The Many Colours of Iris

I have to admit that whenever I’m asked to imagine an iris, it is invariably the blue flag version that comes to mind; dark royal blue petals with a yellow flash at the base. It has never honestly occurred to me that irises could be any other colour than this, so I was stunned to see just how wrong I was – and how lovely they all are! I have quite a collection of these on my Pinterest boards, so here is a random selection, just to give you an idea of the variety.

spanish sea iris

Although this is a blue iris, it is quite different from the usual in that the blue is much paler and the accenting colour is white rather than yellow. I can quite see where this one got its name, it really does resemble waves off the Mediterranean coast on a hot summer day.

iris great balls of fire

I especially like this one with its vibrant tangerine coloured petals. It looks so lively and fresh and is so completely different from the traditional blue. The name makes me smile as well, being the title of a well known Jerry Lee Lewis song. There is definitely something of the rockabilly about this one.

iris tierra del fuoco

How completely different is this? Such rich deep maroon petals look almost chocolate brown against the wonderful flame colours of the flag petals. This feels very autumnal to me, but is very striking and certainly catches the eye.

iris raven girl

Of course, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to find at least one black iris, and this is the best one to my mind. The petals are almost completely black and would look very striking next to white calla lilies and red standard tulips.

iris immortality

And now a complete contrast, a beautiful pure white iris. This looks very ethereal to me, so I think it has been appropriately named. It is stunning and I think drifts of this in a large garden would have a suitably dramatic effect.

And this is only a very few of the varieties that I have found. I’m told that there are hundreds more, so I’m certain that there’s a colour combination out there for every garden plan. I hope they grow and look beautiful wherever they are.


Final Thoughts on The Prestige

Now that I have finished reading The Prestige, I think I can say I was overall quite disappointed with it. Yes, the endings (for there are two) are flagged up quite early in the book, but it twisted and turned so frequently that the reader is never entirely aware if the two storylines – being that of Borden and of Angier – actually link up at any point. It doesn’t help, of course, that neither of the two main characters are especially likeable, although I much preferred Borden to Angier. He seemed a bit more human, even though his sections were sometimes difficult to read.

The frame story, which was almost entirely new to me, petered out terribly at the end. The reader was able to guess what had happened to young Nicky Borden, but the biggest surprise was never completely explained (and I won’t spoil it by revealing it here). I’ve spent a few days trying to work out how it could have come about, and I’m not sure I can. Perhaps I’ve read a few too many detective stories in my lifetime, but I do like my loose ends tied up!

Overall, though, it was a good book and I did enjoy reading it. Once I got used to the language style it was an easy enough read, and I think I’ve learned a thing or two about stage magic as well. Having now read the book, I think the casting of the film was very well done, and I can see why the changes to the story were made – the film is much more linearly told – but I think losing the frame story was a bit of a shame. Will I read it again? Probably not, so I have passed the book on for someone else to enjoy.

Ellen Terry’s Beetle Dress

sargent ellen terry

And here we are again, back at one of my favourite places, the Tate Gallery (or Tate Britain as I really must remember to call it) because another of my favourite paintings, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent, calls the Tate its home. It’s actually the dress that interests me more, although the painting is beautifully stylized and it’s unusual to see portraits of actresses in character. The reason is because it features insect carapaces in the fabric.

This gown was designed by Alice Comyns-Carr for Henry Irving’s production of Macbeth at the Lyceum Theatre in London in late 1888. It was crocheted with soft green wool and blue tinsel yarn from Bohemia to create a base that resembled chain mail, to which 1,000 iridescent wings from the green jewel beetle were affixed alongside extensive gold embroidery. There is a narrow border of Celtic design in red and white stones along the hems. It was inspired by a gown originally worn by Lady Randolph Churchill that also featured the wing cases of the jewel beetle. I expect it must have been extremely heavy to wear.

Terry herself adored the gown and described it’s “rich stained glass effects” in a letter to her daughter. When first made it must have been fantastic, literally glinting and sparkling in the limelight as she moved across the stage. Unfortunately, time has taken its toll and the gown has recently undergone hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of restoration work before going on display at Terry’s former home in Kent.

beetle dress

It’s not the first time that insects have been responsible for unexpected fashion choices. Jean Paul Gaultier once famously used insects as inspiration for a couture collection, and his cicada dress is shown below, alongside the insect itself.

cicada frock

Next time you swat a brightly coloured beetle from your picnic lunch, spare a thought for those poor creatures who sacrificed themselves to make an actress look dazzling on stage.

A Post-Brexit World

This is how revolutions happen; the populace speak against the ruling elite, who apparently have no plan for the future. The political opposition tears itself apart in petty recriminations. The media fuel popular fears and hate crime against minorities starts to increase. In the good old days, a leader would return from exile with both a plan and a following – this would apply to both Lenin and Castro, and if I remember, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam – but in Britain in late June 2016, this doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. Where have all the leaders got to?

Most occupants of the Palace of Westminster appear to have a plan, but that plan is one of personal power; they all want to be Prime Minister, but they don’t necessarily have the following or a means of creating one. It is clear that there is a mass of politically engaged people (whether or not you agree with them) in a ship that is currently heading towards chaos without any form of steering. Unsurprisingly, people find this prospect rather terrifying and unless you are someone who thrives on chaos – in which case you must be the Joker – this is not something that can be left to continue. The electorate have spoken and it’s time for the politicians to remember what they are doing at Westminster in the first place – time to govern.

The only thing that is certain in this massive amount of uncertainty is that things are going to change, and we need to get ourselves ready for whatever that change may be. Some people may find it an opportune time to carve out their own niches, to put into effect plans that they may have had on indefinite hold because once Brexit happens, whenever that will be, it may be much more difficult. On the other hand, long held plans may now be completely impossible, so plans will have to change. People may be looking at long-standing friends and relatives who took a different stance to them in the referendum and re-evaluating those relationships.

Just hold on a second. It’s worth remembering that what we do now is going to affect us all for generations. A calm, pragmatic outlook is required, one that isn’t motivated by knee-jerk fascism or moribund wittering – and from the looks of things, as a nation we’re not going to be able to rely on our politicians to provide that outlook. So we’re going to have to do it ourselves, and to do that, we’re going to have to look at what is most important – and at the moment, that is finding some form of order in this mess we’ve managed to get ourselves into. How we do that is going to show us who the real leaders of our countries are; but we must remember that we are where we are, we can’t turn the clock back and we really have to sort something out.

These problems are much bigger than the vicious racism I’ve seen on social media the past few days. These problems are revolutionary in their scope and in their impact. And if we want to survive this revolution, we’re going to have to stop finger pointing and start getting to work – because if we don’t, then someone’s going to come along who will and if we don’t like their ideas…. Well, we all know what followed Lenin and Castro, don’t we?

Initial Thoughts on The Prestige

I’m not a huge fan of magic shows; and people like David Copperfield and Derren Brown don’t attract more than a passing glance. So it seems a bit odd that I would be reading a novel featuring turn of the century stage magicians, but there you go. It’s even more odd that I’m actually finding it really interesting! I confess immediately that I only bought it because I’ve seen the film, starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, but apart from the very big spoilers at the end, they are two different entities. I haven’t watched the film recently enough to be able to remember each event as I go through, and I have to say that even though I know what happens at the end, it’s not really interfering with my enjoyment of the book at all.

The major difference between the two is the book begins with a frame story featuring the descendants of the two main characters. The book is written in the style of a biography of Alfred Borden (Christian Bale’s character) so it’s seeing things from the magician’s point of view. And this, I think, is what I find fascinating. There is a large section dealing with the Pact between the magician and the audience – how there are certain conventions which have to be followed and just how much of it is stagecraft. It’s not just smoke and mirrors, obviously, but secrets and deception and, more to the point, just how complicit in the deception the audience is.

A major event in the novel is the feud between the two characters, and this starts when Borden reveals Angier’s role at a séance to be nothing more than a magic act; an elaborate deception to take financial advantage of the recently bereaved (I have quite strong feelings on this subject anyway, but I’ll leave them to one side for now). Afterwards, Borden realises that actually, Angier was providing great comfort to the families of the recently deceased, and apologises, but the apology is not accepted and the feud is begun.

The entire relationship between stagecraft, deception and entertainment is, I think, what is fascinating me. I knew it existed and in not enjoying the acts of stage magicians I suppose indicates that I didn’t buy into the Pact. But to see it analysed quite so thoroughly is intriguing, and is definitely something that is going to keep me reading on.

I still haven’t learned the basic three card trick though. The book isn’t that detailed.

The Chartreuse Room

chartruse living room

Now I’m all for bold designs and bright colours, but at the risk of sounding like that chap from “Through the Keyhole” – who would live in a place like this? Everything matches everything else, the wallpaper is so bright it’s almost luminous and just looking at this picture for too long gives me a headache. There’s clearly a good reason why this is not a colour combination I would ever choose.

Having said that, I saved it because it was striking and I kept coming back to it. There’s something about this room that I really like, in spite of everything about it. It’s not a wallpaper I could live with, but the contrast with the vivid purple does add something to it. And I’m not sure having everything matching would be something I’d do either – perhaps plain curtains, and mixed plain and patterned upholstery would work better.

One thing does occur to me. If you had a colour scheme that bold, you’d have to make sure that any plants or cut flowers you had in the room matched with everything else. Nothing jars the eye more than mismatched shades and it’s something that you’d notice immediately – and once seen, would irritate intensely until you fixed it. Somehow the room stylist has got this one just right, but I’m prepared to bet that took some effort.

Nothing about this room looks lived in, and I expect it would be a room used very occasionally in nice weather or if the owner wanted to induce a migraine in someone. Either way – would you live in a place like this?

St Mary’s Old Church, Battersea

st marys

I have a lengthy familial connection with this church, which is located on the southern (Lambeth) side of the River Thames in London, just by Battersea Bridge. Both myself and my sister were christened there, we think my mother and her siblings may have been christened there (but we’re not sure and we can’t prove it) and some slightly more remote family members are mentioned in the War Memorial in the foyer. In various ways, this church provides documentary evidence that members of my family have been in the parish for about four or five generations.

Of slightly more interest to me is the fact that my favourite poet, William Blake, apparently married in St Mary’s. Whilst I find this delightful, I also find it rather puzzling as I had always thought Blake was a Dissenter, and St Mary’s is Church of England. I don’t believe he was a regular congregant (which doesn’t surprise me at all) but I can see the façade of the church inspiring some of Blake’s etchings; it’s a very classical structure but seems not to be as classical as it could be. I love it.

St Mary’s is still going strong with regular services and a decent sized congregation. The only thing it lacks, like many urban churches, is a graveyard. Shame, I would have liked to have been buried there. Perhaps having my ashes scattered over the gravel drive at the front would be the next best thing?

Grown Up Jellies


I suppose I’m long since past the age where a jelly was something that was always bright red, strawberry flavoured and could only be served with ice cream, but I do like the idea of moulded desserts for grown ups. They’ve been out of fashion for so long now that even the most basic equipment is hard to get hold of unless you have elderly relatives who refused to ever throw away perfectly good kitchenware. Even Lakeland will let you down here, so if you see good quality and reasonably priced jelly moulds, snap them up while you can.

The main ingredient of jelly, obviously, is gelatine but for vegetarians and vegans, agar jelly is a good alternative. This is the primary setting agent and is, of itself, colourless and relatively tasteless. What gives jelly its taste is what the gelatine is mixed with, and a clarified fruit juice is a good option. If you can ensure that the jellies will not be consumed by those under cocktail age, a generous slug of gin, vodka, wine or other alcoholic beverage of your choice could be thrown in for good measure as well.

The drama of moulded desserts is, of course, in the presentation and more often than not something really special can be achieved with a simple trick. Edible flowers, sweets and such like can be added to the mould as the jelly is carefully poured in; multicoloured stripes can be created by allowing each layer to set before the next one is added; and clear jelly with blancmange (basically a jelly made with an opaque liquid rather than a clear one) look very effective layered or in combination. The shape of the mould will also add to the overall effect, so work with your equipment to create something stunning.

Some time ago, Heston Blumenthal had a display of moulded desserts on one of his food programmes, which he created using traditional methods and not very traditional ingredients. I’m not sure that egg and bacon blancmange will ever catch on, but I think there may well be a market for a gin and tonic jelly. With a lime and cucumber decoration. Delicious.


I remember reading somewhere that the original X-Men were Children of the Atomic Age, as the first comics appeared at a time when nuclear weapons were still poorly understood, but there was great enthusiasm for the space race and anything felt possible. The X-Men First Class movie tapped into this mindset with its Cold War theme and mutants stepping in to rescue mere humanity from a fate worse than death.

I would argue, however, that children who reached their teens during the period 1979-1986 are the real Children of the Atomic Age. With the Cold War at its peak and each side pointing its missiles at the other as some form of deterrent, and culminating in the devastating accident at Chernobyl, we saw just how powerless humanity was against this monstrous behemoth we had created in the name of peace.

Such was the perceived threat of nuclear war that the British Government went so far as to issue a leaflet to every household in the United Kingdom, setting out its advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack (because, as every Western child knew, the Russians would always strike first). Public service announcements were broadcast to reinforce the message and familiarise everyone with the sound of the warning alarms. Television dramas, such as Threads, were also broadcast at this time, showing the immediate aftermath of a nuclear attack and setting the tone for a fair few post-apocalyptic novels afterwards.

The fear that pervaded society at that time was very real, fuelled by panicky tabloid headlines and news reports giving the impression that a badly timed fart would seal the fate of the planet.

And then Raymond Briggs wrote a book that sparked a furious debate about government policy and did CND the power of good. Where The Wind Blows was, to all intents and purposes, a graphic novel telling the story of an elderly British couple who follow the government’s advice on what to do in the event of nuclear war. The debate started because they die horribly from radiation sickness, despite doing everything in the leaflet. I believe that anyone who’s ever read this book is still haunted by it and it’s one of the first books I remember that made me cry.

In April 1986, a freak accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the then Soviet Union sparked genuine panic throughout Europe as a cloud of nuclear fallout spread westwards, finally reaching Scotland, Northern England and Scandinavia. For many years, the Soviet Union denied that there had been an accident at all despite having evacuated everyone in a 30km radius and death rates and birth defects rising dramatically. The full horror may never be known – but even today, the Exclusion Zone is strictly enforced and efforts are being made to reinforce the hastily built concrete sarcophagus over the melted reactor.

It is worth remembering that everything we know today about dealing with nuclear incidents – which lessons were tested and reinforced by the events after the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima in 2011 – were found out the hard way at Chernobyl. Nobody really had any idea at the time of what to do in such a crisis and I think the horrific realities of just what nuclear power was capable of opened a few eyes.

As a Child of the Atomic Age, I remember all this quite clearly, and whilst I see the temptations of building a nuclear power plant at Hinckley Point, my memories can’t help thinking this is a monumentally bad idea.

Poire Williams

poire prisonniere

There are a few slightly obscure liqueurs about that are proving harder to find. After dinner, people tend to stick with what they know, being brandy, amaretto or perhaps a creme de menthe. But this is something a little different and I’d love to try some – if only I knew where I could get my hands on it!

This is an eau de vie, or colourless fruit brandy, made from the Williams pear in Europe. In the US it is often made with the Bartlett pear. I have also seen this called Poire Prisonniere, due to the pear captured in the bottle – a simple trick where the bottle is attached to the pear tree while the fruit is in bud and the alcohol is added later. I’m told the drink, like revenge, is best served cold and in small glasses, but since I’ve never managed to find any I’ve no idea if this is true, let alone what it tastes like.

But what a wonderful bottle. I’d expect that would start a conversation or two after dinner, wouldn’t it?