Lyn Alderson

Copywriter, Journalist, Blogger


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The Shropshire way of life

Have you got a nickname? I’ve noticed a lot of people in Shropshire seem to have them.

I know a Mr Marsh who’s fondly known as Swampo, and a young lady who is very slim, but known as Heifer because she loves beef. And then there’s a lad who was deemed to be clever by his mates and nicknamed Knowledge. When I lived in the town nicknames were used much less, but the language is much more descriptive in colourful Shropshire. When my husband wants a drink he complains he is as thirsty as a fish, and when he’s poorly he’s “as weak as a robin”.

Townie driver

Cultural differences abound when you move from a town into the wilds of the countryside. For example, everyone watches everyone else driving by. In urban areas you don’t bother to clock who’s driving past- the chances are that everyone you pass is a complete stranger. But here in the wilds of Shropshire, you’ve got a 50 per cent chance of knowing the person passing you by, so you have to look. And if you’re on a single track road, you are almost obliged to pull over and have a chat. This must seem blatantly obvious to rural dwellers, but I really didn’t grasp it when I first became adopted as a Shropshire lass.

Banana spotted

To start with, I didn’t pay attention to who was shooting past, but people started complaining that I hadn’t acknowledged them. And they also started telling me “I saw you with a banana in your mouth, waiting to pull out on to the A49”. Oops, I thought I could get up to monkey tricks but apparently I can’t. My every move is on the rural radar screen. And while that can be a bit disconcerting, community spirit is very strong here. And in my humble opinion, that makes for a better quality of life.

Townies like myself do get converted to the country lifestyle though. Our neighbour Cherry is a great example. She comes from London but loves living in the country, and she helps to feed our young calves. We realised Cherry had become a genuine farmer when she looked at a young bull one day and exclaimed: “Look at the backside on that!”. We laughed until we cried.

Londoner Cherry is every inch the farmer

Londoner Cherry is every inch a farmer – she even wears the sexy trousers!


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My husband’s secret sins….

After admitting in my last post that I am nervous of cows, today I throw my hands up in the air and confess…. I do not bake cakes.

Picture by Carwyn Lloyd Jones

Picture by Carwyn Lloyd Jones

Now if I could eat them and stay slim I would embrace the emblem of farming life, the Victoria sponge, wholeheartedly. But alas, over winter the pounds piled on, and it has just taken me three months of Slimming World classes to get rid of my ill-gotten gains.

Luckily I have managed to get back into the posh fuchsia pink taffeta dress I bought last year for my daughter’s wedding with six weeks to spare before the Big Day, when I will have to strut my stuff in Mother of the Bride finery. But this mammoth struggle has only been accomplished by something approaching complete cake abstinence.

Secret seduction

I have had to stop baking because if I make cakes, I eat them- the possibility of producing them without eating them is a concept my brain cannot comprehend. So I don’t plan to bake any more of those fat, seductive, mouth-wateringly wicked sponges. Other ladies have stepped in to give my husband a taste of lemon drizzle or bakewell tart, and I have turned a blind eye to his ‘bit on the side’, as long as he does it discreetly. He can sin to his heart’s content in the shed, or keep his tasty treats hidden in the dairy.

So if you happen to drop by, don’t expect a typical farmhouse welcome with a plateful of scones and a jar of jam. You might be lucky and get a Jaffa cake…unless Pete shares his secret stash.

 

 


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A plea for smaller cows

There comes a time in the life of every woman pretending to be a farmer’s wife when she must man up and act like the real thing.

So this morning, I had to get up early to feed a shed full of young calves, and then help Pete to load two bulls on to a trailer. Actually, Pete did all the dangerous bits and I stood around and waved a stick while trying to look scary and failing to convince. Well I didn’t convince myself, although for some inexplicable reason the bulls did keep their distance, so maybe I did look fiercer than I thought.

Daunting

I don’t mind helping with cattle as much as I used to, but our huge Limousin-Charolais cross breeds are still daunting to Townie Wife.

I’ve asked my wonderfully kind husband to buy smaller cows- you can get them, they’re called Dexters (the smallest breed of British cattle) – but so far his devotion hasn’t extend to changing his livestock priorities. I wonder if I can find a way to convince him?

Oh how I'd love a farm full of these lovely little Dexter cattle..

Oh how I’d love a farm full of these lovely little Dexter cattle..

 

 


Shropshire Hills Art Week- get inspired at the Art Cafe!

Local artists will be showcasing their work at the Art Café in the Secret Hills Discovery Centre, Craven Arms, during the first ever Shropshire Hills Art Week.

Elizabeth Moss, whose work will be at the Art Café in the Discovery Centre, Craven Arms, as part of Shropshire Hills Art Week

Elizabeth Moss, whose work will be at the Art Café in the Discovery Centre, Craven Arms, as part of Shropshire Hills Art Week

They will be among 40 artists taking part in the nine day long art extravaganza, which runs from 31 May until June 8.

The Art Cafe will be open to visitors from 10 am until 5pm each day (except for Monday June 2) and admission is free. All of the work on display will be available to buy.

Participating artists include painters, sculptors, printmakers, textile artists, photographers and illustrators.

The Secret Hills Art Café Group has been meeting at the Discovery Centre in Craven Arms since 2004. The group is involved in collaborative arts activities and also aims to bring art to a wider audience. It is one of a number of groups taking part in SHAW, and other individual artists are showing work in their own studios.

Lesley McKnight, Art Café Co-ordinator, said: “the Art Café artists are delighted to be part of the first SHAW art trail.

“We see it as an important showcase for the wealth of creative talent in this part of Shropshire, which has tended to be overlooked”.

SHAW Director, Jules McRobbie, said that she hoped that Shropshire Hills Art Week’s focus on landscape and wildlife would encourage visitors to really look at their surroundings as they go around the venues and talk to artists.

“This is a glorious area, with many unique landscapes providing a constant inspiration to the artists who live and work here. The many different media used, and the variety and breadth of artwork you will see during the week, reflects this.”

One of the artists taking part, Onibury-based painter Elizabeth Moss, said: “Having recently moved here from Aberdeenshire where I exhibited with the North East Open Studios for several years, I am now delighted to be involved with the Shropshire Hills Art Week which I hope will be the first of many Open Studio events in the area”.

Other studios and venues are participating in the nine day event, including Ludlow artist Susie Church (open studio by appointment), and joint exhibitions at Footprints and Hearts in Ludlow and Aardvark Books in Brampton Bryan.

For more information on all of the artists taking part, and the art trail, visit http://www.shropshirehillsartweek.co.uk where you can download an arts trail leaflet.

Nicola Haigh's owl embroidery for Shropshire Hills Art Week

Stunning owl embroidery by Nicola Haigh for Shropshire Hills Art Week

 

 

This press release was published in the South Shropshire Journal on May 30, 2014.


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Blogging for businesses- what are the benefits?

In just a few short years, blogging has become phenomenally popular in the business world.

Giant corporations like McDonalds and Microsoft do it, and very small businesses are catching on to its potential as a free marketing tool.
Schools, charities, and non-profit organisations are all blogging, because a blog is a great way to increase traffic to your website, and generate a buzz about your products or services.
Blogging allows you to engage with your customers, and potential customers, in a friendly and low pressure way. You are offering advice, information and tips free of charge to the reader, rather than a hard sell.

Build your reputation through blogging

Your blog can enhance your reputation as an expert in your field, and greatly improve your communication with your public. If your business is small, you can punch above your weight with a good blog and generate a lot of publicity for your products or services. And a blog can certainly make your company more approachable to customers.

blogging for business

blogging for business- picture by Paul Ingles

It’s possible to run online surveys once you have established your blog, and generate valuable research data to help your business develop. These benefits cost very little financially as most blogging software is open source and free of charge.

Plan your blog

Although a blog is written in an informal style, it still needs to be planned carefully. Work out what you want to achieve with your target audience and the topics you will cover in advance.
Is your primary goal to build a reputation as a “thought leader” in your industry, or is the aim to get to the top of the search engines? You might decide you want to add some advertising to your blog to generate extra revenue.
When your goals are clear, you can choose your topics and decide who will write it- yourself, or someone else.
The person selected needs to enjoy writing and be proficient at it. If you don’t have anyone in house, a freelance writer is often an affordable option. It’s probably more cost effective to pay a freelance to write your blog in an hour or two than spend a whole day working on it yourself when you need to be doing something else.

Tips for writing your blog

If you’re going to be writing for publication then you need to approach it with the same care as a good journalist. Check your facts carefully, and differentiate between facts and opinion.
Find ways of livening up your blog, like question and answer sessions, or an interview with a well-known figure or celebrity. Take a creative approach, and be as honest and open as possible without giving away commercial secrets or confidential information.
And stay positive- running down competitors is usually a turn-off and can even lead to legal problems. You don’t want your blog to turn into a giant argument that deflects attention away from your achievements.
Do include keywords in your blog. These are the words people will type into the search engines when looking for information related to the subject of your blog. Put lots of keywords in your headings, where Google will find them.
Once you’ve started, keep on posting. You will probably aim to write at least one post a week to keep people loyal to your blog.
Finally, let your readers interact and tell you their opinions. They are sure to thank you for it.


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Introducing my farmhouse blog…

I knew I was in trouble back in 2007 when I found myself getting up close and personal with the new man in my life, while up to my knees in thick mud (I’d been invited to visit his farm).

I clearly like this man a lot, I thought, to negotiate a quagmire in the middle of an unseasonably wet winter.

That moment was the beginning of a steep learning curve and a transition period of several years as I morphed from a sheltered townie journalist to a somewhat atypical farmer’s wife.

Three months after meeting Pete, I was having my first lessons in lambing- but unlike Lambing Live presenter Kate Humble, I managed to slip a disc in my back.

Not an ideal start for a relationship – but I did make a comeback, and I even learned how to deliver a lamb the following year! I followed that by helping with lambing for the next five years, often on the late shift, and sometimes after a hard day in a news room when I was working as a reporter.

You would probably be quite impressed if I told you I am now a red-hot stockwoman, but the truth is, huge black Limousin cows still scare me, though I do stand my ground, armed with a big stick, when Pete needs help moving them around.

It makes more sense for me to do what I’m good at- copywriting, journalism and blogging-while Pete runs his farm. I could no more change into a farmer than he would want to sit in my cosy farmhouse office and work indoors for a large chunk of the day.

But life has certainly changed. I am based at home, and it works fine, as I’ve never yet missed a deadline. The flexibility is a bonus as I am occasionally needed to help round up rebellious heifers when they make a break for freedom!

And while I’m blogging like mad for my clients, I can keep a lookout for visitors to the farm, and take messages.

It’s a different kind of life, with its own challenges and plenty of perks-  an office with a lovely view is just one of them.

Cute little lambs by Lyn Alderson

It’s not all baaad working from home…

In my farmhouse blogs, I will share a few snippets about life in Shropshire- and I guarantee some of it will make you smile.


Dudley’s zoological gardens- a unique concept

Dudley's zoo and castle: picture by Lee Jordan

Dudley’s zoo and castle: picture by Lee Jordan

A medieval castle ruin standing proudly on a steep wooded hill- what more dramatic backdrop could there be for keeping exotic animals?

The ingenious concept of converting Dudley Castle’s grounds into zoological gardens came from the owner of the landmark, the third Earl of Dudley, who had a private animal collection during the 1930s.

For thousands of years zoos had been associated with royalty and the aristocracy, and were highly fashionable at the time the Earl, William Humble Eric Ward, came up with his unique plan.

The Earl’s brainwave turned the historical fortress, owned by the Ward family for generations, into a major tourist attraction as the country’s most modern zoo without bars.

“Zoo mania” was catching on all over Britain in the 1930s, but the Earl was convinced that no other zoo in the world could offer a setting to match that of his fourteenth century castle ruin.

Landmark

It was then, as it is now, the focal point and premier landmark of the town of Dudley.

In geological terms, Castle Hill was composed of a limestone anticline, thrust up at an early stage in the earth’s history to form an island in the surrounding plain.

The castle keep and moat, and the hilly terrain, scarred with ravines and caves, made the seventy acre site unique and visually interesting.

The castle provided a natural hub around which the pedestrian routes and main animal enclosures could be planned, and created atmosphere and an unmistakeable reference point for visitors.

However, the severe gradients and the presence of huge underground caverns from seventeenth and eighteenth century limestone workings initially presented a formidable challenge to those deciding the zoo’s layout, particularly as there was no map to show where the caverns were positioned.

Dudley Council’s Ancient Monument Department appointed an officer to monitor this challenging work, and apparently he was a man of imagination, and gave the architects plenty of latitude in the design of the buildings.

He did insist however, that buildings in the vicinity of the castle should be as low and as inconspicuous as possible in character.

As the site was very steep, one side was permanently in shadow, and some animals needed to be in the sun, so this was another consideration for the zoo’s layout.

Another factor which affected plans was the expense of digging drains through solid rock, so to keep the number of branches to a minimum, buildings were positioned where they could be conveniently connected to the system.

Partnership

To get his zoo built, the Earl worked in partnership with the well-to-do local industrialist family, the Marshes, and Captain Frank Cooper, head of an Oxfordshire Marmalade firm and one of the owners of Oxford Zoo.

It was from Oxford Zoo, which was closing, that most of Dudley Zoo’s original animal stock came. Animals were also transported from Hamburg, and from London and Whipsnade zoos.

At the time of the zoo’s launch, the directors of Dudley Zoological Society Ltd were Lord Dudley, Sir Herbert Humphries, Captain W F (Frank) Cooper, Mr Walter Marsh and Mr Ernest Marsh (chairman ) The controller and secretary was Mr P. Dudding and the manager was Mr Edwin Wilsdon.

The scientific advisor was Dr Hans Honigmann, a Jewish scientist of renown who had fled from Europe to avoid Hitler’s persecution and who went on to perform an excellent job at the zoo during the war years.

When selecting the design of the zoo, there had been two main alternatives, the naturalistic method (keeping animals in surroundings imitating their natural haunts) or the modern and more hygienic “theatrical method”, in which the animals were staged in artificial surroundings.

Renowned architects

The architects chosen to design the zoo were renowned Modernists who called themselves the Tecton Group, taking their name from the Greek word for builder or carpenter. The group was led by Russian born Berthold Lubetkin, who much later in 1982 received the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.

The architectural concerns of the Modernist movement were threefold.
Firstly, that architecture should be aware of its social responsibilities, secondly that it should exploit new technologies, and thirdly, that it should move towards the spirit of the age, and so depart from traditional styles.

The design for the zoo was structurally daring, making use of a new building material, pre-stressed concrete. As this concrete was reinforced with steel rods inserted under tension, it could be bent into curves and forms impossible to achieve with other materials.

Eye-catching curving lines and projecting floors could be constructed for the animal enclosures which did not resemble any previous architectural style in history.

Lines were kept simple, and standardised free-curved forms were used in various combinations to give the buildings both uniformity and contrast.

Diving ramps extending over pools were created for polar bears and sea-ions.

Ramps at various levels were built into the natural wooded hillside of the tigers’ and lions’ pits, and a glass panel was built into the side of the penguin pool to allow visitors to view the birds swimming.

Bear ravine

The design of all the buildings exploited the advantages of reinforced concrete in overcoming the irregularities of the terrain, and the bear ravine was a prime example of this.

Described in the original zoo guide as “perhaps the most impressive feature of the zoo…and probably the largest enclosure of its kind in the world”, it was adapted from a natural ravine and great care was taken to follow its original curves.

A large, semi-circular amphitheatre was constructed to give visitors a clear view of the bears, and an existing cavern was adapted to make a cave for the animals to sleep in.

The zoo’s restaurant, shaped like the bow of a liner exhibited the nautical imagery of the time, while the design of the circular bird house was purely geometrical.

The architects took seriously their social principles and viewed the zoo as a microcosm of society, working out ways to protect the welfare of the animals and meet the needs of the people visiting, including children, who also wanted a clear view of the animals from a safe position.

Dreams to reality

Zoological experts, architects and workmen worked together for two and a half years behind the castle’s stark grey walls, to transform the Earl’s dreams into reality at the cost of around £250,000.

Among the companies involved were local metalworkers Hill and Smiths, who continued to construct hay barns for the zoo for many years afterwards.

The zoo had been planned to open in June 1937 but the launch was brought forward by several weeks as the country was gripped with holiday fever in celebration of the Coronation of King George VI on May 12.

Journalists visiting the zoo just prior to its launch were very impressed. A reporter for the Express and Star wrote: “This will in one respect be the most remarkable zoo in Europe.

“I have visited open air zoos in France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, and elsewhere, and never have I seen such arrangements for the comfort of animals”.

Exotic animals

Shortly after the zoo’s opening, the World’s Fair reported that among the animals found at the zoo were Barbary sheep, cranes, vultures, an eagle, hawks and owls, Bengal tigers, lions, polar bears, llamas, rheas, monkeys, various tropical birds, bison, several types of deer, zebra, sixty reptiles including a viper, tortoises, slow worms and lizards; kangaroos and wallabies, sea lions, beavers, pelicans, brown, black and Himalayan bears, chimpanzees, wolves, foxes and dingoes, and an Arabian camel, as well as Shetland ponies and small tame animals like rabbits and goats in the ‘children’s zoo’ (July 3rd, 1937).

Among the tamer animals was Dot, the smallest cart horse in the world, who was only seven hands (28 inches) high.

Many of the animals had been chosen because they did not need complicated housing and heating systems, with the exception of the elephants and tropical birds.

On completion of the project, Lord Dudley was optimistic that his many acres of zoological gardens would supply the public with an answer to the familiar question: ‘what are we going to do this afternoon?’- and history has proved this to be the case.

This is the first section of a 20,000 word history of Dudley’s zoological gardens written by Lyn Alderson. Lyn accepts commissions to write company profiles and histories.

 

 

 


Aberdyfi artists cook up a feast

 Press release for Sarah Nickless, Aberdyfi artist.

Landscape artist Sarah Nickless with one of her paintings

Landscape artist Sarah Nickless with one of her paintings as she prepares for her next exhibition in Aberdyfi

Local artists are cooking up a feast for the eyes and showcasing their work in a large kitchen in Aberdyfi.

The exhibition has two aims- to display the work of local part-time artists, and to celebrate the beautiful landscape of Aberdyfi and the surrounding area. The show will feature an interesting array of styles and materials, and admission is free of charge.

Landscape painters will exhibit alongside textile artists, and there will be a display of paintings, cards, T-shirts, jewellery and furniture.

The five day long event will feature the work of seven artists from diverse backgrounds and will be staged from 6pm on Thursday, April 17. The show will then run from 10am- 4pm from Friday 18 until Monday 21 (inclusive) at 4 Hafan Dyfi, off Copperhill Street.

Different styles

“Every artist is very different in style, material choice, and age”, said organiser Sarah Nickless, an Aberdyfi-based landscape artist.

“I will be exhibiting oil and acrylic paintings, and observational sketches based on the landscape around Aberdyfi, and my mum Angie Nickless will showcase her abstract paintings which are based on home life.

“Joel Taylor has just joined the Aberdyfi community and he will be displaying graphic illustrations with a folk art theme. Gill Bailey is very well established and creates seaside-inspired jewellery, while Ian Hughes is an illustrator and portrait artist.

“We also have a Polish surf artist joining us, Jakub Batycki, who is based in Aberystwyth”,  said Sarah.

“This event will demonstrate that we are a very arty community and we hope lots of people will come and see our work, and enjoy a lovely day out in Aberdyfi.”

This press release was published in the Cambrian News on March 28th, 2014.