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Saturday, February 25, 2012

A is for Apple

Gerritt Vandersyde - Once Upon a Time Magazine Cover  (1969)

If I had to choose a symbol to represent the books and illustrations that enriched my childhood I would pick an apple tree.

In my case it is perhaps not as obvious a choice as it sounds.  I was born and raised in a sub tropical region of Africa. My roots and a part of my soul will undoubtedly always belong to that continent.

The majority of the books I devoured so hungrily, however, came from England.  So although my physical location was African, the landscape of my imagination where I conjured up whole new worlds of my own was typically English in character.  

Apple trees adorned the pages of my earliest memories.

When I started to draw, my first attempts at art were very predictable - stereotype symmetrical houses flanked by apple trees with dark green foliage and bright red fruit.  Daisy style flowers grew in the garden and the whole scene was watched over by a large and smiling sun.

I don't think any of these artistic efforts still exist, but I can remember drawing and colouring them very clearly.

Possibly my favourite books from early childhood were the Jack and Jill annuals that I was given as a Christmas present by my grandparents each year.  I still have them and I treasure them greatly.

Inscription inside the cover of the 1966 Annual

The next two pictures are from a story in the 1966 annual called (unsurprisingly) 'The Apple Party'.

Jack and Jill Annual 1966

Jack and Jill Annual 1966

Lucas Cranach - The Tree of Knowledge

Apple trees provide a thread that run throughout Western civilisation - from the Garden of Eden to the sun-washed red bricks of Elizabethan walled gardens.

Sir Isaac Newton is said to have first thought of the Universal Law of Gravity after an apple fell on his head.

In American folklore the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree is sometimes substituted by an apple tree.  It is widely known that pruning apple trees was one of his favourite hobbies.

And in Arthurian legend, the dying king is taken to Avalon - the mystical Apple Island where he waits as the Once and Future King until the hour of his country's greatest need.  (An earlier post Delightful Dragons also touches on this theme.)

James Archer - The Death of King Arthur
In children's literature my favourite artist Ron Embleton illustrated a story called 'The Magic Apples' for Once Upon a Time Magazine in 1971.  Although I love all his work (as past posts will testify), the stories he illustrated with a Nordic theme are definitely those that appeal to me the most.

Ron Embleton - The Magic Apples
Perhaps the most famous apple in any children's story has to be this one from Snow White, immortalised in Walt Disney's version of the tale.

Walt Disney - Snow White

Undoubtedly the most magnificent apple tree I have ever seen belonged to an elderly neighbour when we lived in our previous home.  I think our gardens were originally part of a much older orchard - we had apples trees planted in a straight row, separated by our boundary walls.

When our neighbour died her house was sold to a young couple.  It became apparent straight away that nothing was to remain.  The cottage was demolished and her garden destroyed to make way for a new and soulless dwelling that reminded me of a dental surgery.

Knowing the apple tree had only one last season left I took photographs of it in its final burst of glory.  It was almost as though the tree knew it had this one last moment to shine - I have never seen the blossoms look as lovely and when autumn came it was laden with a glorious harvest of fruit that hung on its branches like shimmering golden globes.

Apple Blossom from that Last Year
Then one day the tree was cut down without a thought, leaving an empty place in an action I felt like a physical blow.  I found it hard to believe something that had survived and given pleasure since long before I was born could be destroyed so casually.       

Now Just a Magnificent Memory 

Last year I included some pictures of the apples and pears that grow in the garden where we live now.  This is one of the photos I chose to post at the time.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

True Romance - My Top 10 Disney Love Songs

Another frivolous spur of the moment post before I get back to my next intended offering (A is for Apple - Fairytale Alphabet).

As St Valentine's Day is not long past and this is a Leap Year I thought it would be fun to compile this frothy concoction - my Top 10 Disney Love Songs.

10. Robin Hood - Love Goes On (1973)

Despite boasting the talents of Peter Ustinov as Prince John (he was a very big name at the time), this film somehow never really attained 'classic' status.  This is still a very cute song and I thought a worthy first entry in my personal top 10. 

9. Lady and The Tramp - Belle Notte (1955)

The famous spaghetti sharing scene - Aaah! 

8. Cinderella - So This Is Love (1950)

I love the pastoral background and the sparkly effect but the characters are just ever so slightly wooden.  

7. Snow White - I'm Wishing / One Song (1937)

My very first Disney memory.  I was given a LP record of the soundtrack when I was about four years old.  I loved it but always found the warbling quality of Snow White's voice a bit strange. 

6. Sleeping Beauty - Once Upon a Dream (1959)

I often wonder how many people know that this is a Tchaikovsky waltz from the Sleeping Beauty Ballet.  Disney put words to the music and it is now synonymous with the film.  We still have the traditional 'handsome prince' in Phillip but humour and personality are starting to make their mark.

5. Aladdin - A Whole New World (1992)

A lovely catchy song and a magic carpet ride.

4. The Lion King - Can You Feel the Love Tonight (1994)

Elton John's music score was one of Disney's greatest triumphs.  I feel nostalgic and homesick for Africa every time I watch this. 

3. Beauty and the Beast - Tale As Old As Time (1991)

This film revived Disney's fortunes after a period of decline.  Besides being a truly magical song it has a special significance for me.  I've mentioned in a couple of posts (including the last one) that I work in IT.  Beauty and the Beast represents a breakthrough in computer animation - it was used to create the sweeping ballroom scene with the chandelier.

2. The Little Mermaid - Kiss the Girl (1989)

I'm expecting my top two choices to diverge from any one else's list.  The Little Mermaid was not the greatest Disney movie every made, but I think the humour and wealth of character in the songs is absolutely brilliant.  I found myself humming this song all day after I first came across it again recently.

1. The Jungle Book - My Own Home (1967)

A purely personal choice and my all time favourite (and favourite Disney movie).  I was about the same age as these children when I was first taken to see this film.  I thought this was the most magical, enchanting song that I had ever seen at the time.  I still thrill at the wonder of the internet that allows me to watch it again and again whenever I feel like it!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Tag

I was tagged by Barbara from March House Books .  Thanks so much for thinking of me Barbara.

Barbara's questions and my answers:

1.  Do you use a bookmark or will any old bit of paper do?
Easy one to start with!  I've had this bookmark for twenty years or more.  It was given to me by a work colleague/friend when I was still living and working in Cape Town.  Her family spent part of the year in England and part of the year in South Africa (they had serious money!)  She brought this back for me on one occasion as she knew how much I enjoy reading.
The quality of this bookmark is remarkable as I use it almost every day.  Since it was given to me it has travelled the world and remains permanently ensconced in whatever book I happen to be reading next to my bed.

2.  What new books are you most excited to read this year?
Nothing in particular that I can think of.  Belonging to a library is a top priority in my life.  I visit my local library in the little village of Dalkey every three weeks (the loan period in Ireland.)  The first thing I do is look at the display of new books.  Usually I find something enticing - introducing me to new authors/subjects - before I head off to the shelves of old favourites.

Dalkey Library
3.  Favourite season?
Summer!  I think I might have given a different answer before I lived in Ireland.  Now I treasure every moment of it before we descend into darkness again.

With my son 2009 Transkei Wild Coast South Africa

4.  If money were not an issue, what present would you give yourself?
I would love to be able to collect all my most favourite illustrations by the artists I've featured in my blog.  Ron Embleton would feature first in my wish list but there are many others whose work I covert as well - Gerry Embleton, Jose Ortiz, Nadir Quinto, Gerrit Vandersyde and Mervyn Suart to name a few. 
Ron Embleton Original Illustration from the Secret of the Trolls
5.  Do you buy second-hand books, new books or both?
I've had a bit of a space constraint recently so have not been able to buy anything for a while. (My husband always says I should be getting rid of what I have, not adding more!)  If I do buy anything now it tends to be for reasons of nostalgia so by definition the books are second hand. 

6.  Early bird or night owl?
Both and neither. I have to get up at 5am during the week to be at work on time.  If it was up to me I would probably choose a later time, but once I am up I quite enjoy it.  I love the commute in an almost empty train (the route hugs Dublin Bay so it is very scenic) and I treasure my daily stroll through the beautiful grounds of Trinity College on the way to work.  Early in the morning I have the place almost completely to myself.

Trinity College Dublin
Because I have an 11 hour working day (incl my commute) I tend to run out of steam as the week progresses and need the weekend to recover.  But if I am engrossed in doing something or reading something I particularly enjoy I can quite easily stay up until the early hours of the morning! 

7.  Do you like to read a specific genre? If so, what genre is it?
I always feel as though I should give an intellectual or socially/politically relevant answer but I'm afraid I read purely for escapism and enjoyment.  I enjoy finding an author who has written a series of books (usually mystery/whodunit) where the lives of the characters weave an ongoing saga through each individual story.  I always quote Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael as my favourite, but I've also thoroughly enjoyed the Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis (I've just finished reading one of hers recently).  I tend to lean towards ancient history, but of the more contemporary settings  I would pick Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries set in Venice.  I thought her choice of title 'Through a Glass Darkly' was brilliant - it caught my attention and was the first of her books I read.

8.  Who is your favourite literary character of all time?
Brother Cadfael - as mentioned above.  I loved everything about these books and was so sad to hear Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters) had died in 1995 so no new stories would be forthcoming.

9.  Physical books, E-books or audio books?
It has to be a physical book.  Possibly because I've worked in IT as a systems analyst/programmer for almost 30 years.  I associate anything electronic / technical with work.  Sometimes I'm sorry blogging is so addictive because I would like to be able to switch off altogether when I am at home! 

10.  If your life was made into a movie, who would you like to play you?
The lazy answer is Meryl Streep - I think she could impersonate anyone.  Charlize Theron would probably have the best shot at getting my accent right, but I don't think she is anything like me - far too glamorous and edgy.

I think if I could choose I would pick Gillian Anderson.  I knew of her for years in the X Files and then I saw her in the BBC TV adaptation of Bleak House.  She was a revelation and it made me look at her in a whole new light.

11.  Cat person or dog person?
Cat person.  I like their enigmatic air, neatness and cleanliness.  (This is despite the fact that I am allergic to their fur which makes my eyes stream and swell up.)

The Tag rules:
1. You must post the rules!
2. Answer the questions and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
3. Tag eleven people and link to them.
4. Let them know you’ve tagged them.

My questions to you:
Is your reading preference short stories, weighty tomes, or something in between?
Which fictional character would you like to meet in person?
You are a celebrity in a game show - what charity/good cause would you donate your winnings to?
What story or book has influenced your life the most?
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
What was your dream job/ambition when you were a child?
Which famous artist (past or present) would you choose to paint your portrait?
Desert Island or Bright City Lights?
You are given a plot of land - do you plant flowers or vegetables?
What song or piece of music means the most to you?
What Disney character are you?

My list of sites to link to and tag - I've chosen a combination of blogs I know well and enjoy and some I've only just become aware of.  (In the case of the new ones I think its a great way of getting to know the person behind the blog better):

Lucy Violet Vintage
My Friends Call Me Nelly
Garden of Daisies
15 Coast Road
Alicia Art shop
Nana's Memories
Bookcase to Heaven
The Sporty Mummy
From the Shadows
Books are My Life
Melinda McGuire Writes

I would also have liked to include Believe in Yourself and Always Crave Cute but Barbara who tagged me has tagged them as well!  If you feel you have the stamina to answer a second set of questions I'd love to read your responses to my list as well!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Which I Pay a Visit to St Valentine

This time last year I included a reference to St Valentine in a post about Mervyn Suart.  I mentioned at the time that I was not sure how many people know St Valentine's remains are housed in Dublin and can be found inside the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church.  The church is very close to where I work and I have always been attracted to the statue of Mary that stands outside - I think she is beautiful and I love the way her gown drapes so softly.     

The picture of Mary is one of mine but I have borrowed all the others showing the interior of the church as I never feel comfortable taking photographs inside a place of worship.  I found them at two sites - Go Ireland and Superstock.  There are a lot of sites that give the history and details of how and why St Valentine was brought to Dublin which I am not going to repeat here. Instead I thought I would tell you about my recent visit. 

I live in Ireland but I am not Catholic.  The churches I am familiar with are much more simple and stained glass windows usually provide the only 'wow factor'.  Shrines, statues and relics are quite exotic to me and I don't really understand the complexity of Catholicism.  

But seeing as it was nearly his special day I thought I would pay St Valentine a visit. I've been to the church before and I tend to wander about inside and look around and nobody pays me much mind. 

The shrine is tucked away in an alcove off a side-aisle .  Above it is a life-size statue of the saint and as you can see from the photographs it is both realistic and brightly coloured.   On St Valentine's Day the saint's remains (usually stored under the shrine) are brought out and a special ceremony is held.  I think couples can also have their rings blessed but I have never gone to the church on the actual day.  I tend to prefer places when they are quiet and choose times when I can study everything peacefully on my own.

Placed on the shrine is a book in which people write messages to St Valentine,  asking for guidance and assistance in marriages and relationships.  I stopped to have a look at the page that was open.  The messages are so touching it is difficult not to wonder about the lives behind these heartfelt entreaties.  

As I finished reading I looked up and must have started back in surprise.  At that angle directly underneath the statue it seemed as though St Valentine was really looking at me.  He gazed down with his sad, benign smile, and in the soft flickering light of the candles filling the alcove I almost fancied there was mobility in his features and life behind his eyes.

The sensation lasted for just a moment and was broken by the arrival of two other people - but I left the place feeling as though the patron saint of love had, in that fleeting moment, looked favourably upon me.    

Don't forget that this is a leap year which means that girls can do the proposing.  So ladies put on your red petticoats to signal your intent at the end of the month (according to tradition) and make your conquest!  

And to finish - a clip from 'The King and I' - glamour and humour and charm.  They don't make them like this anymore!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Child's Ballet Book to Colour - Merrill (1955)

This book is one of my most special childhood memories.  When I was young I dreamt of becoming a ballerina.  To me this colouring book was the most perfect representation of that magical world.

I discovered at a very early age that that by colouring a picture I became so immersed in what I was doing I was able to open a secret door and enter an enchanted realm.  Later I took to drawing for the same reason - I can inhabit any place of my choosing, limited only by my imagination.  In many ways I suppose it is much the same process as writing.

When I bought the Watkins Strathmore colouring book I was expecting it to contain the pictures found in this one.  I realised I had to continue searching.  As soon as I saw this copy for sale I snapped it up immediately, even though it is not in mint condition and about half the pictures have been coloured in.  
On the whole those that have been coloured have been finished very nicely.  This title page in particular is beautifully done.  Whoever owned the book originally must have enjoyed it as a child as much as I did.

The pictures I've selected for this post have not been coloured.  Some of my favourites have been left out but I decided not to include any that have even been partially completed.

I'm not completely sure if the water damage was as bad before the book was posted.  To my dismay I discovered that the postman had left it at our front door which we almost never use.  My husband spotted it at least a day later after a night of rain (this is Ireland after all).  When I opened it I couldn't be sure if the marks on the first few pictures were always there or a result of the parcel becoming wet.

Amid the sparkle of snowflakes, the Queen dances with her Snow Prince
The Sugar Plum Fairy dances in the Kingdom of Candy

The Blue Birds dance their famous pas de deux

What the ballerina wears

The ballerina's partner is called the danseur noble

The Three Ivans do a lively dance with tricky steps called prisatki

The leading girl dancer (called the ballerina) is the lovely Gizelle

This picture of Gizelle was always very special to me so I was thrilled it was one that was not coloured in.  In my box of paper doll cut outs I had discovered the drawing below.  I had traced it from the book (I think I made many copies of this particular drawing.)  This was an attempt at making a type of finger puppet - a favourite past time when I was young.  The dolls are drawn without legs and the two holes are for you to put your fingers through.  The puppet could then 'dance' or 'walk' and as you can see by the state of this example they were well played with!

Birthday cards from this era often contained novel ideas and were beautifully drawn.  I probably got the idea for this puppet from a card like this one. 

'Aurora's Wedding' is from the story of 'The Sleeping Beauty'

When the boys click heels and bow, this surprised little girl falls down

The Can-Can dancers are a dapper gentleman and a china-doll girl

*all captions taken from the book

Merrill published at least two other colouring books that were versions of this one.  I don't own either but I have seen them advertised for sale.  The title page of each is different but most of the pictures inside seem to be the same.


On the whole I've intended this blog to be be about the art and artifacts that defined my childhood and not about myself.  Sometimes though it is hard to separate the two and after some deliberation I decided I would explain why my ballet 'career' petered out.

When I was 11 a routine medical check at school showed I have curvature of the spine.  It was monitored for a while and the effects of increased/decreased sporting activity recorded.  The results confirmed increased activity was causing my spine to deteriorate and there was a possibility I would become paralysed.  I had to give up everything except swimming.  Even at that early age I was pursuing ballet training quite seriously and for a time afterwards I could not even look at a ballet book without becoming upset.  But that passed and now these images from childhood bring me nothing but delight.

I'm not looking for sympathy as I've had a varied, interesting and on the whole happy and contented life.  Many other pastimes have taken the place of this first 'love' - but as I've devoted at least one post to the topic already I thought it might add some illumination if I explained why I never got to dance in the spotlight.

Another ballet colouring book Bill Woggon- Story of the Ballet can be found at this link. (Posted 5 January 2013)

Next time ....

A is for Apple


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