Tuesday 17 March 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The very top of the morning to you!

And a very Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

May the Good Saint  turn the sunny side up for you.


Bonny x

Monday 16 March 2015

Free ebooks from Bookbub ...

The other day a friend told me about Bookbub.

Have you heard of it? It's an internet site that directs you to book promotions. The publishing houses discount books from time to time to promote new or even well-established authors, and increasingly they're pushing lost leaders with up to 100% discounting. That means, in normal parlance, my friends that in many instances they're giving away ebooks for nothing.

As an insomniac who's always looking for something to read in the dead of night on her iPad the site works quite well for me. Every so often someone, somewhere, seems to be pushing a book that I do rather fancy reading. Admittedly I don't find something compelling on every visit, but you can set up an e-mail alert notifying them of your preferences as to genre and author.  Then, when there's something they think you might be interested in, they send you an email to let you know about it, and you're able to download the ebook from Amazon, Kobe or whoever is offering the deal.

If you're interested in giving them a whirl their website is here: Bookbub. It doesn't cost anything to join. And they've even got some children's titles on offer.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 13 March 2015

TGI Friday ... 5 Random things from the week that was ...

Gosh this has been a busy week over here at Talk-a-Lot Towers, but here's my random 5 for Friday:

1. Salt and Silver Photography

One of the highlights of my week was a trip down to the Tate Gallery to see their Salt and Silver photography exhibition. For anyone with an interest in social history or the history of early photography this one is a must-see. Many of the subjects from over a century and a half ago struck me as surprisingly modern. There was much in their body language and in the attitude of their poses that could have belonged to the Facebook generation.

If you'd like to know more you can read about the exhibition here: Salt and Silver Exhibition.

2. Guerilla Gardening

Last Saturday was the most glorious day. The sun shone, the sky was blue and the mercury pushed its way up to a dizzy high of 16º C. Mr B had, several weeks' earlier, promised to help me with a post-winter tidy-up outside. He'd entered the date in his calendar as the day he would devote to the garden. And boy did I get lucky with the weather!

Normally Mr B agrees totally with James Dent: A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken. 

But last Saturday I convinced him that we really, really, really had to get rid of the ivy that was growing all round our garden walls. We've got a sweet little walled garden, but that bothersome ivy had grown into a thick forest and was throwing much of it into shadow. Mr B got the proverbial bit between his teeth, and here's what the place looked like the following morning:

Impressive, huh? Well, then of course we had to spend a day and a night clearing up, but that's another story.

3. Slinky Paws returns ...

Just when I thought he'd snuffed it the Slinkster re-appeared for an early-morning raid on the peanuts. I will admit to a certain grudging affection for Slinky, and I'm fine with him eating SOME of the bird food. I only get hot under the collar when he scampers with the whole caboodle.

Old habits die hard!

4. The Wonder Dog's new game

The Wonder Dog and I have spent much of the past week hard at work in the garden. And we've been gloriously happy digging around in the dirt together, and anticipating the full glory of the spring and summer that are to come.

What's she doing leaving all these things buried out here? She'll be really happy when I bring them all safely inside again.

I've been busy planting bedding plants and summer bulbs, which has given rise to a wonderful new game of fetch. The Wonder Dog seemed to be of the opinion that I was getting terribly absent-minded in my dotage, and, no doubt intent on being helpful spent his energy digging up all those things that I'd forgotten about and left buried in the flowerbeds. Needless to say I was less than totally delighted with this assistance, but it's hard to stay cross for long with someone who's as cute as the Wonder Dog.

Well if these bulb things are so special why d'ya bury them in the dirt, huh?

5. Heritage Violets 

A few years' ago I bought some heritage violets. The sale's pitch promised that they were of the self-same strain that Victorian flower sellers used to peddle in Covent Garden. It promised me the smell of sweet nostalgia and oodles of Olde Worlde charm. I wasn't totally convinced, but the lure of a good story, and the fragrant dream of what a bank of sweet-smelling violets would be like in my garden induced me to throw my scepticism to the wind.

And I'm so glad that I did. I really have no idea if they are in any way related to the flowers of yesteryear, but they look like they could be, which is plenty good enough for me. They have wonderful long stems, which makes it easy to gather them into a posy, and they have the sweetest smell. You have to bury your nose in them to capture it properly, but they smell like those parma violet sweets that we used to have when I was a girl. The flowers are so very delicate-looking, but the plants are really robust. I've successfully divided my original plant three or four times, and got them to root in other locations around the garden. They don't seem to mind being in the shade, and they add a lovely interest to difficult shady corners where I've struggled to get anything else to grow.

And that's my random 5 for this week.

All the best for the weekend and fingers crossed the sun will carry on shining,

Bonny x

As shared on Random 5 Friday and Friday Finds

Thursday 12 March 2015

Salt and Silver photography ... faces from the 1840's

It's not every day that we get a chance to stare history in the face, and marvel at how the good folk of yesteryear looked ... well ... a bit like us, but if you mosey down to the Tate today you'll be able to do just that at their Salt and Silver exhibition. The costumes, the gentlemen's whiskers and the hair styles belong to another age, but stripped of the fashion foibles of their time, the faces that look out at us look just like the ones we see in the mirror every morning.

Look at this photograph below. It's thought that the subjects were mother and son. I wonder where Dad is, and why he's not in the frame too. They're posing in their Sunday best, and mum's seated on a chair to rest her weary legs. Her nails look like they belong on hands that work hard every day, rather than hands that get treated to time-consuming manicures. Just look at the way she's threading her arm proprietorially through that of her son; look at how she's gazing with maternal affection at her pride and joy. It's an attitude that wouldn't look out of place in a status update photo posted on Facebook today. I love how the boy's neck tie is a bit askew with a loose end jutting out too far to the left of his chin. Maybe he was proud of having tied it himself for the very first time that morning.

Many of the photos in the exhibition are small, which creates logistical difficulties for someone with terrible eyesight like yours truly. And I'm sorry if you were there at the same time as me, and I seemed to be hogging some of the exhibits with my nose as close to the glass as I dared put it. The truth is that I found those faces and portraits from the far-distant past totally compelling. I really had to tear myself away from some of them to give the rest of the people in the gallery a chance.

The whole shooting match kicked off with an amazing polymath called William Henry Fox Talbot who figured out how to make his first camera way back in 1835. Apparently he was motivated to do so because he was a bit rubbish at sketching. He'd used the camera obscura and the camera lucida to help him with his compositions and got to wondering whether he could invent some new gizmo that would capture the scene before him without needing to resort to pencil or charcoal. In time he came up with the technique of producing a negative image of the subject using paper soaked in silver iodide salts. These darkened on exposure to the light producing a negative image of the subject before them.  This negative image was then photographed again to produce a positive image. It was a fiddly process by the standards of today, but it was easier that what his rival photographer, Louis Daguerre, was doing with his cumbersome plates.

Henry Fox Talbot

The image (below) of Nelson's column as it was being constructed was taken by Fox Talbot himself. Isn't it amazing to see a scene that many top-hatted Londoners must have driven past in their carriages tut-tutting over? They probably thought it an eyesore and a huge inconvenience. And just look at all those bill posters that entrepreneurial types have stuck to the hoardings to promote their wares. How very 21st century! Look at the little wooden hut, where I'm guessing the workmen would  have locked away their tools of an evening when their day's work was done. It looks just like next-door's garden shed.

And the image below is another one of Fox Talbot's, showing the view from his hotel window in 1843 when he'd gone to Paris to promote his newly invented salt prints. Isn't it an intriguing snapshot in time of a Paris street scene with the cabbies all patiently waiting in a line for a fare?

I was enchanted by some of the bucolic scenes of country life. Just look at the wonderful image below by Paul Marès of an Ox cart in Brittany, taken in about 1857. Doesn't it look charming? Like it could have been painted by the Impressionists?

For me it is a perfect example of that soft, velvety texture that was a key characteristic of the technique, and made the image appear much more arty than the sharp definition of the contemporaneous Daguerrotypes. However, those white crosses that were painted on the wall, seemed a bit sinister to me. They jar with the gentle charcoal quality of the composition. On reading about the image I learned that they were commonly painted on walls of rural houses to warn passers-by to keep their distance when the occupants had succumbed to some awful infectious disease. That little nugget of information brought a sinister note to the idle ox cart. Was the driver suffering alone somewhere in the bowels of his home when the image was captured? Did everyone round about feel terror clench their chests when their eyes fell upon those markings? Did they all walk on by and ignore the plight of the people inside?

Or take a look at these Newhaven fishermen in the photograph below:

Do they look as though they're swaggering to you? Once again, in the age of self-promotion on social media, I find their pose thoroughly 21st century. Dressed in jeans and t-shirts they could be a bunch of lads off on a stag weekend. I wonder what they thought about getting their photograph taken? Did they even understand what the man with the strange camera was doing? Did he ever come back and show them their photograph after it had been printed?

And for me that's the lovely thing about this exhibition: it gets you started on a journey of a thousand maybes. As you look at all these individual moments in time your mind, or maybe your heart, craves the backstories and the what-happened-nexts. For anyone with an interest in either social history or the history of photography this exhibition is totally compelling.

If you'd like to go along and see what all the fuss is about for yourself you can check out the website here: Salt and Silver: A rare and revealing collection of early photography. It's running until 7th June. Enjoy!

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Taking cuttings from your woody herbs ...

I was supposed to go and see the Rubens exhibition at the Royal Academy today, but it was just too nice outside in my garden to spend the morning cloistered indoors with a bunch of porridgy nudes. I'm convinced the great man must have been a total misogynist: what other reason could there be for him to have painted such lumpy, washed-out, unattractive ladies? Maybe I'm mistaken and they were simply his type. Maybe I'll make it tomorrow ... if the sun's not shining ... and I don't get a better offer.

And so today I've been busy digging in the dirt outside, which, for me, is a total joy at this time of the year. My sage bush is looking its age - a bit like one of Rubens's women, and my rosemary bushes are in danger of getting devoured alive. I love rosemary, and manage to add it to just about everything I cook. So in order to big up my supply lines I've taken some cuttings of both the sage and the rosemary.

In a few weeks' time my rosemary will probably be in flower, and as the sap is rising and the growth hormones are stirring it seems to me that this is probably the perfect moment to take cuttings. And the process is about as easy as tripping over the door mat.

All you need to do is slip off a side shoot of about 5 to 6 cm (2 + inches) from the main stem of your plant. It's not brain surgery so you don't have to be too exact. Just bear in mind that if the cutting is too long it makes it more difficult for the emerging roots to support the whole thing, and get it growing as an independent plant.

The (groovy pink) arrows in the photo above are pointing to suitable side shoots that could be slipped as potentially viable cuttings. And the photo below shows a whole bunch that I've slipped off.

I gathered my little bunch together and put them in a jar of water for a few minutes so that they would stay hydrated, and to ensure that the ends were wet when I put them in the rooting powder. That way a lot more of the powder sticks to them.

I used some special seed and cutting compost for potting them up. It's better than regular compost because it's got a finer texture with better drainage so that the cuttings don't rot before they root, and the finer texture creates less obstacles for nascent root growth. You could make your own. There are hundreds of recipes out there in cyber-land, but I took the easy route and bought some from my local garden centre. 

Now you need to remove all the leaves from the bottom 3cm of each cutting. The idea is not to have any greenery that will sit below the soil line or be in contact with it as it'll probably rot and ruin the chances of your cutting taking root. 

Next  dip the cutting in some rooting powder to help the rooting process along as much as possible. You can buy rooting powder in just about any garden centre. Then using your finger make a hole in the compost at the edge of the pot and plant your cutting, gently firming the compost around it to hold it in place. You should aim to have about a couple of centimetres of the stem below the soil line. Carry on with your other cuttings, planting them all around the edge of the pot, so that they'll be easier to separate after they've taken root and started to grow into independent plants. 

When they are all planted up you need to place them in a sheltered spot and make sure that they stay moist without allowing the soil to get waterlogged. I've place mine on top of one of my larger pots that I have yet to plant up for springtime. The pots with the cuttings will be able to draw a certain amount of moisture from the larger pot beneath, and they'll be able to drain into it as well. 

With any luck I should have enough little plants to share with my friends in town who like to grow cooking herbs on their balconies. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x