It’s Rambler5319, my Wednesday guest blogger, with the post for today. Enjoy!
When I was a student there seemed to be particular artists and certain pictures that were popular. I’d grown up in a house where art was not talked about except when pictures or sculptures made the news so I didn’t have a favourite artist or picture. However, many fellow students decorated their walls with posters of pictures by Dali (Metamorphosis of Narcissus with its two hands holding the eggs with a flower coming out of one, The Persistence of Memory with its watch faces flopping over tree branch); Turner (The Fighting Temeraire was very popular along with Rain, Steam & Speed); Magritte (Time Transfixed – the train coming out of the fireplace & the man with the bowler hat on with an apple in front of his face) and those impossible pictures by Max Escher (water going downhill which ends up higher than its starting point, men walking on the underside of staircases etc).
Check this out and follow the water from the base of the wheel and watch it flowing downhill all the way round and yet it finishes higher than the wheel:
And then this one.
How can there be two sets of people ascending and descending the stairs at the same time with different outcomes. Take any corner to start and then follow those going up and see how they end up lower than their starting point. Then go back to the same corner and follow those going down and see how they end up higher than their starting point. Bizarre!
Another popular one was the 1559 picture Proverbs by the Dutch painter Pieter Breughel (the Elder). If you fancy trying to spot a few here’s the link:
I’ll start you off by taking you to the bottom left area where you can see a man – “banging his head against a brick wall”. See if you can spot any others. They are Dutch (so you may not know a lot of them) but a number are in use in English so you may recognise those. If you’re struggling, the answers with the part of the picture to which they refer, are here:
Anyway that’s just by way of an intro to this week’s topic which is to tell you about one of my favourite pictures of the last 10 years or so. Here it is:
It’s not by an artist as such; it’s a simple postcard size black & white photo. I had seen it many years ago when driving up and down the motorways of the UK. A large version was hung on the walls of one of the motorway service areas on the M6 called Tebay Services. It’s located about 300 miles north of London & 30 miles south of Carlisle on the west side of England. (This picture has since been moved to the Rheged Centre in Penrith. This means it is actually nearer the area where its subject lived.) The service station itself has a very interesting history: it was built in 1972 and is still operated by the farming family (now its second generation) through whose land the M6 motorway was built.
However there’s just something about this picture that appeals to me. There is something in its simplicity because of the subject matter. I’m not looking for any deep philosophical meaning here but to me it definitely projects something. I see an old man; I see a weathered face which kind of says it fits with its environment out on the fells of Cumbria; I see strength, determination and years of experience, a shepherd going about his business doing one of those special things that shepherds do – rescuing. (The word shepherd is, as you may know, a contraction of the phrase sheep herder.) I wonder what you see in it? It’s just a shepherd carrying his crook in his left hand with a sheep on his shoulders but it poses an obvious question: since sheep can walk why is he carrying it? Perhaps the sheep was injured and he was bringing it back to the farm to tend to it; perhaps the sheep got separated from the main herd, even lost, and he found it and was bringing it back to the fold as it probably wouldn’t just follow him on its own. Or maybe it was something else. One thing for sure is that the sheep is completely safe. There’s something that says just keep still and you’ll be ok, I’ll get you back, I’ll get you home. Also, if you can, look at how many ‘layers’ the shepherd is wearing – I can see at least 4 and in addition there may be an undergarment. It’s therefore probably a cold part of the year – certainly not summer as the sheep has its full coat.
I can tell you that, because of the area farmed by the shepherd in the picture, the sheep is a breed called (Lakeland) Herdwick. Herdwick comes from the old Norse word herdvyck meaning ‘sheep pasture’. Informed sources say that the average figures for the weight of a full grown sheep of this breed are: ewes 77-99lbs (35-45kgs) and rams 143-165lbs (65-75kgs). Now look at that picture again – this guy is carrying a ewe so could easily be about 6-7 stone in weight across his shoulders. Now think about this – with that pure white beard, how old is he and how did he hoist it up there? How would you get an animal, which probably wasn’t keeping still, of that weight, across your shoulders?
I know, from what the service station owners told me when I rang them to ask about the picture which wasn’t there last time I stopped for a break, that the guy’s name in the picture was Isaac Cookson. Using a bit of investigative reasoning I worked out (given that it turns out to be quite an unusual name in the census records) that he was born in 1873 in the village (parish) of Bampton a couple of miles NE of Haweswater and about 25 miles NW of Tebay Services.
Haweswater is a reservoir completed in 1935 to serve the Manchester area’s growing need for water and, as with Lake Vyrnwy for Liverpool (post 28.11.12), involved the damming and then flooding of a river valley – this time, the Mardale Valley – where 40 people lived in 9 houses. They had to be moved out and their village was then demolished. The reservoir name comes from the name of the much smaller original lake but obviously disguises the fact that it was built for a large industrial town many miles away. It sounds just like an ordinary lake similar to others in the Lake District (Ullswater, Derwent Water, Coniston Water, Ennerdale Water etc); they did a similar thing with the name for the reservoir for Liverpool calling it a lake.
Isaac remained in the area all his life living on Gill Head Farm. From the 1881 Census we know that Isaac’s parents (Robert & Jane) & his siblings were living with Jane’s parents at Gill Head Farm. The Cookson family (with their ages in brackets) consisted of Robert (36) & Jane (34) with children Noble (9), Isaac (8), John (6), Kate (4), Tom (3) & Joseph (1). Interestingly, although sadly, the census records show that John & Joseph were both born blind. They do not appear in the 1891 records for the family but John reappears in the 1901 & Joseph in the 1911 where both are shown as “basket maker, blind”. By then both are in their thirties and lived on to 83 & 80 respectively.
Lakeland farmers used to meet up once a year, during November, at what is called “The Shepherds’ Meet”. Here they would come together to socialise and in observance of the code of honour for the fells each would bring any stray sheep they had found on their land. The owners of the various lost sheep would be identified by a complex system of ear markings that might involve punching, cropping, keybitting, fold-bitting, ritting, upper and under halving and forking; these marks could be on one or both ears. Just a verbal description of the cuts would be enough for a farmer to recognise whether a sheep belonged to him.
Check out this diagram showing different types of ear markings showing how various ‘cuts’ were made in the sheep’s ears to identify the owner. This interesting pic is from the Staffin EcoMuseum on the Isle of Skye and some of the text is in the local dialect but there is a partial explanation in English at the top. (You’ll need to drag down the page just a little to see the picture.
There is a great story about Isaac who rarely ever left his farm: shepherds took pride in their appearance and one Friday evening Albert Graham was walking past the farm and saw Isaac outside having a wash in a washbasin – Isaac told him, “I’m thinking o’ going to Penrith on Tuesday”. Nothing like being prepared well in advance, eh? Nice one!
Isaac attended his 61st annual Shepherds’ Meet in 1952 (aged 79) and said, “I’m good for a few more yet”. (He actually died in 1956.)
And that’s why this is my favourite picture. There is so much you can get from it.
And to close, a bit of Lakeland/Sheep trivia.
Beatrix Potter (Mrs Heelis) didn’t write about Herdwick sheep but she was definitely keen on them. From the money she earned from the Peter Rabbit stories, during the 1920s, she bought up Lake District farms that were under threat from development. She encouraged the revival of the Herdwick breed of sheep and was president of the Herdwick Breed Association for a time in the 1930s. When she died in 1943 she left all her farms to the National Trust specifying that the sheep on these farms should be pure Herdwicks.
Today, there are around 50,000 Lakeland Herdwick sheep being kept commercially on about 120 farms in the Lake District some still owned by the National Trust.
If you remember last week’s post about my supermarket bananas I mentioned that they’d come from Cameroon and the previous week from Ecuador; this week they were from Colombia – the world’s 8th largest producer of bananas. I’m curious as to where next week’s will come from.