Ooops George, watch out for that pothole!

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These gentlemen cyclists were taking part in the recent Knutsford May Day parade which  has a strong Victorian flavour as the Prince and Princess of Wales (later to become King Edward VI and Queen Alexandra) visited the town in 1887 when a special version of the festival was rolled out for them.

The local vintage cycling enthusiasts always dress up for the parade and ride their penny-farthings and boneshakers through the streets, often veering alarmingly close to the onlookers as they wobble along.

It becomes even more interesting when they reach the hill, as they have here. Some of them get off and walk if they’re riding bicyles with no brakes.

Morris dancing on May Day

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These smiling women are part of a Morris dancing team who took part in the traditional May Day parade in our small Cheshire town. They danced through the streets, accompanied by music played on a small accordion and a tin whistle, with a drum beating time. The ladies wear wooden clogs and hold wooden shuttles, which would have been used in the cotton mills in the north west. These are decorated with bells and ribbons.

Bells also feature in the costume worn by men Morris dancers but worn on their clogs. This group, also at the parade, have music to dance to and they carry small twisted ropes which they wave as part of the dance. The steps are heavy and noisy; stamping rhymically on the ground in time to the music, the dancers change places and make different formations and patterns as they weave around each other.

This group wear staw hats decorated with ribbons and flowers, and have been coming to our May Day parade for over 30 years. I couldn’t help noticing how some of the are now getting on a bit. There’s not been a big influx of new blood over the years, but it’s good that these grey-haired gentlemen are still able to enjoy this very English traditional form of dance and share it in the streets on a sunny day.

Morris dancing is thought to have been around since the mid 15th century. It’s traditional folk dancing associated with Maytime, the Maypole and the May queen. I’ve always understood that the stamping style of dance is meant to awaken the earth from its winter slumber and the small twised ropes held and waved by the dancers are symbolic of seeds being scattered on the ground. May Day has its origins in pagan festivals, the awakening of the earth and the Celtic festival of Beltane.

An old fashioned butcher’s shop

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On holiday in France a few years ago I was fascinated to discover a real old-fashioned butcher’s shop in the city of Chartres. I’m a butcher’s daughter, coming from a family of master butchers. I didn’t follow the family trade and I rarely eat meat these days, so no chance of being a chip off the old block there (pun intended!).

Nonetheless, when I saw this shop I had to take a closer look as it appeared to be remarkably like the shop my Grandpa had in Croydon, south London, in the early 1900s.

It was. Taking a closer look I noticed there was a cash desk, with a cashier who handled payment for the purchases; the butcher didn’t handle money at all. I was rather taken by the dog inside the shop, hoping for some scraps! Forget Health & Safety regs there – this was life as it used to be.

The proprietor, Monsieur Pinson – an elegant man in his 80s – was serving customers. The shop was crowded and trade was brisk. That’s me in the photo, talking to the elderly gentleman who was going to buy his weekend joint. He said that the shop was the only one of its kind in the city, and it was the best too. He also wondered how long it would remain open as the proprietor was getting on a bit.

Sure enough, the next time we visited Chartres, the shop was closed and shuttered, but appeared to be untouched and unchanged. I wonder what had happened to it?

My Grandpa’s shop in Croydon no longer exists, but I do have this old sepia-toned photo. Grandpa's butcher's shop

The shop front is open – cold in winter no doubt, but maybe an effective way of keeping the meat cool and fresh. My Grandma sits at the back of the shop in the cash desk kiosk. Her job was to take payments and keep the books. My Grandpa stands on the right, sporting a magnificent moustache and a long white apron. Two employees stand behind the open counter, and my Dad – the butcher’s boy in striped apron and flat cap – stands near my Grandpa.

My Dad must have been around 7 or 8, meaning that this photo was taken just before, or during WW1 (1914-18). As a butcher’s boy, when he was a bit older, he used to deliver orders using a bicycle with a large basket on the front. He went on to train as a master butcher, managing several different shops in south London.

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That’s him with the pencil behind his ear in the Old Kent Road shop in the 1960s.

Life without Pluto

IMG_1621This post comes with my astrological psychology hat on. It’s something I wrote a while ago, but have revisited as the “demoted” planet Pluto is currently slowly but surely moving through the sign of Capricorn (big on established structures) and we are seeing the effects of this on a global scale.

Pluto cleans up big time, sweeping away the cobwebs, turfing out the dross that’s been hanging around for too long (note the governing Tory party in the UK undergoing internal turmoil whilst trying to sort out Brexit). Pluto will continue on this task until 2024. Times are changing, attitudes have to change too. Climate breakdown is not going to go away unless we all pitch in and wake up to what we, governments and world powers can and must do.

Here’s what I wrote:

On 24th August 2006 a group of scientists and astronomers got together in Prague and decided to demote the status of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Their decision came after a lengthy period of search for the definition of what a planet is.

On 16th August 2014 I visited the Jodrell Bank Observatory with two children aged 8 and 10. The Observatory has a brand new visitor centre and I was looking forward to seeing how they had reconfigured the site and displayed the old brass observational sextants and other instruments, including the famous mechanical orrery with its planets orbiting the Sun. I was very disappointed. All of these had gone, along with the Planetarium which had offered interactive quizzes and visual high speed trips across the galaxy.

In their place were two very modern buildings with slick display boards, often accompanied by a video but not much else. Equipment and fun experiments in the hands-on area for children had been reduced and the two children I was with soon lost interest as there was little to engage them. In one area, empty apart from displays on the wall and a large modern orrery suspended from the ceiling, we searched out and named the planets. Pluto, long demoted, wasn’t there and I explained to the children why it wasn’t there, also telling them it had been discovered in 1930. The new visitor centre may be state of the art, presenting bang up to the minute modern science, but all sense of the history of discovery behind it had been erased.

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This got me thinking about how life, for those heretical beings amongst us who dare to claim we are astrologers, would be without Pluto. OK, so Pluto has been around a relatively short time and its discovery and subsequent inclusion in natal charts and interpretations is also relatively new. But its discovery, after lengthy research by Clyde Tombaugh, coincided with the start of an era of world war and disruption, brought to a halt by the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Astrologically Pluto is often feared, or at least treated with due caution and respect, as it can herald big changes and upheavals often leading to transformation. Astrological psychologists, Bruno and Louise Huber, in their book The Planets, describe Pluto as one of the three transpersonal planets saying, “The stimulation of Pluto’s energy makes us experience an expansion of consciousness affecting all of our lives”.

Would we really want to be without this?

For me it would difficult to interpret a chart and give a consultation without including Pluto, the planet associated with transformation. Pluto offers opportunities in life for us to transform ourselves and our ways of thinking and move on. It can encourage us to boldly go where we’ve not been before, sometimes plumbing our inner depths and spaces and demanding that we make ourselves anew.

I’d feel a bit lost, disempowered and diminished if Pluto wasn’t there in my natal chart. I’ve learned a lot about myself, studying the expression of Plutonic energy in the context of astrological psychology. It’s offered me many personal insights and that’s what has helped me to change and grow. We come to grief if we try to use Pluto’s energy to gain personal power and control over someone or something. But we can learn to use the energies of Pluto, and the other the transpersonal planets, not for ourselves, but for those things which affect the collective, embracing change, transformation and the good clear out and spring clean that goes with it.

Reflecting on my disappointment that Jodrell Bank had changed and become more slick and glitzy, I can raise a smile at the thought of Pluto at work in this complete makeover. Gone is the old, the history and the links with the astronomical past. However, the best part of the visit was a guided walk around the enormous, and famous, Lovell Radio Telescope. Like following the stations of the cross in a church, we were taken to a series to display boards around the perimeter of the telescope. I learned more in the short talks at each than I ever have about  – yes – the history of this impressive piece of engineering, once the largest radio telescope in the world but now demoted to the third largest.

In the makeover, the baby wasn’t quite thrown out with the bathwater after all. I wonder – did Pluto get the last laugh here?

Liverpool’s Albert Dock

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Liverpool has some stunning architecture and somehow the old and traditional, and the new and modern seem to have blended together very well in the Pier Head and Albert Dock area.

I never tire of seeing the iconic Liver Birds on top of the classic older buildings at the Pier Head. I remember seeing the angular new buildings going up near the traditional stuff several years ago and wondered if they would ever be a match for their long established grand neighbours.

Now these buildings are finished. They are unashamedly modern and unfussy, with reflective glass and sharp edges…..but oh how well they work alongside the established, iconic traditional grandeur.

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A close up of the Liver Birds and the classic dome rising proudly above a modern cheese wedge of a building had me reaching for my camera again…..

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…..as did the light on the cobbled promenade by the Mersey. The former warehouses on the left are now apartments.

It didn’t use to be like this when I first came to live “ooop north” and visited Liverpool. It used to be a rather scruffy place – parts of it still are – but lots of innovative planning and design has made the city a big tourist attraction. Of course, the Beatles, the Mersey sound of the 60s, the siting of the Tate Gallery in the Albert Dock, the history and the Maritime Museum have something to do with this as well!