On the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice: Shanks, E., 100 Years Dead, Not Forgotten

Edwin Shanks

‘O lad that I loved, there is rain on your face,
And your eyes are blurred, and sick with the plain.’  –  Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967):  I Stood with the Dead (June 1918)

My maternal grandfather’s younger brother Edwin was killed in action in the vicinity of Arras, near the Belgian border, one month before the 1918 Armistice. He had enlisted twice, underage. The first time, he followed my grandfather – granda – out to France and granda had him sent back home. He wasn’t aware of his second enlistment.

Like countless others, Edwin has no grave. As commemoration his name is carved into a stone on a wall, at a small Canadian Cemetery in Vis-en-Artois. My grandfather, who was decorated twice for bravery (once for leaving his trench to go into no-man’s-land to drag a wounded officer back to safety) mourned his brother Edwin for the rest of his days.

George William Shanks, wearing his Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

After the war, granda returned to his job as a coal miner. He retired at 65 – having risen to the position of deputy and a framed certificate, presented by the Coal Board, hung on the wall of the sitting room. It honoured him for 50 years Meritorious Service.

Another framed certificate hung on the  wall. It proclaimed that he was being presented with the keys to the city of Ypres. He visited Ypres not many years before he died in 1965, with a group of veteran soldiers of the First World War. He was already ill – enough that his doctor warned him he ought not to go, but adding that he knew very well he had to, and would. Something to that effect.

Menin Gate, Ypres

Granda always spoke of Ypres as Wipers – the deliberate mispronunciation adopted by English-speaking soldiers of the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, in which nearly half a million souls were lost.

Granda also fought in the Battle of the Somme.

During WWII he served in the community as a special policeman.

Granda loved his garden. He grew vegetables on one side and roses on the other. His favourite rose was the yellow rose called Peace. I have a vivid memory of him showing me a beautiful blossom and telling me it was the rose called Peace.

He won a scholarship to grammar school, but his family were abjectly poor and at 11 years of age he was sent down the mine to earn a few pennies extra income for the family. He never owned a house, nor a car, nor amassed any wealth. After he retired, with just a state pension, he yet would never come back from a trip to the local town without having bought me a sketchbook, exercise book to write my stories in, or a pencil. He had the gift of Love.

My granda’s war efforts along with those of innumerable others made it possible for me to have a secondary education where they didn’t. I was just 14 when he died. I’m glad that he lived long enough to see me go to grammar school. I was the first in the family.

Later I went on to university which opened my life to travel abroad and it was while I was living in France that I visited the Normandy villages and beaches of the Second World War and wept among those rows upon rows of white crosses that stretched endlessly into an impossible distance. I also visited Vimy Ridge where trenches have been preserved and was able to walk – to stand with the dead – in one of these. The ground around undulates – green waves –  from crater to crater and some areas are cordoned-off where there may still be live ammunition.

And of course, I have visited that Canadian cemetery in Vis-en-Artois, to stand in front of the stone which carries my great-uncle Edwin’s name, on the spot where my granda had stood in the early 60s. I went into the town and found a florist, where I was able to buy a single yellow rose – to represent the yellow Peace rose my grandfather cultivated in his council house garden – and I took it back to the cemetery and leaned it against the wall and below the stone on which was writ: Shanks, E.

Shanks, E: 100 years dead, not forgotten.

Weeping Window: Ashington Colliery, Northumberland (Michael Whitehead)


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Black Bean Dye and Black Bean Soup

Silks and Cottons Dyed with Black Bean Dye using Alum as Mordant

“Beans, you know, are beautifully shaped, like a new church, like modern architecture, like a planned city”  ― Janet Frame, Scented Gardens for the Blind

My love affair with Titanium oxalate continues …

In my search for blue, I’ve wanted to try dyeing with black beans again as my first and second attempts failed. The first because I used black beluga lentils instead of black beans. Duh! Both, I suspect because I added Soda Ash as a mordant.

Black Bean Dye

I soaked the beans overnight, using one cup of beans and three cups of cold tap water.
I drained the beans and put them aside for soup.
I divided the liquid (now a lovely dark blue) between two large kilner jars.
I added a teaspoonful of Alum mordant to one jar and a teaspoonful of Titanium oxalate to the other.
I placed an assortment of silks and cottons in each jar with some of the beans on top to keep the fabrics from floating above the level of the dye.
The dye with the alum mordant turned a rich purple-blue.
The dye with the Titanium oxalate mordant turned a sinister shade of blackberry.
I left the jars outside for three days and nights, shaking them up at regular intervals (during the day!) and shifting them around to catch the sun.
After three days I took the fabrics out, rinsed them under cold running water, washed them with organic vegan liquid soap, rinsed and dried them.
The fabrics soaked in the black bean dye with the alum mordant turned a variety of gorgeous blues.
The fabrics soaked in the black bean dye with the Titanium oxalate turned a variety of  equally gorgeous subdued greens

Black Bean Soup

The fabrics soaking in the dye jars, I turned my attention to the beans and decided to make a soup from them.

There’s a huge quince tree in the garden hanging low right now with its crop of ripe quinces. I harvested three huge specimens, peeled, cored, chunked them and set them aside in water with a little salt added to prevent discolouration.
I peeled and diced three small red onions, then sautéed them in olive oil until soft.
I added a couple of cloves of crushed garlic towards the end of the sautéing period.
I added a teaspoonful of smoked paprika and the same of cumin.
I chopped a red pepper and added that.
I halved some cherry tomatoes (freshly picked from the plants in the greenhouse) and added those.
I added a tin of organic chopped tomatoes.
I dissolved an organic vegan stock cube in half a pint of boiling water and added that.
I added some sweet potato squares from a pack I had in the freezer.
I added some dried red lentils (no need to pre-soak lentils).
I added the quince.
I added the soaked black beans.
I simmered this for about an hour (until the beans were palatable) adding extra water to achieve the desired consistency.

Silks and Cottons Dyed with Black Bean Dye using Titamium Oxalate as Mordant

While the soup was simmering, I made a loaf of French bread (white bread with a nice hard crust) in the bread machine. This took three and a half hours and was baked just in time for us to sit down to dine on the soup.

I wished I’d taken a picture of the soup. It was a lovely autumnal orange colour. Ah, well, next time. It was delicious, tangy from the quince, sweet from the sweet potatoes and smoky from the smoked paprika. Spicy from the cumin. I recommend it. If you can’t get quince, just substitute with apples.

Nothing wasted.

The results of my dyeing experiment were difficult to photograph; the last shows the truest colours. It also shows the radically different results obtained by use of mordants: in this case Alum and Titanium oxalate.

Silks and Cottons Dyed with Black Bean Dye using Alum as Mordant and Titanium Oxalate as Mordant

Do I have to remind – folks – not to cook and dye at the same time, using the same pots and pans and utensils? You don’t want to confuse bread flour with Alum powder, do you? And I don’t think Titanium oxalate soup would taste very nice, somehow.

The blue reminds me of the Blue Damsels which haunted the pond in the summer. The greens are the colours of the herbs I’ve dried.

I think I’m on the way to achieving some some good architecture with black beans.

Acknowledgements (in no particular order):

Crafty Katie Gates
Osborn Studio
The Easy Blues
Free People
Wild Colours UK
The Silk Thread
Botanical Colours

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A Titanic Love Affair, Horse Chestnut Husk Dye and Mordanting with Moses the Chemist

Photo: Jonathan Billinger

My titanic love affair has little to do with those 12 sprogs/pre-Olympian gods of Uranus, less still the ill-fated ship of that name. I’m in love with the oxalate of a mineral element,  Titanium Oxalate (C4O8Ti) which is a new kid on the block in the mordanting (fixing) of natural dyes. And a very dynamic love affair it is going to be.

I’d not found any UK suppliers for it, didn’t want to risk importing it from the US (given that it comes as a white powder in little packets); then was excited to find it listed on Wild Colours.

Titanium(Ti), a mineral element, was discovered in 1791 in Cornwall by William Gregor, clergyman and amateur mineralogist. He discovered the mineral after he moved to the rectory of Creed in Cornwall and began an analysis of the minerals of Cornwall. The first image here is of St Crida’s church, Creed, where Gregor preached when he wasn’t mineral-hunting.

King Mark of Cornwall: ill. Howard Pyle

St Crida’s  today is active in the Celtic Christianity tradition. Crida is said to have been the youngest daughter of King Mark, who ruled middle Cornwall from 515 to 560 AD. During his reign, Britain was invaded from the east by the Saxons. The Brits fled west, some to Wales, others to France by boat. Crida built a nunnery – by the river Fal – for the welfare of refugees while they awaited boats to take them across the Channel.

King Mark is famous in Arthurian Legend as the uncle of Tristan, whom he sent as his proxy to Ireland to fetch back his young bride, Iseult. Tristan and Iseult fell in love on the way back, with tragic consequences. The Wagnerian opera Tristan und Isolde ends with my most favourite Wagnerian aria Liebestod (the Love-Death Song) and I have not been afraid to tackle this aria myself. I should have been. But then it doesn’t matter because nobody will ever hear me singing it.

The opera had to overcome so many difficulties before it premiered, that it gained the reputation of being unperformable. Here’s my favourite rendition of Liebestod:

I like the legend which tells how Mark’s daughter Crida required her nuns to pray in different places each day, the reason being that when they prayed Jesus would come and stand beside them and wherever Jesus’ feet touched, the ground was made Holy. Praying in this way would effect, eventually, the sanctification of the whole land.

Titanium is very strong, which is why it was named in 1795, by Martin Heinrich Klaproth,  for The Titans, those first (very strong) gods of the cosmos. Klaproth was a German chemist who discovered uranium, cerium and zirconium. In 1787, he was appointed lecturer in chemistry to the Prussian Royal Artillery. It looks like he was on the way to nuclear fission long before Otto Hahn in 1938.

Trying to sanctify the earth by prayer has got to be a better way of passing your day.

My titanium arrived just as I was about to try and extract dye from green horse chestnut husks. There’s a massive horse chestnut tree in the garden and it hurls down bucketfuls of the green spiky things at this time of the year. Some of the husks were so big they contained three chestnuts, each in its individual nest within the husk.

I chopped the green husks into smaller pieces. It’s important to use fresh, green husks and the husks go brown quickly once they’ve left the tree, so you have to be quick about the harvesting.

WARNING:  HORSE chestnuts, as opposed to SWEET chestnuts are POISONOUS to humans, ingested, in case you didn’t know, so don’t eat them.

I simmered the husks in rainwater for a couple of hours to release the dye. I then added some sample pieces of a variety of cottons and silks and continued simmering for about another two hours.

I left the fabrics in the dye to cool down overnight – in the end about 24 hours – then rinsed them and dried them. I then washed them with organic vegan soap, dried and ironed them.

Next I added a teaspoonful of the titanium oxalate to the dye pot and – wait for it – the dye and husks turned blood red right in front of my eyes.

Moses Striking the Rock: Bible Boskovicka

I felt like an alchemist.  I felt like Moses. When he used staff or rod to turn the Nile into blood in front of the pharaoh’s eyes. And killed all the fish. It made me wonder about a scientific explanation as to how Moses and the pharaoh’s magicians might have turned river water into blood. Was it really blood? Did he use Titanium oxalate? And how?

Research soon taught me that Titanium oxalate isn’t such a new kid on the mordanting block and mordanting (fixing) dyes dates to Ancient China and Ancient Egypt. Pharaoh’s magicians were early chemists? Moses was brought up in the courts of two pharaohs. We don’t know their names as they weren’t named in The Bible, so are known as The Pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites and The Pharaoh of The Exodus. Did Moses’ schooling include instruction in the chemistry of magic? Even though Titanium oxalate wasn’t discovered until the 1700s, that was in the West. It may very well have been in use in Ancient Egypt. It was still a candidate for the water-to-blood trick.

Moses: The Burning Bush: St Isaac’s Cathedral: St Petersburg

Moses would have needed a lot of it. Or would he? I used a teaspoonful it in a reasonably large pan of water. I may have got away with using much less. A few grains perhaps. Moses used a rod or staff to turn water to blood. The Rod or Staff of Moses is first mentioned in The Bible when Moses encountered God in the Burning Bush, when God seems to have endowed the staff with special powers. “And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs”. Moses, like most magicians, had an assistant in his water-to-blood trick: his brother Aaron, who too had a magic rod. 

Moses’ Staff is of great fame and legend, mentioned both in The Bible and The Quran. Likewise the Rod of Aaron. According to Jewish tradition, Moses’ rod and Aaron’s were one and the same and handed down through the ages from Adam onwards. It is even said that it still exists, in Turkey, the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.

Many paths lead from the crossroad marked magic rods. I’ll enjoy these walks. I find I am brought back full circle to the drawings I’ve begun of the pond. What have magic rods to do with these? The pond (water) has been populated this summer by blue, green and black, and orange dragonflies. They are rod-like. And very magical. Rods with wings.

And if it wasn’t Titanium oxalate that turned the Nile into blood, there’s a chemical experiment that appears to turn water into wine or blood, using sodium carbonate and a few drops of phenolphthalein.  And you can turn the bloody liquid back to clear water again by blowing on it. How wonderfully magical is that? How wonderfully chemical is that? And maybe Moses’ rod was just simply, miracle-bringing.

As far as my dyeing experiment is concerned, horse chestnut dye without mordant produced lovely soft pinky shades. The image on the right doesn’t bring out the pink. Trust me.

The addition of Titanium oxalate culminated in  these stunning saffron and gold-yellow colours on the left.

Both sets of colours are pertinent to my subject matter. The horse chestnuts are from a tree in my garden close to the pond. Yellows and golds abound in the garden. During this first year of occupancy I’ve noticed the garden has a purple and gold theme. It will be magnificent fully restored. (I hope).

When I am more settled in my new home, and able to find time to think for longer periods, I will be developing some work that pulls together all these different walks off of crossroads. I will be following Moses the alchemist across the desert, searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, aka freedom from (spiritual) slavery and oppression, aka eternal life.

I’m not going to fling Titanium oxalate into the pond to see if it turns red. It won’t free anybody from slavery. I don’t want to kill my fish. Or my cat Keeks who prefers to steal water than drink the legit (natural spring) water provided for her daily in her posh water bowl indoors.

I’m thinking more along these lines of The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary:

“Moses means drawing out, extracting, i. e., from the water. The birth of Moses represents man’s development in consciousness of the law of his being, from the negative side. Water represents universal negation; but water also represents the great possibility. Out of seemingly negative conditions comes the new growth.”






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Be strong, even if it breaks your heart –  Dr Who

This resonated.

I wondered for a brief moment how being strong would break the heart. Then thought: Sophie’s Choice.

I reckon there comes a time we all have to make Sophie’s Choice, one way or another. Over and over, even. Every day, even.

If this quote resonates with you, I send you a cyber-hug. You deserve it.




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Homage to Nature

Cranesbill Geranium

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.”   ~ Aristotle

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Working Like Snow

“Like Snow
Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.”

~Wendell Berry

Still not finding enough contemplative time to devote to art-making, a year on after the great transition (house move).

I have a long blog in progress, into whose story is woven this drawing.

I won’t leave anything out.

Don’t you leave anything out.

Because of the delusion of time.

Which is a tool of the enslaver of creativity.


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Look What Turned Up in the Garden – Common Stinkhorn

In fact two of these little fellers turned up in the garden.

And that’s not sexist writing. Its Latin name is Phallus Impudicus and according to Wikipedia: “Botanist John Gerard called it the “pricke mushroom” or “fungus virilis penis effigie” in his General Historie of Plants of 1597, and John Parkinson referred to it as “Hollanders working toole” or “phallus hollandicus” in his Theatrum botanicum of 1640.[2] Linnaeus described it in his 1753 Species Plantarum,[3] and it still bears its original binomial name. Its specific epithet, impudicus, is derived from the Latin for “shameless” or “immodest”.[4]

Apparently, they smell like rotting flesh. The two in my garden didn’t, or maybe I didn’t get close enough to find out. This might explain a folkloric name for the fungus of deadman’s cock.


Charles Darwin’s daughter Hetty reputedly collected stinkhorns from the woods and burnt them in secret. This was purportedly to protect the morals of the housemaids but I read that Hetty was a neopagan, so maybe truth was she had other uses for the fungus, especially given that immature stinkhorn are known as witches’ eggs.

They tend to grow near tree stumps. By way of corroboration, they’re situated in my garden close to a mound that’s grown over a tree stump.

Which is near to the waterlily pond that I’m drawing at present. Will they turn up in future artworks? Maybe. I’m thinking horizontals and verticals.

And believe it or not the Common Stinkhorn is edible.

I won’t be eating it any time soon.






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The Season of Bowls

Ever since I made this drawing of waterlily leaves in my pond, which reminded me of bowls in a bowl

and then found myself making this bowl from wisteria stems

I’ve been seeing bowls everywhere

I’ve been seeing bowls everywhere

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Statue of Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst STAYS!

“Every principle of liberty enunciated in any civilized country on earth, with very few exceptions, was intended entirely for men, and when women tried to force the putting into practice of these principles, for women, then they discovered they had come into a very, very unpleasant situation indeed.” Emmeline Pankhurst – Brainy Quotes

The statue of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst is going to stay in Parliament. The planning application to move Pankhurst from her historic home was withdrawn just days after a huge petition to Westminster Council signed by over 180,000 was handed over. The former MP behind the idea to remove the statue to a private college said the opposition was so huge, it would be impossible for the plans to go ahead. This important part of British history will stay put and be seen by the millions who visit Parliament each year.

38 Degrees-ers are a powerful bunch. Millions of us pool our power to make the UK a better place, deciding together what’s important, and taking action to win victories like this one.  Read all about it:

The Guardian: Proposal to move Emmeline Pankhurst statue withdrawn:
The Telegraph: Emmeline Pankhurst statue will remain near Parliament after plan to move it is abandoned:
38 Degrees blog: Pankhurst statue: Handing in the petition:
38 Degrees petition: Stop Suffragette statue being removed from Parliament:


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Dear Westminster City Council Planning Department: Emmeline Pankhurst Statue

via Dear Westminster City Council Planning Department: Emmeline Pankhurst Statue

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