StarChoice 21: JEAN SIMMONS: Lovely – Radiant – Luminous

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As Varinia in  Spartacus

On January 31, 1929 a child was born in Crouch End, London. Her parents, physical education teacher Charles Simmons, and his wife, Winifred, named her Jean Merilyn Simmons. 2 Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus

Later “discovered” from the Aida Foster School of Dancing in Golders Green in North London, she would become known to the world as Jean Simmons, the beautiful, radiant actress who made a name for herself especially through British and Hollywood movies working with some of the greatest talents in the film business. 3 Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus

In a career that flourished more than 60 years, she would go on to receive numerous award nominations, and also win an Emmy Award (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie) for her role in the 1983 mini-series, The Thorn Birds. The British honoured her with an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 2003 for her services to acting. 4 Although I had seen David Lean’s film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” (1946), it was her role as the passionate Kanchi, the Indian servant girl in the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film “Black Narcissus” (1947 – starring Deborah Kerr) that brought Simmons to my attention. 5 -The-Robe

With Richard Burton in The Robe

Soon after, I saw her in The Robe (1953 – D: Henry Koster), the Biblical film she is most known for. Indeed, it was the potent mixture of Biblical events in addition to the  presence of talents like Richard Burton and Victor Mature that impelled me to see this film adaptation of Lloyd Cassel Douglas’ (The Big Fisherman) Roman epic novel about the magic robe of Christ. 6-The-Robe

With Richard Burton in The Robe

In that first CinemaScope movie, Jean Simmons, with her startlingly attractive dark looks and screen presence, performed well amidst a fine troupe of stars. She played the graceful Diana, a noble Roman with Christian beliefs, in love with Roman centurion Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) who wins the robe worn by Jesus in a dice game. 12 -The-Big-Country-with-Carrol Baker

With Carroll Baker in The Big Country

7Later, I saw her captivating beauty and talent in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948 – as Ophelia); in the screen version of George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion (1952 – D: Gabriel Pascal); Angel Face (1952 – D: Otto Preminger); The Egyptian (1954 – D: Michael Curtiz); with Marlon Brando in Désirée  (1954 – D: Henry Koster), in Guys and Dolls (1955 – D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz); The Big Country (1958 – D: William Wyler); Elmer Gantry (1960 – D: Richard Brooks); Spartacus (1960 – D: Stanley Kubrick); etc. Then there were many lost opportunities for her like the role of Princess Ann in Roman Holiday (1953) which director William Wyler wanted Simmons to play. But as fate had it, the role eventually went to Audrey Hepburn and earned Hepburn the Best Actress Academy Award for 1953. Simmons once summed up her career with a quote, “My career has had a lot of ups and downs, but basically it has been wonderful.”     8a 11 Spartacus

With Kirk Douglas in Spartacus

Married to Stewart Granger (m. 1950–1960) and Richard Brooks (m. 1960–1977), the doe-eyed British beauty died on January 22, 2010, at her home in Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California. 13 Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus

14 January 31 also marks the birthdays of several popular personalities: Tallulah Bankhead; Suzanne Pleshette; James Franciscus; Kelly Lynch; Portia de Rossi; Carol Channing; Mario Lanza; Derek Jarman; Daniela Bianchi; …. Austrian Composer Franz Schubert; Authors Zane Grey and Norman Mailer; etc. As Jean Paul Richter quotes, “Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time.” Bye for now, Jo 15 Notes:

a) The DVDs of this movies referred above are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

b) This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of the movies mentioned above. Please refer to “About” for more details.

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With Kirk Douglas in Spartacus

 (© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

UNDER THE MISTLETOE

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In a season for giving and sharing, of stocking the freezer and checking the lights, these are moments to treasure – special moments to share in twinship with the special one.

We are at home this Christmas time, after many Christmas spent far away from home – away from its relentless commercialisation.

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We all have our favourite things about Christmas. Our Christmas tree and the little electric lights were brought out for the ritual of decorating it with enormous pleasure by my wife Carina, born in Germany where the tradition of decorating a tree for Christmas is thought to have originated. Her creative skills to try out new decorative ideas are evident on our tree decked out with readymade decorations (no edible decorations on this tree!) brightened by the magical glow of little lights.

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A red tablecloth, embroidered by Carina’s mother, covered our dining table – its centrepiece, a beautiful floral arrangement in a crystal container. Two stars, white and silver, were hung on two locations. We love this time. It can be magical – of Peace, Hope and Love.

Love can give us a fairy tale – all the sweets of life…. It is said “Love is only a word until we find the person who gives it a sense”. We would not disagree on that…

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We wish all of you more happiness and good health to light up this Festive and Family time of the year. – Jo

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Some more Christmas scenes from our house:

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(Photos: © Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

THE PASSION FOR FASHION

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Bangalore (Bengaluru*) is the capital of the State of Karnataka in India which shares the border of our State, Kerala, with Tamil Nadu. I have enjoyed the temperate climate and higher elevation of Bangalore many times since my teen days, but more often from the time our daughter Bianca enrolled at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bangalore in 2010. This time around, in June 2014, we had gone there to attend the NIFT Graduation Day/Convocation Ceremony 2014.

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NIFT, which is unique and special, provides the best training for budding Indian designers with a sense of fashion, ideas and dreams. It gave them hope that one day they could also become fashion pacesetters of the future like established designers such as Manish Malhotra, Rohit Bal, Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Tarun Tahiliani, J J Valaya, Manish Arora, Michelle Salins, etc.

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My tryst with a major fashion event was back in September 2002 at Colchester, England, which sparked a long dissertation over the subject of “dressing for dinner”, which extended across that day’s dinner with Carina at the Prince of Wales (8 Kensington Church Street, London). That dinner had concluded with the opinion that good taste and judgment is of supreme importance if one wishes to be well-dressed.

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We could also endorse the dictum that men should be kept in mind while designing clothes for women!

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The show at Colchester later prompted me to read the autobiography of Paramount / Universal Pictures costume designer, Edith Head (Edith Claire Posener). Winner of eight Academy Awards, she had not only transformed glamorous stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Yul Brynner, etc, into the characters they play on the screen but also designed costumes for opera and circus. Who could fail to notice the everyday girl style of Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” (1953)? Or Yul Brynner’s in ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956)?. Soon I was paying attention to the works of Edith’s contemporaries such as Irene Sharaff, Ann Roth, etc.

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But my real interest in fashion was awakened when Carina and I were staying in Milan with a friend who often did promotions/networking for major fashion shows in Milan. Since then, apart from being fascinated by fashion window displays in many World capitals, I had kept a climatic eye on the dressing of women. One is never bored!

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Fast-forward to Bangalore: the aggressive monsoon showers that lashed onto the NIFT Campus on that June evening did not cause hindrance to the students, their guardians converging from around the country, their confrere, the NIFT faculty and other consultants/volunteers/technicians, pouring into the main auditorium for the KNIT MODA / FASHIONOVA Graduation Show 2014 – the most important event in the knitwear/fashion curriculum of NIFT.

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Apart from the opportunity to the budding designers to enhance their specialised learning by participating in their first fashion event, the show provided them with a creative platform for designing; fabric research; to create dresses with fantastic fit and impeccable construction; and also strikes a fine balance between backstage work and catwalk presentation. The event acted as a lever for aspiring talents to make fresh impressions and move forward into the public eye – ready to take their life to a whole new level.

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And really, during the past few days, the prestigious NIFT campus had seen visits from recruiters interested in fresh ideas and new blood which is integral to their business. They had interviewed the undergraduate designers which had provided them with opportunities to hear about the emerging talents’ awareness in fabric, textiles and fashion trends in addition to their views on creativity, the cycles of fashion, the glamour of the job – the type of designer they aspire to be. Some of these inexperienced fashion enthusiasts will eventually go through all the apprentice stage and tough employment conditions of the industry to master the dictates of fashion before, driven by an unprejudiced joy of fashion, establish their own fashion service.

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As we entered into the excited atmosphere of the auditorium, we could see that apart from the cunningly lit lights and sound, a platform was installed as the runway that would showcase the little debut collections of Womenswear and Menswear derived from the hard work and talent of the Resident fashionistas. A battery of photographers with their gadgets was shuffling around the runway like the organisers of the event. This is going to be fun!

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After the preliminary introductions, the show commenced with presentation of the Knitwear collections followed by Fashion apparels. Presented on time, the collections came into focus one after the other attired by fabulous models adorned with trend-led accessories and fascinators. Their movements crackled with energy while their faces displayed emotions of joy, anger, sadness and pensiveness in synergy with each theme.

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The collection was a mixture of Western and traditional cuts. Some featured the vibrant colours inspired by the summer festivals of India while one attired her models with dresses that would fit into the modern architecture and rooms currently in fashion in emerging cities of India. Some showed great deal of personal originality while others almost fantastic in their novelty.

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The entire show was highlighted with coloured spotlights, and during occasional breaks from pumping Asian-Western soundtrack, well-known commentator Prasad Bidapa enchanted the spectators with the salient features of each presentation before the designer, cheerful, full of gusto, full of zip, appeared on the runway to endorse his/her collection. Indeed, shows like this being part of the curriculum will continue to exist. However, some media news has raised the issue that fashion shows could possibly become endangered events since its survival is threatened by scheduling complications, technological advances and infighting.

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Fashion is a glamorous but tough industry and it has grown into a huge industry and worked at so many tiers. The idea is that, a degree in Fashion design is not just about fashion design anymore as there are so many other directions to take you off considering the various elements connected to fashion. These new aspects have undoubtedly made fashion an unbounded turf for motivated students where people would be their passion – their curiosity would be in peoples’ personality and their figure.

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The NIFT show had begun, as such shows should, quite mildly but its conclusion was marked with whistles and thunderous applause as the audience rejoiced. Well, the event of the day has come to an end, mission accomplished with ease and grace, but there would not be a let-down in the energy and enthusiasm of these undergraduates. When the Earth turns on its axis one more time, it will be the Graduation Day for them and the successful culmination of their dream.

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These students are coming fast into focus and hopefully, one day may provide a new fashion experience surmounting the existing line-up. This is an age of creativity and the ground is always fertile for the inspired designers. Essentially, they can get inspiration from almost everything. Besides, there is no age in clothes today. An elegant blessing is that fashion creates its own demand. Till next time, Jo

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Nothing captures the moments of the Show better than photographs – some of the best are here below.

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1)     A 9th century Ganga inscription refers to Bangalore as “Bengaluru”. “Bangalore” is believed to be an anglicised version.

2)    Manningtree Archive congratulates the winners and each one who made the KNIT MODA / FASHIONOVA Graduation Show 2014 a memorable event.)

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(Photos: © Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

Songkran: The Spirit of the Moment

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Thailand is in a festival cheer. Though rain was expected for sometime, as for now, the skies are clear above Bangkok. For the past few days, people were flocking to Don Mueang airport and to bus/metro terminal stations to head for their home provinces to celebrate the annual Songkran (The Water Festival) holidays.

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I heard that under the “Leave your homes in police care” programme, many houses in Bangkok have reportedly registered with the police for protection while the tenants are away on holidays. Owing to the heavy traffic on major routes out of Bangkok, the road safety campaigns for the “seven days of danger” are popularised.

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To prevent and reduce road accidents from drink driving, the provincial health officials nationwide are strictly enforcing an alcohol ban in designated areas during the 7-day period of the water festive season of Songkran which runs until Thursday.

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Believed to have been derived from the Sankranti Hindu festival, the uniquely beautiful tradition of Songkran (from the Sanskrit word samkrānti) marks the Thai New Year’s Day.

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Celebrated throughout the country, the occasion is a time for family re-unions and of bonding between family members, friends, etc.

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It is an occasion to show reverence and appreciation to one’s parents and seek blessings from the elders. Young people pour fragrant water into the elders’ palms in a gesture of humility to ask for their blessings.

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Traditionally, this is called the ‘Rod Nam Dum Hua’ ceremony which is performed on the first day of Songkran. Indeed, April 13th officially set as the day of Songkran also marks the National Elderly Day.

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The Songkran holidays signify the heritage and tradition of the people of Thailand. It marks the occasion for temple visits and annual house cleaning.

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Apart from the ritual of pouring water on sacred Buddha statues and making food offerings at temples, some enterprising Shopping Malls have also set up conveniences for the bathing of Buddha statues which includes five bowls containing different coloured (representing prosperity in a variety of forms) floating flowers for visitors to pour over the sacred statues.

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Our arrival here in Bangkok, the City of Angels, on April 4th was timed to coincide with the busy days of the special exhibitions, shopping promotions, entertaining activities including carnival games, craft and cooking demonstrations, traditional performances, etc, whilst Bangkok geared up for the start of Songkran.

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By April 12th, many fairs in Bangkok were offering a variety of attractions for the visitors. There is a fair where one can pay respect to the Buddha tooth relic from Tibet while another offered the opportunity to see a replica of Phra Narai Balaji or Lord Venkateswara from India. Then there are activities such as pail-kicking competitions for elderly people or facilities for children to build traditional Sand Piles (sand chedis), in addition to parades, beauty pageants, decorated floats, oyster shelling competitions and general merriment. Children can take enjoyment in splashing water at painted jumbos housed at the Elephant Camp in Ayutthaya.

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Water has a special meaning in Asia. It represents life, prosperity and, of course, a new beginning. It also symbolizes joy, tranquillity and coolness to hot summer days.

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During this festival, groups of farangs (expatriates) and local people armed with water-guns and buckets splash/hurl water at pedestrians and onto moving traffic as a ‘gesture to give and request a blessing”. The water splashing fun also symbolizes the washing off all misfortunes of the past year and welcoming the New Year.

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Many shops displayed water-guns of different colours and sizes to choose from. There are also places where barrels of water are sold or else, you can refill your water-gun from bottled undrinkable water on sale. Some shops sell beige coloured powder (Din sor pong) which is mixed with little water to smear on the faces and bodies.

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Also on sale are waterproof Songkran pouches to protect the cellphone, etc from the hurling water. It’s all part of the festival fun. When the water hits you – do it the Thai way. Don’t miss out on the fun. Just smile and move on, probably into the sunlight to dry off.

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A sure bet to get water-soaked in Bangkok is to be at the front courtyard of CentralWorld where a three-day event is held which includes a foam party.

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Apart from popular Songkran venues at the Ratchaprasong area, Silom Road, the biggest and wildest celebration was at Khao San Road, Bangkok’s backpacker quarters.

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Everywhere you are often greeted cheerfully with “sawatdi pi mai” (Happy New Year) as they try to drench you with water.

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According to TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand), the occasion is fun time and attracts foreign tourists to the Kingdom. It’s the only time of the year one can bathe Buddha statues for blessings, enjoy a variety of themed activities and hurl water at one another!

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The water-guns were out on the streets by the afternoon of April 12th. We took the first hit from some children near our hotel while returning after a delicious lunch at the “Lord Jim’s” Restaurant of Bangkok’s legendary Mandarin Oriental Bangkok Hotel, cooked under the supervision of one of the top Executive Chefs of Bangkok, Chef Stefan Trepp. More about this in another write-up.

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Today April 13th, following the Palm Sunday Mass at the Assumption Cathedral we had taken an extensive drive through the water-splashing streets of Bangkok. At the wheel of the car was Mr. Vichai, a former employee of Saudi Aramco and later of Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, whose ardent fervour to receive maximum water-hits on his four-wheel drive perfectly matched the exhilarating enthusiasm of the young and old Songkran revellers engaged in the celebrations on the streets.

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I saw cheerful people everywhere – unified, smiling and cheerful. Some of them were dressed up in traditional costumes (Chud-Thai).

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The unity and the strong national spirit of the Thais will remain the underlining strength of this country – a need to be preserved. Earlier in the evening of this New Year’s day, just before we reached our hotel, it had rained. It is said that a light, lovely rain is always a blessing and a good sign of prosperity.

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To some, Thailand might just be a popular tourist destination. But to me, this country remains endearing not only for its charm and history but also for the many wonderful friends and memories I have gained since I first started visiting Thailand regularly (twice this year and counting) since 2002.

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At this late hour when I write this in the Suite in our hotel, I could hear the muffled sounds of merriment from the streets down below. Songkran is a time for togetherness, for love, for food, for fun, for exchanging-gifts, and for long holidays – and at the heart of this festival lie the important values of Thai Society. Sawasdee, Jo

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(© All photos except those credited to TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand): Carina-Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

Following two pictures – Courtesy: Bank Ake, Bangkok

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An Affordable Gift …..

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Every girl deserves flowers. The first time I gave a flower to a sweet girl was at the age of 11. I was in the middle of school vacation and we were staying at my mother’s parental house in Fort Cochin. This Anglo-Indian girl, almost my age, is the sister of one of my friends.

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She had shown great interest in me over the last one month when I saw her inadvertently at my friend’s house or when we hung out at the beach, though I didn’t have the nerve to utter a word other than smile back at her. I had spent hours imagining intimate conversations with her but when it actually happened, it was she who took the bull by the horn and spelled out that she liked me. El amor!!

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A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul. It brought me a touch of self-confidence charged with energy, enthusiasm – and more sensitivity. It also made me want to show her that she’s not just someone inconspicuous. Giving heeds to the whispers of my heart, I decided to give her a “special something”. But what could I give? The only thing that my student’s pocket could afford at that age was what the groundnuts (peanuts) seller sold by the beach.

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It was on a Sunday evening when a friend suggested that he could help with the idea of flowers. Though only three years older than me, he appeared ingenious – a bit “learned” in such subjects. By the following Monday afternoon, my Mom was looking for a white rose that had suddenly gone missing from our garden. (If she remembers, that riddle will be cleared to her now with this post. Alright, Mom, my cell phone is switched on)

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It is generally held that a red rose is a symbol of love – but the one available to me at that time was white. Later on I came to know that a white rose is nothing short of remarkable. A single white rose is a hopeful sign and means that the giver’s heart is innocent and hasn’t yet known love. That has to be true!

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Well, the girl was over the moon when she received that “Oh, It’s-soooo-lovely” flower. It opened several buds of flowers of happiness in me, too. Then again, that teeny adoration fizzled out over time as we both moved on with our studies and lives. Even so, that white rose planted in me the first seeds of the significance of flowers.

Flowers will die, but the fragrance and memories they sometimes leave behind has a lasting quality. Jo

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Pictures (from top)

1.. “Special Thanks” of Manningtree Archive to the “models” of our main title picture.

2.. On the premises of St Mary Abbots Parish Church, London

3.. At Blumenmarkt (Flower Market), Remigiusplatz, Bonn, Germany

4.. At Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand

5 & 6.. Floral display at Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok

7.. “Ring a Ring a Roses” by Myles Birket Foster (1825–1899) – Source: Bonhams / commons.wikimedia.org

8.. On Calle Floridablanca in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, near Madrid, Spain

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 (© Manningtree Archive)