Lens Artists Challenge No. 177 – Celebrations

There’s always plenty to celebrate in the world and here I offer three different celebrations. The first one is the annual Old Gaffers Festival on the Isle of Wight, Old Gaffers being boats which since the time of King Charles I, have favoured the gaff rig, where the mainsail has a spar at the top (the gaff, hence gaffer), and at the bottom, (the boom).

The annual Old Gaffers Festival takes place in the historic Isle of Wight seaside town of Yarmouth and includes entertainment, parades, bands, sideshows, eating and drinking tents and everything needed for a celebratory weekend. Not forgetting the Old Gaffers themselves which are ranged out on the waters of the Solent, bedecked with bunting and flags.

Next up are two Japanese weddings which were taking place at Miyajima Island when we were there a few years ago. The bride and groom looked so elegant in their traditional dress as did most of the guests, the setting was perfect and everyone looked happy to be celebrating the wedding of the young couples.

And lastly we come to the Flower Festival in Limassol, Cyprus, which was a glorious village affair where things went wrong, the children ran off to greet grandparents in the stands, the band played as village bands do and everyone, including the onlookers, had a wonderful time. One of the best flower festivals I’ve ever attended, it was done for the people of the village, few tourists were around (it was out of season and the few that were there had mostly gone off sight-seeing), and everyone, from the Mayor down to the littlest tot, had a thoroughly good day.

Lens Artists Challenge No. 176

Ann-Christine this week suggests that we go for a minimalist challenge but, as she says, that doesn’t mean just one picture. Use 1, 2 or 3, as long as you use only one image for each story you have captured.

What is a photo story? Some photos are taken just for their story, and some stories come to mind when you see your photo on the screen. A lot of photographic storytelling involves shots of scenes and phenomena that cannot easily be explained through words.

Here are three of mine.

My first images are of a young man I met a few years ago in the violin-making centre of Italy, Cremona. The afternoon I spent with this young luthier in his workroom watching him undertake the delicate tasks of cutting and filing, staining and painting taught me more about dedication, passion and love of a craft than I’d ever hoped to learn. And while he talked to me about how he sourced the wood and what it meant to go into the forest to find just the right tree, I was conscious of the mass-produced violins that were flooding the country from China and how his future is no longer as assured as it was a few years ago. Below is a postcard of the Conio family, grandfather, father and Stefano, all luthiers. Their life inspires me when the world seems full of dross.

The Conio family of violin makers in Cremona.

If you’d like to know more about Stefano, read my blog about him which covers in more detail exactly what he does.

My second subject is somewhat similar in that he too, is totally hands-on. A bodhrán is an Irish frame drum, a circular wooden frame covered with goatskin on one side, the other side open-ended allowing one hand to be placed against the inside of the drum head to control pitch and timbre. It is played by striking the skin with a bone known as a cipín.

Eamon Maguire makes his bodhráns from start to finish totally by hand. So hands-on is Belfast dwelling Eamon (above) that he first catches his wild goat, one of those that roams the hills of Antrim (he has a special licence to do this), kills it and then cures the skin to make the drum. Then and then only, he can begin the delicate work of making the bodhrán, before fine-tuning and embellishing it with his signature mark, a tuft of goat-hair and a quotation from the Book of Kells.

Eamon makes the finest bodhrans in Ireland and he supplies these to most of the Irish bands we are familiar with today including The Chieftains and The Fureys, to musicians like Bob Dylan, and to celebrities and Presidents of the USA. His work can also be seen in private homes and galleries from San Franscisco to Tokyo. He is also a fine sculptor in Irish bog oak which, yes, he digs up himself from the bogs and he plays in a band and teaches Irish set dancing!

Although like the two men above, she may have been hands-on from beginning to the end of this effort, she lives a somewhat different life. It is just after dawn on a beach in Thailand and this old lady is setting up to sell hard-boiled eggs to the early workers, locals, who will shortly pass by. Not for her the more lucrative tourist trade which the umbrellas in the background will soon welcome for beers and snacks, those sites are too expensive, so she buys eggs in the market, carries them home and boils them (probably outside on an open fire as few women like her have kitchens) and then hauls them down to the beach in the hope of selling them.

Before the tourists flock down to the water’s edge she will have packed up and gone, and they’ll never know someone like her existed. This is subsistence.

Lens-Artists’Challenge

Lens-Artists Challenge #176- One Image/One Story


I love a mystery, don’t you? Why was this young couple undergoing such an intense cleansing? Had they done something terribly wrong? Was it a type of Merit-making? On the other hand, maybe they were being cleansed before undertaking a journey, a project, or even a marriage? This was the third bowl of ‘crystal water’ I’d seen poured over them and it seemed as though there was more to come. I wish we’d been able to wait to ask some questions but time didn’t allow for this.




No, no, no. Find a policeman if you want directions. These children in Caracas may seem to know exactly where the Change Bureau is but they will probably send you to the nearest Emerald seller as every other person there seems to have a contact in the business, working from a street corner or a shop doorway. Emeralds and Cambio, the two things tourists are looking for in Bolivar Plaza (don’t mention cocaine).

It was the year 2000, and we did ask a policeman in the crowded square where we could exchange some money. He recommended his ‘cousin’ in a nearby bank as the best person with whom to do a deal, and he took us there and waited for his ‘cut’ from the bank clerk, at the end of the transaction. Cultural expectations overturned at every corner in a fascinating city.

Caerleon – The Sculptures

Caerleon town, just five miles from Newport in Wales, is a pleasant, charming little town of mostly Georgian houses, narrow streets with good shops and some excellent restaurants. A historic town, famous for its Roman amphitheatre and the Roman Museum, it is easy to spend a good couple of days here just enjoying the fascinating history of the place. See my post Camelot in Wales.

But Caerleon has more to offer than ancient history.  Just off the High Street you can walk through a reconstructed arch of the main Roman gates, across cobblestones and into an eighteenth century walled garden peopled with sculptures of King Arthur, Merlin, Mordred and Morgana, and, at 44 feet long – the world’s largest love spoon.  Alongside these carvings of mythical figures are carvings of characters from classic Welsh folktales from The Mabinogion, a collection of sculptures that has no equal anywhere in Wales.

Caerleon has FFWRWM

Lifesize Head

So here, in the heart of Caerleon town, is Ffwrwm Arts where people can meet, sit and talk, shop, view an exhibition, have holistic treatments, enjoy fine arts, eat or even join a workshop.  And all around you are wonderful carved works of the imagination. If you’ve ever wondered about the Welsh myths, this is the place to find out exactly what they mean.

The range is eclectic, the themes bookish and mythical.

We’ll finish with some Roman Legionairres fighting, because Caerleon was one of the most important military sites in Britain under the Roman Empire, home to the 2nd Augustan Legion of 6,000 soldiers.

Camelot in Wales

Although most scholars today regard the tales of King Arthur and his Round Table to be legendary more than historical, there are still locations that claim a link with Camelot, the place where Arthur held court and the supposed location of the famous Round Table. 

Where was Camelot?

The top four claimants for this honour are Winchester with its round table dating from the 13th century, Tintagel Castle in Cornwall whose claim to the title rests on a 1,500-year-old piece of slate bearing two Latin inscriptions, Cadbury Castle in Somerset where the first reference to its connection was written down by John Leland in 1542 and Caerleon in Wales, one of three Roman legionary forts in Britain, chosen as Camelot by both Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chretien de Troyes. 

Roman Amphitheatre at Caerleon, Wales

On purely subjective grounds I’m going for Caerleon.  It’s a magical place and when I go there not only does the Arthurian legend seem less a fiction and more a fact of history, but the presence of the Roman Legion of 30,000 men that was stationed here in the 1st century BC is very palpable. 

The top thing to do in Caerleon is to visit the Roman Baths, housed in an inconspicuous building that opens to reveal the remains of a Roman outdoor swimming pool and bath house.  The ancient stone foundations that are on display give some idea of the original building but when you enter the enormous natatio (open air swimming pool), the basilica (indoor sports hall) and the frigidarium (cold baths) it all comes suddenly to life. Modern technology allows the projection of water onto the remains of the baths, complete with sounds and images of people swimming, and this is truly amazing: there is a short, informative, but humourous film to accompany this.

Entrance to Roman Baths

This was where the Roman Legionaries in first-century Wales would come to escape being shouted at by the Centurions or skirmishing with the local ancient Britons.  Here, they could hang out with their friends in the immense open-air swimming pool that held more than 80,000 gallons of water, and after a swim they could play ball games, or gamble, have a massage and even buy fast-food snacks.  The whole complex would have been much like a modern-day leisure centre/sauna, with a tepidarium (warm room) and caldarium (hot room).

A Roman as he would have appeared at the time

Procedure before Swimming in Roman Baths

Before swimming the soldier would have had a bath in one of the lofty vaulted halls next to the swimming pool where he would strip, hand his clothes to one of the bathhouse slaves and enter the frigidarium (cold bath suite). After a cold dip he’d coat his body with perfumed oil and then visit the warm and hot suites in turn.  In the last room, heated from wood-burning furnaces (you can look down and see the stacked pillars under the floor that allow heat to circulate) he’d scrape the oil and sweat from his body with a metal tool called a strigil, before finishing off with a final cold plunge.

Bathing was done naked but as mixed bathing was frowned on, women and children used the baths in the morning while the soldiers would use it in the afternoon.  On some days though, prostitutes were allowed in and on these days mixed bathing took place. 

Thanks to modern technology and film projection, you can see and hear the splash as a Roman soldier dives into the water, and you then see him swimming in the pool.  Then watch as women enter the water and swim together.

Replica objects on display testify to the cleanliness of the Romans, tweezers, ear wax cleaner, toothpicks, nail files and body scrapers.

From baths to Amphitheatre

After the baths it’s outside to see the most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain, built to entertain the legionnaires and keep them happy in their time off.  Walk through the great north entrance to this huge arena build around AD 90 to seat up to 6,000 spectators, and imagine the din of those 6,000 people baying for blood. 

This impressive amphitheatre was the Roman equivalent of today’s multiplex cinema or a massive sports stadium. Wooden benches with seating for up to 6,000, were provided for the spectators who would gather to watch bloodthirsty displays featuring gladiatorial combat and exotic wild animals. 

Long after the Romans left the country, the amphitheatre took on a new life as the Camelot of Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the 12th-century scholar, wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain that Arthur was crowned in Caerleon and that the amphitheatre was actually the remains of King Arthur’s Round Table. 

I’m happy to go along with that because I think I saw Merlin flit across the grass one evening as dusk was descending. Of course it may have had something to do with the fact that I was listening to Richard Burton singing/speaking one of my favourite songs from the musical Camelot, Finale Ultimo. https://youtu.be/HmOhwkVFFQM

NB.  The Caerleon Amphitheatre, which boasted eight vaulted entrances and a shrine to the goddess Nemesis, is the only fully excavated Roman amphitheatre in Great Britain.  It was maintained until its abandonment in the 3rd century when the Second Augustan Roman Legion departed to protect what remained of the diminishing Roman Empire.

The Welsh Government is to be congratulated on this imaginative place and when I was there it was entirely FREE. I urge anyone who is in the area to visit it.

To read a full history of the place and to watch some excellent videos (including an aerial one of the amphitheatre) click on http://www.caerleon.net

And back in the 21st century, don’t miss the Sculpture Park in Caerleon town, a truly wondrous journey through myths and magic and the power of the artist.

Spirit Houses of Thailand

Featured Image by Chainwit

(I thought I had done a Post about this subject but I can’t find it although I had the word part in my folder, so here it is, and I hope it’s not the second time).

It’s rush hour in Bangkok and the noise from the klaxons of the grid-locked traffic is deafening.   Under the impassive gaze of the police, vendors erect their stalls for the illegal evening street market, laying out the fake Rolexes, the Versace tee shirts and the Calvin Klein jeans.   On the narrow pavements all is hustle and bustle as tourists browse and stall-holders finger their calculators in readiness for the haggling.

There are pockets of quiet though.  On islands in the middle of the road, on forecourts of the hotels, banks and shops that line the streets, people are quietly praying, their heads bowed and hands joined before what appear to be pagoda-roofed miniature dolls’ houses perched on top of posts.   But these are not dolls’ houses, these are spirit houses, shrines to the spirits of the land on which they are built, and the people really are praying in the midst of the mayhem that is often found in cities and towns in Thailand.

Worshipers at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok (Copyright; Ninary from Helsinki. https://creativecommons.org/licences/by-2/0)

            One of that country’s most endearing symbols, these shrines fascinate and baffle the first-time visitor to the Kingdom who has read that 98% of Thais are Buddhists.  The gentle tolerance that typifies the Thais however, allows for compatibility of many beliefs, and a belief in the spirits finds easy acceptance among virtually all Thais.    

            Every dwelling, whether private or public, has its spirit house, situated where the shadow of the main house doesn’t fall upon it.  The spot will have been chosen in consultation with an astrologer and in design it will resemble a miniature temple, sometimes painted red and gold, sometimes in plain wood and sometimes plain, dazzling white – public buildings seem to favour white alabaster or marble – and it will be high above the ground to show respect to the spirits who reside in it, but low enough for offerings to be made to them.

            When the shrine is first erected, a house-warming party is held for the spirits, who are invited to move in, the host spending as much money on the party as he can afford in order to do honour to the spirits.  If any misfortune should subsequently befall the house – a robbery, a fire, or a spouse running away, it would be a sure sign that the owner had skimped on the house-warming!   

            Servants will be represented by tiny terracotta or wooden figures placed inside the shrine as well as carved wooden elephants to transport the spirits should they wish to go visiting.   Family spirits are usually housed indoors, but spirits of the land and the highly respected spirits of rice, water, trees and wind always live outside, working within an inviolable division of labour.

Most spirits are benevolent, but some are mischievous and some can be downright dangerous: they are always unpredictable.  Some are restless and troublesome – the spirits of those who have died violently (the Phi Tai Hong) or those who have died in childbirth and who spend their time searching for another body to inhabit (the Phi Tai Tong Klom), and there are some so dangerous that they must be bribed to stay out of the house.  Fortunately, they respond to bribery.

            This can take the form of offering extra special food, walking a number of times round the shrine, or in some cases, if the owners of the property on which the shrine stands fears a personal attack from the spirits, they may wear their clothes inside out for a week or two and change their name in order to confuse them. 

            Offerings are chosen to suit individual spirits.  In the South of Thailand where Islam moved steadily down the coast from Malaysia, the spirits that inhabit the land may be Muslim and the dietary rules that forbid the offering of pork and alcohol must be strictly adhered to.  Others are known to be partial to the odd glass of beer or whiskey and there is a famous roadside shrine just outside the village of Cha’am in Petchaburi province where, it is rumoured, a daily offering of marijuana is left for the spirits.

            At festivals it is usual to offer elaborate meals consisting of whole chickens, coconuts, honeycombs and other delicacies, as a thank you for past favours received, or to secure a favour, a win on the lottery, a new job, recovery from illness, a new wife or husband or even a partner for the night. There is no limit to the kind of request that can be made.  Bribes are frequently offered and being a pragmatic race the Thais, as often as not, withhold part of the bribe until the request is fulfilled.

            The offerings are placed on the small ledge in front of the shrine, like a mini altar.  The food may be eaten by the birds or it may blow away, but if say, a chicken or duck were offered, then this is sometimes removed and given to needy people in the area.  The merit lies in the giving.

            Some shrines are credited with miraculous powers, like the famous Erawan complex of spirit houses next to the hotel of the same name in the heart of downtown Bangkok (see header picture).   Stalls selling candles, joss-sticks, carved elephants and lotus flowers ring the central shrine, and a professional group of dancers and musicians in the sparkling costumes of old Siam can be hired to sing and dance for the spirits.

         There are no hard and fast rules, but when making offerings there are three essentials – water, rice, and joss sticks – and there are a couple of basic things to remember.  Do not offer food left over from a meal, or a piece of chocolate hastily broken off as a token.  Everything must be specifically for the spirits: don’t even smell the flowers if you’ve bought them as offerings.

This shrine with the elaborate roof and carved frontage was one I saw in Chiang Rai.

            The Thais are not possessive of their spirits.  Before travelling onwards, you will often find yourself invited to join them in making offerings for your safe journey.  Whichever method of travel you choose, at the point of departure you will find spirit houses and at Bangkok’s International Airport, where the noses of all planes in Thai Airways fleet have been blessed by the Supreme Patriarch, you can calm yourself before take-off by visiting the spirit house by the runway.

            Just follow the Thai pilots, they never fly without first visiting a spirit house. 

These two very plain looking spirit houses are in the grounds of the Old Royal Palace at Hua Hin.

Header Image of People Praying at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok is copyright of Chingwit https/creativecommons.org/licences/by-sa/4.0

Life in Colour: Orange

Linked to Life in Colour at Jude’s here

A few more oranges before the month is out.

This first one is a hard-hat day. On holiday with Thai friends in Hua Hin, Thailand, I was shown around the site for the new Conference Hall at the Hotel Dusit Thani and then stayed on for the ceremony to appease the land spirits who had been disturbed by the building work.

Inspecting the site for the new Conference Hall at Hotel Dusit Thani, Hua Hin with GM Khun Victor Sukseree

In contrast we have here some lovely Koi at feeding time as one can guess from the fact that they are all swimming in the same direction, towards the food.

A Koi Pond at Feeding Time

Eton -More than a College

There are few people who have never heard of Eton College but the town itself is less well-known as it sits in the shadow of its nearby sister town of Windsor.  Situated just across the river from the Royal Borough and accessed via a pedestrian footbridge, the town of Eton, a settlement since at least Saxon times, has a rich and diverse heritage.

Eton College

The mile-long High Street leading down to Eton College has remained unchanged for many years but the name has always been Eton, or Eyot-tun, meaning ‘settlement on an island’.  In the 1086 Domesday Book, the town is listed as ‘Ettone’, with two mills, a meadow, woodland and fisheries and it was concentrated on the higher land.  Many royal processions have made their way along the High Street, most notably the funeral procession of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, in 1537.  

This elegant little town is an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary retail outlets catering to its local population and a year-round tourist trade, with high-end gift shops, antiques and modern art establishments sitting alongside shops selling traditional medicines and complementary beauty therapies.   The traditional shop fronts and the boys in their traditional school dress (often seen around town) give a sense of stepping back in time.

The Thames has always been important to the town which initially flourished due to fish farming, and goods into and out of Eton were conveyed by barge – including the stones used to build Eton College Chapel.

Connected by the footbridge from Windsor, Eton has an importance of its own, and the Eton Walkway, a 2-mile/one-hour circular walk, connecting 18 points of interest in the town starting at Windsor Bridge is the perfect way to find out about the historical importance of the town.  This walk is marked out by permanent, bronze, lozenge-like symbols set in the ground to identify the route, the 18 shields marking: The King’s Stables, the Cockpit, Porny School, Baldwin’s Bridge, Eton College, the Burning Bush, Eton Wall Game at the Timbralls, Skinners’ Bridge, Herschel Observatory, the Gormley Statue, Keate House, the Natural History Museum, Museum of Antiquities, St John’s Church, Jubilee Square, the Brocas and Eton Boat House.  Information on each point of significance is included on the Outdoor Guide website

It’s impossible to speak of Eton without reference to Eton College which occupies the whole of Eton north of Barnes Pool bridge and is second only to Winchester as the oldest public school in England.   The College was founded by Henry VI in 1440, modelled on Winchester which had been founded by William of Wykeham, and Henry decreed that there were to be 70 King’s Scholars, who were to be educated for free and housed in the College. Outside the College, so-called Oppidans were lodged in the town and received the same education. Originally the houses were run by Dames, but more recently they have been run by House Masters. Today there are 24 boarding houses for Oppidans and over 1,300 boys in all.

The College looks after thousands of historic, artistic and natural objects, and welcomes visitors to its Museum of Eton Life, Museum of Antiquities and its Natural History Museum, which are open to the public free of charge on Sunday afternoons between 2:30pm and 5pm. 

So if you are in Windsor and find yourself with an hour or two to spare, just walk across the bridge into another world where time seems to have stood still. The shop-fronts look almost Dickensian but in Eton they are cleaner than those depicted in any of Dickens’ books – this is one of the cleanest towns I have ever visited. You will be amused by the items for sale in some of the shops, the old-school tailors, the haberdashery, even a sweet shop selling long forgotten sweets from jars.

And when you’ve had enough, just stroll back across the bridge into the real world again. Or nearly. It is, after all, the Royal Borough of Windsor.

Life in Colour – Orange

Linked to Life in Colour at Jude’s here

Just a couple more orange pictures. My dwarf climbing rose is just about to give up the ghost for this year but I managed to take this picture a couple of weeks ago when the Indian Summer we are having persuaded it to give out a few more blooms. They all came together which is unusual at this time of year.

Dwarf Climbing Rose

There have been lots of terracotta pictures from people which reminded me of the market in Valencia where I always buy some cooking dishes, easily broken by someone as clumsy as me, but I love just having them on the worktops as they remind me of sunshine.

Pottery for sale – Valencia Market, Spain

Linked to Life in Colour at Jude’s here