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Archive for January, 2011

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My lovely flint hand axe knapped by Bruce Bradley in the early 1970s at Cambridge

These musings on the stone called flint and its poorer-quality relation chert are prompted by the recent discovery of 120,000-year-old stone tools in the United Arab Emirates. Read more about that here.

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This 120,000-year-old chert hand axe was discovered in the United Arab Emirates

Those tools are made of chert, a fine-grained silica-rich microcrystalline sedimentary rock found in limestone. But when it is of fine quality and found in chalk, it is called flint.

Worked flint is beautiful – hard, glassy, grey, touchable. I first held it in my hands when studying prehistoric archaeology in the early 1970s.

At the time Bruce Bradley (now Professor) was studying for his PhD in experimental archaeology at Cambridge University. He was famous even then for his flint-knapping technique – it was said that it was lucky he wore spectacles as they were covered in tiny chips from the flying fragments of stone and he would otherwise have been blinded.

When he left he sold off many of his pieces. I have to admit I didn’t go to the sale myself, but my fellow student Matthew Spriggs picked up some flint tools for me. Thus I acquired the large hand axe, an arrowhead and a small sickle, all of which are pictured here.

And thanks to the miracle of Google, I find Matt is now an archaeology professor in Australia. I wondered what had happened to him!

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A close-up of the beautiful flint-knapping on this hand axe by Bruce Bradley

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Excellent flint arrowhead knapped by Bruce Bradley at Cambridge, England, in the early 1970s

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A peacock by Paul Evans

I love birds and I love design, so here I am beginning an occasional series about birds that have become style icons in some way. This includes their use for company logos and their place in art. I am starting with the peacock…

There are many peacocks in captivity at stately homes in the UK and they can be seen in the grounds of our own Cardiff Castle in the city centre. They occasionally escape or sit on the outer walls and make a racket with their loud cries.

The peacock is the wonderful show-off male of the blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus), which is the national bird of India and regional bird of the Punjab.

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The original NBC peacock logo, left, and as it is today

Perhaps the most widely known peacock logo is that used by NBC. It was created in 1956 by John J Graham and was first used on a black background for effect. The idea was to publicise NBC’s colour TV content and parent company RCA’s colour TV sets. Read a lot more on Wikipedia here.

That’s one of the main selling points for the peacock in design – it’s SO colourful. Trawling the web, I found quite a few peacock logos. As usual, click on the picture to go to the source…

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Thomas Swain's logo for the Peacock Players gaming casino

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The logo of event planners Peacock Marketing Group

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A late-flowering Mahonia that has survived the snow and ice - the soft focus was not intentional, I'm still experimenting with my Nikon macro lens...

When the snow and ice of late December had cleared, the first flowers I saw were these lovely golden bells of Mahonia. This is not my amazing huge Mahonia x media “Charity” that flowered early, but another variety.

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A few of the Mahonia leaves have turned red...

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A bare oak tree in front of the Great Glasshouse at the Garden of Wales in January 2011

I have already posted my pictures of the flowers in the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in winter. As I mentioned (more…)

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The Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in January 2011 - Protea 'Pink Ice'

In the depths of winter there is a surprising haven filled with blossoming plants in the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, near Llanarthne in Carmarthenshire.

An even greater surprise is the fact that the garden is open FREE to visitors during January 2011 – although a donation would of course be much appreciated.

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The Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in January 2011

While the outside world is under ice, the Great Glasshouse maintains an environment suitable for plants from regions with a Mediterranean climate – as the website puts it: “hot dry summers, cool moist winters, dazzling sunlight, strong breezes and the occasional ground-clearing fire create perfect conditions for many plants to thrive on the scrubby, rock-strewn landscapes”.

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Ice on a water-lily pond at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in January...

I have to admit that when the Great Glasshouse was unveiled in the year 2000 I was disappointed that it was not a lush tropical house, but I have come to appreciate its subtlety.

Six areas of the world are represented: California, Australia, the Canary Islands, Chile, South Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. These regions cover less than 2% of the Earth’s surface, but contain more than 20% of all known flowering plant species.

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The Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in January 2011

The Great Glasshouse was designed by Norman Foster and Partners and is the biggest single-span glasshouse in the world. At first it reminded me of a Teletubbies house, although the website says: “Poised on the Welsh landscape like a giant raindrop, it protects and conserves some of the most endangered plants on the planet”.

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The Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in January 2011

Anyway, it is a wonderful place to visit to photograph or draw or paint the plants, all year round…

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The Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in January 2011

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Can you tell what it is yet?

Does this remind you of anything? I spotted it at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire the other day.

The picture shows the sawn-off stump of a Polylepis australis in mid winter. And here’s the rest of the tree, rather the worse for wear after very harsh frost and snow – although it is probably adapted for the cold since it comes from the endangered mountain forests of the South American Andes…

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Polylepis australis

Maybe you don’t see it yourself, but my first thought was Wall-E!

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Wall-E, cute robot from the Disney/Pixar film of the same name...

I will soon be posting more pictures from the National Botanic Garden of Wales, but I felt this one deserved its own mention…

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The back of Aberglasney House from Bishop Rudd's Walk, January 2011

All is resting in the garden at Aberglasney House in Carmarthenshire at this time of year, but still a great deal of interest remains for plant enthusiasts – as well as great home-cooked local food in the little Gardeners’ Cafe!

The brassicas in the kitchen garden (more…)

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Tintern Abbey, December 31, 2010

On the same dark mid-winter day that we visited Usk and Monmouth, we also went to Tintern Abbey in the lovely Wye Valley.

We are members of Cadw and get in “free”, so we always visit when we are in the area.

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Tintern Abbey by the late Victorian artist Benjamin Williams Leader

It was early afternoon, but with sunset soon after 4pm at this time of year, it was already dim. It made the abbey’s stones seem more ruinous than ever but also showed up their lovely pink colour. I believe it’s the old red sandstone on which much of Monmouthshire stands and which gives the Wye its red colour.

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Tintern Abbey, December 31, 2010 - the lovely soft red sandstone

Tintern Abbey was a Cistercian house founded in 1131 and rebuilt in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. It was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1536 when he dissolved the monasteries. He gave it to Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester, who sold lead from the roof and leased parts of the area for cottages and other early industrial buildings.

The abbey regained fame in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was discovered by the Romantic poets (such as Wordsworth) and artists (such as Turner).

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The arches of Tintern Abbey by JMW Turner around 1794 - the ivy seemed to be an attraction at the time but was cleared after the Crown took over the abbey in 1901

My aim for the day had been to take pictures of bare winter trees and some of these were visible from the abbey, too.

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Tintern Abbey, December 31, 2010 - winter tree (beech?)

What I noticed most, though, was the hard white lichen like chewing gum patches all over the stones.

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Tintern Abbey, December 31, 2010 - the white lichen on the stones looks like snow...

And the whole ruins, which have stood tall for so many centuries, looked as if they would crumble into damp rubble at any moment.

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Tree (beech?) in a field beside the red muddy Wye at Monmouth

In the dark, damp days between Christmas and New Year, once the snow had cleared enough for us to get out of the house, we went for a drive in rural Monmouthshire (my home county).

I took my camera, despite the lack of good daylight, and snapped a few odds and ends in Usk, on the grey muddy river of the same name, and at Monmouth, where the Monnow meets the red muddy Wye.

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Henry V statue on Monmouth Shire Hall - he was born in Monmouth Castle on August 9, 1387 (probably) and the statue was placed on the Shire Hall in 1792

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It’s that time to draw a line under 2010 and announce my top posts for the past year (figures kindly crunched for me by WordPress).

Although Twitter set me off blogging, it’s search engines that have made the following posts my biggest hits in 2010…

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Penguins...

1. English words from Celtic roots…

An interesting winner, this one – and it’s all because I used a picture of penguins. The word penguin comes from either the Welsh or Breton Pen-Gwyn (meaning “head-white”). Penguins seem to be very popular in Google searches – maybe I should do a post about them…

Meanwhile I posted several other items on the language:

Latin for today
English words from Scandinavian roots
English words from Indian roots

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A hare from Masquerade by Kit Williams

2. From mad March hare to golden hare…

This one combines nature and a little bit of the story of Kit Williams’ famous treasure hunt book, Masquerade.

There’s more treasure here
Remembering The Treasures of Tutankhamun

and a lot more nature here

- including my Wildlife Through the Year nature diaries

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Fancy fonts from Letraset

3. Design icons: Letraset

Design and nostalgia combined to make this a popular post. The same elements appeared in
Every poster tells a story

There’s more art and design here
and more nostalgia here
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Carousel horse by Judy Watt

4. Carousel horses – an illusion of freedom

This was a wonderful excuse to collect together some beautiful images of carousel horses, unicorns and even zebras…

Another collection of art went with my post
Looking on the bright side of umbrellas

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Atlantis by Frank Frazetta

5. Great SFF illustrators: Frank Frazetta

This was my tribute to Frank Frazetta, who died on May 10, 2010.

Other Science Fiction/Fantasy illustrators I featured in 2010 are:

Frank Kelly Freas

Patrick Woodroffe

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