Thursday, January 24, 2008

'E' is for...

...Honoured and flattered. Smiler has awarded me the 'Excellent' blog award and although this label is a little daunting to live up to...thank you; I will do my best.

Blog awards are a funny thing. As people have pointed out, usually when one gets an award in 'real life' you aren't required to then pass it on to other people like a pyramid selling scheme. A second point is that you can only ever give the award to blogs you are familiar with. So, how do you know they are the most deserving blogs out there? Personally I have reconciled this by looking at blog awards as receiving a personal compliment from one blogger to another and It always makes me happy to receive a compliment and that goes for comments too. I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to visit my blog, read what I have written and leave a comment for me. Receiving an award is like the cherry on top of the cake for me.

Recently Smiler posted a self-ironic post on the agony and the ecstasy of choosing how to pass on an award and it is something I find difficult too. There are always more blogs I wish to give the award to than permitted in the 'rules'. I could choose not to pass them on, but then I want to pass on the compliment to other bloggers, but then in the back of my mind there is the nagging thought that I might offend someone if they don't receive it. Neurotic... just a smidgen I suppose! But the nice thing about the fact that these awards are passed on, is that generally the bloggers I would love to have given the award to before I ran out of slots, get it from someone else!

So without further ado I shall get on with passing this award on. Project Mommy, who started this whole thing says: “… By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you have to award it to ten more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want but please award at least ten.” I guess it is up to me to come up with criteria for 'Excellent'. ALL blogs on my sidebar are Excellent, but I am limited to passing this on to ten bloggers:

Musings from the Hinterland
Imagine What I'm Leaving Out
Big Little Sister
Sarch's Blog
Rashbre Central
Anna's Photo of the Day
John's Daily Digital Images
Dancing for Beginners
Here in the Hills

All these blogs are excellent for different reasons but they all share something of themselves with those who visit and leave a lasting impression. Do I know they are the most 'Excellent' blogs out there? No, but they are excellent to me, just as yours is too even if you weren't on the list.

Update: I've just noticed on my blog editor that this is my 200th post! What a great way to celebrate by passing on some blog joy! :)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Raglan Revisted Again

I like visiting the castles in the UK and I am lucky in that I live close to the old March lands that span the English and Welsh border where many ruined castles still stand. Raglan Castle is somewhere I have visited a few times. Nestled in the Welsh countryside just outside the Brecon Beacons it was once an important stronghold. It started as a Motte and Bailey castle (an earthen mound with a simple wooden and then stone tower on top) as part of the Norman advance into Wales under William I of England who established the Marcher Lordships to hold the land.

Although Raglan Castle started as a small stronghold in the 12th century, it was expanded over the centuries by successive Lords to become a huge fortress from where the Lord would manage and control his land and the people that inhabited it. Now all that is left of this and other once fine structures are cold stone ruins, a shell of the former mighty bustling centres of life they once were. As I walk round these ruins I often wonder about the people that lived there and what their lives were like.

The ruins visible today date from the 15th and 16th century when the castle was in it's glory days and had become a great base of power and splendour as the fortress of the great family of Herbert. Its ruination came at the end of one of the longest sieges of the English Civil War when the castle was slighted by Cromwell's troops to prevent it from being inhabited and used as a stronghold again. I have posted about the castle's history previously here.

I can only imagine what the castle looked like in it's peak, but there are clues in the ruins. In one of the photo's above you can see the remains of a large bay window which looks out across an inner courtyard and would have flooded the hall with light and sunshine. This would have been one of the later additions, and it could afford to be large, being within the inner curtain wall. The windows on the outside of the castle would have been much smaller to protect those within. In the photo above you can see three floors. Of course the wooden floors are long gone, along with the hammer beam ceiling of the great hall, with all it's fine carving. There would have been wood panelling too and as you can see in the photo, the walls were plastered and painted and would have been covered in fine tapestries and paintings.

You can also make out the remains of the doorways and the large fireplaces that were needed to heat the rooms. Living in a stone structure would have been very cold and damp (trust me, we know rain in the UK!) and so keeping the fires burning was an important job.

Walking round the now empty courtyards, it is hard to imagine the hustle and bustle which would have been a feature of everyday castle life as servants went about their business. The castle would also have housed many timber structures, also long gone, including stables. There would have been a smith, armourer, vintner, cooks and other kitchen staff, chamberlain, porters and maids. The castle would also have been home to a garrison of soldiers who would have guarded the castle and also defended the Lord's land. All of them would have played an essential part in castle life. It must have been very noisy with a myriad smells to assault the nostrils.

As I stood in the castle grounds on a cold winters day, there is very little sign that anyone was there at all. Just a few clues to what has been and my imagination.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I have been picked out. Not in the manner of a teacher where I am made to stand in front of the class and climb the rope, but rather in a good way which does not involve rope burns and the absence of rope burns is always a good thing. An award from an esteemed blog friend is an even better thing. Randall over at 'Musings from the Hinterland' has bestowed upon me the 'A Roar for Powerful words' award and I am deeply honoured, especially coming from someone so eloquent. In his own words: "Last year, Bob-Kat posted a moving series of posts about dealing with the death of her niece. They were very personal, but powerful entries, and I thank her for sharing them."

This award was originated at 'The Shameless Lions Writing Circle', where 'A Roar For Powerful Words' was started as "a chance to scream from the mountains the good news about the powerful posts that are produced every day in the blogosphere, despite what some mainstream columnists and journalists claim. It is also a good chance to examine exactly what it is that makes writing good and powerful."

Apparently, this award is distributed to those people "who have blogs we love, can't live without, where we think the writing is good and powerful." Now, I'll be honest, that kind of scares the pants off me. If anyone out there can't live without my blog then I offer my sincere apologies and hope that you get some help really soon... On a more serious note, If you like what I write then I thank you for reading. I appreciate it.

So, now I need to publish the award here, name five people I would like to give it to and list three things I believe are necessary to make writing good and powerful. The recipients then do the same, passing it on to five other people, and so on.

So, for me 'good and powerful' writing has the following attributes:
1. Meaning. I'm not necessarily talking about the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, but that the words need to say something. It can be the most small everyday thing but if it says something then it can have impact.
2. Heart. I think sometimes the most powerful things we read come from the heart. They are written without contrivance and connect with us the way logic cannot. They have resonance for us because the words are honest and are written without art or guile.
3. Passion. This can be the passion that comes with enthusiasm for a topic which can be infectious or from that that accompanies a belief in something, which can make you think.

So now I am meant to award this to five others. That is a toughie as I know for certain that I want to give this to many more people than that. It helps me that I know already that Randall of 'Musings from the Hinterland', Susan from 'West of Mars' and Kenju from 'Imagine what I am leaving out' have already received this award (very fitting indeed). So here are my choices:

1. Smiler of 'From Smiler with Love'. Smiler is a fairly recent addition to my blog roll and a prolific blogger. Her posts are varied and include haiku that have great insight and, yes, she writes straight from the heart.

2. Shephard of 'Shephard's Alley' whose words of wisdom come from a soul who has seen and done much, and shares his experience and thoughts through his blog. In particular, his series on 'gratitude' and his medicine cards gave the soul much to feed on and the mind much to cogitate on.

3. Mr Althouse from the 'The 25 Year Plan'. His posts have great depth of understanding from someone who has pretty much been there and done that. He writes with a great human quality and it has been an honour to share his experiences as he graduates and builds a new career for himself.

4. Bud of 'Paradise is Pinehurst'. I have only recently started to visit Bud but his recent posts sharing his experiences on alcoholism are worth reading.

5. Carmi of 'Written Inc.' I suspect that Carmi may already have received this award, indeed I would be surprised if he hadn't. Carmi's blog shows life as he sees it through his lens. His great photos are always accompanied by his thoughts which make you pause for awhile.

5a. Because I can't count I would like to award this to CrazieQueen as well. Her blog is a mixed bag, a bit like mine but amongst the fun posts you will find a woman who at times, isn't so crazy and has something to say.

Honourable mention also goes to Naomi of 'Here in the Hills' who I would have awarded this to but I know she has her own views about receiving awards which I respect. Her blog is a wonderful trip into her garden, her home, and her life which is rich beyond words.

Apologies to anyone I have missed off this list. I felt that I might be pushing my luck with 5b, 5c etc... It was extremely difficult to make this choice and I love visiting all my blog friends. In different ways, all your writing is powerful as it is all from you. Meanwhile, I humbly sign off for now. Thank you. Randall. I am honoured. Now I will leave you with one last roar!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Meme and you.

Smiler (From Smiler with love), has tagged me with a meme that has had my brain ticking over. You see, the meme is about blogging and asks me to: “Answer the following question: “What do you expect from your blog?” Try to be as specific as possible. Avoid warm-fuzzy answers unless that really is your thing.”

Well, warm-fuzzy is not usually my thing, but I'm afraid this might err on the side of warm and perhaps some slight fuzziness. I am currently approaching my 200th post on this blog and the truth is I really couldn't say why I blog or what I expect from it, or actually to be precise I don't have a single clear reason. There have been times when I have thought about stopping blogging; times when 'real life' has been too hectic or stressful and blogging has been another thing on a list of things demanding my attention. Yet, I have carried on and so it evidently is something I value. If I value something then I must either want something from the experience or it is serving some purpose and it therefore follows that I have expectations, even if they are not explicit, even to me. Seeing as Smiler asked so nicely, I dug around in the recesses of my mind and came up with the following:

1. Somewhere to express myself: When I started to blog, it was when my marriage was breaking up and yet that was something I did not blog about. Even to this day, I do not blog much about deeply personal things on the whole. I think it's because I live my 'real life' all the time and my blog is somewhere where this can largely be left behind. I can use it as
a filter to share the less mundane parts of my life. The parts like my days out, my photography, things I find funny and interesting, general thoughts. I can leave work and all my other trials and tribulations the other side of the screen and use my posts to filter out something I hope others enjoy sharing with me.

2. To connect with others: Having said I don't post about personal things, sometimes real life can be all consuming and it does leak onto my blog from time to time and I have been more comfortable doing this knowing I have some blog friends out there who visit me regularly and are supportive. They offer kind words and comfort without ever having met me. I find this amazing and very much life affirming.

3. To be a safe place to be creative: I have found my blog to increasingly be a great place to post the photographs I take. I'm no photographer, but I love taking pictures and sharing what I see through the lens through my photos. If someone likes my pictures it gives me a great boost. Photography is important to me, it is a creative part of my life that is an antidote to my work and to my studying. I expect my blog to be somewhere I can share it.

To interact and network: Finally, I blog because I have come to enjoy the interaction with fellow bloggers and other visitors to my blog. I like reading the comments, value the feedback, and I like returning the visits. As time has gone on I love the fact that I have blog friends from far away countries that I would never otherwise have got the chance to 'meet'. So, the networking aspect of blogging is something I truly appreciate about my blog.

On this note, while visiting over at 'Musings from the Hinterland' I found out that apparently it is 'National Blog De-lurking Week', (yes, I know I am a little late but there is
plenty of week left), which is a time for Klingons to de-cloak, rabbits to jump out of hats, mirages to become real and for whoever is lurking in the shadow of my blog to say hello. I guess what I am really saying is "Is anyone out there"? If you are a lurker here then it would be great if you would leave a comment and say hi. In return I would like to thank you for dropping by and taking the time to read my rambling thoughts, and that goes equally to my non-lurking blog friends :) You are always welcome.

If anyone wants to do the meme then I would love to read your answers to the question. I'm not tagging anyone so juts let me know in the comments and I will come over and take a look!

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I have been seeing some wonderful pictures of snow on other blogs lately. Beautiful scenes of crisp white snow covering trees, gardens, mountains and homes and transforming even the most mundane of suburbs into winter wonderlands. Where I live in the UK we hardly ever get snow...until Friday that was, when the inimitable rain turned to sleet and then to great big fluffy flakes of snow which fell thick and fast.

I had been lying on the sofa watching a film, (off work ill with my chest infection), when I became aware that the light in the room had darkened somewhat and when I looked out the window I could see the rain turning to snow right in front of me. It settled quickly and turned the road I live on into a modern Dickensian scene. I quickly grabbed my camera and donned my coat and grabbed a shot or two from the front door. After all, it doesn't snow often here and I wanted to record it. Besides my close looks so much prettier when it's frosted. The snow stopped after an hour or so and turned back to rain. As quickly as it had come it was washed away, with my photos being the only evidence it had been here at all.

Endnote: I am aware that snow can cause much disruption and that it is not everyone's cup of tea, but there is no denying it's beauty!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Raglan Castle Revisited

I have been quite unwell the past week or so with a chest infection. The worse part of it is that I am having difficulty breathing which gets worse at night. As a result I have been working from home as going out makes me far worse. I did get out and about a bit over Christmas and the New Year though and one of the places I visited was Raglan Castle. I have been here a couple of times before and posted about it here and here. Being winter in the UK, the weather was not on it's best behaviour and was grey and cold and promised rain, a promise which it eventually kept. But not before I took a few photo's and the ones in this post were taken from the top of the Great Tower or keep where the views over the Monmouthshire countryside are beautiful, even on a cold grey day.

The photo above is looking across the fountain court of the castle with the Welsh hills in the distance and the one below is of the towers of the main gatehouse and the ruins of some of the living quarters including the kitchen, dining hall and library, which stand to the right of the fountain court in this view. If you enlarge the photo then you can see some of the ornate stonework that remains above one of the upper windows.

This next photo is not for the faint hearted as it is a view looking directly down from the top of the tower. With all the wooden floors and ceilings long gone after the tower was slighted during the civil war you can see right down to the cobbled ground floor. To the left of the photo you can see how thick the towers walls were as they were designed to withstand a siege and the mortars Cromwell's forces fired at the tower had little effect. After taking the castle, Cromwell ordered the tower to be slighted and this was done by undermining as it took too long to take apart by hand! In the top left of the photo you can even make out one of the castle latrines and the openings in the remaining walls are doorways, windows and large fireplaces. Seeing the castle as it is now it is difficult to imagine people actually lived here. Now pigeons seem to be the only residents.

The castle was quite moody and eerie the day we visited as we were practically the only people there. Most others I suspect being of much sounder mind than me, had stayed at home in the warm, or being of less sound mind than me were rushing around crowded shops in the sales. I know where I would rather be; after all, what's a little bit of rain?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Since you asked...

After my last post, a few of my visitors asked to see a photo of the whole of my Christmas Tree as well as the pictures I had taken of the ornaments that adorn it each year. Never one to disappoint if I can at all help it, here are a couple of photos. I'm afraid neither are great pics but you do get an impression of what the tree was like when it was resident in my lounge.

The first pic was taken just before the tree was packed away, along with the photos in my last post. The light was pouring through my lounge window opposite and so the lighting was quite bright for the photo. However, the second photo, which was taken in dim light on Christmas morning, feels more 'right' to me. It's not a great photo but the soft orange glow from the lights always lent a warm feel to the room, and this photo does capture that. Click on the photos to enlarge and I hope you enjoy the pics!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Twelfth Day

As quickly as it descended upon us, Christmas has been and gone. It was the twelfth day of Christmas this weekend and so my tree has been packed away for another year. I love having my tree up. During winter in the south of the UK we get many grey, damp dreary days and the tree, with it's glowing lights always helps to make my home feel cosy somehow.

I took some photos of the ornaments on my tree while playing with my new macro lens which I got for Christmas and I thought I would post a few here. My tree is decorated with fruits and birds (with the odd glittery star) and I have a white dove of peace to top the tree. The pic above is of one of my new little birds and the one below is of one that I have had for some years.

I just love the little glittery red bird in the photo below with his flamboyant tail and red breast.

Another little bird ornament below. In total I have twelve birds on the tree including the glittery one in the photo below.

The fruit on the tree are apples, pears and berries in red and gold. I always love how the glow of the little lights make them shine.

I always miss my tree at first. Afterwards it always seems like the room is much bigger with a big empty space where the tree was. It also signifies the end of Christmas which I love, and a return to normal everyday life. But you know, in a way that isn't a bad thing as Christmas wouldn't be a special time of year if it was all year. Christmas time always has a warm feel to it for me. People seem to be in a better mood but perhaps I look at it with the rose tinted spectacles of my childhood? For now though, the tree, the birds and the other decorations are packed away back in the loft ready to come down in eleven months time or so. Not that long to Christmas now folks, as you know how quickly the years go by these days! :)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Green Mile

Sometimes you watch a film and you just have to tell someone about it. You want to share your discovery with them so that they can experience what you have experienced, see what you have seen and perhaps take something from it like you have.

I watched 'The Green Mile' on New Years Eve. It is something I have been meaning to get around to doing for some time and a whole evening, a comfy sofa and bottle of wine seemed a great time to break the seal on the plastic wrapping covering the DVD I had purchased some time before. I must admit that I had put off watching it, a film about inmates on death row seemed quite depressing, however, this film did not leave me feeling depressed. Don't get me wrong. I was not skipping around the house full of joy either but rather it left me with that dual feeling of happiness and sadness and a sense of wonder which is rare to experience outside childhood.

It is rare for a film to make me cry, and even rarer for the same film to manage it twice. It's not that I'm hard hearted, I just don't connect with the over sentimental greetings card type schmaltz you get in some films. This film however was truly touching and endearing. It took me on a roller coaster of emotion. It was thought provoking. It slowly draws you in and captivates you and horrifies you and once it is finished you are sorry it has had to end and somehow three hours of your life has passed.

It is set in a prison in America during the depression and features the lives (and deaths) of the inmates there and the guards. The story unfolds through the memories of one of the guards which centres on a particular inmate who has been convicted for killing two little girls. It soon transpires though that there is more to this inmate than we first perceive and soon strange things happen on the Green Mile, which is the strip of lime linoleum that the prisoners must walk to the chair.

The film is directed by Frank Darabont who also directed 'The Shawshank Redemption' (another favourite of mine) and he once again does a superb job of directing this story. The film allows us to explore mortality, question morality and allows us to draw our own conclusions about the human condition. The characters are sometimes likeable, sometimes, despised and sometimes a bit of both and bought to life through marvellous acting. The script, cinematography and the score were all wonderful. There is very little I would change about this film, (such as where the film ends) but in the end these things are personal. This film is a great film. If this all seems too good to be true then watch it for yourself if you haven't already. I defy anyone not to be moved even if it doesn't make your top ten all time favourites. It has made my list though.