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  • 04/17/12--10:01: VENICE

  • The thought of taking a Ryanair Flight always creates mixed feelings. They have a reputation after all. However, sitting down and thinking about it they are an efficient organisation. Marilyn researched our trip, found the flight, bought our tickets online and printed off our boarding passes all whilst sitting at home at our home desktop. If we had wanted to take large suitcases we could have paid more for that privilege but as we were going to Venice for two nights we just took hand luggage, like everybody else on our flight. Hand luggage is free of any extra charge and merely has to be placed in the shelf above the seating.  Then there is the airport experience. Crowds herded into tight fitting, close fitting seats. Yes, not so good for the obese but generally, for short haul flights and the averagely slim of waist, not too bad. There are the excruciatingly awful cabin crew’s sales pitches trying to sell us perfumes and over expensive coffees but if you resist those temptations on a shorthaul flight, it’s still not too bad either. The worst thing is the trumpet fanfare when the flight arrives ten minutes early and an announcement in ringing Irish tones sings that Ryanair once more has arrived early, which is followed by the percentage breakdown of Ryanair flights that are early or on time. This happens every time I have flown with them. I was left wondering which flights have been late to create this not quite perfect, marvellous, percentage of 94% of on time or early arrivals. The captain of the Boeing 707 joyously announced that he had made up ten minutes of flight time. How did he do that? You can imagine Ryanair flights charging about our skies barging and pushing their way amongst all the other airline flights who timidly make their way above our heads trying to avoid the Irish bully. But no, that could not happen, could it? On the whole Ryanair is a good thing. They have changed our perception of flying around the world from one of comfort and luxury and a certain amount of taking your time and being treated obsequiously, to one of, well, a good analogy might be just hopping on your local bus to the shops. That is not a bad a thing. It is just a different way of looking at things. This is what taking flights had to evolve into and what is more it is far far more democratic. It’s cheep after all.

    So we flew in across the Alps, rugged, wrinkled and snow covered towards Trevisso Airport, Venice’s second airport these days. Trevisso is a Ryanair created second airport for Venice, about twenty-five miles from the wondrous city. A reasonably quick, forty-minute bus trip took us to the bus station on Venice Island itself. We travelled through the brutalist world of industry, edge of town superstores, railway lines and concrete motorways. The bus suddenly left behind the concrete reality of the mainland and  took us out into a watery world across a long causeway with fishing nets staked out in the shallow waters and in the distance a glimpse of the swollen domes of Renaissance churches. 
    The Rialto Bridge across The Grand Canal.

    We arrived at the bus station and as soon as we stepped out, there in front of us was the beginning of the Grand Canal.There were motor launches and our first sight of a blue and white striped jumper clad gondolier standing squarely in the stern of his burnished black lacquered gondola. I was expecting him to burst into a resounding operatic chorus of “One cornetto. Give eet to me…” but he didn’t. The whole of the three days we were in Venice I didn’t once hear a gondolier exercise his operatic lungs. Maybe singing gondoliers are just a myth.

    Gondolas, cafes and restaurants on The Grand Canal.

    With only hand luggage, walking through the alleyways and along the canal side pathways of Venice was not a problem. The map that came with our Rough Guide guidebook about Venice was a problem though. The names of the canals, bridges and alleyways on the map didn’t correspond with the actual names of these places. I nearly threw the map away. We found  the best thing was to follow our noses. We could say with some confidence that  we wanted to head, north or east or west and so we kept turning down alleyways, hitting dead ends often, retracing our footsteps taking another turn and eventually, mostly, mainly, we got to where we wanted to go. Sometimes it was pure luck we got to our intended destination I must admit but we saw sights and had unexpected adventures along the way. We would never have come across the gondola boatyard intentionally, with gondolas being built, repaired and fitted out on a ramp set amongst a huddle of dilapidated orange brick buildings with twisted roofs of undulating tiles and creosoted wood panelled walls.
    A gondola boatyard.

    Our hotel was in the Dorsoduro district of Venice on the south bank of the grand Canal. We were a mere 100 metres from the Pont del Academia and about three hundred metres from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Peggy Guggenheim  collected European and American art and this collection is one of the most important of this genre in Italy. It is situated in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, the home Peggy Guggenheim lived in. It fronts the Grand Canal but at the back there is a small intimate canal with local housing and small shops along it.
    The Grand Canal from Pont del Academia with the Peggy Guggenheim museum on the right.

    Venice lives up to its photograph. It is absolutely beautiful. There is a Venetian style that can be found to certain extent in other Italian towns but not in such a concentrated way it is here. The windows of so many flaking crumbling buildings have a mixture of Moorish and Christian Gothic about them. Venice is most decidedly Christian with so many absolutely gorgeous Roman Catholic churches with such gilded and elaborate interiors. You could drown body and soul in all that Catholic symbolism. Your every sense is assaulted with pure medieval beauty. But take into account how Venice developed and became such a trading powerhouse. It absorbed influences from the places it’s far reaching and powerful tentacles reached and in the architecture and most obviously in its window designs you can see it.
     A Venice alleway.

    Now, this is one of my hobbyhorses and its’ about all this apparent material wealth tied up in so many Catholic churches the world over, not just in Venice. It used to be a siren call. “ The Catholic Church has all this wealth. Why can’t it sell all this stuff and use the money to save Ethiopian drought victims or feed the poor of the world?"
    Who would want to buy a gold jewelled encrusted chalice or one of the fine Tintorettos sprinkled around the many churches of Venice and how would a ceiling by Veronese be got rid of? Works like this you find in many of the fine churches in Venice. How do you turn this stuff into money? They are not there for art experts to contemplate as art or for us to treat them like museum pieces or the churches as  museums and galleries or as a source of wealth. They are a form of prayer and worship. The best artists, the finest craftsmen, the best materials, designers and architects produced this work to the best of their ability to praise god. Their work was their prayer. The Catholic Church did not and does not benefit from these things in a financial way. They do not make the church rich. These things are prayers and have spiritual meanings. But of course you might have a different viewpoint to me!!!!!!
     One of the many many churches in Venice.

    We strolled around Venice looking at all the fashion shops. All the great fashion houses have their shops here, Gucci, Christian Dior, Channel, Givenchy, Gaultier, Versace, Armani and many others too. These shops are like art galleries and the fashion on show in them are like works of art. They are spectacular to walk past, window shop in or timidly and warily walk into. However the prices Wow!!!! A handbag for over 1000 euros? You must be joking! Shoes at nearly 2000 euros a pair!! Phew!!!!!! And those are the less expensive side of haute couture.

    Then there were the shops that sell artisan created goods often made in small workshops on the shop premises such as papier-mâché art and artefacts,  paper makers and hand made book makers who hand sew books with tooled leather covers. There were many galleries selling the most exquisite Venetian glass, chandeliers, mirrors, vases and bowls exhibiting beautiful translucent colours. So many shops are stocked with masks ready for the ten day carnival they have in Venice every Easter. Many of the masks are made in the shops and elaborate 18th century costumes are on display for your hire too. The idea of wearing a mask for ten days over Easter has it’s social and perhaps even moral side. A mask wearer takes on a new identity. Their everyday day identity disappears. They can create a new persona, do things they would not do as their usual selves. Masks create danger and intrigue. But then of course there was shop after shop selling tourist tat, expensive rubbish. There are so many restaurants, coffee bars and wine bars throughout Venice, all with welcoming and friendly bar staff. Every Venetian I met had a sense of humour and great big smile.
     A small gallery in a back alleyway.

    We found the building where the Venice Art biennial is held every two years. It was once a palace facing the waterway between Venice and the Lido. It has an expansive water view. Venice also holds film and architecture biennials and it is these that I think are Venice’s important contributions to the world today. Apart from those important contributions Venice of course, is now a place for tourists .
    Marilyn and me eating out in Venice. The wine was good by the way.

    Venice’s history is incredible. The Venetians gave the world many things, which have developed into important parts of our society and forms of government. The Republic of Venice lasted for over a thousand years from about 740 until 1797 when Napoleon defeated the Venetians and France took control. Venice is a prime example of the all-powerful city-state. It was not a country. It was an independent city that controlled trade all over the Mediterranean and Europe. It was almost continually at war with the Ottomans. The Venetian Empire grew and shrank with success and defeat. As a republic it had no king or royal family. The Doge, the ruler of Venice, was an elected official from amongst the most powerful families of Venice. He was usually chosen because of his astute abilities at trade and negotiating skills.  In this way the government of Venice was a  meritocracy. The election for a Doge was similar to that of a pope and like a pope he stayed in that position for life.

    Marilyn and I visited the Doges Palace next to St Marks Basilica, beside St Marks Square. It was a fascinating place not least because of its gorgeous architecture. John Ruskin in the 19th century described the Doges Palace as the most perfect building architecturally in the entire world. He described it as being a perfect combination of Moorish and medieval gothic designs. The palace is designed for a purpose and this purpose was the purpose of government. There are rooms for the great council, for law making, law courts, even a small room that held officials to make sure the law was being followed correctly. There was a department for spying on foreign governments. There was a council for foreign affairs and a council for governing industry within Venice itself. There was a separate room where trade and everyday life within Venice  was controlled. There was a room where sailors were recruited for the all-important Venetian Navy. It is easy to see how this form of government structure has developed, with all it’s departments and concerns, into the sort of governments we have.
     The Doges Palace.

    Next door to the Doges Palace is Venice’s prison. It was here Casanova was imprisoned for a while. The entrance to the prison is across the enclosed Bridge of Sighs. The prisoner would have been taken from the courtroom in the palace straight to their prison cell. Marilyn and I followed the rout a prisoner would take and saw the last glimpse a prisoner would get of Venice from the small windows in the Bridge of Sighs. The cells consist of rough stonewalls. Any light getting in to them is from apertures high up in the walls so the prisoners could not see out to the outside world. Each cell was virtually a stone cave.
    The Bridge of Sighs leading to the prison on the right.

     Once you were inside one of those you were  dead to the world. Imagine being incarcerated in a Venetian cell. The only place you were alive was inside your own head. There you would be, inside a stone cell, doing absolutely nothing, day in, night out. You would be fed once a day and then nothing. Imagine it, nothingness. Your whole humanity confined to an empty space. You or I would probably go mad.
     St Marks basilica in St Marks Square.

    St Marks Basilica was awe-inspiring. It was a symbol of the Venetian superiority in the Mediterranean and it’s power over the Ottomans. St Marks body was stolen from the Egyptians in a Venetian raid. The basilica was built as a great celebration to house St Marks body but also to celebrate Ventian strength and power over the Ottomans. Marilyn and I both wondered where St Marks body was situated within the basilica. A church guide told us it was within the silver covered high altar. All Catholic altars have to have a piece of a Saints reliquary within it to make it an altar. So this does sound plausible. Marilyn and I walked around the high altar, which is fronted by a solid silver embossed relief of the life of St Mark. We saw medieval pilgrims badges hanging from a wall and at the back of the altar was an incredible solid gold frieze , jewelled and encapsulating pictures of saints.
     The Lion of St Mark on the left, the great camponile that rang out it's bells on the hour, and The Doges Palace on the right.

    Venice is an incredible place. You cannot resist taking photographs. Every inch of the place is photogenic. Windows, walls, rooftops, flower baskets, narrow, dark, damp canals all cry out to be photographed. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. There are fantastic churches everywhere. Art galleries are in abundance. The Academia, Venice’s main gallery, full of Renaissance art was open but undergoing refurbishment, so limited numbers were allowed in. There was a Picasso exhibition and a Salvadore Dali exhibition going on in different places. Venice is full of tourists from every nation. Venice attracts us all to marvel and wonder.

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    Good old Dave!!!!!!!!!!

    Bloody Politics  And The World of The Gutter

    Here in Britain for months and really years now; no, let me start again,  for ever, if the truth be honestly admitted to, we have been a nation full of angst for our situation and various predicaments. We are a nation that has always been in turmoil.

    Our present anguished view of our politicians and our country just seems to be at a rather high level of neurosis, and navel gazing at this moment in time.

    Let me describe the situation to you. We have had the collapse of our banks and financial structures. Austerity measures are biting. They are biting hard enough to be killing off some of the things we have grown to accept  such as final salary pensions, affordable mortgages and a good return on invested money through the banks. We still have a health service which provides us with what we need, but for how much longer? We have an education system, which is now struggling to give us a world beating education. The BBC has even had its cuts for goodness sake and our local libraries are fighting to stay open. At least our bins are being emptied regularly and the holes in the road are being filled, even if the process takes a little longer than it used to. Billions are being cut from services of all kind in various rounds of cuts. Every month brings new cuts and austerity measures. Cutting is necessary when we are trying to pay off debts but cuts destroy and can damage many things irrecoverably. We need growth and innovation and investment in the right places. That is absolutely vital to our recovery and health as a nation. Now I am not stupid enough to realise that we are not as bad as some and in some ways we can be thankful. Compared to some countries we are pretty Hunky Dori. However we have a large proportion of a generation of youngsters who are going to know nothing but unemployment, probably for the rest of their lives because they are not getting the work experience they need to develop and become confident and talented workers. The cost of living is rising while wages are stagnant. People are cutting down on holidays, not buying that new car, and shopping for own brand foods. There is a healthy future for us but how long that will take to achieve is far from sure.

    But it is another cause of angst that is really worrying me at the moment possibly even more than the above depressing set of worries. The Leveson Inquiry is unearthing a culture of moral ambiguities day by day in it’s exploration of phone hacking and Rupert Murdochs News International organisation. 

     Lord Justice Leveson, listening to evidence against News International at his inquiry.

    It is gradually being revealed to us how close our politicians sail to the edge of what is legal.and it appears that many , most, maybe all of them, cross that line. Even our esteemed ( I use that word sarcastically) Prime Minister, David Cameron. He loved to invite Rebekah Brooks the Managing Director of News International in Britain to 10 Downing Street for drinks and parties. He socialised with her regularly. David Cameron's own personal advisor, Andy Coulson, had been one of Murdoch's rising stars no less. The fact that Tony Blair is the godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch's grandchildren, well, lets not go there. That sycophantic low life makes me squirm just thinking about him.

    Apart from the phone hacking debacle and the destruction of peoples lives , ha! ha! I thought I would just throw that jolly comment in to add to the poisonous mix, Downing Street wants to apply for privileges in the Leveson inquiry. That means when Rebekah Brooks finally takes the stand at the Leveson inquiry next week, if Downing Street gets  core participant status it will be able to ask for a blackout of embarrassing material about The Prime Minister. Well, that points to the fact that there must be embarrassing evidence to  emerge relating to The Prime Minister. Where the f… is open  and honest government in all that? Jeeez!! The mere thought that The Prime Minister and the government are feeling embarrassed and want to protect themselves, even now, makes me so angry. If Cameron has been a fool he should go. Damn him.

    There is this feeling now that politicians make up their minds as to what they want before any fair and legal process takes place. I think this government were going to give Rupert Murdoch a majority share in BSKYB before any inquiry into the fairness of that situation. They wanted Murdoch to back them in the next general election and they were prepared to give him the world to gain that. Bloody greed!!!!They manoeuvre, tell half truths, bend the truth, interpret words, phrases and statements  even though the rest of us thought what was written and said meant something different. The whole thing comes down to semantics, twisting of words and meanings to suit, the government. Free and open discussion and dialogue only happens superficially it seems. This is corruption surely? So blatantly, clearly and in full view of us all they want core participant status at the Leveson inquiry at this last moment. I would cry if I wasn’t laughing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    We have a politics where people try to get away with as much as they can and then leave it up to lawyers to sort out the fine details of whether they are allowed to do it. Where is good honest morality in all this? In fact what is moral? I’m morally confused now. What is right and wrong? I don’t think I know anymore. Morality is based on a fine interpretation of the law and by applying different emphasise lawyers can make immorality moral and morality immoral. What a world we live in, well, in Britain anyway.

     How is it for you??

    PS Oh by the way this week, Jay Rockefeller( Ah! I see you also have an aristocracy. and they run  your country too.) , the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, has written to Lord Justice Leveson asking him if he has found any evidence relating to questionable practices in the US.

    Ha! Ha! I bet you lot can't wait for the murky depths that are going to be plumbed on your side of the Atlantc. In the inimitable words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus in Hill Street Blues. "Hey! lets be careful out there!!"

    PPS AND talking about semantics.Tony Blair got us into Iraq on a promise to George Bush that we would invade Irag with the US. He then had to get it approved legally and officially in Britain. So it went through all the supposedly fair and legal processes but at every step it was decided on an interpretation of the law. Semantics, twisting meanings!!!

    Can you tell I'm beginning to feel angry. I think I'll just leave off this post now. I might think of something else to write!!!!!!!

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  • 05/08/12--07:01: THE EPSOM DERBY

  • Grandstands at Epsom.

    The Epsom Derby is the most famous horse race in the world and is run on Epsom Downs just outside the town of Epsom. It was founded in1779 by the 12th Earl of Derby who gave his name to the race. It is Britains richest horse race and is a mile and a half.

    I went up onto Epsom Downs today to take my daughter, Emily for a job interview at the race course. She is doing a degree in International Events Management at Cardiff University. Working at the Derby, this Summer will give her valuable work experience and enable her to earn some money and not have to ask me for any. Ahem!

    The finishing post and the oldest building still in existence at the Derby. A grandstand built in 1879.

    While she was in the interview I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the race course.
    A grandstand at Epsom.

    The Epsom Derby has inspired horse races around the world including the Irish Derby, The Australian Derby, The New Zealand Derby, the Tokyo Yushi, The French Derby and The Kentucky Derby.

    The famous Tattenham Corner where Emily Davidson died.

    The Queen and the Royal Family attend Epsom Derby every year.

    Epsom Grandstand has a corner in the history of cooking, Some might say rather an important corner of cooking history.

    Isabella Mary Beeton, was born on the 12th march 1836 and she has become known world wide as Mrs  Beeton. Her father was Henry Dorling, clerk of Epsom Racecourse. He was a widower with four children and they lived in the grandstand at Epsom.
    Isabella Beeton

    Isabella married Samuel Beeton and they were married in St Marys Parish Church Epsom. Her husband was a publisher. Mrs Beeton wrote and published The Book of Household Management.It was a book  about housekeeping but also about cooking.The book comprised  1,112 pages and 900 of the pages contained recipes. The book was intended as a source of information for the aspiring middle classes.
    Book of Household Management.

    Mrs Beeton died early of puerperal fever at the age of 28. There is evidence that both her husband and herself contracted syphilis.

    Some historic pictures of the Derby over the years.

    This painting was painted by William Powell Frith in 1858.

    Emily Davidson, the suffragette threw herself under the Kings horse in 1913 at Tattenham Corner.

    The finish to the Derby in 1822.

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    Close your eyes and let this little lot do it for you!!!!!

    Feel the sound!!!!!!!!

    Ah that's better. I can get on with the day now.

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    On Monday, Marilyn my wife, and I were in Twinings on The Strand and just happened to be having a cup of tea with Mary Simonsen, her husband Paul and daughter Kate.
    Kate and Paul in Twinings supping a nice cuppa!!!!!!
     Kate, that is Earl Grey isn't it? 
    Sorry, perhaps I am being a little presumptious in revealing your tea tastes, Kate. Sorry!

    Paul, Kate and Mary outside of Twinings.

    Here is a link to TWININGS website. A good cup of tea sets you up for the day, aaaagh!!!!!!

    And here is the latest TWININGS advert with Lizzie, an American singer featured.

    Also have a look at a post I wrote called, A cup of tea with Jane Austen.

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    A glass of wine in hand, reading the Guardian Newspaper on a Friday evening, Bob Marley on the sound system telling me, "don't worry about a thing, because every little thing goin to be alright.." and I come across, amongst all the Leveson Inquiry stuff into the machinations of the Murdoch empire trying and now wonderfully failing to take over the world  and all the European Financial melt down and the laughably humiliating actions of the government being forced, screaming, into a plan B whereby they will  bloody well have to inject money into the economy to kick start it, I come across the most hilarious article I have read in years. The writers and novelists amongst you beware.

    Poor old Joe Simpson, a hardy individual who has faced death in both the Andes and the Himalayas and lived to write about his experiences in awe inspiring and inspirational and beautifully written English has obviously survived much. His books were chosen as books to be studied by adolescents in secondary schools and deemed as appropriate literature to be studied for GCSE exams.
    Joe Simpson
    Joe  Simpson
    Enter the world of Twitter. Joe , for him, unfortunately has a Twitter account and many of the teenagers reading and analysing his books have accessed his twitter account.Some choice erudite and incisive comments  such as calling Joe  a  "crevasse wanker," and generally rubbishing his achievements has a elicited a response from Joe, who you may gather is not one to  sulk.

    Another erudite commentator told him,"bet I  know more about how you put tension in the first chapter than you do."

    "I just write the shit." came the response.. Ha!!! bloody Ha!!!

    And yet another perceptive commentator wrote,

    "Your book is shit and you should feel bad.Three chapters of crawling didn't inspire me to write about your book in my exam.It was rather boring really."

     The teenagers up front criticism of his books provoked this all encompassing comment.

    "Goodnight... and may you all seethe in bilious acid pus."

    Yes, well, lovely, quite.

    But shouldn't all authors be open to frank and heartfelt analysis of their works? Honesty after all is an admirable quality.

    I have attached the article in question, for your perusal and delight.

    (The on-line Guardian article written by Sam Jones)

    To all those ego massaging sensitive writers of Jane Austen spin offs who think they are wonderful and marvellous and are living in a TV sit com or Hollywood version of their own  lives, merely filling their time, with  nothings that will only be flushed down the toilet of time. All you are doing is  merely feeding similar bored  people with blank imaginations and nil creativity. Hopeless, hopeless. 

    God, criticism is great!

    Just as an after thought. Who can influence and inspire the youth of today?
    Surely we can't leave that  one up to parents too?

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    Cheyne Walk seen from The Thames in the 1890's

    In the late 1950’s , probably about 1958 when I was six years old, an aged great aunt called Kate,came to visit my grandmother and my great grandmother in Southampton. Kate’s sister was Susy, my great grandmother.  Great Aunt Kate was a very unusual character. I remember her wearing a long black dress down to her ankles, very Edwardian, and an elaborate wide brimmed straw hat. She seemed stern and didn’t smile much. Susy and Kate had been born in Ireland in County Limerick. Both had come to England for different reasons. Susy married William McGinn and came with him to England in his search for work in the shipyards of Newcastle upon Tyne. Kate came to England, a spinster, which she remained all her life, to work for one of the illustrious political families of this country, the Chamberlains. They were very wealthy and owned estates all over the country but politics ran through their blood. Neville Chamberlain was the Prime Minister at the outbreak of the Second World War. He had tried to negotiate with Hitler but failed even though he did get his Munich agreement. Churchill took over from him soon after.
    The Chamberlain family had many children and Kate was employed to be a nanny for the children. One of their London Houses was a house in Cheyne Walk. When I met Great Aunt Kate, she was retired as the nanny to the Chamberlains, but she had developed a very good relationship with the family. They gave her a flat at the top of their Cheyne Walk house for her to live in for the rest of her life. They looked after her, giving her presents and treating her as one of their own. My grandmother used to a stay with Aunt Kate. At that young age of six I remember my grandmother telling me how they used to go shopping in the Kings Road just north of Cheyne Walk,which sounded very grand. She also spoke of a neighbour of Aunt Kate’s being an artist. My grandmother never remembered the artists name but she told me how he would paint his wife in the nude. This was very exciting news to a six year old. My grandmother told me that it was fine. She believed there was nothing wrong with the human body and it could be quite beautiful.

    So Cheyne Walk always had this sense of a world that was different, strange and exotic, inhabited by my Great Aunt Kate and artists painting nude portraits. It was not until years later I discovered the true and even more exotic story of Cheyne Walk that was far beyond my imagination.

    Cheyne Walk is named after the Cheyne family who owned an estate on the site  and were lords of the manor of Chelsea from 1660 to 1712. The first Georgian houses to be built in the walk were a row of beautiful Queen Anne houses  some of which remain today. However even before the Cheynes the site of Cheyne Walk had it’s place in history. The home of the great Tudor chancellor under Henry VIII, Thomas More,was here. He lived in Chelsea with his extensive family. It was from the river side opposite Cheyne Walk that More was taken by boat to the Tower of London and his execution on Tower Hill. On the site of More’s great house, in Beaufort Street, there is now the Catholic seminary for the diocese of Westminster  called Allen Hall. It has a modern 1960’s designed chapel next door to it. Just round the corner, in Cheyne Walk is a magnificent, coloured statue of Thomas More positioned in front of Old Church.
    Allen Hall. The seminary on the site of Thomas More's house.
    As you walk along Cheyne Walk it soon becomes apparent how special  this street really is. If you start at the beginning, in the Royal Hospital Road near the Albert Bridge with those fine early Queen Anne Houses; at number 3 Sir John Goss (1800-1880), composer and organist at St Pauls Cathedral lived there. Also Admiral Henry Smythe, who co-founded the Royal Geographical Society lived in the same house at a different period. At number 4 George Elliot spent the last years of her life and  died there on 22nd December 1880.In the same house lived at different times, William Dyce a Scottish artist who set up public art education in Britain and he headed the Royal College of Art. Daniel Maclise, friend of Charles Dickens , and a great Victorian artist lived at number 4 too. The most famous occupant of number 5 was John Camden Neild a very wealthy recluse and miser. When he died he left his considerable fortune to Queen Victoria.
    At number 6, in 1767 lived Dr Domicetti. He spent £37,000 on building brick and wooden structures in the garden. They were what were termed, medicated baths. He treated thousands of people in his garden. At number 10 Cheyne Walk lived the great Welsh liberal politician Lloyd George, prime Minister during the First World War. Number 16 was designed by John Witt. In 1862 Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Algernon Swinburne and George Meredith shared the lease. Rosetti kept a small zoo in the garden, the main feature of which were some peacocks. These were very noisy birds and disturbed the neighbours. Eventually a clause was added to the lease of the house whereby noisy exotic birds were not permitted. It was here at number 16 between 1871 ans 1881 that the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood often met. They all had houses in the area. Cheyne Walk and especially Cremorne Gardens at the far end of Cheyne Walk were a source for obtaining Pre Raphaelite women to be used as artists models. Holman Hunt met Annie Miller and Fanny Waugh, who he both married, at different times of course, in the area of Cheyne Walk. Dante Gabriel Rosetti wooed Jane Morris who was married to William Morris.
    Jane Burden Morris
    Jane Morris
    They were local girls, servants, shopkeepers daughters or perhaps prostitutes met in Cremorne Gardens. The Pre-Raphaelite look was born. Jane Morris, Lizzie Sydal. Christina Rossetti, Alexa Wilding, Fanny Cornforth, Marie Zambaca, Marie Stillman, marriages, divorces, affairs, illegitimate children, wife swapping, prostitutes, it all went on and paintings of the most gorgeous women were painted.
    All the great and innovative poets, artists and writers of the time met here at number 16. Charles Dickens disapproved.
    Dante Gabriel Rosetti lived here.
    Now, if you can pull yourself away from the allure of number 16, at number 17 lived, for a while, Thomas Attwood who was a pupil of Mozart’s and was a composer and another organist at St Pauls Cathedral in 1796. At number 18 was Don Saltero’s Coffee House established first in 1695. At number 18 lived James Salter who was the barber and servant of Sir John Sloane.
    Carlysle Mansions where Henry James died.
    Further along is a relatively new block of flats built in the Edwardian period. Henry James had an apartment here and died in his flat there. T.S. Eliot and later Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books both had apartments in the block. Next door to Carlyle Mansions is Cheyne Hospital for Children built in 1880.

    Chelsea Old Church built in 1157 comes next. The chapel to the south side was built in 1528 and was the private chapel of Thomas More. There is a gaudy painted statue of Thomas More outside of it.
    Thomas More outside Chelsea Old Church
     On the pavement opposite is a very elaborate street light. It is green in colour and has two little boys climbing up the light column. It commemorates the building of Chelsea Embankment by the engineer Joseph Bazalgette.
    Two little boys climbing a lamppost to commemorate Bazalgettes Chelsea Embankment.
    One of Whistlers paintings of the Thames shows Old Battersea Bridge with Chelsea Old Church in the background.
    James Whistler's Old Battersea Bridge with Chelsea old Church in the background.

    Beyond Chelsea Old Church is Roper Gardens named after a son in-law of Thomas More and then Crosby Hall stands on the corner of Danvers Street. Crosby Hall was originally the hall belonging to Crosby Place situated in Bishopsgate in the city. It was built in the 15th century for The Duke of Gloucester who became Richard III. Shakespeare includes the hall in a scene in his play Richard III where Gloucester is plotting. It was later owned by Thomas More. In 1910 it was in danger of being demolished and a fund was raised to have it moved, brick by brick, stone by stone to Chelsea and is now positioned on the site of an orchard that was in the grounds of what was Thomas More’s estate. In Chelsea it first became the dining hall of the British Federation of University Women. It is now a private residence.

    Moving on down from Crosby Hall is number 93 where Elizabeth Gaskell was born on the 29th September 1810. She wrote Cranford and North and South and was famous for her biography of  Charlotte Bronte.
    Elizabeth Gaskell was born here.
    Numbers 96 to 100 were known as Lindsey house  where James Abbott McNeil Whistler lived between 1866 and 1878. He was an American who settled in England and painted  very atmospheric paintings almost impressionist in their influence. He coined the phrase, “art for arts sake.” He is also renowned as a friend of Walter Sickert, the artist, who was a possible suspect for Jack the Ripper. James Whistler was  an influence on many artists of his generation. Number 98 was once the home of father and son Sir Marc Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunell. Two of the greatest and most famous engineers of the Victorian period. Isambard Kingdom Brunell constructed The Great Western Railway from Paddington to Bristol, and the steam ship, The Great Eastern.

    At number 101 James Whistler lived when he first arrived in London before moving to 96. Hilaire Beloc lived at 104 between 1901 and 1905.He was a catholic and one of , “the big four,” along with  GK Chesterton, H G Wells and George Bernard Shaw.
    Hillaire Beloc lived here.
     Philip Wilson Steer, the great artist lived at 109 between 1898 and 1942. J M W Turner lived at 119. Because he was so famous in his lifetime he went by the surname Booth to try and keep his anonymity.
    Philip Wilson Steer lived here.
     At number 120, near the end of Cheyne Walk, lived Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the Suffragette movement. Her mother Emmiline and her two sisters, Christabel and Adela were  intelligent and brilliant and provided a strong advocacy for women’s rights. Their influence was felt in America, Australia and even in Ethiopia.
    The house Sylvia Pankhurst lived in.
    At the end of Cheyne Walk is what remains of Cremorne Gardens. James McNeil Whistler painted  many nocturnal pictures depicting Cremorne Gardens. It was a regular haunt of the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood and some of their artists models were first discovered in Cremorne Gardens. The gardens were set up as a rival to Vauxhall Gardens situated on the opposite side of the Thames, on The South Bank, but never became as popular.
    The entrance to what is left of Cremorne Gardens today.
    More recently Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have lived in Cheyne Walk. Jane Asher, an erstwhile girlfriend of Paul McCartney lived in the street and arguably one of the most talented and flawed footballers ever, George Best, lived there too. Dylan Thomas is known to have drunk in The kings Head and Eight Bells, two pubs nearby.There are many houseboats on the Thames beside Cheney Walk. Artists and musicians live on these too.
    House boats beside Cheney Walk
    The Chelsea Physic Garden is also close by in Royal Hospital Road which abuts one end of Cheney Walk It was founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries. It's purpose was to train apprentices in recognising flowers and their properties. It was positioned near The Thames at Chelsea because it was found that there was a microclimate there that enabled plants, not native to Britain, to prosper.

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  • 06/03/12--15:40: THE QUEEN'S DIAMOND JUBILEE

  • So it’s sixty years since the Queen came to the throne after her father’s death in 1952, while she was on safari in Kenya with the Duke of Edinburgh. She became Queen on February 6th 1952, the day her father King George VI died. As soon as she heard the news in the house she was staying in whilst in Kenya the documents were presented to her to sign. She became Queen immediately.Her coronation was a year later, in Westminster Abbey, in June 1953. I was born in the very same year the Queen became our Queen, June 1952. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, her sixtieth as Queen  and my sixtieth year, coincide. This means that for my entire life I have only known one monarch on the throne and she seems hale and hearty enough and ready to continue in her role as our smiling, benign, motherly face of Britain and The Commonwealth, for a few more years to come. Today, Marilyn, Abi, my youngest and I stood in an enormous crowd beside The Thames on the South Bank next to The London Eye.
    Having a sit down.

     At 3.30pm the Queen and the Royal family, aboard the Royal barge sailed past amongst a flotilla of a thousand boats. I can’t say we saw the Queen or the flotilla but we experienced the crowds amazing warm and heartfelt outpouring of affection for the Queen. Flags waving, cheering, clapping and a great feeling of warmth and friendship pervaded the crowds as we watched on large screens the whole event that was happening a mere few yards away on the river. It was worth being there.
     The Queen. " Good afternoon your majesty. I hope you are well?"

    What has the Queen’s reign done for me? How has it shaped my life and made me what I am?

    One of the main siren calls and professed aims of many of those governments over the last sixty years and accelerated by Tony Blair and the Labour governments he lead, is social mobility. Even our present coalition government of Tories and Liberals lead by David Cameron still mouth the mantra, “social mobility is our aim,” and, “ the highest quality of education for all,” even though many of their policies are going to create the opposite effect. Michael Gove, like all other ministers for education before him has wrung his  hands and anguished why it is still predominantly the upper middle classes and those from the wealthier families who get into Oxford and Cambridge. How can they possibly get more children from the working class into Cambridge? There is a minority who do already get into Oxford and Cambridge from a working class background but a very very small minority. And then, shock amongst many shocks some people still don’t aspire to higher things such as a great education. The government gasps, “Why not?”
     You are not coming this way!!!!!

    To be fair, as an addendum to the above comments about the desirability to go to Oxford and Cambridge, we have many universities in the top one hundred in the world and Oxford and Cambridge are certainly  not unique as far as academic excellence goes in this country. Oxford and Cambridge are used as a symbol.
     The ONLY way to see the Queen.

    But what has this meant for me over these sixty years? Have the policies and opportunities offered by successive governments during the Queens reign made me  aspirational and socially mobile? Socially mobile always infers moving up, not down, by the way. Have I suffered a fracture between my upbringing and my present life because of different governments emphasise on social mobility?
     Some gentlemen of the constabulary. 

    In many ways I have shifted my social class. By getting a degree through the Open University and later a masters degree from The Institute of Education, London University, I have become middle class because of my educational achievements. One of my brothers got a degree before I did but I followed soon after and the two of us were the first to get university degrees in my family. My family always thought of themselves as skilled working class.  Getting degrees did not, however, create a cataclysmic rift between my brother and I and our family as happened to Rita, in Educating Rita, where her husband, friends and neighbours could no longer accept her. By getting an education she had moved sharply out of her social class. She spoke a different language. She felt and thought differently. Her family and friends had no aspirations away from the lives they lived.
    Just look at those trousers.

     Education did not move my brother and I so sharply out of our social class. My father had studied hard at home in the evenings while working as an accounts clerk in an office and got his accountancy qualifications. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, had qualifications. He was a draughtsman in a shipyard. A great uncle of mine had passed his civil service exams. So being educated, studying and passing exams was always accepted in my family. Our family wanted my brother and I to be educated. We were not therefore fighting against our class or our social situation even if we were the first to get degrees. We were admired and the way we thought and our aspirations were an extension of our families’ aspirations for us.
     A decorated balcony just across the road from ,The Old Vic.

    One of the greatest things educationally to move people on and bring a high standard of education within the grasp of all, has been the Open University, where I got my first degree. The OU was begun in the late sixties under the Harold Wilson government. To get accepted onto an Open University degree you need no prior qualifications. You have to show that you can write clearly and succinctly. The degrees are as academically rigorous as any other university degree. The degrees are as valuable and well regarded as any other degree. To achieve an Open University degree, you have to show and prove you can reach a good academic standard. This was the first real experiment with flexible further education in this country. Open University degrees are studied at home in the evenings after a days work. There are summer schools to be attended and nowadays, with broadband, there is immediate communication with fellow students, lecturers and tutors. Having a broadband connection also gives immediate access to resources. The degrees take longer to achieve because they are part time and they are divided into modules, which you can take one at a time and when they suit you. All universities offer flexible courses now. There are many ways to get a degree but the Open University was the first to try new ways. It is still at the top in this country as far as flexible degrees go and has been marketed worldwide. It has invariably ranked in the top forty universities in Britain and has always ranked in the top five hundred worldwide. Students globally can access Open University courses and gain degrees. The business school is the most popular in other countries.
     Live music at The National Theatre.

    An educational revolution hatched by Harold Wilson under the control of Jennie Lee, who was the minister for education under Harold Wilson, has given confidence and unsought opportunities to many who thought they had no chance as well as those, like me, who did not get immediate access to a university course.

    The crowds the crowds!!!!!!!!!!!

    I think the Open University has provided a powerful force for social mobility in this country and has influenced social mobility worldwide. I think the opportunities offered by education and the education I have been able to access has been the main shaping influence on my life during the reign of our Queen.
    No more use for a union jack at the end of the day.

    And finally , the rain came down!!!!!!!!!!

    The Open University:
    The Queens Jubilee picture files from the BBC:
    IOE. Institute of Education:

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  • 07/23/12--11:16: THE OLYMPIC FLAME
  • There are four days left until the Olympics start in London.Over the last few weeks the Olympic flame has been carried around the United Kingdom. Everybody in these isles lives within a few miles of where  the Olympic flame has been carried. There are 8000 Olympic torch bearers. The 8000 holes in the perforated stem of the Olympic torch represent every one of the torch bearers.
    The Olympic Flame arrives at  Wimbledon tennis Courts.

    With four days to go until the Olympic flame is transferred to  the Olympic Stadium in Stratford in the East End of London it  is getting close to it's destination.Today it reached the London Borough of Merton where I live.  It  was scheduled to visit  Wimbledon Tennis Courts this afternoon where Andy Murray and Venus Williams were waiting to take it in turns to  carry it a short distance. Marilyn, Alice, Emily  and myself stood outside the gates to  Wimbledon  Tennis Courts to see the Olympic flame  arrive. Crowds gathered and built up  in the roads and streets around the tennis stadium. Police and the Royal Marines were out in force.
    The Police and the Royal Marines provide security.

     Police helicopters buzzed overhead. A large blue bus arrived first with cheerleaders dancing on the top  deck  encouraging the cowds to sing along.Grey tracksuit clad security guards jogged into  view and then  there was the torch bearer  in his white track suit with the flame held aloft. An exciting moment.Everybody cheered and clapped. The atmosphere  was exciting Most of the torch bearers have been chosen and nominated by people in their respective communities for  the good works they do for their communities.  They are people of inspiration.
    Crowds gather on the pavement outside of Wimbledon Tennis Courts.

    I was in London yesterday with Marilyn and my brother and sister in-law. We  took a trip up and down The Thames on The Thames Clipper.  The party atmosphere is really building in the streets of London. It is a very exciting place to be.

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  • 07/26/12--04:03: A VISIT TO THE LAKES
  • File:William Wordsworth 001.jpg
    William Wordsworth  within his beloved lakes, contemplating.

    The Lakes

    A smooth drive up the M6,my Nissan Serena purred like a contented kitten. The new exhaust was working well. The recently replaced water pump  kept the coolant system  going perfectly,”Ee ba’ gum. It were all workin’ a treat!!!!”  After  131,000 miles on the clock, great stuff.

    Myself  and   Clive, a great mate  of  mine, were entering the land of Romanticism and the Lakeland poets along the A590 and the A5074 heading for the heart of Lakeland and  Ambleside  north  of Lake Windermere.

    A distant view of  Rydal  Water from Allan House.

    Romanticism was a very important movement of artists and poets who formed a new philosophy during the early part of the 19th century from about 1800  to 1840. They encompassed imagination, myth and symbolism. Enlightenment previously dealt with science, philosophy, politics and revolution  and  also encompassed subjectivism, rationalism, empiricism and scepticism.  Enlightenment had marked   the previous centuries in  Europe from 1650 to about 1800 . It’s influence is still very much felt today and it shaped the modern world but Romanticism added another element to interpreting the human condition.

     The calm surface on  Rydal  Water.

    The Lakes are a rugged  mountainous landscape punctuated by beautiful vistas of fells and glassy shimmering, silvery surfaced lakes. The lakes were the birthplace of  William  Wordsworth and the home of Samuel  Taylor Coleridge, the two most important Romantic poets.  Wordsworth can be described as instigating the whole Romantic Movement and it was this landscape that made him into a romantic.He was born in The lakes at Cockermouth in 1770 and he died a few miles away at Rydal Mount in 1850.he loved travelling throughout Europe, especially in France but it was always Westmoreland that he came back to and lived  most of his life. In his long biographical poem, The Prelude,  Wordsworth writes,

    “ , -Was it for this

    That one, the fairest of all Rivers, lov'd

    To blend his murmurs with my Nurse's song,

    And from his alder shades and rocky falls,

    And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice

    That flow'd along my dreams? For this, didst Thou,

    O Derwent! travelling over the green Plains

    Near my 'sweet Birthplace', didst thou, beauteous Stream

    Make ceaseless music through the night and day

    Which with its steady cadence, tempering

    Our human waywardness, compos'd my thoughts

    To more than infant softness, giving me,

    Among the fretful dwellings of mankind,

    A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm

    That Nature breathes among the hills and groves.

    When, having left his Mountains, to the Towers

    Of Cockermouth that beauteous River came,

    Behind my Father's House he pass'd, close by,

    Along the margin of our Terrace Walk.

    He was a Playmate whom we dearly lov'd.”

    The River  Derwent running at the bottom of his childhood home in Cockermouth sparked his life of emotional  and imaginative response to  the world.

    Romanticism might conjure a less than realistic view of the world. However although Wordsworth emphasised the emotional and imaginative response, a response through the senses,  he didn’t ignore the realities of  life and especially rural life in the lakes of his time.

    The Lakes.

    In the poem, “The Ruined Cottage,” Wordsworth relates the sad and  depressing tale of a family brought low and destroyed by failed harvests and loneliness in those beautiful  hills.

    “ You may remember now some ten years gone

    Two blighting seasons when the fields were left

    With half a harvest.  It pleased heaven to add

    A worse affliction in the plague of war

    A happy land was stricken to the heart…….”

    And in the poem,  The Thorn, ignorance, mythologizing, and imagination appear to be used to express the detrimental ways of villagers who  all but turn  on a young mother, Martha  Ray,  when she loses lover and baby. Romanticism is therefore not necessarily, about romantic things. It is about our emotional and imaginative responses.

    It is problematic when it comes to women’s contribution to Romanticism. William Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, is an obvious candidate. Dorothy lived her life emotionally in tandem with her brother. Her journals written ,”because I shall give William, pleasure,” describe everyday chores such as the manual labour of gardening, cooking, writing letters to friends, visiting neighbours and general household chores but they are also full of her detailed emotional response to nature and the fells and lakes where she lived at Dove Cottage. Comparing her descriptions of natural things in the environment and her emotional response you can see that many of her observations appear in William’s poems. She also  wrote poems for children which were published alongside Williams poems in some publications and he she wrote other journals and  accounts mainly for William alone or members of the family. Brother and sister must have discussed their feelings and observations and ideas together.

     Helm Crag from  Loughrigg Fell.

    Friday morning 16th May 1800

    “- all flowers now are gay and deliciously sweet. The primrose still pre-eminent among the later flowers of spring. Foxgloves very tall- with their heads budding. I went  forward round the lake at the foot of Loughrigg fell- I was  much amused with the business of a pair of stonechats.”

    There is a discussion as to how Jane Austen fits into this Romantic period. She doesn’t seem to at all. She describes the interactions between people.  She does not express an emotional and imaginative response to the natural world around her. She must have experienced the beauties of nature and felt their emotional impact where she was born and where she lived for many years of her life but her concerns were marriage, inheritance and close small communities. She might not have  heard of Wordsworth and his ideas. He was revolutionary in many respects. His introduction of Romanticism in contrast to Enlightenment might not have endeared him to The Reverend Austen, Jane’s father. Wordsworth was an advocate of the principals and ideologies that fuelled the French  Revolution which  again might not have endeared him to  the Austens. He may not have been on the bookshelves at Steventon. The Bronte sisters in Haworth, on the other hand, used the landscape they knew well in their writing. They responded emotionally to the world around them. They could be classed as Romantics. Clive and I also visited Haworth and the Bronte parsonage on our trip. I will leave a discussion about the Brontes to a further post.

    Wordsworth's office in  Ambleside. He was the Distributor for  stamps in Westmorland.

    Wordsworth could not make ends meet by writing poetry as Byron was able to or would have been able to but for his debts. He worked from an office in Ambleside as the Distributor for stamps for Westmoreland.  This gave him a comfortable living.

    Wordsworth lived in various places in The Lakes. He was born and grew up  in his parents’ home at Cockermouth. At different stages he lived in Somerset at Alfoxden near his good friend Coleridge for a short while in 1797 but eventually he settled permanently in The Lakes.In 1802 he married Mary Hutchinson , Dorothy  remained part of the family. The three of them living together for the rest of their lives. Her role as close mentor to, William, appeared to not miss a beat.

     Dove Cottage where many of  Wordsworth's most important poems were written and where Dorothy kept her main journal.

    Here is Dorothy writing on November Wednesday 18th  1801.

    “ We sate in the house in the morning reading Spenser. I was unwell and lay in bed all afternoon. Wm & Mary walked to  Rydal – very  pleasant moonlight, the lakes beautiful. The church an image of Peace- William wrote some  lines upon it. I in bed when they came home. Mary and I  walked as far as Saras Gate before supper.”

    This sounds  matter of  fact but if you notice what is happening in this extract you can see the relationship William ,Mary and Dorothy had. It was definitely a threesome. Mary relates the emotional response William and Mary  had to their walk.  She would only have known this if it had intimately been told her. And later  Dorothy and Mary go  walking together.There is a seamless interchange between the three of them. They appear to be equally intimate with each other.

     At Dove Cottage in Grasmere, close to Grasmere Lake, many of his most important poems were written and Dorothy’s journal shows her practical support and parallels her emotional response with that of William to their surroundings.

    Allan House, on the north side of Grasmere overlooking Grasmere lake.

    In 1808, Wordsworth and his growing family moved to the larger Allan House at the north end of Grasmere Lake with a wonderful view overlooking the fells. Over the years Mary gave birth to five children, John, Dora, Thomas, Catharine and William.  In 1812 Catharine died of convulsions and in the same year Thomas died of measles. 
    Rydal Mount where the Wordsworths lived for the last part of their lives.

    Finally they moved to Rydal Mount in 1813, not far from Grasmere and closer to Ambleside. Dora later died while living at Rydal Mount in 1847. William bought a plot of land at the bottom of the garden which was called Doras Field and had it planted with daffodils. It was at Rydal Mount, that William, Dorothy and Mary lived to the end of their days.

    Doras Field which William, Mary and Dorothy planted out with daffodils in memory of Dora.

    Clive and I wandered round Grasmere and Rydal.  We visited Dove Cottage and learned the history and stories of each room. The learned guide was able to relate to us what happened in each room and the daily chores that were performed in each room. I enjoyed the garden at the back very much. Dorothy writes in her journal how she and William would sit there contemplating nature or reading Williams poems. It was a place William often used to write in too. They planted new shrubs and flowers and gardened in this patch of steeply rising land.

    Saturday 17th  April 1802.

    “A mild warm rain. We sate in the  garden  all the morning. William dug a little. I transplanted a honeysuckle. The lake  was still  the sheep on the island reflected in the water.”

     The graveyard in Grasmere church where all  the  Wordsworths are buried.

    We walked through Grasmere village and paid homage at the Wordsworth graves including that of William. We wandered on to the far end of the village and walked up the side of a fell to see Allan House. We later drove to Rydal and spent a good hour or more inside Rydal Mount and gardens with its view over Rydal Lake. We saw William’s room where he wrote.

    The Lakes are a wonderful magical place to visit.  The mountains are based on volcanic activity some 100 million years ago. There is a volcanic substrata overlain by grey wackers, sandstones and slates that have been metamorphosed from siltstones and mudstones. Glaciation and erosion have much reduced the mountains in size but the many faults, intrusions, the cutting and erosion of mountain streams have created and left a high rugged landscape of beautiful calm lakes, many with islands in them, shear sided cliffs and high sparsely covered fells. Walking and mountain climbing, sailing on the lakes, mountain biking and horse trekking are many pursuits suitable to this landscape.

     A  dry stone wall in The Lakes.

    This is my poor attempt at following Dorothy Wordsworth’s inspiration provided by her journal. Clive and I walked in the very footsteps of Dorothy and William around Rydal Lake and up onto Loughrigg Fell and saw the views they saw and experienced the natural world as they experienced it.

     Clive and I looking chilled out. Must have had a couple of pints of local brew by now.

    Thursday 12thJuly 2012

    Coming off the motorway we entered a humped landscape, rises, dips and sharp cutting streams, narrow roads that steeply climb up to blind rises followed by near vertical dips and sharp angled left and right turns. The landscape was dotted with shaggy woolly black faced sheep. Walls of neatly stacked and split grey stones formed into snaking and twisting dry stone walls threaded across the sparsely green landscape. The  landscape everywhere torn and ripped open by intrusive rocky lumps and gashed by bubbling streams hissing down over rocks and boulders. Mountains huddled in around us.  The underlying geology always close to the surface. Those road numbers  A590 and A5074 are a travesty. They need heroic names evoking emotions like a Wordsworth poem not clinical numbers that you might find on a storeroom list.

    We had a pub lunch  at The Badger Bar, a stone constructed pub built into the rocks at the side of the valley overlooking Rydal  Water. The pub,  built in the  dry stone wall style seemed to hang against against the cliff face. It was  cool  and dark  inside away from the bright sunlight of the  day.

    Later we walked across the road  and passed through a gap  in the stone wall  edging the road and dropped into the shadowy depths of Fieldfoot Wood. Oaks, sycamores and ash all around; then walked across a wooden bridge joining the two banks of a steely  grey  sparkling tumbling mountain stream. We walked through this shadowy cool  space along a rocky path our feet crunching on the stones until we  came out into  the bright blue skies of Rydal  Water.Sunlight lit up  the steep  fells about us, Loughrigg Fell  to our left, massive and mostly fern covered except for a barrenness  and rock outcrops  near the top. We made our way along a narrow path, bracken brushing our legs as we gradually climbed upwards. Thoughts of  grass snakes and adders  came  to  mind. Foxgloves, tall and slender still in their pink bloom stood erect randomly here and there. The views became more expansive and breath-taking as we rose near to the top of Loughrigg and looked back across the still,  silvered  water of Rydal lake and across to the massive hulk of Helm  Crag on the  other side of the valley.Helm Crag is hard muscled with bare rocks and sparsely grassed. Sunlight and clouds alternated bright illuminated patches with dark shadowy expannses on the sides of the fells.

    We walked along the line of dry stone walls constructed with split slabs of Coniston Limestone and slate. Heathers and bracken carpeted all around. Bright red tiny Campions, periwinkle, vetch, stonecap, stitchwort,  toadflax, Herb Robert, crosswort, cranesbill and mustard, packed the crevices of  these stonewalls and were scattered between the roots of  trees amongst the mosses. Soft downy mosses softened the hard angular edges of stones and boulders.  Dark greens, light greens, mosses of complex intricate intertwining’s.

    We stood on Loughrigg, just as William and Dorothy had done and looked out on the  fells  and photographed the  scene we saw before  us.

    Wood pigeons cooed in Fieldfoot Woods.  Red Kytes circled above Loughrigg Fell their distinctive V shaped tail feathers and the flash of  white on  the sides of their long bowed wings.

    On the way back to our car near,  The Badger Bar,  we saw a canoe come  out onto the lake.  Three people rowing gently across the still surface. As we entered again Fieldfoot Woods a mother and father and their young children sat on a small beach next to Rydal Water and they went swimming.

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    The above title, for those not attuned  to  an English way of  speaking means ,"Are you  going to be watching our Olympics on your televisions? Interminably!!  Ha! Ha!

     Do you get it?

    Here is a  set  of guidelines for understanding the way we think, speak and everything else you didn't  really want  to  know. Oh we are awful  aren't  we? Sorry!!

    London 2012: A 12-part guide to the UK in 212 words each

    Child standing next to a Union Jack flag
    What do people visiting the UK for the Olympics need to know about the nation's quirks, habits and rules?
    The British obsession with talking about the weather is much discussed, but there are a host of other oddities and complexities that visitors might do well to acquaint themselves with.
    Quirk 212 words on...
    Hugh Grant
    In the movies, one might notice British characters have a tendency to talk in one of three stock accents - "English gentleman" (eg Hugh Grant), "Scottish/Irish hero" (eg Mel Gibson) or "Cockney chimney sweep" (eg Dick Van Dyke). But in reality, the UK has a rich mosaic of many different accents. Dominic Watt, a linguist at the University of York, says in the Border regions, where he has studied, you can hear a different accent just by walking down a road or crossing a bridge. The differences aren't just in rural areas. TheLiverpool accent is quite different from its near neighbour Manchester. Some even say they can detect a softer south Liverpool accent and a grittier one from the city's north side. Corby in Northamptonshire has an accent known as "Corbyite" that has tones influenced by the many settlers there from the west of Scotland. Researchers have described a new accent they call Multicultural London English influenced by Caribbean, South Asian and West African immigrants. Others have referred to it as Jafaican. Overlaid on the regional differences, Watt says class distinction in speaking is also greater than in other countries. The Olympics themselves offer an opportunity to sample these myriad accents, as Team GB has representatives who speak many of them.
    The bobby
    Police lead a streaker away
    Fuzz. Po-lis. Old Bill. Plod. Rozzers. Bizzies. All are slang names for the police in the UK of differing levels of friendliness. Perhaps the kindest is "bobbies", after Sir Robert (hence "Bobby") Peel, who founded the Metropolitan police in 1829. Television captured or perhaps created the image of the "bobby" in Dixon of Dock Green. The series lasted more than 20 years until 1976. Dixon was avuncular, in touch with his community, a carer as well as a copper. He ended each programme speaking directly to the audience as though he really was the bobby on your beat. Look at Dixon through the eyes of a visitor and two things stand out. First, there's his helmet. Based on a Victorian design, it is still worn by many male police officers in England and Wales, particularly those tasked to smile at tourists. The helmet doesn't play much of a protective role, but it has proved invaluable at sporting events. Second, Dixon carries no gun. Forty years on and despite his screen successors being far more muscular, British police officers do not routinely carry firearms. For some this is the success of the British model where there is consent to the bobby's authority. Perhaps, though, the British are just sufficiently respectful of the truncheon.
    Local boys and boy dressed in Harrow uniform in 1934
    three-tier class system is synonymous with the UK to outsiders, at least among those who boosted Downton Abbey's international audiences. But, says cultural commentator Peter York, it's much more nuanced than that. The British, he believes, are experts at chronicling each strata's many sub-divisions. This is a country, indeed, in which Nancy Mitford could categorise words as "U" (upper-class) or "non-U" (aspirational middle class) - looking glass versus mirror, for instance, or napkin versus serviette. The nation's favourite sitcoms rely on a keen awareness of class. For instance, the tension between upwardly-mobile lower-middle-class Captain Mainwaring and the downwardly-mobile upper-middle-class Sgt Wilson inDad's Army. Or the attempts of the Trotters to escape Peckham in Only Fools and Horses. Yet York believes the UK is no more class-bound than, say, the US - simply better at signifying how the system works. The paradox, he adds, is that as the gap between rich and poor has increased over recent decades, so too have the number of flat vowels among the super-rich as pop stars and footballers joined the elite. "The assumption is that we are uniquely class-divided, whereas that is of course nonsense," York adds. "Everywhere has a class system. But it's our obsession in the sense that race is the American obsession."
    The public house is one of the few cultural institutions unique to the British Isles. Many visitors will be familiar with the acid-etched glass and high ceilings of a classic Victorian-style pub. Or indeed a horse brass-festooned country pub. But not all will understand the "gastropub". The Eagle in London's Clerkenwell opened in 1991 and is claimed as the first. The concept has since spread around the country. Gastropubs or "gastros" are supposed to allow you to eat restaurant food, but without the formality of a restaurant. The chips ("hand-cut") come stacked in a Jenga-like formation or served in a little metal bucket. Beef dishes are typically accompanied by a "red wine jus". To critics, gastropubs are a symbol of vulgar gentrification, a bourgeois pastiche of the humble boozer. But Observer food critic Jay Rayner believes they have stayed true to the traditional customs of the alehouse. "It has taken a working class institution and made it a middle class institution," he says. "But it still has this association that the pub has with British culture." They have helped improve eating out. In his 1946 essay about an idealised tavern, George Orwellfantasised about eating "a good, solid lunch - for example, a cut off the joint, two vegetables and boiled jam roll".
    People holding umbrellas and Union Jacks
    The English are British and lots of people think the British are English but that annoys the Scottish andWelsh because although some think they're British and some think they aren't and some think they are but don't want to be, they all agree that they definitely are not English. The Irish mostly think they are Irish, apart from the ones who are Northern Irish. Some say that makes them British and Irish. But others disagree and say they should just be Irish and then some say they aren't British either but part of theUnited Kingdom. People from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland can all play cricket for England because they're British as can those from Ireland even though they aren't British. So can South Africans. The English play football for England unless they aren't that good when they might try to play for Ireland. Those from the Isle of Wight are English, from Anglesey are Welsh and the Orkneys are Scottish, but although that means they aren't from the island of Great Britain they're still British. The Channel Islanders depend on the crown which is what the Queen wears but they aren't in the UK and those from the Isle of Man are the same, apart from their cats.
    Rail ticket. a bank note and a coin
    Rail Pricing Mysteries: The single/return puzzle: An off peak single to Manchester costs £73.20 but the return only costs £74.20. The split-ticket conundrum: It can be cheaper to buy several tickets for different parts of a journey rather than buy a ticket for the whole thing. The riddle of the conductor: Staff on trains may charge more for the same journey than those at the station.
    Some visitors might think UK rail travel is expensive. Certainly, the 260m (0.16 mile) Tube journey from Covent Garden to Leicester Square, at £4.30 for a paper ticket, is a solid candidate for the world's most expensive railway trip. Then there's the complexity. Arriving at Gatwick airport and wanting to get a train to London, you would find two operators and then the "express". All are different prices. Single or return? Two singles might be cheaper than a return. Do you want an "anytime" ticket in case your plane is late or choose an "advance" fare? The "advance" might be cheaper but is worthless if you miss the train. You could take an "off peak" ticket but be careful - what "off peak" means can vary. Confused? The fare structure may be confusing, but it allows the operators to target expensive fares at business travellers who are willing to pay while still attracting more frugal consumers who might be tempted by alternative transport, says Mark Smith, founder of rail website And if you're from anywhere else in Europe, don't be too smug. The ticketing model is catching on elsewhere, Smith says. Visitors should also get used to: "No smoking, even in the vestibule areas." That means those bits between the carriages.
    Newspaper humour
    Stack of newspapers
    In the UK newspapers are not just there to convey news. There is also the venerable institution of "newspaper humour". The tabloids, of course are known for their knockabout proficiency with puns. Take theSun's headline above a story about fears Pyongyang's regime had engaged in nuclear testing - "How do you solve a problem like Korea?" The tenuousness and corniness of the punning is supposed to be part of the appeal. Four becomes "phwoar" etc. The topless women of page three used to be accompanied by groanworthy punning. Now, in the Sun at least, they pontificate on economics, politics or philosophy for the effect of humour by sheer incongruity. In the broadsheets it can be a little more acid, exemplified by AA Gill's depiction of shadow chancellor Ed Balls ("the wide-eyed look of a man being given a surprise prostate examination") and the Guardian's Marina Hyde on Sting and wife Trudie Styler ("possibly the least self-regarding people on the planet they have done so much to save"). "The tradition of mixing entertainment with the most serious news, through the likes of parliamentary sketches, is almost uniquely British," says Tim Luckhurst, former editor of the Scotsman and now professor of journalism at Kent University. "What unites them is a lack of deference."
    Public transport
    People on a London tube train
    Trains, buses and trams might seem natural venues to start a friendly chat. But do be careful. For many Britons, initiating conversation with strangers on public transport ranks as a breach of etiquette not far below commission of High Treason. Take the Tube through London in rush hour, for instance, and you will see dozens of strangers packed tightly together. Though they may be intimate in terms of physical proximity, each revels in splendid isolation. Break this code of silence and you will be greeted with embarrassed silence (interrupted, perhaps, by nervous newspaper-twitching) as all around you seek to avoid your gaze.
    Not all of the UK is quite so circumspect about small talk, however. Citizens in the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all take pride in being more welcoming than their aloof southern neighbours. Nonetheless, etiquette expert Simon Fanshawe strongly advises against making verbal contact with one's fellow commuters and transgressing one of the UK's most powerful codes of behaviour.
    "My advice would be to do it with extreme caution," he says. "If you do, expect us to be extremely gruff.
    "If anybody so much as looks us in the eye, we assume they want our wallets. We'd much rather rustle behind a copy of the Daily Express."
    Queuing in the rain at Wimbledon
    Many British people believe queuing is peculiarly British, or even English. But the first reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1837 when Thomas Carlyle referred to it as a French custom.
    The British like to think they stand in line with patience and humour. At Wimbledon, the January sales, women's toilets in the theatre, queuing has almost become the point rather than merely a means to an end. No matter how dull the wait, the British keep on queuing. Joe Moran, a cultural historian and author of Queuing for Beginners, says that the idea that the British are good at queuing arose after World War II. It was a reaction to a time when shortages led to arguments and police were often called to disperse crowds. The Hungarian-born satirist George Mikes helped create the myth, writing in1946: "An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one." But Moran says there is little real evidence that the British are particularly good queuers. They like the thought because it feeds into their self-image of pragmatism andpoliteness. The lesson for any visitor perhaps is to be aware that the British think they are good at queueing. So if you want to get ahead, try to do it subtly.
    British curry
    Don't be fooled by the fact that curry is found in restaurants called "Indian" that are mostly run byBangladeshis. Curry is as British as its favoured accompaniment, the pint of lager. Born to foreign parents, the British love both curry and lager as their own. The Oxford English Dictionary says the word curry derives from the Tamil "Kari", or the Kannada word "Karil". Although the root is Indian, South Asians have no single word to describe their many, distinct dishes. The word "curry", however, has helped sell Indian cuisine to the British. The Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs believes there are now 9,500 "Indian" restaurants in the UK serving three million meals a week. The curry has developed to suit British needs. Vindaloo,for example, is a Goan dish of pork marinated in vinegar. The only thing certain about the British restaurant version is it is hot enough to generate conversation. Chicken Tikka Masala is known as Britain's National Dish. One legend has it created by a Pakistani chef in a restaurant kitchen in Glasgow. The next big taste innovation could come from the "Balti Triangle" in Birmingham, Manchester's Rusholme's Wilmslow Road, or Brick Lane, Southall or Tooting in London or perhaps one of the myriad restaurants that spice-up every British town.
    Buying rounds
    Pints of beer
    "He never gets his round in." There is no more damning assessment of one's character to be heard in the British Isles. Rather than approaching the bar collectively, each member of the drinking party alternates fetching a collective order. It's about more than beer. Being in a round means being part of a group. And taking turns to ensure everyone has a full glass in front of them means reciprocal bonds are formed between all of its members. The system has a further practical function, ensuring that the bar staff are not overwhelmed by a procession of individual drinkers. Not everyone is a fan of rounds, however. During World War I the practice - known as "treating" - was expressly forbidden in some areas because of fears that it encouraged workers in essential industries to drink more. In 2011 the Sun reported that Prof Richard Thaler, an adviser to the prime minister, said rounds should be discouraged in favour of setting up a tab that is settled at the end of the night. But among traditionalists, the round remains the preferred method of supplying an evening's refreshment. "I think it's a lovely system," says Roger Protz, editor of the Great British Beer Guide. "It's all part of the convivial atmosphere of the British pub."
    Stephen Fry
    To listen to a conversation between Britons about their careers, say, or educational histories, an observer from a more forthright culture might be forgiven for assuming the participants were morbidly depressed. Chances are they'd be wrong. Self-deprecation is an inescapable part of British discourse. The only socially acceptable way to talk about one's achievements is to diminish them. The affection held for that paragon ofself-mockery, Stephen Fry, is testament to the national love of this brand of humour. The UK is, after all, a country where showing off is considered the height of bad form and boastfulness regarded as the very height of vulgarity. Charm and wit, by extension, are demonstrated by making oneself the butt of one's own jokes. Outsiders might conclude that this tendency to self-effacement reflects the UK's diminished global status as a former imperial power. But don't be fooled. Times columnist Matthew Parris argues that this tendency is, in fact, a subtly disguised form of self-aggrandisement. "British self-deprecation is actually quite boastful," he says. "Its primary purpose is to show how relaxed, at ease and confident you are. It's a sign of being so in command that you can undersell yourself." So is British self-deprecation just one big humblebrag? We really are useless, aren't we, utterly useless.
    Apart from talking about the weather, what other quirks have been missed? Send us yours in 212 words using the form below.

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  • 07/27/12--07:42: LONDON OLYMPICS 2012

  • COME ON THE UK !!!


    A little suggestion for you all.
    WATCH the opening ceremony. It will BLOW YOUR MINDS. Ha! ha! You will just know this is England, this IS Britain!!!!!

    Maybe you will even have a chuckle to yourselves. Ony here. 
    Only  here. Ha! Ha!

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  • 07/28/12--23:27: The Olympic Road Race
  • I walked into Kingston upon Thames yesterday with Marilyn and Abi.  We couldn't drive in because all the roads were closed to allow the Olympic Cycling Road race to pass through . Here are some photographs.

    On the corner opposite Wilkinsons, Cotswolds outward bound shop and Costas Coffee.

    Going past London Road and the leaning post boxes.

    Here come the British team.

    The British team closer.

    More cyclists.

    Police outriders.

    Leading cars.

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  • 08/06/12--14:02: MY CITY (London)

  • Bait ul Futah Mosque in Mordern South London

    When my youngest daughter , Abigail, started in  year 1 at The Sacred Heart Junior School, Burlington  Road, at the age  of five,  she had only been there a few days when she came home one evening. As I  was about to  take  her schoolbag from her  she retorted,  “ haji ma.”  I replied, “What did you say?” “Haji  ma,”  she repeated. “Konnichiwa,” she continued. My daughter was not only talking Japanese she was also talking Korean. She was able to translate for me. I had gone to take her bag but she didn’t want me to take it off her.  “Haji ma,” means,” don’t do it.” “Konnichiwa,” means, “good afternoon.” Abigail was demonstrating the ease with which she was able to, at the age of 5, fit smoothly into the multicultural environment of  her school. On the playground they were all  conversing in a variety of languages and each of them was learning from each other.

    London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world. People from all over the world have come to live here over the decades and centuries.Some to esacpe persecution;some to have a better  life for themselves and their families. Each part of London has it’s mix but often each area has it’s most dominant immigrant group. Where I live it has a very large Korean community, hence my daughter coming home speaking Korean phrases from a very early age. Restaurants, supermarkets , hairdressers, travel agents, craft shops and clothing shops are all Korean. Streets of them.

    Five hundred yards from my house, near Motspur Park railway station , there is a Greek Kebab house, a fish and chip shop owned and run by a Chinese family and further along the road, a Chinese takeaway with a giant steel wok prominently on view in the shop window. Motspur  Park Tandoori restaurant holds Elvis nights once a week with a Pakistani Elvis wearing all the gear, dressed as the star; Las Vegas era. We have a hal hal butchers shop which prominently exhibits a large photograph of a cuddly little lamb which all the local children love to look at, announcing, emblazoned across it, “Fresh lamb butchered for your Sunday Roast. Delicious.”Next door to the butchers shop is EKLEE, a delicatessen and a fruit and vegetable shop with much of it’s produce exhibited on tressle tables on the pavement.It sells  the most amazing range of olives and sells the most  delicious baklava, and sweet syrupy pastry's and spicy curries made in their kitchen at the back. The range of produce it provides is a greater range of herbs, spices and vegetables than your usual English greengrocers.It  is  owned and run by Mr Malik and his  lovely Iranian family who have lived in the area for  generations. Kami’s, the hairdressers are owned by a Turkish family. The local chemist shop is run by a Pakistani chemist and my dentist is Indian.

    Two miles from where I live , in Tooting, the whole area is mostly Indian and Pakistanis. Sari shops displaying the most beautifully designed fabrics of all colours often emblazoned with  gold edging, proliferate.

    We get many  people from the Southern Hemisphere,  Australians,  South Africans and New Zealanders. I taught for many  years with Katie  from  South  Africa  and  Evette from Zimbabwe or  Zim as  she  used to call it.  I met Evette in my local  TESCOS the other day with  her new baby  boy.We talked and  she  is very worried about her country. Her  Mum and  Dad still live  there  and are struggling along. They are too old  now to  move anywhere else.Next to  Raynes Park Station is a small South African grocers shop. You can  get your bill-tong there and other South  African delights.  

    In Motspur Park,my local park,  the Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields, is used for Australian Rules Football after the usual football  season is over.The Wimbledon Hawks use it as their home ground.. They set up  a bar selling cans of Fosters beer and hold an enormous barbecue that sends it's delicious odours wafting  across the fields  during every home game. Their  bright orange kit make them stand out at  some distance.
    The Wimbledon Hawks at The Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields.

    These diverse communities also have their places of worship.. We have the largest mosque in Europe, the Baitul Futih Mosque, with space for 1600 worshippers at a time.

    In Wimbledon Village is the Buddhapadipa Temple, with gold and jewelled designs all over it. It has a small monastery of Budhist monks and nuns and also runs a Budhist school.The Koreans have taken over an old office block which they have turned into their own Baptist  church. SomeKoreans are Roman Catholics and attend the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Wimbledon .There  is a  Christian  Science Church in Worple Road ;  Raynes Park Methodist Church, Holy Cross Church of England  and  St John the Baptist Roman  Catholic church are all within a mile radius of where I live.  Often they each hold cultural activities to which they invite all the community.  We get flyers through our front door inviting us to Buddhist and various Christian celebrations.

    The Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church Wimbledon.

    What I think is unique is that often these diverse churches and religious traditions organise things together.  Every year, for one week, there is the Raynes Park festival that includes drama and music events . They collect the money for charity. My church, The Sacred Heart at Wimbledon, has a semi-professional choir. They have purchased a Steinway Piano and also have   a giant organ with an amazing pipe system. They hold classical concerts and attract top classical musicians to perform. The Methodist Church in Worple Road has a vibrant and strong amateur dramatic society and there are various art and performance groups in the other churches too. They all come together for one week each year to put on an amazing festival. The money goes to a designated charity. The churches and different religious groups also combine to organise and run soup runs and provide accommodation for London’s down and outs throughout the year. The priests, rabbis, monks, pastors and leaders from each denomination meet regularly to discuss how they can work together and emphasise the similarities and positives between them.

    The different religious groups also provide educational opportunities for the community. It is law in this country to teach religion in schools but it must be multicultural as well as specific. My children go to the catholic schools in Wimbledon. They have all been to the Sacred Heart Junior School and then Alice, Emily and Abigail have gone on to the Ursuline Convent and Sam, my son, went on to  Wimbledon College, run by the Jesuits. They are catholic schools and the catholic ethos is extremely important to them . However they must learn about all other religions, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. All the churches, synagogues, mosques and temples of various religions provide education programmes. We take our children to visit the local mosques, temples, synagogues and churches to learn about their history and beliefs. All children love learning about other religions. It really does help them understand and appreciate each other.

    Occasionally, in a Christian school we might get children of other faiths. There is a trust between the diverse ethnic groups. I have taught  religion lessons in the past. When I  am  teaching about Islam for instance I will always find out if there is any child who prays to Mecca and holds Mohammed as his prophet, in the class. I will  then  get them to tell us about their lives and experiences. The rest of the class really appreciate this and ask their class mate all sorts of questions. This situation does two things. First it makes the child realise that everybody in the class respects him or her and their religion. When there is a particular festival, for instance divali, we will  get the Hindu mothers in to cook us food and bring in saris and costumes for the children to dress up in.Secondly, we all learn about each other.

    In one of my classes, a few years ago I had a little Jewish girl. She got very excited about the  fact  we were going to look at Judaism and told her rabbi all about it. I got a message for the rabbi saying, if I wanted, he would come in to help me teach the lesson. So I got him to come in and we team taught. He filled in all the bits I wasn't sure about. He brought in a small piece of the Tora to show the class, some unleavened bread for them to taste and some artefacts from his synagogue for them to handle, draw and write about. I took photographs of the lesson  and wrote a report which the rabbi published on his synagogues website. I got a lot of great comments on the website.. The little girl  was ,"over the moon."

    It would be interesting to see how the controversial Florida pastor ,Terry Jones , who  burned the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11, would survive and get on in Motspur Park in South London where I live. It might help educate him and  others of his ilk.

    My London is a melting pot.  It is not about erasing cultural differences or trying to convert people from diverse religions. It is about celebrating each other’s differences and similarities. It is about learning from each other and creating a synergy of ideas and cultural influences.

    And to conclude lets all  give it for the 50th anniversary of  Jamaican Independence.

    Usain,  you  are the king  mate!!!!!!!

    And lets give it up for "Marley Bob!!!!!!"

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    The Moors just outside of  Haworth.

    “ I  struck straight into  the  heath; I  held on to a hollow I saw deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I wade knee deep in it’s dark growth; I turned with it’s turnings, and finding a moss blackened  granite crag in a hidden angle, I  sat  down  under it. High banks of moor were about me; the crag protected my head; the sky was over that. Some time passed before I felt tranquil even  here;  I had  a  vague  dread  that wild cattle might be  near, or that some sportsman or poacher might  discover me. If a gust of wind swept the waste,  I looked  up, fearing it was the rush of a bull; if a plover whistled, I imagined it a man. Finding my apprehensions unfounded, however, and calmed by the deep silence  that  reigned as  evening declined  at nightfall, I took confidence.  As yet I had not thought; I had only listened, watched, dreaded; now I gained  the faculty of reflection. What was I to do? Where was I to go?”

    (Jane Eyre,  Chapter XVIII, by  Charlotte  Bronte. First published 1847)

    This passage comes straight after Jane has  left  Mr Rochester, in great consternation. The presence of his mad, sick  wife, watched and guarded in her  garret room  has been revealed to Jane, and  she has had to spurn Mr  Rochester’s approach to  her. For all  his powerful reasoning  she  has cast herself out into a wilderness. In this passage Jane expresses her fear of meeting anybody. She knows  she will  be judged. She has left her home for a “no mans land.”   Jane has cast herself out into a world of wind, rain, storms and barrenness and fearful imaginings.  All is left to chance. This scene portrays the mental and physical situation Jane  is in. She descends into deep despair and wishes for death. A human being could go no lower without actually taking their life. Charlotte Bronte challenges us to experience this with her character. She shakes us up and makes us concider things we would not do normally.

     Charlotte Bronte  explores  societies values about relationships  and marriage. The long argument between Mr Rochester and Jane and this moorland scene give us an inkling into the writing process that she went through and the purpose for writing she believed in.

     Emily, Charlotte and Anne

    Recently, Clive, an old school  mate of mine and Paul , also an old school friend from our Liverpool days, and I visited Haworth Parsonage in the village of Haworth on The Pennine Moors. It was the home of the Bronte family that included the three sisters, Emily,  Anne and Charlotte who wrote some of the most amazing stories of the  English language. We always think of the Brontes, sitting  in that  stone parsonage miles away from all civilisation conjuring up  brutal  and emotional  stories through their imaginations brought on by  wild winds, rocky promontories and windswept moors..  This is partly true.  There  are  the  moors and the windswept promontories  at the back  of the  parsonage and reaching far off to the horizon, but the  parsonage is situated on the edge of  Haworth, which is  an extensive community. They were not alone. The sisters were the daughters of, Patrick  Bronte, the vicar  of Haworth, and this might have created a social  distance between them and the rest of the village.

     The Haworth parsonage where the Bronte sisters lived.

    When we entered the parsonage, the first room we saw, to the left of  the entrance was  the parlour. Much of the furniture is the same as when The Brontes lived there. There is a large dining table and it was around this table the three sisters would conjure up their stories.  It was interesting to hear that they would often walk around the room and around the table talking about their ideas, verbalising their stories, exchanging ideas. This brings me back to the above passage from Jane Eyre. I can imagine the Bronte sisters challenging societies perceived values. Exploring the authenticity of accepted codes. I can imagine Emily or Anne playing devil’s advocate to Charlotte's Jane Eyre and arguing  Mr Rochester's view. I can imagine Charlotte pouring out the  emotions of Jane  expressing despair and the anguish Jane felt cast out on the moors.  That room and that table must have been witness to some  dramatic scenes. It is also interesting to discover that the Bronte sisters drew and sketched. By using, acting,  speakiing out, sketching and dramatising scenes they crafted  and formed  their stories. They discussed, in their writing, Christian morals, social conventions, such  as   marriage and challenged these perceived conventions, questioning and reasoning every aspect.  The moors had an emotional and physical presence which infiltrated their writing.  The weather and the landscape  were all put into the mix to create the conflicts and arguments. This is what makes them great writers. A great writer should  challenge the  reader.  

    Being human  never changes. The process the Brontes went through to  write their stories is as valid today as  it was  then.  Jane Austen’s process took a similar path. She was more  discrete and private but  she read her writing out loud to Cassandra and Martha Lloyd. She mulled over sentences and phrases with them. She loved going to the theatre and loved to see stories acted out.  Her brothers had been a big influence on her in this process. Cassandra we know loved drawing and sketching and so did Jane. We can see these similar creative process between the Brontes and Austen. They each did it in their own way and with their own emphasis  but the process of thinking, writing, editing having somebody to listen to  their compositions,reading out loud, dramatizing, drawing ideas and scenes was very similar. And Charlotte, Anne, Emily Bronte and Jane Austen loved language and words.

    There is a writer called Pie Corbett here in England  who  used  to be a headmaster at a  school  in Kent.  He started writing poetry for the children in his own school  and then began publishing his work.  He has become a  popular children’s writer.  But, being a teacher he is also good at getting children to write. His approach is to  provide all sorts of  imaginative experiences and activities with words  to aid the writing process. He calls it ,”Talk for Writing. “The government asked him to help design their literacy strategy for writing.  Pie Corbett,says,

    “we learn to write by practising writing, by trial and error and most importantly through becoming familiar with what works- by reading good writing.”

    This is perhaps the crux of the matter. What is good writing and how can we recognise it? Pie Corbett goes on to say,

    ” Literature should jolt the senses, making us feel alive... we should  have only time to  read books that bite and sting…if books we read do not wake us up  with a blow to  the head what’s the point in reading? A book must be an axe which smashes the frozen sea within us.”

    Pie Corbett makes this point about writing.  To find your own style you have to read and become immersed in a whole variety of good writers with different and varied styles. 

    The Bronte sisters  in that parlour in the parsonage in Haworth, pacing  round  the  room, taking character parts,  reading out loud, trying new phrases, challenging each other, were in short , as  Pie  Corbett says in describing, “Talk  for  Writing,” making  their ,”prose flow…and bite and sting.” The Brontës lived in the Haworth Parsonage, from 1820 to 1861.Charlotte; Emily and Anne Brontë were the authors of some of the best-loved books in the English language. Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre (1847), Emily's Wuthering Heights (1847), and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) were written in this house over a hundred and fifty years ago. Both their father, the Revd. Patrick Brontë, and brother Branwell also saw their own works in print.

    Looking down Haworth High  Street.

    Haworth is a rugged little village with all the buildings constructed from local limestones and millstone grit. The village perches on the side of a steep hill.  The parsonage, where the Brontes lived, is at the top of the village and then beneath the parsonage is the graveyard followed by the church and then houses and shops sloping downhill towards the railway  station in the valley below. I should think the heart of Haworth, all  the buildings that comprise  the high street  and some of the houses just off  the high  street down small  alleyways, are the same structures that were there in the time of the Brontes.. The Black  Bull  pub at the top  of  the high street is the very  establishment that Branwell  Bronte  used to  frequent and  get drunk  in. He was an alcoholic and a womaniser. He was thrown out of one job as a tutor to a young boy in a wealthy household in nearby Halifax because he had a relationship with the mother. What was embarrassing for Charlotte was that she was tutor to the daughter of the same household and had got Branwell the job with the family. She had left her employment with the family shortly before the fiasco with Branwell, fortunately.

    A shop in  Haworth High  Street.

    The High Street is full of quaint shops who unashamedly are using the Brontes to bring customers through their doors. Lovely, very good quality  tea  shops proliferate, Ye Olde Bronte Tea Rooms where Paul bought us an excellent lunch, Villette Coffee  House and  The Souk and lots more to choose from .  There are also  many good  quality artefact shops, woollens, books, antiques, art galleries, home made  sweet shops, clothing shops; Mrs Beightons Sweet  Shop, Silverland, Firths, The  Steam Brewing Company, Catkins of Haworth, Ice Shop and Gifts  , The  Stirrup and so on .    Surprisingly few actually use a blatant Bronte connection but they all benefit and owe their existence to the tourist pull of The Brontes. It would be easy to criticise this but Haworth is situated in an area of poor employment and little investment  to create new industries and new wealth.  Tourism, sheep farming and outward bound sports such as walking camping, pot holing and climbing are some of the main sources of income in the area and so the good people  of  Haworth use tourism to make a living. The stories written by Emily, Catherine  and Anne  help a lot through their fame. The  shop attached to  the Haworth Parsonage stocks all  the Brontes books and a choice of different publications.They have all the biographies too.  There are good quality guide  books and OS maps of  the area for  walkers  and those who want to  see more of the moors. There are also pencils and book marks and a beautiful selection of cards. 

    Clive and a gentleman singing Dylan numbers.

    As Clive, Paul and I walked downhill along the High Street of Haworth a busker strummed his guitar and sang Dylan songs.  Clive being a very proficient guitarist and singer himself joined in and accompanied the busker and they created a great duet. We walked on down to the bottom of the High street to the nearby station. Haworth station is a very important station.  It is run by the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and Haworth station is it’s headquarters. They renovate and use old steam trains to run on the line. Haworth station itself has been used as a film set for The  Railway Children. It is used for period films when steam trains are required. We are lucky to  have steam train enthusiasts in different parts of  Britain who  have  taken on old disused stretches of  railway lines and use them to  run steam  trains. A few miles south of where I live in the beautiful Hampshire countryside  is the Watercress Line, a similar  organisation to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. It passes near Chawton, the home of Jane  Austen.

    As we walked back up the hill to Haworth Parsonage, a large group  of Morris Dancers had arrived in the village.  They were dressed in their colourful regalia and carried sticks for the type of dance they were going to perform. What surprised me, as a Southerner, was they didn’t look like the Morris Dancers I  have a come across in  the  South of  England. They were dressed in costumes comprising a multitude of strips of multi-coloured rags. Their faces were painted with mauves, blues and reds, similar to ancient Celtic tradition.  In the South of  England , Morris Dancers tend to  wear  white trousers and white shirts with bells and ribbons hanging off them. They tend, on the whole, to look a much more subdued lot in their dress.

    A  Wikipedia article describes Morris dancing thus::

    “Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two men, steps are performed near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid across each other on the floor.

    Claims that English records dating back to 1448 mention the morris dance are open to dispute. There is no mention of "morris" dancing earlier than the late 15th century, although early records such as Bishops' "Visitation Articles" mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities as well as mumming plays. Furthermore, the earliest records invariably mention "Morys" in a court setting, and both men and women are mentioned as dancing, and a little later in the Lord Mayors' Processions in London. It is only later that it begins to be mentioned as something performed in the parishes. There is certainly no evidence that it is a pre-Christian ritual, as is often claimed.”

     Morris men and ladies in Haworth.

    Morris dancers and Mummers, another old rural way of story telling passed from one generation to the next, are an exciting spectacle. An aspect  of  the Mummers groups,who are not mentioned   above, is  they often  re-enact   rustic  interpretations of biblical stories which do indeed have a pagan feel about them.. 

    We left Haworth driving north towards the motorway and passed through some of  the  desolate moorland beloved by the Brontes  before reaching the old mill  town of Halifax.  I  had not  been to  Halifax before and I was  amazed at the site of many of the old Victorian cotton mills . They are enormous stone buildings that encapsulate the growth of industrialisation in the Victorian period.

    And so, back down south as we say!!!!!!!!!!  

    Paul, a very good mate of mine from Liverpool standing in Haworth's  churchyard.

    This link is an attachment to the Haworth Parsonage and will provide you with lots of information about the Brontes  and the parsonage.

    POST SCRIPT; Pie Corbett has written two books to help teachers develop children’s writing. “Jumpstart to Literacy,” and “Jumpstart to Storymaking.”

    They are full of games and strategies to help develop character, setting and to help a story move along. 

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    The Chinese Bridge at Painshill Park.

    Jessie Ware is  a new singer emerging  from South  London. This is her first hit single.

    What is appropriate for all you Jane Austen  fans is that this video was made at Painshill Park in Surrey, a reconstructed 18th century gardens.

      If ever you get the chance it is a wonderful, magical place to  wander around, full of follies such  as a ruined abbey, a grotto by the lake, a medieval castle tower and ,"rooms,"  evoking  different emotions and situations.

    Imagine Jane Austen instead of Jessie Ware and at the end of  the clip imagine Darcy driving Elizabeth  Bennett off in a landau!!!!!!!!

    All the best,

    Painshill Park link:

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    Howard Jacobson

    Howard Jacobson is one of our most successful recent novelists and author of The Finkler Question which won The Man Booker Prize in 2010. He is  a journalist, broadcaster and novelist born in Manchester in 1942.

    In the article below he berates us readers for killing the novel.

    Reading his article entitled, “ Readers are killing the novel, warns Jacobson,” Source Books and many of their readers come immediately to mind. Source Books is a publishing company with  many  parts to its octopus like, many limbed body,  the most life withering and  destructive tentacle  of which publishes Jane Austen  spin offs. I should say more specifically, Pride and Prejudice spin offs. Darcy and Elizabeth must appear. That is the only one of  Jane Austen’s creative  works  that  has the pulling power to  sell. Yes, it's all about money and the duping of innocent ladies who are happy receiving pin money to sweat away over writing  nice sweet sentences for Source Books.  Surely anybody aware of this should hear the warning bells immediately and certainly not read this stuff. However some people apparently do read it.

    So what is Howard Jacobson’s main point? It is that we as readers are reduced to liking novels that have a character with whom we empathise.  That is not what Jacobson thinks reading should be about and it is not what I think reading is about.

    One of my favourite analysts of good writing, Pie Corbett, an ex teacher, writes,

    ” Literature should jolt the senses, making us feel alive... we should  have only time to  read books that bite and sting…if books we read do not wake us up  with a blow to  the head what’s the point in reading? A book must be an axe which smashes the frozen sea within us.”

    When I read I want to be challenged, made to think and have my world turned upside down. I want to be made to feel uncomfortable and challenged. The comfortable safe world of another Pride and Prejudice spin off is doing two things, killing the novel  and killing  me.

    Here is Howard Jacobson’s article:

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  • 08/31/12--06:06: SPASTICUS AUTISTICUS

  • “I’m Spasticus, I’m Spasticus

    I’m  Spastiicus Autisticus

    I’m Spasticus, I’m Spasticus

    I’m  Spasticus  Autisticus

    I’m Spasticus, I’m Spasticus…”

    Ian Dury of The Blockheads 

    If  Ian  Dury  had still been alive, he died in March  2000, he would have been  on that  stage in the middle of that  Olympic cauldron in  Stratford,  East London the other night, yelling and  screaming out those lyrics. Instead it fell to the wonderful Graeae Theatre Company to proudly play his part. Those words sung by Drury, a polio victim, full of manic energy, staggering in his crippled state and hanging on to the microphone  precariously for support, exploding with  energy and anger at  the gaze of most,  pounding out that song, dripping with sweat,  on a stage, confronting everybody  with his  disability showed  us what paraplegics are capable of. They are capable of everything. Ian Dury wasn’t hiding his disability, he was thrusting disability at us, telling it how it is. The 4,200 paraplegic athletes at that wondrous opening ceremony of the Paralympics  were there to show the world what they can do, to show the utmost effort, skill and achievement. In the words of Seb Coe the organiser of both the 2012 Olympics and the Paralympics here in London,

    “  prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved.”

    The Opening ceremony to The Paralympics 2012. The statue of Alison Lapper.

    The theme of  the opening ceremony  was Enlightenment. There was more than one  layer of meaning  encapsulated  in that  theme. There was the historical  Enlightenment which involved, Sir Isaac Newton and his understanding of gravity and the universe right up to the recent Hadron Collider based in Lucerne that has smashed atoms at  such  speeds that scientists  have detected the Higgs  Boson particle which has changed the study of physics  and how we understand the universe. The whole stadium, using a light show, became the Hadron Collider with a moving commentary by Stephen Hawking the paraplegic  professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.

    A giant copy of the 1948 Universal declaration of Human Rights flicked over it’s pages in the middle of the  stadium.

    Article 1.

    • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

     Ian McKellen  played Prospero from Shakespeare’s, The Tempest with  Nicola Miles Wildin, who used her wheelchair at times, playing Miranda. Prospero sent Miranda shooting high into the air above the stadium  to smash the glass ceiling that blocks so many avenues of progression for paraplegics and the ceiling crashed to the ground in a multitude of shards. Destroyed!

    Miranda looked about her and proclaimed,

    “ o wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankingd is! O! Brave new World that has such people in it!”

    I must add, not, The Brave New World of Aldous Huxley, far far from that.A human loving Brave New World. We can only hope and strive.

    Marc Quinn’s giant sculpture of a beautiful, erotic, naked, and  pregnant  Alison Lapper sitting squatly with stumps for arms and deformed legs, dominated the stadium at one stage.

    The theme of enlightenment not only covered the historic period of Enlightenment in Britain in the 18th century and all its  great themes of exploration, discovery and science but it was also about enlightening us about people with physical disabilities. The main theme seemed to be saying there are no disabilities just different ways of perceiving and doing.

    The end of the ceremony had Beverley Knight singing,

     “I am what I am

    I don't want praise I don't want pity

    I bang my own drum

    Some think it's noise I think it's pretty

    And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle

    Why not try to see things from a different angle…”

    Her voice is so powerful and strong. She filled the whole stadium with her voice and 80,000 voices sang along with her. I had tears in my eyes.

    Ian Dury's Spasticus  Autisticus being performed at the opening ceremony of The Paralympics.

    “Iam what Iam…….. I’mSpasticus,I’mSpasticus, I’m Spasticus autisticus!!!!!!!!”

    The period of Enlightenment. Isaac Newton perceived an example of gravity when an apple fell on his head.

    To end the ceremony, Royal Marine, Joe Townsend, who lost both his legs while on duty in Afghanistan after standing on a hidden explosive in a road, flew into the stadium along a zipwire from the top of Anish Kapoors adjacent observation tower  holding the Olympic torch aloft. Margaret Maughn, who received Britain’s first Paralympic gold medal at the first Paralympics in Rome in 1960, waited in her wheelchair to receive the torch. She lit the Olympic cauldron.

    The Paralympics were an invention by Dr Ludwigg Guttman at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948. Soldiers returning from the conflict in Europe with horrendous injuries improved their whole disposition by playing sport.  Dr Guttman discovered that by taking part in archery and other sports adapted to their needs  soldiers recover mentally, socially and emotionally from horrendous amputations.


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  • 10/09/12--07:08: WEST MEON IN HAMPSHIRE

  • "I will not cease from Mental Fight,

    Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:

    Till we have built Jerusalem,

    In England’s green & pleasant Land."

    The final verse  of, “And did those feet in Ancient Time,” also known as the hymn ,”Jerusalem,” England's unofficial national anthem. It was first published as part of the preface to,” Milton,” by William Blake in 1804

    In the late 1950’s very few people had cars. They were beyond the income of the majority. People relied on buses, coaches and trains to  get around the country. When I was about seven years old,  the  Hants & Dorset  bus company had a small booking office situated on the corner of Portsmouth Road and Victoria Road in Woolston.  Woolston was the part of Southampton where myself and my family lived, next to the Itchen River. I was always fascinated by a large colourful poster displayed in the window of the booking office. It advertised, “Mystery Coach Tours.” The tours promised a drive through a picturesque part of the Hampshire countryside. You would pay for your ticket a day or two in advance, arrive at the coach office at a given time, board the coach and be taken on a mystery trip in one of the distinctive Hants & Dorset dark  green single decker buses. Nobody knew where they were going.  However, those people who had been on one of these trips would return and tell neighbours and friends and in turn they would tell others. The mystery trips that left from the coach office in Woolston always travelled along the beautiful valley of the Meon River, north east of Southampton and situated to the east of Winchester.

    West Meon High Street in the heart of Hampshire.

    Over the last forty years I have lived in Wimbledon, South London and my parents, in their old age have continued to live in Woolston, Southampton. I always enjoy driving down to Southampton along the rural route by way of Guildford, Farnham, Alton and along the Meon Valley. I drive through the village of West Meon that is situated on the A32 road. It is a very beautiful part of Hampshire, rolling chalk downland, lush green fields, thick clumps of woodland interspersed with small villages of rose and wisteria clad thatched cottages and clay tiled roofed houses, walls of flint and, locally made russet red bricks. Cars are required to slow to 30 miles per hour or less as you drive through West Meon. So I always get a chance to look and take in the beautiful gardens and rustic buildings. Sometimes I stop and park the car. It is a wonderful experience to just walk around the village.  West Meon surrounds you with old buildings, stone walls and thick shrubbery. There are modern houses but they are hidden within groves of trees off  the main road and out of site but the old is most obvious and prominent in the village. The village hall commemorates Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Cottages cluster together and stretch around the curving serpentine high street winding downhill towards the valley bottom and the River Meon that slips like pure liquid silver and as clear  as glass over it’s pebbled bottom through and on past the village.

     The stone cross at the centre of the village.

    In Kelly’s Directory of 1878 it is described thus;

    “WEST MEON, a parish and a large village, pleasantly situated on the banks of the small river Aire, or Meon, 8 miles W of Petersfield and N.E. of Bishop’s Waltham, in Droxford union and county court district and Meon Stoke hundred, had about 931 inhabitants in 1871 and comprises 3774 acres of generally light and fertile land, rising in bold undulations and including WOODLANDS hamlet, two miles north of the village, and several scattered farms.”

    Nowadays West Meon has shrunk slightly in population to 690 inhabitants. It was possibly mentioned in Anglo Saxon documents. A few miles away at Corhampton there is a very rare example of a complete Saxon church that is dated 1020. The Normans didn’t leave many Saxon buildings untouched. They preferred to eradicate the world of the Saxons, ruthlessly. There is evidence of early Stone Age activity going back 50.000 years in the vicinity. Old Winchester Hill, nearby, a good defence point to protect against attack from neighbouring tribes, has evidence of flint tools 20,000 years old. The village of West Meon itself has remains dated to the Iron Age and bronze ages when people had progressed from the hunter gatherer period to create settlements and  become farmers. There is also evidence that the Meonwara tribe lived here.  There are the remains of a Roman Villa in Lippen Wood. 

    A West Meon thatched cottage.

    The manor of West Meon was listed in the Domesday Book as being owned by the Bishop of Winchester. The Domesday Book was instigated by William I (The Conqueror) .The first draft was completed in 1086 and contained records of 13,418 settlements.  William wanted to know what exactly was in his kingdom and what it was worth. This enabled the Normans to assess the taxes they could exact and  what wealth they could derive. The book was written in Winchester. Data was gathered from all over England. William’s officials scoured every corner of Britain. They recorded  landholders and their tenants, the amount of land they owned, how many people occupied the land (villagers, smallholders, free men, slaves), the amounts of woodland, meadow, animals, fish and ploughs on the land and buildings such as churches, castles, mills and salt houses.

    If your internet breaks down you can still phone home.

    A charter in 1205 showed that the land was granted to the prior and Convent of St Swithun. St Swithun was important to Winchester because he was the local patron saint who pilgrims came to pray to in the great cathedral.It remained in the hands of the convent until  the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1541 it was granted to the dean  and chapter of  Winchester Cathedral.In 1544 Henry VIII granted it to  Thomas Wriothesley Earl of  Southampotn. Thomas Wriothesley is most famous because of his friendship with Shakespeare. There are suggestions that Shakespeare visited and stayed on the earls estates at Titchfield in the Meon Valley and wrote some of his sonnets in honour of the Earl.

    During The English  Civil war  West Meon was the sight of several  skirmishes before The Battle of Cheriton, which took place about six miles  from West Meon to the north  west, which was  fought on  29th March 1644.

    Some famous people, who lived and died in West Meon, are Thomas Lord (1755-1832) the founder of Lords cricket ground in St Johns Wood, North London. Also there is the grave of the infamous Guy Burgess. Guy Burgess (16 April 1911 – 30 August 1963) was a British radio producer, intelligence officer and Foreign Office official. He was part of the Cambridge Five spy ring that passed Western secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War.

    St John the Evangelist, West Meon.

    The fine flint built church in the centre of the village, St John the Evangelist, was designed by Gilbert Scott and was built in 1846 on the site of the ancient church. In an extraordinary twist, the design was taken to New York where an exact replica was built as the church of St Thomas, Mamaroneck.

    West Meon is situated in a beautiful valley in the South Downs about 66 miles south of London, 15 miles  east of Winchester and 25miles north of Southampton. The South Downs is a range of chalk hills that extends for about 260 square miles across the south-eastern coastal counties of England from the Itchen Valley of Hampshire in the west to Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, East Sussex, in the east. It is bounded on its northern side by a steep escarpment. The South Downs National Park forms a much larger area than the chalk range of the South Downs and includes large parts of the Weald.

    It is characterised by rolling chalk downland with close-cropped turf and dry valleys, and is recognised as one of the most important chalk landscapes in England. It was formed from a thick band of chalk which was deposited during the Cretaceous Period around sixty million years ago within a shallow sea which extended across much of Northwest Europe. The rock is composed of the microscopic skeletons of plankton which lived in the sea. The chalk has many fossils, and bands of flint occur throughout the formation. The Chalk is divided into the Lower, Middle and Upper Chalk, a thin band of cream-coloured nodular chalk known as the Melbourn Rock marking the boundary between the Lower and Middle units.

    The strata of south-east England, including the chalk, were gently folded during a phase of the Alpine Orogeny to produce the Weald-Artois Anticline, a dome-like structure with a long east-west axis. Erosion has removed the central part of the dome, leaving the north-facing escarpment of the South Downs along its southern margin with the south-facing chalk escarpment of the North Downs on the northern side.

    The River Meon begins its life high on the South Downs as spring water seeping out from the edge of the water table contained within the structure of the chalk downland. Chalk is porous and so absorbs rainwater easily and acts as a great aquifer. It naturally regulates the flow of water into the river systems of the South Downs. Chalk streams transport little suspended material  but are mineral-rich. The surface water of chalk streams is often described as 'gin clear'. The channel bed consists of angular flint gravel  from the natural flint deposits found embedded within the chalk.

    The unique characteristics of chalk stream ecology are due to a stable temperature and flow  combined with  transparent  water and lack of sand grade sediment particles. The river stretches for 21 miles flowing through the Meon Valley. The river  supports valuable wildlife habitats. Within the river system it is home to water crowfoot, brown trout, kingfishers and otters. The reed beds at Titchfield create their own unique habitat too.

    A thatched cottage in West Meon.

    The River Meon is renowned for its fly fishing particularly at The Meon Springs where the river is stocked with brown trout and rainbow trout. Izaak Walton, who wrote The Compleat Angler in the 17th century lived  towards the end of his life, in Winchester. His tomb is in the Silkstead Chapel inside Winchester Cathedral. It is a chapel dedicated to anglers. He went to Droxford, near West Meon, to fish in The River Meon. He said that it was the best river in England for trout.

    Izaak Walton born August 9th 1593, died December 15th 1683  fished  in the  River Meon.

    In and around West Meon there are watercress beds to be found. Long regular troughs have been dug into the land bordering The River Meon. Through the use of sluice gates to regulate the flow of the water they are  filled with  pure chalk stream water from the  river. At times of the year they are lush with the greenery provided by the water cress floating on the surface of these ponds. The stems of watercress are hollow so this makes the plant buoyant on the surface of the water. The leaves are pinnately compound, which means petals are arranged on either side of a stem and the watercress produces small white flowers in clusters. The Latin name for the watercress is nasturtium officinale,N. microphyllum.

    Many of the cottages, garden walls and houses in West Meon, as well as the church ofSt John the  Evangelist,  are  constructed with knapped flint. West Meon’s position in the chalk South Downs is well situated near to a source of good quality flint for building.

    Flint is one of three forms of compact crystalline silica which have been used in building. It is found in Chalk geological formations. It is closely related to quartz, chalcedony, chert and jasper. Flint, chert and jasper are important rocks for building, with flint the most common.

    A young flint knapper with Box Hill behind him. (The Stonebreaker by John Brett exhibited 1858)

     Its origin is generally  thought to be the siliceous sponges once inhabiting the waters of Cretaceous seas.

    Flint and chert are concretions, natural growths of mineral matter which form around a centre or core. Sometimes the core may have been a sea urchin or a sponge. The silica solutions from which flint was created could also have flooded cavities formed by marine borers. The colours of flint are black or dark blue-grey, and they are usually nodular in form, and coated in a white calcium carbonate. The nodules break forming sharp edges. Axes, adzes, spear points and arrowheads were made from flint by Stone Age tribes by hammering and flaking the  flint.Flint knappers were common in the Victorian countryside. There is a Pre-Raphaelite painting of a knapper working on Box Hill in Surrey. West Meon is full of buildings constructed with blue, black, glassy silica flint pieces.

     A  flint  wall in  West Meon churchyard.

    Another characteristic of buildings in West Meon are the number of thatched cottages. Many of the cottages have clay roof tiles too which  proved to be a cheaper option but both thatched roofs and clay tiled roofs provide a warm natural effect and fit perfectly side by side within this rural community. A thatched cottage looks warm and cosy like a house topped with a thick head of hair. It’s contours are rounded, and rough textured. Thatched cottages are built with local materials. The houses people live in are the soil and rocks and grasses grown and formed naturally scooped up and skilfully fashioned.  The straw from the wheat fields or the reeds from the marshes become the roofs. People used whatever was available locally. This meant materials as diverse as broom, sedge, sallow, flax, grass, and straw were used. Most common is wheat straw in the south of England, and reeds in East Anglia. Norfolk reed is especially prized by thatchers, although in northern England and Scotland heather was frequently used.  Some of the cottages in West Meon have walls constructed from timber frames formed from large oak or ash branches hewn from the local woods and dragged to the building site. The spaces between the oak beams were filled with wattle and daub, itself a mixture of ash fencing, clay from the ground mixed with  straw to bind it and solidified with cow dung and sealed by lime from the lime quarrys. Some were constructed in bricks from local clays baked in fiery kilns. The very elements were combined and used to form these homes. 

    In constructing a thatched roof   first the thatch is tied in bundles, then laid in an under-layer on the roof beams and pegged in place with rods made of hazel or withy. Then an upper layer is laid over the first, and a final reinforcing layer added along the ridge line  It is at the ridge line that the individual thatcher leaves his personal "signature", a decorative feature of some kind that marks the job as his alone. In West Meon a couple of the cottages have straw pheasants standing on the roof ridges. There also seems to be decorative stitching created with twigs along the roof lines. These are individual designs to show the thatcher’s personality and trade mark.

    Having visited West Meon many times, it is a diverse and vibrant community. Not only does it have it’s church community with it’s social gatherings, festivals and religious year, there is a village hall for community parties and meetings. There is a junior school for the young children of the village and there are two pubs to socialise and relax in. There are a number of local grocers and  general stores too. It comprises people of all ages and situations  amongst it’s numbers. It appears to  me to  be a happy and lived in place.

    The Thomas Lord pub in West Meon.

    West Meon Parish Council:

    A History of The Meon Valley:

    The Thomas Lord public house:

    Thatching information:

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    In the Saturday Guardian yesterday, (13thOctober), Jarvis Cocker reviewed the new tome about one of the Beatles, John Lennon. Hunter Davies, who wrote the first Beatles biography, has collated many of John Lennon’s letters for  this book. The letters are dated from 1951 to 1980.

    It has been produced to commemorate fifty years since the Beatles hit the world stage.  Fifty years!!! I can’t believe it.

    The John Lennon Letters: Herausgegeben von Hunter Davies
    "The John Lennon Letters."

    Jarvis Cocker comes up with some very creative phrases.

     “We are the children of the echo. Born just after some kind of explosion, and doomed to spend the rest of our lives working backwards to try and get as close as we can to the moment of The Big Bang.”

    Does he mean born after the dropping of the first atomic bomb or does he really mean the bang that began the universe?  I presume the birth of the Beatles is some sort of Big Bang in the world of creativity and music. Jarvis is a little vague on his precise meaning in this statement. However I can see his point about working backwards. We have come so far in this world with trivia, useless pursuits, greed, consumerism and ego mania we need desperately to put the genie back in the bottle and get back  to a more frugal, purposeful and purer life. Well, maybe that is what he means. The Beatles as some sort of purer reality?  Well I’m not sure. Maybe he means the purity of their music? The innocent honest lyrics and so on. Or maybe the world they came from wasn’t as tarnished as the world now? The second world war had only finished so maybe not that. Oh  well, I’m sure he knows what he means.


     Jarvis is hoping to find an answer to the question,

     “ Just how did those four lads come to “shake  the world”?

    He  hopes the letters of John Lennon will help.

    However what he finds   in this book are short notes such  as; (they are so short  I even have time to transcribe one or two here.)

    “Degs, no fucking George,  Yer Cunt, Jack” ( letter 238: memo to Derek.)

    And even better;

    “Fred, lights in kitchen(bulbs),

    Honey  candy,Kitchen aircon is “On heat” (something wrong),Cabbage,Grape oil, (ask where),Onions,Peas (the Korean shop shells them),Sesame oil,

    Tomatoes, berries, yoghurt, hamburger meat (for the cat), (letter 255: Domestic list for Fred.)

    Mind blowing! I am sure you agree.

    According to Jarvis Cocker what Hunter Davies appears to have done is contact anybody and everybody who has ever bought a piece of John Lennon memorabilia at auction. These are not the treasured kept letters of family and friends. These are valuable scraps of writing because they have  been auctioned and are worth money. They are little investments in bits of John Lennon. Their inanity is not the point. Lennon touched these pieces of paper and scrawled things on them. 

    A John Lennon letter, a little more substantial than his ,"post it notes."

    They  are artefacts. Jarvis Cocker tells us that next to each transcription is a photograph of the original piece. The photographs of the artefacts are more important than the content transcribed next to them.  Jarvis Cocker may be exaggerating to make a point here. I am sure there must be some insightful, letters amongst the items in this book. Actually, my local Tescos has some copies for sale. I am not going to buy the book but I might spend a little while trawling through it for free as I do my weekly shop for apples and oranges, pasta, milk, butter and bread. I’m sounding like John Lennon now. He would approve no doubt. Nobody is going to tell me off!!!!!!

    Towards the end of the article Jarvis makes a comment which really lit up my  thinking.

    “… the  whole point of the Beatles is that they were ordinary. Four working class boys from Liverpool who not only showed that not only could they create art that stood comparison with that produced by the establishment- they could create art that pissed all over it……the  greatest creative force of  the 20th century.”

    Again this is an over exaggeration. “The greatest creative force of the 20th century,” I don’t think so but a great creative force all the same. But the comment, " they were ordinary," got me thinking. Just recently myself and some friends were in Liverpool for a school reunion. We all got together at The Monro Pub in Liverpool’s docklands in the evening for a meal and few drinks. During the day, before the evening festivities began, some of us decided to take a Beatles tour. We booked the National Trusts Beatles tour which enabled us to visit John Lennon’s childhood home in Menlove Avenue ,Woolton and also Paul McCartney’s childhood home at Forthlin Road.

    Me and some mates outside 251, Menlove Avenue, where John Lennon lived with his Aunty Mimi

    I agree with Jarvis Cocker's point that the Beatles were ordinary. John Lennon’s home was a semi detached house in a middle class road. It was his Aunty Mimi’s and Uncle George’s house. They looked after him because his mother Julia wasn't cable of doing so. Anyway she had divorced his dad, Alfred, who was a merchant seaman and never at home. Julia had a new family to bring up. So John was the typical, unfortunately more so these days, damaged child from a broken disrupted home. His Aunty Mimi moved heaven and earth to try and stabilise his life for him. She had ambitions for John.  Music was a sort of rebellion for him and something he could retreat into.

    Paul McCartney on the other hand lived in a typical terraced council house on a council estate. He came from a very stable background. His father was a working class docker in Liverpool docks and his mother Mary was a nurse. They were a stable family. Paul enjoyed his music and wrote songs because he loved to do so. He tried out his songs on his family. His father collected records so Paul had music to listen to as well.

    Paul Mc Cartneys childhood home  at 20, Forthlin Road, Liverpool

    In visiting their houses it brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. My family, like Paul McCartney’s family, started in council property but in Southampton. After the war when my dad returned from Burma he got a clerical job on board the transatlantic liners, The Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, as a pursers assistant. When he met my mum he decided to get a job ashore as a clerk in the accounts department of a seed company in Southampton. They had little money and so lived in council accommodation. But my dad had ambitions. He studied hard for his accountancy exams and became a qualified accountant. Eventually my mum and dad bought their own house. They had ambitions, for myself and my two brothers too. Just as John’s Aunty Mimi had ambitions for John. My parents made sure we had a good education. How many people now really and truly value and understand the importance of a good education? We attended, first of all Charlton, a junior school and then the secondary school, St Mary’s College, Bitterne Park, in Southampton  both run by the Christian Teaching Brothers, (the ,”de la Mennais Brothers,”) a religious teaching order from Brittany . The point is, from a lowly start in life my family had ambitions and we progressed.

     In the 1950’s and early 1960’s council estates were full of people on the bottom rung of society and many of them worked hard and they had ambitions to progress in life. One friend of mine who lived in a council house too is now a professor at Belfast University, another is a managing director of a company, many are teachers, or became solicitors. Often people on housing estates, because they had mundane blue collar jobs, poured all their imaginations and creativity into hobbies. I’ve known judo experts, enthusiastic boxers, gymnasts, ballroom dancers, musicians who played at weddings and at local pubs, model makers, go cart enthusiasts, mechanics building their own kit cars,pigeon fanciers, whippet owners who raced their dogs and many many who  grew their  own  vegetables on council allotments and the list of activities goes on. Housing estates used to be bursting with creative people. Paul McCartney is a prime example, perhaps also George Harrison too. Ringo Starr was a local drummer who inadvertently tacked along. Nowadays I am not so sure people on council housing estates have this same drive and purpose to their lives. For a  start  much council property has been sold off.

    The Jarvis Cocker article:

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