as though they are whole!

Just look at all these wonderful bowls and jugs and jars - I can't tell you how much pleasure it gives me just to look at them.

More of the dishes and flagons and in the background you can see one of the bread ovens which has been fired and used to bake bread and pastries.

Again Rosie and Diane both  featured these lovely arrangements that were in may of the rooms of the Hall, they are so simple - sprays of beech and hedge parsley in a plain glass container but they look stunning. All three of us loved them.

The upper servants  dine before the Lord of the Manor and his family and guests. I was surprised to learn that' the family's priest was counted as an upper servant but apparently this was the case.  These servants eat  well though not the elaborate kind of meals that are served to their master. The lower ranks of the servant class certainly wouldn't be eating the beef and cheese that appear on this table, a bowl of pottage and a hunk of bread would have been about it. Sadly at this point I had to leave as my husband was away and a certain dog was waiting for me to take him out for his afternoon walk - a very late afternoon walk by the time I got home poor lad.  It was such fun seeing it all with Diane and Rosie and hopefully we will have another joint outing at some point.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tudor Revels

This is a rather belated post about May Day, I was staying with my son and his family in Suffolk and on the Sunday we went to the Tudor Re-enactment at Kentwell Hall. Kentwell is an Elizabethan manor house which was built in the late 16th Century by the Cloptons, a wealthy local gentry family.

Kentwell is a moated manor house. Originally built as a first line of defence the moats gradually became ornamental rather than practical.

In the kitchen servants were busy preparing the midday meal.

I really love all the  baskets and pottery from this period, I have quite a few replica bowls and jugs in my kitchen and would like more of them too:)

The lord of the manor and his guests at their midday meal.I thought this was interesting as it shows details of the clothes and also you can see that only the head of the household sat on a proper chair. The other guests and members of the household are sitting on wooden benches.

People are eating off either pewter plates or wooden trenchers and the utensils consist of only a knife and a spoon.It was perfectly acceptable, even in the most aristocratic circles, to use your fingers to pick up and eat many items of food.They are probably drinking ale as most water was polluted and dangerous to drink. Even children would drink 'small beer' which had a very low alcohol content.

Meanwhile these young girls were making May garlands weaving wildflowers and sprigs of willow or honeysuckle onto a circle made of willow withies. They are so pretty that I'm going to have a go myself next year as it's only the same priciple as I use to make my wreaths at Yule.

The procession of villagers going towards the Hall to begin the day's revelries. The man dressed in the colourful costume made of rags is the Master of Ceremonies who will  be taking part in the Mummer's play.

St George being despatched by Saladin! Of course being a Mummer's play St George is eventually restored to life in a very dramatic fashion by the Quack Doctor and lives to fight the Dragon another day:)

After the excitement of the play the gentry can relax and enjoy a quiet chat....


.....while the villagers look forward to the next part of the May Day celebrations as they return to the Village Green.

The high spot of May Day is the raising of the Maypole, a young tree gaily decorated with coloured ribbons.

The village band strikes up and......

.....the revels begin.

A certain young man has his first archery lesson. Through his grandmother (me!) the blood of Cheshire bowmen runs in his veins - they were reknowned as the finest archers of medieval England.

Earlier we had George and the Dragon, here we have George and the peacock:)

A quiet moment at the end of a wonderful day.