The Swallow and the Feather

Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, Whitley, 10.50 a.m.:swallow lands on the AstroTurf by the picnic tables. Its mate swoops down and flutters above it briefly but doesn’t land.

After fluttering about a bit amongst the tables, the grounded bird takes off successfully but a minute later it flies down again and hovers close to the ground. It appears to be trying to pick up a feather but, as it gets close to it, the draught from its wings blows the feather away.

The picnic area is next to the lovebird and pheasant aviaries, so there are several feathers of assorted sizes lying around.



wallaby, possibly a species of rock wallaby, comes out of its hut to rest in the sun, in the shelter of a lush clump of grass.

In my Royal College of Art days, I enjoyed the weekly all-day drawing sessions at the London Zoo, lead by my tutor John Norris Wood. Drawing this wallaby at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour reminds me how much I enjoy settling down to draw an animal. Focussing on one species for half an hour, an hour or more, is a different experience from trying to capture a moment of behaviour, as with my sketch of the swallow.

Although I’d love to spend a day drawing at Chester Zoo, where they have 500 species of animals, I need only a handful of species to keep me absorbed in drawing for a day, so I could get a lot out of a day drawing a smaller collection of animals, such as here at Charlotte’s.

Return of the Swifts

We saw our first swifts circling over Nostell Lakes a week ago and, by coincidence, since then their namesakes, my mum’s family, the Swifts, have taken centre stage in my family tree research.

I’ve taken a break from genealogy since the death of my mum in February 2015; she was my last link with my Victorian forbears and I enjoyed updating her with some nugget of family history that I’d unearthed, especially any family scandal, such as an attempted murder.

I subscribe to the Find My Past and a hint in one of their regular e-mails set me on the trail again.

Missing Uncles

Maurice T Swift, Hayburn Wyke, c. 1928.

I’ve gone right back to first principles and and I’m building my family tree again from scratch, starting with my mum, Gladys Joan Swift. The orange circles highlight hints, which usually lead to census records or births, deaths and marriages.

More material has been added to the online resources since I started delving into family history eight or nine years ago, for instance the 1939 Register, which is the nearest thing that we’re ever going to get to a census for the wartime years.

Adding portraits brings the list of names to life and we’re lucky to have photographs going back over the last 150 years and even a few oil on canvas portraits.

I just found a picture of my uncle, Maurice Truelove Swift (above, right), sitting on the beach at Hayburn Wyke, North Yorkshire. Sadly I never met him as he died around the time that I was born.

Maurice Swift

In the family tree (above, far right), there’s an uncle of my mum’s who she never knew about until I started my research. Frederick James Swift was the eldest son of my great grandad George’s first wife and I’ve discovered that he emigrated to New Zealand. Quite why my grandad never mentioned him to my mum is still a bit of a mystery. A family feud? Or did my grandad, Maurice Swift, not renowned as a people person, never see the point of mentioning him.

Filey Beach

Robert Douglas Bell

Finally, here’s a photograph that I found of my dad, Robert Douglas Bell; he was a sergeant major in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War and I think that you can see from this photograph taken on the beach at Filey that, although most of the time he was charming, he could revert to his sergeant major assertiveness when necessary!

It’s good to have a portrait where, for once, the subject isn’t just smiling at the camera; this is very much as I remember him as he implored me to get to grips with my maths and English instead of spending so much time drawing!


Find My Past

The Dog and Conifer

My friend Matthew tells me that this conifer was just three or four feet high when he moved in to his house forty years ago. It has gained its sculptural bonsai character without any help or training from human hands; it was his dog Toby who for many years used to cock his leg up against it. The conifer died back on that side but Matthew let it keep on growing and although the leaves never sprouted back on that side, the new growth above developed normally.

I would have liked to have had more time to draw this Persian cat but, as always, the cat is the one who decides when the sitting is over.

Richard Brook

Richard giving the Conservation Officer’s report at a Wakefield Naturalists’ Society meeting in the Unity Hall, in my sketch from February, 1981.

We’ve been remembering my old friend, conservationist, plant breeder and 60s music fanatic, Richard Brook, who died on 20 April, aged 74. These extracts from his diary were compiled by Richard’s second cousin, Ann  Brook and read at his funeral on Monday by her sister Philippa.

The ‘Tripartite’ mentioned in the May entry refers to his award-winning ‘Tripartite’ narcissus, which he developed in the 1980s when he ran a commercial nursery specialising in daffodils. The Tripartite has three flowers on each stem and is still available globally. Last month it was exhibited at The North of England Horticultural Society’s Spring Flower Show at Harrogate.

A friend of Richard’s from the Daffodil Society laid some on his coffin at the end of the service.

Richard’s observations taken from diaries of 2010

Heard nuthatch in Wakefield Park.
Cloudy, cool, drizzle after dark.

Song thrush…
Sitting in a laurel bush.

Saw orange tip butterfly.
Killed one large fly.

19th of May. Blossom out!
Tripartite faded in the heat and drought.

Young Goldfinch came to the seed feeder.
…saw the first gatekeeper

Robin singing an autumn song.
First picking of Victoria plums.

Cloudy, cool, slight North breeze.
Sparrow hawk, hiding in the pear tree.

Evening dull, with light rain.
Buzzard over the garden again.

Warm sun and cloud in the morning,
sweet blackberries ripening,

Green woodpecker laughing.

Pair of jays came to the water bowl.
White frost, sunny, calm and cold.

Chessmen Chimney Pots

Two chimneys, one built in brick, the other in stone, on the same roof. I haven’t checked around the front of this terrace on Station Road, Ossett, but possibly the facade is faced in stone and the back of the house built in brick.

It looks as if the chimney pots are limbering up for a game of chess. The Victorian pots on the left are king, also known as crown, chimney pots and the phalanx of more modern-looking pots on the right remind me of pawns.

I got a chance to drawn the Queen Street roof-scape a couple of weeks ago from the waiting room of Horbury dentists’. I don’t imagine that John Carr, who designed St Peter’s Church (in the background), would approve of chess-piece chimney pots; I suspect that he’d go to some effort to hide such a utilitarian feature on one of his elegant country houses, either that or disguise it as a classical feature, such as a pillar or an obelisk.