Monday, 14 January 2013

Margaret on a Bench

This is Margaret on a bench.

Margaret is a lovely lady from the Isle of Wight. When she learned that Shore Women writers were working on a project about benches, she volunteered this photograph of herself on a bench, taken by her husband Derek. This inspired Marion Carmichael, one of the Shore Women writers, to write a poem for the Benchmarks project.

Marion's poem is called, not surprisingly, Margaret on a Bench. This may seem an uninspiring subject for a poem but look what she makes of it!

Margaret on a Bench

Julia Margaret played with light,
turned urchins into angels, conjured 
stories from shadows. Here sun light slides
round the shade of short days, night-dark shadows
paddle your blue feet; winter sun dazzles,
shuts your eyes. Sepia grasses squeeze
memories of summer; fickle as frogs
they leap, dance in the wind, shift in the light.
Impatient in your warm earth-coloured coat
your hand ready to slice walnut cake, pour
strong flasked tea to steam in the cold air. 
Beside you the photographer’s bag gapes
waits, like a cradle while the camera
taking your picture plays tricks with the light. 

by Marion Carmichael

 We all know days like this, outings on sunny winter afternoons where it's just a bit too cold and darkness moves in fast. The plain bench and the self-conscious sitting-on-a-bench-having-your-picture taken are familiar to us all while the patterns of light in the photograph make a strong backdrop to the ordinariness of the setting. With a poet's eye for detail, Marion picks up on Margaret's blue shoes, her earth-coloured coat, the flask beside her on the bench. Was it walnut cake in the bag? Well, yes, why not.

In the first line of the poem Marion echoes Margaret's name with a a clever reference to Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the Isle of Wight's most famous residents. Julia Margaret was one of the many prominent Victorians who settled in Freshwater on the west of the island. Her home was Dimbola Lodge, a stately house overlooking Freshwater Bay. She lived here from 1860 until 1874. 

Julia Margaret Cameron was a pioneer of British photography, who, at the age of 48, began taking pictures of the people around her - servants, friends, neighbours - anyone who would sit through the laborious process of photography at that time.

The poet laureate, Lord Tennyson, was Julia Margaret Cameron's neighbour. This is a photograph she took of him in 1869

image courtesy of

Julia Cameron took many portrait photographs of real people but as Marion's poem suggests, she also played tricks with the light and conjured stories from shadows. Her housemaid, Mary Hillier, was one of her favourite models. Here is Mary dressed up as St. Agnes, a photograph taken in 1864.

image courtesy of

One of Julia's good friends was the painter George Frederick Watts. In The Whisper of the Muse (1865) he posed with two young sisters, Kate and Elizabeth Keown in a classical style. As part of her storytelling, Julia chose to portray him as a musician rather than a painter.

image courtesy of

Marion's poem reminds us that one of Julia Margaret Cameron's favourite subjects was angels; she turned urchins into angels in her many angel photographs.

This is The Nestling Angel, photographed in 1870. Her great niece, Rachel Gurney, posed for the picture, probably repaid in sweets or coins. Whatever its intention, the photograph suggests the fragile existence of Victorian children.

image courtesy of

This angel photograph is called I Wait. It was taken by Julia in 1872, not long before she left the Isle of Wight. 

image courtesy of

What did Julia herself look like? Surprisingly, the first painting of Julia Margaret Cameron was a bench picture painted in about 1818 by a French painter. It showed Julia with her father, her three sisters and her mother seated on a bench.

This is Julia Margaret Cameron as painted by Watts in the early 1850s. The painting is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

This photograph of Julia was taken in 1870 by her son, Henry Herschel Hay Cameron. Julia was 59 years old at the time.

image courtesy of

We've come a long way from Margaret on a Bench so just to bring things together - Margaret, Julia, angels, benches - here is an angel on a bench. 

We'll call her Margaret.

image from Mary Ellen Fey at Vintage Vogue Treasures

If you find yourself in Freshwater, stop in at Dimbola Lodge and see the museum where Julia's strange and compelling photographs will delight you. There is a lovely tearoom in what used to be Dimbola's sitting room.

Or, if you bring a flask and some walnut cake, you can wander down to Freshwater Bay and sit on one of the many benches where, if you're lucky, you'll be dazzled by winter sun.


Many thanks to Margaret for permission to tell this story and post her picture. Margaret died in 2014 and she is remembered fondly by those of us who knew her. 

Thanks also to Marion Carmichael for her poem.

Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs are from the Dimbola website at and from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection at   Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs are used with the kind permission of the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust at the Dimbola Museum and Gallery. 

For a full range of JMC's photographs, a biography, and lots of other information about Julia Margaret Cameron, see the brilliant Artsy website at

Photographs of the Dimbola building and the tea room were taken by me. 

Little Margaret is a terrarium fairy angel and she's only three inches high. She's by Mary Ellen Fey at Vintage Vogue. Mary Ellen has lots of lovely tiny stuff in her shop at  Thanks to her for this image. 

There are loads of poetic benches for National Poetry Day 2014 at

The poem and the picture Margaret on a Bench became a favourite when presented in Shore Women performances of Benchmarks. More poems by Marion Carmichael can be seen in Benchmarks by Shore Women Writers, 2011.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cassie's Seat - a bench, a poem, a path

This is Cassie's Seat. It can be found along the river path that runs from Yarmouth to Freshwater on the Isle of Wight. 

I am very fond of Yarmouth because it is so like my own home town of Fribble-under-Par. Fribble is on Paradise Island, which of course is very different from the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight, while quite nice, is hardly paradise. But the Par is not unlike the Yar. It is a tidal river full of wading birds and  along it there are snug little harbours full of boats. 

Here is my friend Miggy on the Par Yar path. She is an imaginary friend so you may not be able to see her clearly but you can see the path and the ghosty outline of the Mill House at the far end of the path.

Miggy is a jolly good walker and she loves to walk along this path in winter. Here she is on the path with a seasonal skim of snow. 

In summer she prefers to cycle it, although in summer it is very busy with families, birdwatchers, leisure cyclists, and dogs who have no sense whatsoever.  Thankfully, my dog Sit does not dart across the path in front of cyclists. He prefers to sit in the middle of the path. 


For some reason the bikes don't seem keen to go around him. 

Oh, this is a most delicious path in any season and Cassie must have known that to choose this for her bench site. 

Here is the discreet little plaque that proves this is Cassie's seat. Notice the light skim of frost on the bench. This proves it was winter when the picture was taken. 

Although I haven't a clue who Cassie is, I was moved by the bench to write a poem. Unusually, I wrote the poem in rhyming couplets, which makes it sound more like a song than a poem. 

Cassie’s Seat

Your seat faces west, its back to the hill
Were you sitting here often? Are you sitting here still

hearing backwash of ferries and steel halyard’s flail
watching shiver of mast denuded of sail?

On tide’s turn of midges and call-note of ships
feel spindrift of morning, taste salt on your lips?

See egrets like spindle and herons like spire
and the sun going down in a flame-throw of fire?

Are you sitting here sometimes when lapwings take flight
and the page of your book disappears with the light?

So you've seen the bench and you've read the poem. Now maybe you'd like to see the view?  If you sit on Cassie's seat facing west with your back to the hill, this is what you'd see.

This is when the tide's turn of midges comes into it, on a low tide. 

Whether there is a backwash of ferries depends entirely on a) what the tide is and b) where the ferry is. Obviously, if the ferry is on the Lymington side of the Solent there isn't going to be much of a backwash on the Isle of Wight. 

There probably isn't going to be a call-note of ships either, not with the tide out.

You may be feeling a bit let down by the poem, having been promised all these things which aren't there. So here's another view, with the tide in. This was taken by His Excellency at six o'clock on a summer morning. It surely qualifies as a spindrift of morning I think. Can you taste salt on your lips?

His Excellency is my real husband. I have another husband but he's imaginary and he doesn't take pictures. His Excellency has an artist's eye and he likes to go out at unusual hours so that he can see egrets like spindle and herons like spire. There are plenty of those here on the river. Lapwings as well. And oyster catchers and ducks and swans and quite a lot of other wading birds.

What doesn't show in the picture though is what you can hear from Cassie's seat. 

Yes, clearly the masts are denuded of sail. But can you hear them shiver? Can you hear the halyards flailing where careless people have neglected to tie them down and the wind grabs hold of them and knocks them against the mast? 

No? Well, ok, maybe not on a calm morning like this one.

The river is certainly very still and the boats aren't moving at all. So fair enough, maybe there is no halyard's flail. Neither is there a shiver of mast.

Maybe we ought to call it a day on Cassie's seat. 

But hey, wait a minute!

If this isn't a flamethrow of fire, I don't know what is.


All the photos here are of Paradise Island, where I live with His Excellency and my imaginary husband Mungo. Our house is La Casa Perfecta, which has a rather splendid garden facing south. 

Read the story to find out why the view to the north is rather less impressive.

On Paradise Island benches are very important. My swimming bench, for example, is the very centre of my existence for nine months of the year.  

The poem Cassie's Seat joins lots of brilliant poems about benches in a book called Benchmarks, published by Shore Women Writers in 2011. The book contains many poems and photographs from, to, for, and about benches. 

If you like poetry, see the brilliant poetic benches for National Poetry Day 2014 at 

My Dog Sit, aka His Highness the tiger, is from
And if you like dogs, there are lots of friendly dog benches at at

If you like boats, the sea, or mermaids, there are plenty of these on Mikey the Mariner's posts at  

All other photos were taken by His Excellency. He's an interesting person and features on a lot of Benchsite blogs because he is a philosopher and always has an opinion. For how we met see An Excellent Valentine; Valentine's Day in 2014 didn't go quite as well.   My other husband is Mungo, an entirely different character. We met in Las Vegas and took a bit of a gamble. For more about my two husbands, see the Workbenches post: you can tell a lot about a man by his workbench.  

For more about Paradise Island and who lives there, see  Who's Who in Fribble-Under-Par.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Welcome to the Casa Perfecta

In my profile I have said that I live in La Casa Perfecta on Paradise Island.

One of the following statements is true:

  • Our house is called La Casa Perfecta for good reason. It is light, spacious and airy. All the rooms exude a feeling of peace and tranquility. Much thought has gone into the materials and crafting of both the building and its contents.  It has been carefully designed so that its occupants achieve a strong sense of energy and well-being. Everything about the house is beautiful and life-enhancing.

  • La Casa Perfecta is a 1960s bungalow in a cul-de-sac of similarly ugly bungalows. The rooms are tiny boxes filled with junk and there is so little light that everything in it withers, including us. 

  • La Casa Perfecta is a comfortable family home with an informal atmosphere in which everyone can relax and be happy. The house is simply decorated and nicely furnished, as well as being admirably energy efficient.

How did you get on?

And now to the garden of La Casa. 

Here is Burlington Bertie looking out onto the garden in spring. You will see a couple of benches facing south onto the valley. 

This is the view which causes La Casa visitors to oooo and ahhhh.

Here is the same view in winter, when the benches are covered in snow and the willow tree is a glorious shade of orangey red. 

This also causes visitors to oooo and ahhh but that may be due to the fact that La Casa has no central heating.  It does have a woodstove though. 

When sitting on the bench it is important to keep looking straight ahead at the southerly view as shown above. As an aide-memoir, think of the song Blow the Wind Southerly

If you turn your head around and look northwards you get an entirely different view. 

See what I mean? 

Keep focusing on the view to the south. Or east. The view to the east is very nice too. Here is our purple bench, which faces east.

There are magnificent rainbows over the marsh, reminding us that La Casa Perfecta really is somewhere over the rainbow. 

Here is the same view from La Casa's sundeck, facing east. 

Oh yes, we have a sundeck. Because Paradise Island has such a lot of sun. 

Some summers it gets so hot that our benches spontaneously combust.

In the interest of balance though, the same bench gets a lot of rain.

Here is the marsh looking like The Slough of Despond.

You could do worse than look to the west, where there is a little summerhouse furnished with, guess what, a couple of benches. In spring the summerhouse is smothered in cascades of clematis flowers.

Oh yes, the westerly view is very pretty indeed.

Moving on down the garden now towards the three veg patches where we grow enough to be entirely self-sufficient enjoy a few fresh salads. There is an orchard containing eleven fruit trees. Yes, eleven trees constitutes an orchard; I looked this up.

Before the orchard there is a substantial rose garden filled with an abundance of blooms from which I make amazing pot pourri in a full array of colours. No, just joking. There are five roses in total.

Near the roses you'll see a little pop-up bench from Ikea which folds up nicely and can be set up anywhere. It has even been known to pop up at festivals and no doubt has its own stories to tell. Another time perhaps. I'm still trying to show you La Casa's garden. 

Here is the garden in October a couple of years ago.

A few things have changed since then though. For example the willow tree has got completely out of control and Frank, our pleasant pheasant, has flown away to the great Peanut in the Sky

The picnic benches have got in a bit of a muddle. 

Picnic Tables by David Brooks, my photo

Also, benchwise, we have some new benches; one small, one large, one yarn bombed.

And last Christmas His Excellency mistook my £20,000 designer log bench for an ordinary log.

Don't judge him. 

It was Christmastime. We needed a fire.

But enough of all that. To end this tour, here is the garden in all its glory at the height of summer.

And finally, you may notice how, by focusing entirely on the garden and the oooo-ahhhh view at La Casa Perfecta, I have carefully avoided showing you anything at all of the house. 

So the question remains: is La Casa really Perfecta? Or did we just buy the house because the garden is so amazing? 

Just so you don't feel cheated, here is a quick tour of the house. This is our living room. 

OK, it's not great but my two husbands are working on it.

They just need to get their workbench in order and then they can proceed.

There is quite a lot to do. 

And neither of them are keen on DIY.

War of the Worlds 1906, Henrique Alvin Correa

They're working on the bathroom, which at present is not serviceable. 

Eventually we'll have a nice toilet bench in there.

This is the bath I have in mind.

Antique copper tub and Nottingham Brass

IF we can get it up the stairs.

Art Nouveau staircase 1906, Ede Magyar

In the meantime, we're using the ensuite.

Yes, you may have noticed there's a witch in there but we've got used to it.

Some of the rooms aren't ready yet. The floor scrapers are working in here.

Les Raboteurs de Parquet 1875, Gustave Caillebotte

I don't even know what this room is going to be. We call it The Orangery.

Interior Brøndum's Annex 1918, Anna Ancher

In the living room we'll have a grand piano bench.

I love to play the piano.

Nude Playing the Piano 1915, Frank Snapp

There's a comfy sofa/bed bench in the living room . . .

. . . and a not-so-comfy bed in the bedroom. 

Sorry, I haven't made the bed yet today. I've been hanging the laundry out on the peg bench.

Our pink sheets are best when they're line dried.

In the spare room I don't bother to match the volours

Bedroom 1909, Wassily Kandinsky

We also have a guestroom but it's no Taj Mahal.

Here at La Casa Perfecta our beds are so uncomfortable that our overnight guests seem to prefer benches. 

We've just about finished the hall though. I just need to pop some decoration in there; it's a bit plain.

Opera Garnier, Paris, Charles Garnier

And the dining room is fine. . .

My Dining Room 1909, Wassily Kindinsky

. . . athough His Excellency thinks I need to tone down the colours in there. 

Maybe something like this?

Interior with afternoon Sun 1895, Georg Nikolay Achen

Well, there's just one more room to show you. 

This is the kitchen at La Casa Perfecta. 

Looks like breakfast is almost ready.

If you're passing, come on in and have a coffee.

I can offer you a seat in the coffee cup benches. 

Excuse the table though, it needs mowing.


La Casa Perfecta is perfectly situated in Fribble-under-Par on Paradise Island. Paradise Island is hard to find on the map, but it's not a million miles from the Isle of Wight. For more about Fribble and its unusual inhabitants, see Who's Who in Fribble-under-Par.

The north-facing view of the garden is an old internet image.  All other photographs were taken by Miggy or my husband, His Excellency, or Miggy's Mum.

Ton Zilstra from Enschede in the Netherlands describes himself as a networked individual in a networked world. His photostream is admirably full of benches, including some stunning beach bench huts. He saw the grand piano bench at Queen Anne Park in Seattle in 2008.

Obviously Mungo and His Excellency are not ancient Egyptians. This image is from 1350-1300 BC, showing grave-chamber painter and sculptor Nebamun Ipuki. Woodworking is shown in many ancient Egyptian drawings and ancient Egyptian furniture is preserved in tombs. Ancient Egyptians invented the art of veneering and used varnishes and woodworking copper tools such as axes, chisels, saws and bowl drills. Dowels, pegs, and leather or cord lashings were used for joints. The photo and text here come from The Yorck Project in Germany via

Nov2874 has some lovely photographs in his Ride Around the Countryside album, including the burning log in the fireplace, photographed in 2014. I am pleased to say that this log is not the expensive designer log bench I purchased in Japan. Phew! That's twenty thousand pounds saved then. 

Guenther Haas took the picture Secondary Roll at the European Juggling
Convention 2011 in Munich in which he participated as a juggler. He also took Johnny on the Spot, the little guy who looks to me like a construction worker hanging from a crane. Guenther describes himself as a hobby photographer, mainly interested in long exposures, light painting and other exceptional or experimental, 
maybe even artistic, photography. Check out the light paintings and bulb pictures folders in his Flickr photostream at

The unusual bath tub is copper with decorations of Nottingham Brass. Not very practical but lovely nonetheless. 

The gorgeous Art Nouveau staircase is called Reok Palota and it was built in 1906 for a building in Szeged, Hungary. The designer was architect Ede Magyar (1877-1912).

The Floor Scrapers (1875) was a very controversial artwork in its time. While painting royals, wealthy people and peasants was acceptable, painting ordinary working people was considered vulgar. This painting was rejected for the Paris Impressionist exhibition in 1875 but shown a year later, where it caused a stir. The artist is Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894). He painted Impressionist work that was more Realist than his fellow painters, and he also had an interest in photography. 

The painting of the nude woman playing the playing the piano was done in 1915 by American illustrator Frank Snapp (1876-1927). 

The empty room flooded with light is the annex of the Brøndum's place in Skagen in Denmark, painted in 1918. This was the home of artist Anna Ancher (1859-1935) before she married her fellow artist Michael Ancher (1849-1927). Both artists were part of the Skagen Community and produced many portraits and landscapes of this special place.

Peter Lambeseder in New Jersey believes that everybody deserves a second chance- even furniture.  Saddened to see so much furniture with potential going to waste,  he decided to start a furniture rescue, including the smart looking French provincial bench made from a headboard.  LoveFurnitureDesign is his etsy shop at The L.O.V.E bit stands for Limited, Original, Vintage, Eclectic.

The sleeping seal was photographed by Arun Venkatesan  Let Mikey the Mariner show you some brilliant ocean benches from around the world, or even just boats, or mermaids.

Olga has a whole album of photos from Belarus, including lots of photos of the interesting benches in the park in Gomel. Gomel has 11 parks and 58 public gardens and they have really gone mad on creative benches. One of them is the giant clothes peg bench shown in the story. There are also dice, an XYZ bench, a pencil bench, and a bench involving cheese and a mouse. And speaking of mice, Olga has photographed many lovely cats.

The yarn-bombed bench is from from Mary, who customarily celebrates all kinds of things, including benches   Mary makes human rainbows, decorates public parks, covers dumpsters with colourful stickers and yes, yarnbombs benches. Mary England is 25 and lives in Baltimore. She has a degree in psychology and used to work in a psychiatric centre but now she has time for creating and celebrating. All good wishes, Mary! And many thanks for the reminder about CAPS LOCK DAY. 

The colourful dining room is a joyful painting by Wassily Kindinsky - his own dining room in 1909.

The more serene dining room with lovely afternoon sun is a painting by Danish artist Georg Nikolay Achen 1860-1912). I was painted in 1895. 

The painting of the nude woman playing the playing the piano was done in 1915 by artist Frank Snapp (1876-1927). 

The lovely breakfast table was set up in a fisherman's cottage at the wonderful Zuider Zee Museum in Enkhuizen, Netherlands.

The coffee cups are in Kiev, photographed in 2015 by Борошно and entitled The Place for Warm Communication. The project is by Jacobs and the green is apparently their corporate colours. 

The picNYC grass table is by architect Haiko Cornelissen in New York. It was a 2012 New York Design Week favourite. Not surprising. You can have a picnic anytime you want.

Our hall is actually the Opera Garnier in Paris. It was built in 1861-1875 by Charles Garnier  as the Opera national de Paris, commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III and considered one of the masterpieces of this age.