Conservation

Delicious Writing

Today I'm remembering one of my heroines.

She was a fantastic writer, an artist and illustrator, a farmer, natural scientist and conservationist! And just an AMAZING person, a woman before her time!

Her stories have given hours and hours of pleasure to generations of children in the last century, with her incredible creatures - Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Mr Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck and so many more.

I'm talking, of course, about Beatrix Potter!

What a woman! 

Born on this day - July 28 - in 1866 she grew up in a strict middle-class Victorian home, educated by governesses and isolated from other children. Apart from her brother, young Beatrix's main companions were her numerous pets and early on she started painting pictures of them and making up stories. Beatrix and her family took holidays in Scotland and in the north west of England, in the Lake District, and as she grew she learned to love and closely observe landscape, flora and fauna. 

Beatrix studied and made watercolours especially of fungi, and she first became well respected in the field of mycology. the study of fungi. 

By all accounts she was not just an exceptional talent, but also frustrated at home, feeling trapped. She didn't care to do what other girls of her time were expected to do ... get married to the 'right' man and produce lots of offspring. She wanted more. She wanted a career, to do something useful with her life. She bucked the trends of her day.

By the time she was in her thirties, she turned to writing and illustrating stories for children.

Peter_Rabbit_first_edition_1902Her first book, 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit', started out as a story for a little boy she knew, five-year-old Noel Moore who was the son of one of Beatrix's former governesses, Annie Carter Moore. Beatrix drew pictures and made up the story in 1893 and in 1901 she revised it and offered it to some publishers. When it was rejected, she decided to print copies herself but a year later it was picked up by the publishing house Frederick Warne & Co.

With its central character a naughty and mischievous little rabbit who gets into, and is chased around, the garden of  Mr. McGregor, the book was almost immediately a huge success, capturing the imagination not just of children but of their parents. It's a simple story - Peter escapes and returns home to his mother, who puts him to bed with a cup of chamomile tea - but the exquisite pictures have helped to make it one of the best-selling books in history. In the years after its publication it was reprinted multiple times and in the century since it was published it's sold more than 45million copies and has been translated  into 36 languages.

After Peter's success, Beatrix began writing and illustrating children's books full time and she let her imagination run wild, writing many stories based around what have become iconic animal characters ... some of whom I mentioned before. She wrote 30 books, 23 of which were her children's tales.

She was also a canny businesswoman. As early as 1903, Beatrix made and patented a Peter Rabbit doll and this was followed by other merchandise - painting books, board games, wall-paper, figurines, and even baby blankets and china tea-sets. Warne and Co licensed these and they and Beatrix reaped the financial benefits.  She became a very rich woman, and within a few years of that first book she was able to move out of home and the restrictive influence of her parents in London.

In 1905 she had been unofficially engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne, much against her controlling parents wishes. Sadly Norman died unexpectedly a month later and Beatrix was then even more determined to move out of the family home. That same year, with the proceeds from the stories and merchandising, and a legacy from an aunt, she bought Hill Top Farm in the village of Near Sawrey in the Lake District in Cumbria, near Lake Windermere. 

And this is where her story takes an unexpected twist. Living in the Lake District, Beatrix became aware that much of this beautiful land was under threat of being bought up for housing development for the ever expanding population of the northwest of England. 

Over a period of decades, she gradually bought more farms, and so preserved the unique hill country. Her busy writing was eventually replaced by her passion for land and conservation and farming. She became a prize-winning breeder of native Herdwick sheep and she was  a prosperous farmer. When she died  in December 1943 at the age of 77 Beatrix left almost all her property to the National Trust and this legacy means she is credited with preserving much of the land that now makes up the Lake District National Park.

And she didn't live her life without love. Beatrix eventually DID marry - in 1913 aged 47, she married William Heelis, a respected local solicitor from the town of  Hawkshead.

Beatrix Potter was a force of nature. She refused to be constrained by the 'rules' and expectations of her day. She walked her own road and allowed her creativity to thrive. She was determined to follow her own path, even if that scandalised her parents and other 'respectable' folk. She made a fantastic success of her life, and her legacy lives on not just in all those amazing stories, but also in the beautiful Lake District National Park.

As a writer I'm inspired by Beatrix Potter and am a little envious, truth be told, of her imagination and her determination. I need more of that!

She once said that she never really 'grew up' and that was the basis of her story-telling. She also apparently said she was pleased she didn't go to school because that might have robbed her of her originality.

But this is my favourite quote from Beatrix Potter. She obviously LOVED writing ... she was excited by the prospect of putting pen to paper. Bringing her animal friends to life was a joy, but she allowed them to tell their own story.

I love that.

Some writers report that sometimes characters in their stories DO almost manifest themselves through the writing and that's happened to me once in a while.

To do that, I must simply allow my imagination to go wild, just as Beatrix did.

Thanks Miss Potter - may your stories always not just entertain but also inspire!!!

Beatrix Potter

 


Celebrating Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.

Every year since 1970 this has been annual event designed for us all to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It's grown over the decades and lots of important environmental events have happened on Earth Day.

This year on Earth Day, today, there will be a Global Climate Summit, convened by the US President Joe Biden and held virtually I'm guessing because of coronavirus. Among other things it is designed to be a 'critical stepping stone for the U.S. to re-join the world in combating the climate crisis', having agreed to re-sign the Paris Agreement.  It's just one of the events being planned today and just one example of how Earth Day continues to be a momentous and unifying day every year.  These days it's reckoned that 1 billion people in more than 193 countries will mark Earth Day in some way.

And so to MY contribution.

A couple of years ago, I recorded a series for BBC Radio Jersey with the Jersey artist and iconographer Karen Blampied.

She has created something called The Earthday Icon ... inspired by the ancient nature embedded in the Eastern Orthodox Church Calendar, which each September celebrates Creation and which has a three year cycle, ending every year with the feast of St Francis of Assisi and the Blessing of the Animals. During this liturgical time of Creation, each Sunday is dedicated to a specific aspect of creation and the Earthday icons depicts forests, land, wilderness, rivers, skies, mountains, the universe, animals, storms, oceans and more, all with spiritual significance.

Karen's inspiration is to 'highlight the need of all people to be stewards of the Earth' and this really inspires ME.

I loved working with Karen on this series and the audio we produced is still on the BBC Radio Jersey website.

So today, to mark Earth Day, I'm including the links to the programme features.

You will have to click on each link to listen ... hope you don't mind doing that. But it's really interesting!

Enjoy! And be inspired and blessed!


Earthday icon KBlampiedEarthday Icon #1 - Ocean - Karen chats to me about the role of the sea in the Creation story

Earthday Icon #2 - Flora & Fauna - Karen in conversation with me about her icon

Earthday Icon #3 Storm - Karen chats to me about depicting weather & climate in her icon

Earthday Icon #4 Cosmos - Karen talks to me about depicting God and the heavens in her icon

Earthday Icon #5 Blessing of the Animals - Discovering Karen's inspiration for the animals in her icon

 

*Earthday icon image copyright - Karen Blampied


Waste Not Want Not

Have you ever heard the saying 'Waste Not Want Not' ? 

I'm sure you have. It sort of rolls off the tongue doesn't it?

And in these days when we're encouraged to try to do our best to save the resources of our planet, the emphasis on conservation, recycling, and on 're-using' and 're-purposing' - it's a phrase that is very 'current'. Or at least, it should be!

This won't be the only time I talk to you about 're-using'. It's something I love to do, especially when I'm sewing and crafting, using up old material, ribbons gathered from all sorts of places, cards, pictures, papers. I'm also a person who loves to visit charity/thrift shops to find stuff that other people have discarded, and to give them a new life.

But that's a tale for another time.

Back to that phrase - 'Waste Not Want Not'.

What does it actually mean?

Well, it's really saying ... if you don't waste anything, you will always have enough. If you don't squander your money and resources, you will never be in want. If you use a commodity or resources carefully, you will never be in need.

In other words - there's always enough to go around. We just need to stop wasting stuff! 

I love that!

But although it's a phrase perfectly suited to today, did you know that it's an idiom that has been around since the end of the 18th century?

It's reckoned one of the first references was in a book called 'The Parent's Assistant' which was the first collection of children's stories by a writer called Maria Edgeworth, and it was published in 1796.

Maria was English/Irish and a prolific writer of children's and adult literature.  She had strong views on politics, education and estate management and she wrote on these matters, as well as creating stories. And apparently Maria was a significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe.

Queen Victoria was a fan. She was reading The Parent's Assistant in 1837, just three months before her coronation. In her diary she recalled reading "The Birthday Present" in "Miss Edgeworth's inimitable and delightful Parent's Assistant" while doing her hair.

Today's phrase is actually the title of one of her stories, entitled 'Waste Not, Want Not' (or 'Two Strings To Your Bow'). It's the story of two boys Hal and Benjamin, who are taken in by their Uncle. The motto is actually written over the chimney-piece, in the Uncle's big kitchen, and the narrative is mostly about how the boys learn the lessons of not wasting or squandering what they have, or are given.

Maria Edgeworth, in common with many early novelists, definitely wrote to teach as well as to inform and to entertain. Although it's not exactly the genre of storytelling that is popular these days, in their time these stories were very much in demand.

And the fact that Maria was highly regarded as a writer, at a time when educated females were often disapproved of, says much about the woman who more than 200 years ago first profiled a simple phrase which is even today calling us to action. 

Waste not, want not - Idioms by The Free Dictionary


Follow your Dream

I’ve been a journalist for a long time. I’ve occasionally reinvented myself along the way, from newspaper reporter, to radio and television reporter, presenter and producer, to PR consultant and even to writer and author. Some would say I have a short attention span!

Maybe they’re right.

Down the years I’ve met some very special people, especially in my work as a journalist and presenter, and although I’m not one to name drop – well, not routinely anyway – I am privileged to have been in the same room and even conversed with some of them.

I’m thinking today of someone who I met him a couple of times during his lifetime in a professional capacity and who always left me in awe.

Why I’m mentioning him today? Well, because it was on January 7th 1925 that Gerald Durrell was born.

Writer, naturalist, conservationist, zookeeper, television presenter and a larger than life character, he founded the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the Jersey Zoo, which is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s no ordinary zoo but rather a place which epitomises Gerald Durrell’s passion for animals and conservation. Here – at its headquarters in the parish of Trinity in my lovely home island, and in its centres around the globe – the Trust is in the business of rescuing, breeding and sometimes reintroducing endangered species into the wild. The animals in its care are not kept in traditional cages and in fact, some of the work in Jersey which champions the cause of endangered species has also helped to change attitudes to 'zoos' and the way animals are kept in captivity.

Durrell statueI first read about ‘Gerry’s’ passion for the ‘little brown jobs’ – the inconspicuous animals which few others cared about – through his books including My Family and Other Animals’ and in recent years I’ve enjoyed the TV series ‘The Durrells’ which documented the Durrell family’s years living in Corfu in Greece.

Gerald Durrell was unorthodox, adventuring and a bit of a rule breaker. He followed his heart, often to the detriment of his wallet and his ambitions. He was a man of perseverance and untold imagination.

But what has resulted from his extraordinary if somewhat unconventional life is an exceptional place and mission, and some astonishing results in conservation. Thanks to Gerald Durrell, his team and legacy, there are dozens of species - many of them small and seemingly inauspicious - that survive today. And as each species is part of a chain, that often means that the saving of that one animal also may ensure the survival of those within its circle of life.

I remember when I was working at Channel TV (now ITVChannel) – the local commercial TV station for the Channel Islands - Durrell was already on the hunt for a strange almost legendary little creature purported to still be existing in the forests of Madagascar. Thought to be extinct, the Aye-Aye is a weird looking little beast  (actually a type of lemur) with bulging eyes and a long middle finger and in 1990, Gerald Durrell departed for that island off the coast of south Africa, to find it. He was accompanied by a Channel TV crew and I remember the excitement surrounding the expedition. And they made a brilliant film on return!

Today you can see some of the offspring of the original Aye-Ayes that were rescued, in the Jersey Zoo, living in a specially designed enclosure which mimics the climate and darkness of the Madagascan forest. It’s one of my favourite places at the Zoo. And if you’re interested you can read about Durrell’s last major animal-collecting expedition  in a book called ‘The Aye-Aye and I’.

We can’t all be internationally renowned conservationists, or even pioneers who change the world. But if we have a passion, perhaps we can determine how much it means to us, and start following it – if we are brave enough?

And so,  the question I ask myself today is – am I really following my dreams?

Gerald Durrell - Wikipedia

Image of statue of Gerald Durrell at the Jersey Zoo .. thanks to Alice & Richard Nunn