Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel

Embed this content in your HTML


Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels

Channel Catalog

older | 1 | (Page 2) | 3 | 4 | .... | 6 | newer

    0 0

    This will take you back to a time when Rod  Stewart was good..

    The Faces with Ronnie Lane were really the best.

    I know drum solos can be boring , are a thing of the seventies, but this one is good, bloody good.

    There is not a bad thing about this  track.
    This is MY era, MY TIME.and this track  transports  me..

    I hope you can enjoy it as much  as me.

    0 0
  • 11/11/12--10:58: ARMISTICE DAY 11/11/1918

  •  Siegfried Loraine SassoonCBEMC (8 September 1886 – 1 September 1967) was an English poet, author and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War.

    I Stood With the Dead

    A poppy from Flanders Fields.

    Myself at The British  cemetery at Arras

    British graves at Arras.

    Another view of the cemetery  at  Arras, designed by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens  OMKCIEPRAFRIBA (29 March 1869 – 1 January 1944) 

    0 0

    Tom Yates in concert in an Antwerp club.

    Two Manchester mates, Mike Billington and John Constantine, have recently begun a venture together and started a new recording label called, EPONA RECORDS. Mike and John are well-known musicians on the  pub and club circuit of Manchester.  

    This is their second release on the EPONA label. It is a CD compilation of songs by another old friend, singer songwriter Tom Yates, who unfortunately died in Antwerp in 1993.  This CD, “Love is Losing Ground,”is the product of a labour of love by Tom’s widow Sonja, who agreed to release these tracks and the hard work of Mike and John.

    John used digital software to clean up the tapes of the songs.

    The album can be best described as autobiographical; a heartfelt exposition of Toms deeply held religious beliefs and a view of the world, particularly European in essence. Although Tom was born and brought up in the tough environment of the northern mill town of Rochdale which was at the heart of The Industrial Revolution, those experiences do not seem to infiltrate the songs on this album.  However the religious beliefs expressed in the album do echo the strict Protestantism of the northern mill towns in the Victorian period that created the strong work ethic that drove those northern towns to be the industrial might of Britain and the world. There is a similar strength of purpose reflected in these songs.

    Two photographs of Tom are featured on the album cover. On the front of the CD a picture shows Tom, wearing his cowboy hat and leather tasselled jacket, electric guitar in hands as he sings into a microphone, his intimate club audience close to him. The picture on the inside of the cover shows Tom gazing wistfully into the distance with the ancient city of Athens, bleached and bright in the background. Ancient Athens was the centre of the ancients study of their gods and religion, the birthplace of philosophy.This is a reference to Tom’s religious journey exploring what god is and philosophising about the world and the human condition.  Both pictures encapsulate the essence of this collection of songs.

    The opening song, “Love is losing ground,” is also the title of this album.  The lyrics set out Tom’s strong beliefs and views using powerful religious imagery delivered with a haunting clear voice. Refrains about ,”love forging the  new man,” sets a positive note but the synical refrains  the ”word gives way to image,” and , “ love  is losing ground,” shows us Toms view that there is a battle ahead  to defeat sin in the world. There seems to be certain pessimism here. This is a studio  album and the   reverb produced on most  tracks combined with Tom’s crystal clear vocals and reedy voice create a wistful  atmosphere combined with his spare and economical  guitar playing. The tempo is slow which adds to the haunting quality. Listening to this track gave me the feeling that Tom was close up to me. The intimate club atmosphere is recreated well in the studio.

    The second track, Jaques Brel, immediately takes us to Tom’s adopted country, Belgium, and the city Antwerp.  Jacques Brel was a world famous Belgium singer songwriter, actor and film star renowned for his guttural singing and sparse uncompromising songs. He played to club audiences the world over. Tom tries to imitate Jaques guttural rolling of his ,r’s, with a more staccato delivery and a driving earnest tone to his voice. I don’t think he achieves it in this song. Tom’s voice is more suited to his own haunting wistful lyrics. But obviously Jaques Brel was an icon that Tom admired and in this song he wanted to pay tribute to his Belgium compatriot. This song brings some invention and experimentation with the introduction of trumpets to compliment Tom’s acoustic guitar playing.

    The song ,Godspeed, returns us to Tom’s religious theme with a more hopeful and encouraging tone to it this time. The reverb is still very evident, still creating a wistful feel. It is a speedier number and also introduces backing singers who seem distant so as not to impinge on Tom’s voice too much. Tom has not got a powerful voice, his vocal strength lies in his perfect pitch and clear intonations. There are a lot of New Testament references in this song. Tom sings about,  “showing me the wounds bleeding all the same.” He is doubting Thomas. The metaphor of ripples on the lake  suggest Galilee and the important  symbol of water  in  Christianity sending out a message that extends further and further like the ripples.

    Tango Valentino is a big departure for Tom. He seems to include a number of genres in the one song. There is a short rock refrain which returns now and then, combined with a tango riff suggesting the title and perhaps a reference to Rudoplph Valentino, the 1920’s Italian, Hollywood heartthrob, and a hint of Jaques Brel.  The whole piece opens with a meatier base sound. There is still the use of reverb throughout which seems to be Tom’s signature. The lyrics are more depressive in this number talking about the,”world of sorrows we live in.” He berates the world, disenchanted with money, the use of credit cards and financial backers. A little note of anger about decadence which refers to movements such  as Dada in the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s that introduced anarchic ideas as a reaction to the first world  war. He thinks avante garde  movements , “try too  hard.” These references to the Europe of the 1920’s in this piece show, perhaps, Tom thinking it was a particularly decadent and immoral period in Europe’s history which his religious beliefs encourage him to counter.This number ends with an oboe refrain, haunting in the memory.

    Brutal and Cruel, brings a change of tempo. It is a faster high tempo number with a happy jolly bounce and feel to it which contrasts strongly with the theme and contents of the lyrics,”the good life we are living can be brutal and cruel. Too many  deaths.”This contrast creates a sarcastic feel which shows Tom feeling hopeless about the state of the world. He reverts to humour to deal with what  he sees as  evil. It  reminded me of the film, “Oh  What a Lovely  War,” which used music hall entertainment to  portray the horrors of trench  warfare  on Flanders  Fields, which of course again brings us back to the Belgium  link. There is also a brass intro to this number which is a departure from Tom’s usual  slow, intimate guitar  licks.

    Amid The Alien Corn, sees Tom being pessimistic and a little homesick and feeling the dislocation from his roots. His , “homeland is torn from him, in these alien fields of corn.” It could almost be a reference to Joseph, in the Old Testament and his near death experience, his exile and his rise to power dealing with the harvests in Egypt. An association of strife and overcoming adversity  becomes apparent in this album and was part of who Tom was.

    Wild Track, is a moment of self-recrimination laying bare his own failings. ,”Blame it on the money and the weed.” “Pound of flesh on the bathroom floor. Blood in the bowl.” Stark stuff, reminiscent of John Lennon’s Cold Turkey and Whatever Gets You Through the Night.

    In Misha Madou, a song about remembrance of a past lover, there is more musical experimentation using synthesisers extensively combined with Tom’s acoustic playing. A pleasant combination of sounds. The electronic synthesiser gives a feeling of cathedral space. I think there is probably too much feedback on Tom’s voice in this number but a brave attempt that doesn’t totally work.

    Stars and Sails  has Tom producing some classical guitar references played crisply and sharply. He is pondering the universe, whistling as he contemplates the stars and planets, their function and their meaning. The guitar playing is enjoyable to just sit and listen to on this one.

    The final tracks bring us back to overtly religious themes. A table in the wilderness seems to combine the Last Supper Table with Jesus’s sojourn in The Wilderness for forty days and forty nights. It is an upbeat number with some harmonica to go with his guitar playing giving a wilderness campfire feel to it. You can imagine Jesus with his disciples sitting round such a campfire eating fish from Lake Galilee caught by Peter and the conversations that ensued. And in, “A Song of sable Night,” Tom has become one of the disciples sitting at the feat of Jesus who is keeping his thoughts on him, Tom.  In this song he is faithful and true. There is a slightly discordant note when the message Jesus gives, “sets you free,” but, “is grief to some.” It is a reflective song that shows Tom at his most introspective and serious of thought. Finally the CD ends with, “It’s been a while,” Thisis an autobiographical number, Tom in his faded blue dungarees recalling the past and finding it difficult to separate dreams and memory. Ancient civilisations and tropic isles are recalled.  Whether this is a hint at a belief in reincarnation is not evident.

    This album provides food for thought. You do not have to agree with Tom’s religious beliefs but you can admire his clear honest look at life and the world around him. It is a courageous album in many ways because he tries different styles and techniques to present a song. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. He uses the themes and topics that interest and influence him in creative, thoughtful and intelligent ways.


    0 0

    Jane  Austen was  born to Cassandra and George  Austen at Steventon rectory in Hampshire on the  16th  December 1775. 

    In the village of Selborne, some fifteen miles from  Steventon, the naturalist Gilbert  White wrote about  the winter of 1775 in Hampshire. He said  that the Winter of 1775 was a hard one. On 11th November ,  White wrote that the trees around his Hampshire village of Selborne had almost lost all their leaves. “Trees begin to be naked,” he wrote in his diary.

    So the weather was severe and must have made giving birth a much harder task, but Jane Austen was born, a healthy and vibrant child into a noisy  world of brothers and frost.

    I was visiting my mother and father in Southampton today. On my way back to Wimbledon I thought I would call in at Chawton and  take some pictures of Jane's cottage on her birthday. 

    The  weather in Chawton today is  not  at all like Steventon 237 year ago. It is sunny and bright and blue skied. Over the last few days we have had frost and temperatures at -2 degrees centigrade  but not today. Today the sun is out.


    0 0
  • 12/24/12--02:57: MARMITE!!!!! AT CHRISTMAS

  • "On the first day of Christmas." (Regent  Street)

    OOOH!!!! “Love it or hate it.”

    Here in the British Isles we eat Marmite on toast, mostly. It’s great in a cheese sandwich too, to compliment the taste of the cheese and add that extra bight, a certain oomph! to the sandwich eating experience.

    There is many a  kitchen here in Britain,  in the early  morning, of young married couples with  their  toddler sitting in his or her high  chair holding toasted fingers of bread dipped in runny boiled egg in one hand, the  youngsters face  smothered, black with Marmite and a happy  grin, chuckling and chortling as  they  suck  and chew on some Marmite coated toast  fingers held in their other  hand . Oh gummy happiness!

    We teach our youngsters to eat Marmite as soon as they are weaned off the breast or maybe even before.However, amongst the uninitiated, a first experience of Marmite might be  rather  disgusting. Note the Marmite slogan,” Love it or hate it!!!!!. “  It is an acquired taste; hence the very early beginning we advocate for the introduction of Marmite to our youngsters.

    "You either love it or hate it."

    But why? you might be asking. It’s very very good for you. It contains largely yeast derived from the brewing industry. It also includes quite a bit of salt within a jar, but spread thinly on toast this is not a problem. It includes many vitamins; thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and vitamin B12.

    Between 1934 and 1935 it was used to treat malnutrition in Sri Lanka when they had a malaria epidemic there.It was included in the rations of soldiers in the trenches during the first world war.A lot of the troops also  carried copies of Pride and Prejudice too,  so Marmite and Jane  Austen actually  have something in common.

    Marmite was discovered in the late 19th century by a German Scientist called Justus von Liebig.  He discovered that the extract from the brewing process could be collected and put into jars. It appeared to be a healthy food for invalids.

    In 1902 the Marmite Food Extract Company was founded in Burton upon Trent in The Midlands. At first  they used earthenware jars as  containers.  The jar looked similar in shape to  the French earthenware cooking pot called a ,”marmite,” so they called the black spread, Marmite.I knew a  French Canadian who told me that when he first came to Britain and he saw Marmite on the breakfast table he thought somebody had taken the scorched and burnt charcoal off the bottom of a "marmite," cooking pot and put it into a jar and was revolted by the idea.  By 1907 it was so popular they opened a second factory in Camberwell, London. The Marmite company is now owned by Unilever and the product is as popular as ever with some amazing advertising campaigns full of British humour  that rivals the Cadbury Chocolate  adverts in their Monty Python  style craziness and bonhomie.

    You can have your face in the display.

    In the 1920’s the Marmite company started using glass jars which still retained the distinctive  ,”marmite,” shape. It is still sold in the same distinctive glass bottles today with the same yellow label, although, in March 2006 squeezy bottles, again with the distinctive round shape, were also introduced.

    It is not a good idea to keep Marmite in the fridge by the way. It goes hard and is unspreadable. However it never ever goes off. You can keep a jar for years and it will still retain it’s health providing qualities.

    Marmite Gold and Marilyn and Abigail. (Oxford Circus crossing.)

    Other companies and other nations have tried to copy Marmite. The Australians have a product called Vegemite. The Swiss and Germans have versions too  called respectively,”Cenovis ,”and “Vitamin R,” but Marmite, the British product, is dominant and nobody else can quite get the same distinctive flavour that can blow your head off!!!!!

    A little boy disappears into the Marmite jar.

    You might be wondering about the title of this piece,,” MARMITE!!!!! AT  CHRISTMAS.” Every year Oxford Street, the heart and pulse of British shopping puts up inventive and outstanding Christmas lights displays. This year the lights have been sponsored by guess who? Yes, Marmite!!!!!

    Last night, Marilyn, Abigail and myself took the 139 double decker bus from Waterloo Station across Waterloo Bridge, through Piccadilly Circus and along Regent  Street, which also has an amazing Christmas light display based on, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and then we turned left at the top of  Regent  Street at Oxford Circus, into Oxford Street and the world of Marmite hit us. All the lights are animated. Father Christmas eats a Marmite sandwich and throws it away in disgust, his face turning green. The next one shows a little boy disappearing into a Marmite jar and  lapping it all up. The next display features the happy Marmity faces of pedestrians in Oxford Street. You can take a photograph of yourself on your i-phone and send it to,the lights, and appear for a few moments in the display yourself. Delicious!!!!!! And so on down Oxford Street.

    Father Christmas throws his Marmite sandwich away and turns green,

    They say you stay a Marmite baby for life, once you have become addicted and it is an addiction. Here are two very happy Marmite babies still going strong  Ha! Ha!

    Tony--that's me!!!!!!!

    Clive--that's him!!!!

    0 0

    The River Thames wends it’s tortuous way across England from Thames Head in Gloucestershire until it reaches the southernmost part of the North Sea. It’s journey stretches for 215 miles. Finally the wide Thames Estuary which pours it’s contents into The North Sea is bordered on the north bank by the Essex coast and Southend on Sea and at its southern bank by the Kent coast, Sheerness and the entrance to the Medway.

    The Thames from Richmond Hill. the view protected by an  act of Parliament.

    Along it’s course The Thames passes though some beautiful English countryside before it enters the Greater London area passing by Sunbury and on to Hampton , then Hampton Court, Kingston upon Thames, Twickenham and Richmond. At last it reaches the centre of London with its iconic landmarks. The Thames,  from London along it’s whole length, has a long history of Iron Age villages, Roman habitation, Saxon towns, and mediaeval settlements, Tudor Palaces and Georgian and Victorian Villas.  London itself began as a Roman settlement for trade, built at the nearest bridging point to the coast   where they had their port called Ritupiae (Richborough). They wanted to penetrate the hinterland north of the Thames. Indeed the names Thames which was Celtic in origin but had it’s Roman equivalent (Tamesas  recorded in Latin as Tamesis)  and London (Londinium) come to us from Roman times.

    Over the centuries the Thames outside of London has provided a beautiful Arcadian retreat for the wealthy, the famous, the aristocracy and the monarchy away from the stench and diseases prevalent in many periods of London’s history. They built palaces and grand houses and villas with adjoining estates and landscaped parks to relax and take their leisure in. Marble Hill House is a Palladian Villa built between 1724 and 1729, very close to Richmond upon Thames but on the northern bank of the Thames near Twickenham. It was built for George II’s mistress, Henrietta Howard.

    To view Marble Hill House standing on the Richmond side of the river, which is the most panoramic view, set amongst river bank reeds and vegetation, I usually drive through Richmond Park from Wimbledon taking the Kingston Gate beside Kingston Hospital, off Kingston Hill. I emerge into Richmond Park from a road lined by elegant Victorian terraces, three stories high. These are, well to do, Victorian terraces, not the industrial town type of abode. The park opens out into a beautiful expanse of wild country, bracken, oak tree glades, some of the oaks lightening scarred and herds of roe and fallow deer grazing here and there. A mile into the park I take a left turn towards Ham, along a straight driveway set between a wooded expanse which leads to the Richmond Road  which runs between Kingston upon Thames and Richmond. I cross this road, towards the Ham Road. It leads down a narrow lane past cottages and an ancient pub with low doors and sunken windows and oak beams to the Thames next to Ham House, a superb example of a 17th  century country mansion.

    Ham House beside The Thames.

     I park my car beside the Thames here in the tree shaded car park. I turn right and walk  beside the Thames towards Richmond. You can watch rowers exerting themselves in their eights, or coxless fours or their single sculls. Ham House reveals itself on the right hand side, it’s curved entrance drive, lined by classical busts circling a great lump of a statue depicting Neptune reclining part nude and looking very whiskery. A little further on you can see Richmond Hill looming up ahead with a broad meadow stretching beneath it with cows grazing.

    An unusual rural sight you might think for London. On the top of Richmond Hill you can see the massive brick Star and Garter, which used to be a home for injured soldiers. Next to it is Wick House which was the home of Joshua Reynolds, the 18th century portraitist and next to that is The Wick, another beautiful Georgian villa where Pete Townsend of The Who now lives. To your left, across the Thames you pass the remains of Orleans House built in 1710. Before you reach Richmond Town itself you will also see Marble Hill House opposite you.

    The Wick,Pete Townsend''s house.

    Marble Hill house is one of many villas built here in the 18thcentury. Here also, Alexander Pope built a villa just downstream and had a famous grotto constructed in the grounds beside the river.  The grotto still exists but his villa doesn’t. There is a school on the site. The grotto is open to the public at certain times. Horace Walpole, had his grand, exotic, gothic, Strawberry Hill House built near here too, which looks like a fantasy castle. Walpole’s house is now  part of  St Mary's University College, Twickenham, the country's oldest Roman Catholic College which is situated on Waldegrave Road. Its sports grounds were used as a training site for the 2012 Olympics.

    Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole's abode near Marble Hill  House.(Wikipaedia picture)

    Marble Hill house was built between 1724 and 1729 by Henrietta Howard, mistress of George II. There was a strange arrangement made between her husband, Charles Howard, the younger son of the Earl of Suffolk, who was a wife beater and compulsive gambler and George II. Money passed hands and permission was given by Charles Howard for Henrietta to be the mistress of the then Prince of Wales who was later to become King.  Henrietta did not get a good deal from this at first appearances. She went from a wife beater and compulsive gambler to George, who had a notoriously bad temper which he often vented on poor Henrietta. George’s official wife, Caroline of Asbach, was compliant with the arrangement. You can almost sense her relief that Henrietta took the brunt of her husband’s bad moods.

    Marble Hill  House from the lawn bordering the Thames.

    However Henrietta was a survivor. After her husband died in1733 she didn’t look back. In 1735 she married the Hon. George Berkely, a member of Parliament and the son of the Earl of Berkely. She was granted permission to retire from court and from being a member of the bedchamber to the King. The King was generous and gave her a large financial settlement for her services. With this money she was able to build Marble Hill House. During her time at court she had made many friends amongst the writers, artists, politicians and intelligencia of the time. Henrietta’s friends included Horace Walpole,  4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797). Walpole was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician. Apart from being famous for building Strawberry Hill, he is famous for his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Along with the book, his literary reputation rests on his Letters, which are of significant social and political interest. He was the son of Sir Robert Walpole, and cousin of  Admiral Lord Nelson. Henrietta, was also good friends with Alexander Pope(21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744) who was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer.  He lived a mile away in a villa he had built beside the Thames. She would entertain not only Pope but Jonathan  Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745). Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer ,first for the Whigs, then for the Tories, poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. He is remembered for works such as Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier's Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, and A Tale of a Tub.

     Henrietta Howard.

    Henrietta also entertained the playwright John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732). Gay was an English poet and dramatist and member of the Scriblerus Club. He is best remembered for The Beggar's Opera (1728), a ballad opera. The characters, including Captain Macheath and Polly Peachum, became household names.

    These leading literary, political and artistic elite who Henrietta Howard was well acquainted with, were some of the leading lights of what was termed the Scriblerus Club. Alexander Pope, her near neighbour and friend was a member, so too was Jonathen  Swift, as well as  John Gay.

    Alexander Pope

    The Scriblerus Club, or as their members were termed, the Scriblerians, consisted of a group of thinkers and writers who wanted to satirise the world and the politics of the time. A character who was named Martin Scriblerus was invented and the members wrote articles about, “every art and science,” under his name. They imagined him as a man who had dipped into every sphere of learning, but injudiciously. The members originally intended to preserve their anonymity through this device.

    Some others who were members of the The Scriblerus Club and amongst the  greatest wits of the age included, Lord Bollingbroke, The Bishop of Rochester,  William Congreve, John Arbuthnot,  and Joseph Addison. There were others. The only meetings of the whole group that were documented  were between March and April 1714 at John Arbuthnot’s lodgings in St James’s Palace in Pall Mall.

    Enthusiasm  for the project  waxed and  waned amongst the  group. John Gay went off to work in the embassy in Hanover for a while and the others were distracted from the project by other work too. When they did try to rekindle an interest in Martin Scriblerus, lack of enthusiasm by Gay and others made the project falter. However the ideas of the club had far reaching consequences.

    Thomas Parnell coming over from Ireland was enthused by Alexander Pope for the principles of the  Scriblerus Club and wrote Homers Battle of the Frogs and Mice… (1717) which used some of the ideas and philosophy promoted by the  Sciblerians such  as mock  heroic verse and mock scholarly commentary. John Gay, although not enthusiastic about the  club continuing  wrote satirical  farces in the spirit of the Scriblerians such as, The What  d’ye  Call It (1715)  and the mock, Georgic Trivia (1716) and the farce ,Three Hours after Marriage(1717).Gays masterpiece, The Beggars Opera, is a further development of Scriblerus satire. Alexander Pope also said that Jonathen Swift’s , Gullivers Travels, originated from ideas discussed amongst the  Scriblerians.

    The satire promoted by the Scriblerus Club has its echoes in political satire today. They all had brilliant wit, and an edgy mix of antagonism and political subversiveness. Oliver Goldsmith and Samuel Johnson saw them as the high watermark of eighteenth century satire.

    Henrietta died at Marble Hill House in 1767 at the age of seventy nine.

    Other famous people who lived at Marble Hill House after Henrietta’s death included Mrs Fitzherbert, the mistress and illegal wife of George IV. In the 19th century it was the home to General Jonathen Peel, the brother of Sir Robert Peel the Prime Minister. Jonathen Peel was the Secretary of State for the War Department. Peel lived in the house even longer than Henrietta had from 1825 until his death in 1879. After his widow died it was sold to the Cunard family. They wanted to demolish the house and build houses on the site. Local residents got up a petition to stop this. In disgust the Cunard family sold the house to the local council who had raised donations from the people of Richmond and Twickenham.

    In 1902 an act of parliament saved not only the house but the view from Richmond Hill which Marble Hill House is part of.

    The view from Richmond Hill comprises a quintessential view of England and because of the act of parliament,can never be destroyed. The local council still have ownership and guardianship of the grounds in which the house is situated but since 1986 the house has been looked after by English Heritage. It has been brought back to it’s full Georgian splendour. The house has been refurnished to create a sense of the period. Some original artefacts from the time of Henrietta Howard have been recovered including original paintings. These paintings include those by Giovanni Paolo Panini. There is a fine collection of Georgian paintings from the period including portraits of all the members of Henrietta Howard’s friends and circle, Hogarth, Hayman, Wilson, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Ramsay and Hudson.

    The initial design for the house in the Palladian style was drawn by Colen Campbell, but probably Henrietta’s friend, Henry Herbert, the 9thEarl of Pembroke and  Roger Morris, the architect, had a hand in it’s design and construction too. Along with the building of Chiswick House a few miles away, it sparked an interest in the Palladian style. Palladian architecture is a European style of architecture derived from and inspired by the designs of the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). It drew ideas from classical Roman and Greek architecture and is uniform and symmetrical. If you visit Marble Hill House you will notice the geometrical design of the house.  The back and the front are identical and overall view has a satisfying symmetry. Echoes of Marble Hill can be seen in civic buildings in Britain and America. The great estates of England owe a lot to Marble Hill House and also Chiswick House, which is a couple of miles from Marble Hill House. Chiswick House was designed by Lord Burlington and William Kent (1685–1748) doyens of the Palladian style in England. Georgiana Spencer was an infamous occupant of Chiswick House, using it for weekend parties set in a rural idyll away from London. The influence of the Palladian style and in particular the designs of Chiswick House and Marble Hill provided ideas for the construction of plantation buildings in the Southern United States.

    Chiswick House, the weekend retreat of Georgiana Spencer.

    The view from across the river is spectacular but the most direct way for me to get to Marble Hill House itself is to continue driving through  Richmond Park, drive on past the turn off for Ham and that idyllic walk along the Thames and continue driving through the park past Pembroke Lodge to the Richmond Gate. This was the former home of Lord John Russell, one of Queen Victoria’s Prime Ministers and friend of Charles Dickens. It was here that his grandson, Betrand Russell, was brought up. I continue towards Richmond town, descending Richmond Hill, with that glorious poetic view of England on my left, until I get to the turn off for Richmond Bridge. I drive over the bridge into Twickenham and then turn left along the Kingston Road on the north bank of the Thames. A little way along the Kingston Road which is set back a little from the river; there is a left turn into Beaufort Road. This is at the entrance to Marble Hill Park. There is a small car park there. The park is open to the public and people walk their dogs. A rugby pitch provides the facilities for a game of rugby and children fly their kites. This might amaze you, but as you approach the front door of this beautiful Palladian villa you notice that the front door is rather small, in fact no bigger than the front door to my own suburban home. There is no grand entrance. There are two low arching walls at either extremity of the house that seem to gather those approaching towards this inauspicious entrance but that is all. The other thing that strikes you is that the door is closed and there is no sign to greet you. English Heritage like it like this. They want you to think  that you are  visiting it like  anybody in the 18th century. You are an invited guest and you can obtain entrance by merely walking up to the door, knocking, turning the handle and walking straight in. Inside you are met by perfect classical symmetry. The entrance hall is vast. It reaches right up to the roof with a balustrade encircling the upper floors from which the upper rooms proceed. A grand staircase on either side gives you the choice of which way you want to ascend. The downstairs grand entrance continues across the whole width of the house to the other side of the building with an identical door on the other side. This door leads you out onto a broad stretch of green lawn that reaches down to the banks of the Thames.  This is the side of the house you see from your walk on the other side of the Thames, walking from Ham House. The interior is spacious and light with all those paintings to contemplate.

    As an aside, walking along the Thames opposite Marble Hill, amongst the reeds and vegetation, with fields and grazing cattle about you, contemplating the geese and waterfowl and noticing rowers and sailors, you are walking in the steps of many famous people throughout the centuries, some of them fictitious. Arthur Clennam, a major character in Charles Dickens novel Little Dorrit walked from the centre of London across Putney Heath and Richmond Park to the river here and took the ferry, still plying it’s way, across to the Marble Hill House side, to visit his friends the Meagles family.

    Some of the few remaining parts of Richmond Palace.

    Dickens himself often brought his family to Richmond for weekends away from the hustle and bustle of London. It was here too that the great Tudor Palace of Richmond was situated and where Elizabeth I died. From here too, Frank Churchill rode on horseback to visit his family at Highbury and Hartfield in Jane Austen’s Emma. Even nowadays, some of the grand villas and houses in and near Richmond are the weekend retreats of the aristocracy and  famous music stars, such  as Pete Townsend and Mick Jagger. Film stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Sienna Miller both own beautiful Georgian mansions at Petersham, an idyllic village on the Kingston side of Richmond next to the river.

    Hogarth House where the Hogarth Press was  begun by Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

    Another famous resident of Richmond who lived not far from Marble Hill House was Virginia Woolf, who moved to Hogarth  House  in Paradise Road in 1915 after a bout  of violent mental illness. She published her first novel that year called,  The Voyage Out.  She  was  thirty  three years old and  had  actually  been  writing and rewriting The Voyage Out   since  she  was twenty five.The book is a fascinating study of mental illness and the writing process. It took her eight years to bring it to the public. Richmond features in the novel, with some of the characters in the book living there, when not on board the ship, Melymbrosia or residing in a fictitious South American port. The main protagonist, Rachel Vinrace, is twenty five years old within the scope of the novel and has been brought up by spinster aunts in a large house in Richmond. It comprises all her life’s experiences at the start of the novel. She can be seen as a version of Virginia Woolf herself and there are some autobiographical elements in the book. The story is a sort of rite of passage for Rachel and also Virginia Woolf. Rachel plays  Bach and Chopin on the piano, reads the Brontes and Hardy but mostly Cowper and  Jane  Austen. Early in the novel she expresses her views about Austen and especially Persuasion. She feels she could not live without Austen.

    The view from Richmond Hill painted by Turner.

    William Wordsworth visited Richmond and wrote a sonnet. In his sonnet “June 1820” (1820), he refers both to the nightingales for which Richmond Hill was once famous and are commemorated in the name "Nightingale Lane.”

    "Fame tells of groves – from England far away –

    Groves that inspire the Nightingale to trill

    And modulate, with subtle reach of skill

    Elsewhere unmatched, her ever-varying lay;

    Such bold report I venture to gainsay:

    For I have heard the quire of Richmond hill

    Chanting, with indefatigable bill,

    Strains that recalled to mind a distant day;

    When, haply under shade of that same wood,

    And scarcely conscious of the dashing oars

    Plied steadily between those willowy shores,

    The sweet-souled Poet of the Seasons stood –

    Listening, and listening long, in rapturous mood,

    Ye heavenly Birds! To your Progenitors."

    The view Sir Walter Scott was writing about.

    An extract from Sir Walter Scott’s, Heart of Midlothian, describes the view passionately from Richmond Hill. It could almost be a description of the scene today

    "A huge sea of verdure with crossing and interesting promonteries of massive and tufted groves,… tenanted by numberless flocks and herds, which seem to wander unrestrained, and unbounded, through rich pastures. The Thames, here turretted with villas and there garlanded with forests, moved on slowly and placidly, like the mighty monarch of the scene, to whom all its other beauties were accessories, and bore on his bosom a hundred barks and skiffs, whose white sails and gaily fluttering pennons gave life to the whole."

    The Thames near  Popes Grotto.

    Alexander Pope , mentions the Thames at Richmond, in his most famous poem, The Rape of The Lock.

    (The start of part 2)

    NOT with more Glories, in th' Etherial Plain,

    The Sun first rises o'er the purpled Main,

    Than issuing forth, the Rival of his Beams

    Lanch'd on the Bosom of the Silver Thames.

    Fair Nymphs, and well-drest Youths around her shone,

    But ev'ry Eye was fix'd on her alone.

    On her white Breast a sparkling Cross she wore,

    Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore.

    Her lively Looks a sprightly Mind disclose,

    Quick as her Eyes, and as unfix'd as those:

    Favours to none, to all she Smiles extends,

    Oft she rejects, but never once offends.

    Bright as the Sun, her Eyes the Gazers strike,

    And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.

    Yet graceful Ease, and Sweetness void of Pride,

    Might hide her Faults, if Belles had faults to hide:

    If to her share some Female Errors fall,

    Look on her Face, and you'll forget 'em all.

    0 0

    Sometimes we all need a piece of pure rock music to clear the cobwebs. A vast drum kit, throbbing base, wailing lead and a singer to break your heart.  I certainly do. In my head it takes me back 40 years and I want to get up there and strut like Jagger or punch the air like Daltrey or sing out with that dry scraped voice of Eric Burdon or indeed Paul Rodgers,

     So stand up, turn this up VERY LOUD and do your thing.

    You will feel better I guarantee!


    0 0
  • 05/11/13--10:59: PAINSHILL PARK (Surrey)

  • The Honourable Charles Hamilton was born in 1704, the ninth son and one of fourteen children of the Earl of Abercorn.The 6th Earl, Charles’s father, was at his accession an Irish baronet, "of Dunalong in the County of Tyrone, and of Nenagh in the County of Tipperary.” He was additionally created Baron Mountcastle and Viscount Strabane, in the Peerage of Ireland, on 2 September 1701. The 7th Earl, Charles’s oldest brother, became the first of the Earls of Abercorn to be invested a Privy Counsellor, having been appointed to both the English and Irish Privy Councils. Charles, being the ninth son, was somewhat down the pecking order as far as inheritance went. However, his father did provide him with the very best education  which should have honed his talents and provided him with substantial opportunities to be successful, and indeed he had great imagination and boundless ambition. Charles Hamilton went to Westminster School and then on to Oxford University.

    Charles Hamilton

     His father enabled Charles to go on two tours of Europe, which was always regarded as the finishing touch to an excellent education. Charles was inspired by the landscapes and exotic vegetation of the Mediterranean. He was especially inspired by the landscapes of Italy. He was also inspired by the landscape paintings of Pousin, Claude Lorraine and Salvatore Rosa.

    Salvatore Rosa (self portrait The National Gallery)

    In 1738, arriving back in England from his two tours of Europe, he acquired land near Cobham in Surrey, which included a stretch of the River Mole, which, incidentally, reaches the River Thames beside Hampton Court. It was here that Charles Hamilton decided to put into practice his love of natural landscape and deep interest in the varied flora found around the world. He became a member of parliament and was on the staff of Frederick, Prince of Wales. He had some well paid jobs which enabled him to get started on his Painshill project but he also borrowed heavily. For the next thirty five years he dedicated his life to creating a vision of beautiful and emotional landscapes. Charles Hamilton had one of the qualities most prized in the 18th century and is probably a quality prized today. He had, “taste.”

    Painshill Park lake

    Nicolas Poussin (15 June 1594 – 19 November 1665) was the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style. It is quite something to think of Pousin as an influence on Charles Hamilton’s ideas for Painshill Park. Many of Pousins rural pictures show shepherds and sheep within vast landscapes of rocks, rivers and beautiful trees placed in such a way that they look natural occurrences but reveal shimmering  close and distant views. You can also see this same depiction of landscape in the pictures of Claude Lorraine. (1600 – 23 November 1682 )also a French painter of the baroque period. However one of the main differences between Pousin and Claude Lorraine is that Pousin painted many nude portraits of beautiful women and nude, goat like, dark complexioned men leaning over them and admiring their most intimate parts. The ladies themselves are often asleep leaning backwards over pregnant mounds of grass with legs wide apart inviting scrutiny. Perhaps Charles Hamilton had other ambitions apart from the effects of landscape at Painshill? The follies he created are a series of moods and situations set within these Pousin and Claude style landscapes. Perhaps some of the parties he held in his grounds did lead to debauched tableaux too. Charles Hamilton, some money in his pocket, bright, intelligent, well educated, travelling throughout Europe, experiencing all the different cultures and situations he came across; one can well imagine. Salvatore Rosa’s landscapes are very similar to those of Pousin and Claude except that they portray Italian scenes. It was Italy that ultimately influenced Hamilton in his positioning of his, “ruins.” There is a self-portrait of Salvadore Rosa in the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It is one of the most striking self portraits you will ever see. It shows a young man dressed in a black cloak and wearing a black tricorn hat jauntily angled on his head. The face is of a young man but one full of concerns, frowning and deep in concentration. He is intelligent and brooding. You cannot but help engage with this portrait. I can imagine Charles Hamilton being as deeply thoughtful, intelligent and fighting his demons as Salvadore Rosa portrays himself.

    Landscape by Salvatore Rosa

    Charles Hamilton arrived at Painshill in 1738 and he set about his ambitious venture. He wanted plants from all over the world to give variety of texture, shape, size and colour to his garden and I should imagine scent
    too. The 18thcentury brought about a period of plant mania. Wealthy aristocrats prized seeds and plants from all over the growing British Empire. The Tradescants, father and son, in the early 1600’s had already explored Virginia in America and various other locations to obtain plant specimens. Phillip Millar at Chelsea Physic Garden published the “ Gardner's Dictionary,” in 1731 and we know that Charles Hamilton had a copy of it. Plants and seeds came from Europe, Asia, the Far East, South Africa and North and South America. The gardens at Kew received a lot of these plants and seeds and its botanical reputation began to develop too. Christopher Gray, the gardener for the Bishop of London at Fulham Palace bought plants from around the world and advised Charles Hamilton on his purchases. Hamilton also corresponded with the Abbe Nolan who was a gardening adviser to  Louis XV’s gardener at Versailles. 

    The gothic temple

    One of Charles Hamilton’s greatest sources of new seeds was the businessman Peter Collinson(1694-1768)who was the London dealer for John Bartram (1699-1777). Bartram and Collinson had a trading relationship for over fourty years. John Bartram was born in Pennsylvania and became a self-taught botanist. Peter Collinson was a cloth merchant and passionate plantsman but he was also a Quaker. His Quaker connections gave him links to the Quakers in the emerging states on the East Coast of America. He met and associated with John Bartram who was a Quaker too. Bartram felt a great affinity with nature and flowers and plants. He roamed the whole of the east coast of America from the Mountains of Pennsylvania, the coast of New Jersey, Lake Ontario, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and down as far as Florida. He travelled in the autumn when the harvest had been gathered and trees, plants and shrubs were ready to drop their seeds. He often travelled with indigenous Indian guides and on more than one occasion his life was in danger.He had to contend with rattle snakes, bad weather, rough and treacherous terrain and Native American and French raiding parties against the English settlements. His native guides were able to show him the best places to obtain seeds as well as guide him on his journeys. He was a true scientific explorer. 

    John Bartram

    John Bartram would send his seeds to Peter Collinson who held a living at Mill Hill, which is now situated in the London Borough of Barnet in North London, about fourteen miles from Charing Cross. Collinson kept a living collection derived from Bartram’s seeds. He sold on Bartram’s seeds to rich merchants and land owners who wanted to develop their estates and of course his main customers were the aristocracy who prized new varieties of plants shrubs and trees for their vast estates.

    1783 John Bartram seed catalogue.

     Charles Hamilton was one of Peter Collinson’s main customers. There is evidence in a large quantity of letters and receipts. He received his first Bartram box of seeds in 1748 and then a second supply of seeds in 1756. Collinson also worked with Hamilton on developing Henry Fox’s estate at Holland Park. We also know that Hamilton bought seeds from Alexander Eddie who owned a seed shop in The Strand. His bank statements for 1760 show Hamilton paying Eddie for seeds.
    Collinson supplied the Chelsea Physic Garden, which was interested in the medicinal properties of plants and shrubs. Kew Gardens received seeds from him. James Gordon, who by germinating and propagating seeds, turned Bartram’s rare American plants into affordable items. John Bartram also sent seeds to the Swedish botanist Linnaeus who developed a system of naming plants which is still used today. He used Latin as a universal language to do this. Linnaeus wrote that he considered John Bartram as the greatest botanist of his age.

    Bartram's boxes and barrel for transporting seeds.

    There was a great problem in getting plants back to Britain from America in the 18thcentury. It was a dangerous enterprise. England was at war with France and there was always the chance that trading ships might be captured. Also there was a matter of storing and packaging the seeds and plants. Plants needed to be watered and cared for on a trip that might take three months. Bartram invented a box system for live plants which kept them safe from damage and allowed them to be watered regularly. He also designed a barrel with different sections for storing loose seeds. The partitions would be layered with moss. Rare seeds might be wrapped individually.

    The ruined abbey at Painshill Park

    Hamilton had problems with money. He borrowed extensively and eventually in 1773 his debts became too much and he had to sell Painshill Park. Painshill then had a succession of owners who took care of Hamiltons original design and garden plan. The gardens survived into the twentieth century unchanged from their original form. However from 1949 it suffered neglect. Parts of the estate were sold off for farming and it became dilapidated and overgrown. Some of Hamilton’s original structures collapsed or disappeared. Elmbridge Borough Council bought the estate in the 1970’s. In 1981 the Painshill Park Trust was incorporated and the council granted the land to the trust on a 99 year lease. It was thought that the grounds could not be salvaged and restored but with great efforts it has been returned to its former glory and is still being developed and restored.

    The Grotto 

    Last Sunday during our May Bank Holiday weekend, Marilyn, my wife, myself and Abigail our youngest daughter visited Painshill Park and spent a few glorious  hours walking around the grounds and enjoying the beautiful scenic vistas and experiencing the scenes and moods that Hamilton created with his original park layout. We stood within the Gothic temple on a hill looking out over the lake with its low arched stone bridge spanning one end, with the great Turkish tent positioned high on an opposing hill. We walked around the lake and crossed the Chinese bridge.

    The Chinese Bridge 

     We walked into the magical limestone constructed lakeside grotto with it’s ceilings dripping in crystals. 18th century night time frolicking’s within a candlelit grotto literally sparkling like a mystical dream must have been the height of the exotic and maybe the erotic. We wandered past the , "ruined abbey,” beside the lake with an expansive vineyard stretching high above the lake up to an escarpment along the top of one of the high points.

    The crystal ceiling in the grotto.

     Some of the original trees planted by Hamilton are still there. Europes tallest cedar of Lebanon stands majestically viewed from many parts of the estate. There is a Spanish cork tree, rugged and tatty propped up these days like an old man using a walking stick close to the entwined figures of a copy of the statue of The Rape of the Sabines. 

    The Cedar of Lebanon 

    Many of todays shrubs, trees and plants are the same species and types Hamilton originally planted. The restoration not only includes the views that helped create the English Landscape Movement, Hamilton's series of ,”Living Paintings,” as he liked to call the views but the trustees are remaining loyal to Hamilton's seed catalogue and planting scheme.

    The Turkish Tent

     The John Bartram Association in the United States has been integral in helping the trust in their pursuit of authenticity. There is indeed a John Bartram Association in the City of Philadelphia to this day. They have a 45 acre garden and preserve the name of John Bartram.

    0 0


























    0 0

    Notting Hill is west of  central London. I went there the other day with Marilyn my wife and my youngest daughter, Abigail. It was a sunny Saturday and our British summer seemed at last to have arrived. Marilyn and I had not been to Portobello Road in Notting Hill for years.
    Portobello Road

     It seemed an inviting prospect because it is a vibrant lively area bursting with new talent, entrepreneurs, artists and musicians. Outside of Waterloo Station we got on the 154 bus to Oxford Circus and then transferred to a 94 bus heading for Notting Hill. We passed slowly along Oxford Street. The crowds were immense on the pavements, coloured by the thousands wearing Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund football shirts; the two finalists in this year’s European Cup Final at Wembley. It was the day of the cup final. The traffic was slow and congested but gradually we passed from the shopping mayhem which is Oxford Street past the elegant façade of Selfridges, its fabulous art nouveau clock surmounting its broad entrance canopy, on to Marble Arch and continuing on along the leafy and cool Bayswater Road. Late Victorian and Georgian white stucco buildings were on the right and Hyde Park on the left. Eventually passing Queensway and Bayswater with its tube station on the corner and shops full of ethnic vibrancy and diversity we continued on to Holland Park Road and Notting Hill Gate Underground Station. We got off the bus near the tube station entrance. There were some road works which prevented traffic going further and the bus was directed south along a diversion route but there was a pedestrian walkway by the side of the road works so we could walk on further to the beginning of Pembridge Road which leads to Portobello Road. The Notting Hill area is full of a variety of multicultural shops. It is an area where immigrants, especially West Indians, settled in the 1950’s. For many years it was run down and poor.

    Notting Hill

    In the early 18th century the area now known as Notting Hill was countryside. Portobello Farm was situated where the Portobello Road and Golbourne Road now meet at the northern extremity of Portobello Road. St Joseph’s Convent built by Dominican nuns in 1864 and now a Spanish cultural centre is on the site of the old farm. Up to 1740 the road was called Green Lane but soon after 1740 it was renamed Portobello after the Spanish town in Panama called Puerto Bello. The town was captured by Admiral Edward Vernon during an obscure sea battle called, The War of Jenkins Ear. The War lasted from 1739 to 1748 but was largely over by 1742. It had been instigated by the Spanish boarding a British merchant ship and during the affray Robert Jenkins, the captain of the merchantman, had his ear sliced off by a Spaniard. This caused a war between the British and the Spanish. The British wanted the Spanish to keep to their trading treaties with Britain. From the 1850’s onwards the Notting Hill developed as it is today with fine Victorian housing, mews and many shops.

    In 1864 Portobello farm was sold to some Dominican nuns who had St Joseph’s Convent built. The high brick walled convent is still there today at the most northern part of Portobello Road once you have walked underneath the Westway Flyover and the London underground railway bridge. Acklam Road is on the right beside the flyover and Golborne Road cutting across the top of Portobello Road is not far. The convent is a Spanish cultural centre these days.

    Aklam Road is an extension of the Portobello Market and local traders sell food clothing and other artefacts from their stalls. At that part of the Westway Flyover, using the roadway as its roof and taking up a large space underneath, there as a bar and free music club. Marlilyn, Abi and I had a beer and listened to a great singer accompanied by her acoustic guitar playing colleague. He was the songwriter and accompanist and she had an amazing voice. We could have stayed there forever. Three West Indian gentlemen sat impassively on a large sofa nearby, pitch black shades, fingers encrusted in gold rings resting on their knees, black leather homburg hats shading their faces, staring straight forwards, not a smile between them.

    Music venue under the Westway Flyover

    Walking along Pembridge Road from Holland Park Avenue Marilyn Abi and I turned into Portobello Road at the southern end. There were crowds of people. A few tourists were taking pictures of the quaint, pastel painted  early Victorian terraces with their front doors straight on to the pavement, some with small gardens with shrubs and trees  and then a young American lady, who was walking just behind, me gasped and exclaimed ,” George Orwell!” On one of these small terraced houses hidden behind a tree was indeed a blue plaque commemorating the sojourn of George Orwell. 
    George Orwell lived here.

    I took a photograph and we moved on into the hubbub and massed humanity that is Portobello Road with its fabulous antique stalls, bric a brac, fruit and vegetables, new fashions and second hand goods.

    Stalls and shops on the Portobello Road.

    Portobello Road is a tourist attraction but it is also struggling to keep its local identity. There is a Salvation Army centre for the homeless and impoverished. Half way down the street there is the old Electric Cinema which is nowadays, since 1996, the focus for the Portobello Film festival once a year and is converted into a plush avant garde art cinema inside with sofas and arm chairs scattered about for the clientele. There is a junior school and crèche and at the far end near St Joseph’s Convent there is some housing where many immigrant families still live. The popularity of Notting Hill has gentrified much of the area but there is still a vibrant core of immigrant people who live in the area and give it its distinctive character. Locals still have their food stalls and second hand clothing stalls. 

    To set yourself up as a stall holder in the Portobello Road is reasonably easy. You have to have an approved product to sell. Another tea shirt stall is not going to get you a pitch however. You must take out a public liability insurance policy covering £5 million and then all you need to do is go along to Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall and for £12 register as a street trader. From Monday to Friday you will be given a pitch based on a lottery process and you will have to pay £12 for the day. At the weekend the price can go up to £45 for a day but of course at the weekends you will have the foreign hoards and you will make a fortune.

    Street musician playing rockabilly
    Some of my favourite stalls in the Portobello Road include those that sell second books and a stall that sells old film cameras. Another specialises in 1930’s fur coats. Some stalls sell the most exquisite silverware, gravy boats, salt sellers and ornate silver tureens. There is one stall that specialises in military gas masks. There are a whole range of shops selling high quality antiques including a variety of artefacts and furniture. The street is punctuated by restaurants, cafes and street performers. One gentlemen stood legs akimbo, clad in baggy jeans with turn ups, soft suede shoes and baggy white shirt with brillcreamed hair; his whole body vibrating, strumming vigorously,  a great loose stringed double base, pounding out old rock and roll rhythms. He had quite a crowd gathered round him smiling and enjoying the energy.

    Bric a brac stall.

    Portobello Road is famous in popular culture. We all know the film, "Notting Hill," with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts which was largely filmed in The Portobello Road. Madonna, when she was married to Guy Ritchie owned a pub nearby and lived in Notting Hill. Us Brits call Madonna affectionately , "Madge,” but she never did like that. In 1950, the cult film, Blue Lamp, was filmed in the area. The road is mentioned in the 1960’s novel, The Chinese Agent. It features in the childrens film ,Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It is also a favourite haunt of Paddington Bear from Michael Bond’s series of children’s books. It has featured too in television programmes such as, Minder, and ,Bargain Hunt. Blur, reference Portobello Road in one of their songs. It also features on the original Monopoly Board game.

    Contemplating life in the Portobello Road.

    Notting Hill has had its fair share of problems. In 1958 the Notting Hill race riots began over an argument between a Swedish lady called Majbritt Morrison and her black West Indian husband. A white woman with a black lover or husband was not easily accepted back in the 1950’s. After the Second World War many immigrants had come to this country from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands to work on the London Underground and in the National Health Service hospitals but some white groups such as the teddy boys, didn’t like this infiltration of black people and often fights would be instigated at the slightest provocation. This is what happened in Notting Hill. Some teddy boys had seen Raymond Morrison attack his white wife Majbritt. They saw him in the street the next day and attacked him. This instigated groups of black youths to roam the streets looking for the teddy boys. The riots that ensued lasted for three nights. Claudia Jones, a black woman, wanted to do something to stop this sort of aggression. The following year she began what is now termed the Notting Hill Carnival which has now become the largest carnival in Europe and is held at the end of August every year in the streets of Notting Hill. Marilyn and I went to three Notting Hill carnivals in early 1980’s. The vibrancy, colour and the music is fantastic. Half a million attend the carnival now every year over the carnival weekend. The streets are full of floats with bands playing great music. There are garishly and brightly adorned carnival dancing groups and the whole exudes peace , joy, fun and has a great energy. I remember the unbelievable West Indian sound systems with gigantic speakers booming out body vibrating base sounds. Reggae is great!!!!! So many peace loving Rastafarians too, fill the streets. Our ears have never recovered.

    Erno Goldfinger's Trellick Tower in Golbourne Road.

    One of the most famous or perhaps infamous places in Notting Hill is Trellick Tower situated not far from the north end of Portobello Road just along the Golborne Road. It was built in1966. It is thirty one stories high and is built in what has been termed, the brutalist style.. In other words it is made of unforgiving concrete. Many of our university campuses were expanded in the 1960’s using his very same style of architecture. Trellick Tower is an important example of this style and has become a grade II listed building. This means that it must not be demolished and its outside appearance cannot be altered. It is an example of architecture from a particular period in history. It was designed by Erno Goldfinger. Yes, you may well have a double take at that name. Goldfinger was a  ruthless gentleman and a rather aggressive character. Ian Flemming, one day while on the golf course with one of Erno Goldfinger’s colleagues had to submit to this gentleman pouring out  his feelings about Goldfinger. It was after that that Ian Flemming decided to use Goldfinger's name in one of his novels. Goldfinger threatened to sue Flemming over the use of his name but Flemming pointed out that if they went to court it would be Goldfinger who would be shown to be a bully and an unsavoury character. Goldfinger dropped the suit and Flemming used his name.

    Wearing shiny silver boots walking along Golbourne Road.

    Trellick Tower is mostly social housing but some of the flats have been privately bought. They provide an amazing view over London. However they do have structural problems. They are not very well insulated and can be cold in the winter. To improve the insulation the whole exterior would have to be renewed. At the present time this would cost the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea too much money. There has been both a murder and a rape as well as various assaults in the foyer over the years and this caused the residents association of the tower to get the council to provide a coded entry system and a concierge in the entrance. In 1988 the tower was used in the film, Queen and Country, starring Denzil Washington.

    0 0

    It was the summer of 1958. A hot June Saturday. I was six years old and wearing my cowboy outfit; wellington boots for cowboy boots, a check shirt , a paisley scarf knotted around my neck ,a brown felt, “ten gallon,” on my head sporting a smart shiny band around the crown.  A wide leather belt with a black leather holster hung loose  against my right thigh,  patterned  with gleaming steel studs. A silver pistol in my right hand, smoked gently from the barrel after a series of shots I had just expertly aimed at Tonto. My mate Paul, who was dressed as an Indian with his mums lipstick for war paint striped across his cheeks,  had disappeared behind the side of the garages at the back of our council flats. The realistic gunshot sounds had been produced by the pistol hammer striking sharply in turn exploding a series of percussion caps on a narrow paper roll placed in the ammunition drum of the pistol.

    My Aunt Mary, for many years, was a stewardess working for the Cunard shipping line. During my childhood she worked, voyage after voyage, for years on the cross Atlantic rout to New York sailing from Southampton. She mostly sailed on the Queen Mary but  she also worked on the Mauritania, the Saxonia and occasionally on the Queen Elizabeth. Her job was a nanny. She looked after the children of the rich and famous as they enjoyed the endless parties and entertainment provided on one of these Atlantic voyages which would take about five days. Often, Aunt Mary would bring us back presents from New York. The cowboy suit I was wearing that summer’s day in 1958, was one such present.

    The Queen Elizabeth departing from New York harbour.

    I remember one Christmas my dad, who worked for Cunard too for a short while after the second world war in the pursers department aboard the Queen Elizabeth, and my Aunt Mary were in New York together and went to Radio City Music Hall for its Christmas entertainments. I remember their descriptions of the show and watching the Rockettes high step across the stage. My dad, my Aunt Mary, my Uncle John and my Aunt Jess used to talk often of going to New York night clubs and how they had their favourite coffee and breakfast bars near the docks where the Queens used to dock. There are family stories of wealthy Americans paying large tips, their easy ways and their larger than life personalities; my Aunt Mary working for Elizabeth Taylor and my dad meeting Cary Grant, both, strangely enough, of British origin. There is the photograph of my Uncle John shaking hands with the Queen Mother when she sailed across the Atlantic once. I have heard stories about shopping at Macey’s and walking down 5th Avenue, all my life, or so it seems.

    My mum 1941

    During the war my mother had a pen friend who lived in Brooklyn. Her friend was from an Italian family. I think my mother must have made the contact through the nuns at St Annes Convent, the Catholic school my mother attended as a girl in Southampton. My parents are Catholics and we were all brought up as Catholics.

    As a little boy of six, with my brother Michael, who was then aged five years old, I remember begging and begging my mum and dad if we could stay up to see The Dick Van Dyke Show. I loved that warm funny American way of life. It seemed so lacking in any problems and not the slightest wisp of austerity. The Lucille Ball Show was an even greater draw with her mad crazy scatty ways. These shows seemed to be for adults  but they had an enormous appeal for small children too. Being British in the years after the Second World War, we British were used to austerity, living within our means and watching every penny. Everything was saved for. My mum and dad did not buy things on credit. They were strict with themselves and this reflected our life style.

     What we saw on TV in these American programmes was like another world of ease and gentle humour. It was a sort of dream world. Then there were the other American programmes that the BBC aired too,  The Munsters, ( Herman seemed so kind and idiotic; we weren’t used to benign friendly monsters here in Britain) The Beverley Hillbillies, Bewitched, oh we were all “bewitched.” British programmes made by the BBC and later ITV (independent television) were much grittier and hard hitting. This grittiness was also reflected in British films and literature of the time. The TV programmes included Coronation Street on ITV and Z Cars, a TV police drama. Our humour was self  depracating , dry and often  deeply cutting in many ways; programmes such as  Hancocks Half Hour and comedians such as Ted Ray and Kenneth Horn made us laugh at ourselves. Their sort of wit and humour lead to Peter Sellers , Spike Milligan and later still the Monty Python style of humour.  Cathy Come Home was a social commentary film that was incredibly hard hitting, Up the Junction and novels like Saturday Night Sunday Morning showed us  the seedy  harsh rough side of Britain. We British were not easy on ourselves, so American light entertainment lifted the mood a little.

    Mum and dad thought they were taking a chance letting us watch the Perry Como Show, but fortunately they did allow us to watch it; and strange as it might seem, it never ever occurred to them that Liberace was rather unusual. The British have always had a great regard for pantomimes and pantomime dames. Unfortunately though, if Frank Sinatra came on, that was definitely not allowed. That was adult stuff, without a doubt. Any of the “Road,” films with Bing Crosby were Ok and watching, White Christmas, at Christmas was a good thing. We seemed to watch, and this was deemed quite acceptable, war film after war film, both British and American. Our parents wanted us to see them. Draw your own conclusions if you will. They were shocked though at Michael and myself using plastic tennis rackets as guitars, standing on kitchen stools and singing raucously and energetically Tommy Steel songs and Rock Around the clock by Bill Hayley and the Comets. Tommy Steel, before he took up a film and acting career, was a rock and roll singer. Shock horror!!

    There used to be a cafe in Southampton, in the basement of one of the High Street shops, called the Cadena Café. It was always a treat to go there. My grandmother often took Michael and myself to the Cadena for the most delicious real cream cakes and tall glasses of lemonade. What was very special about the Cadena Café though were the murals on the walls. They were painted full height from the floor to the ceiling and surrounded all the walls. They were gigantic seascapes. The views showed entering New York harbour aboard one of the Queens. It was the view from the prow of the ship. The Statue of Liberty stood foremost, erect and tall on Liberty Island at the entrance to New York. Massed sky scrapers crowded behind it. The sea looked choppy with dramatic wave patterns which represented all the different shades of the sea from light turquoise to blue black; and tug boats scurried in front of the ship as it entered the harbour. That mural in the Cadena Café fixed my view of a modern, thrusting, energetic New York, with all its excitement, more than anything else. It has remained in my consciousness to this day.

    Two million American troops marched through this ancient  gateway  down to  Southampton Docks between 6th June 1944 and May 8th 1945. This is the same gateway that Henry V's troops marched through on their way to  Harfleur and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. In 1620 the Pilgrim  Fathers  passed this way  to the Mayflower and Speedwell moored close to this gateway.

    Southampton in 1958, had very strong memories of America and Americans apart from the TV programmes on BBC and ITV and the shipping connection between Southampton and New York. Southampton was the embarkation point for most of the American troops entering Europe on D Day and during the year after D Day which lead to Victory in Europe. There is a plaque on the ancient medieval city gate into Southampton called The Bar Gate which commemorates this. This number might seem incredible but two million Americans marched through that gateway to the docks. The number makes me feel incredulous even now, though I know it is true. Many households in Southampton billeted American troops leading up to D Day. My family owned a large house in Swift Road, Woolston. My dad was away in Burma with the RAF .My grandmother billeted two American soldiers. She always talked about them fondly and with great affection years later.

    New York 1945 showing the docks where the  Cunard ships docked. Later in the 1950's and the  decades following, members of my family were on board those ships.

     I did indeed dream as a six year old child of going to America, the land of skyscrapers and enormous cars with chrome wings that looked space age.  I dreamed of going to New York and playing with American children of my own age. But, this might seem a little strange, my dreams included quite a bit of Superman stuff. I would always be able to leap from sky scraper to sky scraper. Don’t ask me why, but in my dreams, the dreams of a six year old, I could do that.

    Macey's  New York.

    0 0

    The Mayflower
    The very term, Pilgrim Fathers, denotes a biblical patriarchy. They called themselves, pilgrims,  a religious term describing people who go on a religious journey to get close to their God. Father denotes male dominance.However, was it entirely like that?

    They sailed to the the province of Virginia to create a “new world,” based on their beliefs in 1620 during a period in English history that was full of turmoil and changing views about society and the individual.

    Elizabeth 1 died in 1603 unmarried and childless. James IV of Scotland, a great great grandson of Henry Tudor was Elizabeth’s closest living relative, and so he was asked to become King of England. He became James I of England. The Reformation had already caused a great upheaval in religion in England and had been the cause of many executions, both Catholic and Protestant. Although James was a protestant his mother, Mary Queen of Scots had been a devout catholic and James had catholic sympathies. The downtrodden Catholics in England had hopes for more toleration for their cause. In fact all aspects of the religious spectrum in England hoped for more toleration.

    This was not to happen. Plots were formed. Soon after James came to the English throne a group of disaffected Catholics lead by Robert Catesby tried to blow the King up and all his courtiers at the opening of Parliament on the 5th November 1605.  The plot was foiled and all the conspirators caught and eventually executed.

    The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators

    During the years 1605 and 1606 separatist or non conformist religious groups were being formed in various parts of the country. In Yorkshire, Richard Clifton, who was the rector at Babworth, was assisted by John Robinson from Sturton le Steeple in setting up non conformist groups at a village nearby called Scrooby. A similar congregation was begun by John Smyth at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. They were breaking the law because all English people had to attend services on a Sunday at their local Church of England parish church. It was an offence not to do so but these groups continued under duress.

    These non conformist groups were not lead by people who formed their ideas from pure imaginings. John Robinson had been the Dean of Corpus Christi Cambridge so he was an intellectual of the highest order. Groups of people throughout the country were reading and interpreting the Bible for themselves. This was termed as self-prophesising and from this process new ideas and philosophies emerged.

    John Robinson

    During Henry VIII’s reign the bible was translated into English for the first time. This was called The Great Bible. In 1568 came The Bishop’s Bible another English translation.  These bibles theoretically enabled every Englishman, or rather those who could read, access to the Bible and therefore enable them to interpret it. Henry had begun the Reformation in England in response to what he saw as the interfering authority of the Pope. He believed that the monarch had direct authority from God so he became the head of the Church in England. He began to remove the excesses of the Catholic Church, first by closing the monasteries and reorganising the church. However groups of people such as the Scrooby congregation wanted to go much further. They wanted to completely purify the church as they saw it. They became known as the Puritans. They wanted to cleanse the church of all it’s finery and catholic style services. They wanted to simplify it with the individual’s relationship to God paramount. Being able to interpret the Bible for themselves was an integral part of this. The Puritans were not happy with the first interpretations of the Bible. They were too catholic oriented. Between 1604 and 1611 James had a new interpretation of the Bible written. This was known as The King James Bible. This became the standard bible used by the Church of England for centuries to come and this was not enough for them either.

    The King James Bible

    Groups of non-conformists such as those at Scrooby in Yorkshire were not pleased with the pace of change in the church. The system of governing the church in England had not substantially changed since Catholicism. The King was the head instead of the Pope and the same hierarchy of Bishops and rectors was still in place. The individual was at the bottom of the pile and still had to follow the laws imposed from above. These groups were finding it harder and harder to exist and worship as they wanted. They were not tolerated. Between 1607 and 1608 the groups lead by Richard Clifton, John Robinson and John Smyth from Lincolnshire fled to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. They joined groups lead by Francis Johnson and Henry Ainsworth. They wanted to pattern their life on their own interpretations of the New Testament. John Smyth died in 1612 and many of his followers joined the Mennonites. These were groups that had formed around the teachings of Menno Simons (1496-1561) Their beliefs were based on the belief and mission of the life of Jesus Christ. They were persecuted by both the Catholics and the Protestant churches in Europe so they had to retreat to the areas and states where they were accepted. Others in John Smyths group returned to England with Thomas  Helwys and John Marton and began what was termed The Baptist Church. John Robinson took his group on to Leiden. Leiden was experiencing economic expansion at the time. The cloth industry was growing rapidly there. The separatist groups in Leiden expanded and sympathisers from East Anglia, Kent and London joined them in Leiden. There was an English military garrison in Leiden and some of the soldiers of that garrison joined the separatist groups. Among the soldiers to join was Myles Standish. Theologically many of these groups were Calvinist. John Calvin lived  (1509 – 1564) The Calvinists differed from some of the other groups such as the Lutherans by not believing in the presence of Christ at the consecration and differed also in other religious beliefs and rules. Calvinists believed in predestination. This was a belief that every individual was already chosen at birth to go to heaven or hell. Other groups such as the Lutherans believed that the way we lead our lives could determine whether we went to heaven or hell.

    Within this atmosphere of the formation of  beliefs John Robinson formed his theology. He believed in predestination, (the Calvinist view), free will, lay prophesising ( the individual’s ability to interpret the Bible) and the analytical methods of Petrus Ramus and Giacomo Zaberella. This was a way of explaining the Bible and practicing it’s tenets through a form of logic. Ramus created a method for explaining Aristotles thinking. He described logic as including summaries . headings, citations and examples. He believed in a sort of binary tree system to explain knowledge.

    It was these ideas that Robinson used to give authority for his explanations of the Bible to his congregation. This use of logic is why people who followed him formed strong beliefs and followed Robinson first to the Low countries from England and eventually had the strength of faith in his teachings to follow him to New England. He believed in a practice of lay prophecy where all men including women were allowed to discuss possible interpretations of the bible. Robinson also shifted away from rigid separatism which existed between the Calvinists, the Lutherans and other separatist groups. He began to believe in a cautious toleration of religious dissent and a variety of practice.

    The Netherlands was becoming the home to many strands of separatist  groups. However a coup by Prince Maurice of Orange only recognised Dutch Reformed control making the various groups think that they would be forced to worship within one church again. From 1619 independent ministers were no longer allowed to discuss religion in their own private homes. The Netherlands were under threat therefore and not a safe haven for these new religious groups. This organisation of Protestantism under a national church, the Dutch Reformed Church  within the Netherlands was a powerful reason for Phillip II of Spain to try to reinforce his authority by revitalising the eighty years war. The Netherlands were part of  a Catholic dominated Empire. The Protestant English Government in response promised military assistance to Prince Maurice of Orange under the condition that the English Government would have supervision of all English language congregations in the Netherlands.

    The Pilgrim fathers walked down French Street to The Mayflower and Speedwell moored at the end of the street.

     The separatist groups felt under pressure in many ways. These adverse conditions created the climate in which Robinson’s congregation planned to move to Northern Virginia then beginning to be known as New England. English investors supported the Leiden group and enabled them to obtain a charter to found a colony in the mouth of the Hudson River. In 1620 they set sail on the Mayflower. The Pilgrims had purchased two boats, The Mayflower and The Speedwell. They sailed first to Southampton on the south coast of England. They purchased stores and other Pilgrims joined them. After setting sail from Southampton bad weather and the unsuitability of the Speedwell for an Atlantic crossing forced them to take refuge in Dartmouth in Devon.The Speedwell was repaired and they set sail once more. The Speedwell once more proved unseaworthy and they called  at Plymouth, also in South Devon. This  time all the pilgrims boarded the one ship, The Mayflower and set sail. There was no going back. 

    The Mayflower memorial Southampton.
    The memorial is on the site where The Mayflower would have been anchored.

     Arriving in Cape Cod in November 1620 the prevailing winds prevented them from reaching their intended destination. Some on board, because they had landed beyond the restrictions of the charter they had obtained from the English Government wanted to set up a colony free from England. The leaders of the Pilgrims responded by writing The Mayflower Compact which all signed binding them to England and the English Sovereign. The Compact also laid out that they should elect leaders democratically and enact laws that they should choose. This early document was the forerunner of the American Constitution and in fact some of its tenets were similar to the Constitution.

    The plaque on The Mayflower memorial

    It is easy to think that emigration to the New World was the answer for these separatist groups but it wasn’t the only answer. The majority of non-conformist groups remained in England suffering for their faith. It all came to a head twenty years later when Charles I closed parliament and ruled independently under the belief that only he had the divine right to rule. There were many non-conformist or Puritan groups now who wanted a much more democratic approach. This rift in belief and philosophy caused a split in the country between those who believed in the authority of a democratic parliament and those who supported Charles in his belief in the divine right of kings. This brought about the English Civil war which the parliamentarians lead by Oliver Cromwell defeated the King and beheaded him for treason to the English people. This brought about a situation where the Puritans set the tone for authority and the laws of the country. They became strict and austere themselves in   not allowing the freedoms they  had struggled for. They in their turn did not tolerate those who did not hold their beliefs. Some groups went even further in their interpretation of the Bible and, “pure,” way of living. One such group was termed The Levellers. They got their name from their belief that everybody should be equal or level. An offshoot of the Levellers were The Diggers who got their name from their ways of digging the land to grow their own food. The Diggers, were formed in 1649, the year after Charles II was beheaded. Gerard Winstanley was their leader. They settled first at a place called St Georges Hill in Surrey near Weybrdge. They later moved to land near Cobham, also in Surrey. Their beliefs and way of life was more extreme than most Puritans and they were persecuted for this in their turn.

    Gerrad Winstanley portrayed on a wall mosaic in Cobham Surrey

     Gerrad Winstanley wote,

    “everyone talks of freedome, butt here are few who act for freedome, and the actors for freedome are oppressed by the talkers and verball professors of freedome; if they wouldst know what true freedome is it lies in the community, in spirit and in the earthly treasures…” (A watch word to The City of London and the Armie 1649)

    Sentiments not far removed from what The Pilgrim Fathers might have stated.

    This is a hot cross bun reputedly amongst the stores that The Pilgrim Fathers were going to take with them from Southampton. The fact that it never made it to The Mayflower is interesting. Hot cross buns had been banned since the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It was illegal to make them and be seen eating them. This continued into the reign of the Stuart kings. This was an illegal item. I can image a port official looking through the Pilgrim Fathers stores and finding the hot cross bun, 

    "Sorry sir, you can't take that with you to The New World. I'll have to take that with me."

    And so it has remained in Southampton for the last 400 years. A nice thought.

    0 0
  • 08/04/13--04:55: A DAY OUT IN BRIGHTON


    Saturday 3rd August, another hot day in Britain reaching to 30 degrees centigrade and above. The night before, in Wimbledon, thunder had rumbled and lightening split the heavens followed by a heavy deafening downpour. It didn’t last long. The morning brought blue skies and the promise of more heat. Marilyn, Abigail and myself thought a day in Brighton would be a good idea.

    DRAG QUEEN!!!!!!!!!

    We drove down to Brighton at about 10am. It is only fifty miles from where we live in South London. As we approached Brighton driving through the South Downs and passing the iconic concrete pillars with Brighton’s coat of arms emblazoned at the top of each pillar set either side of the motorway that announces that you are entering Brighton, we noticed groups of people, wearing brightly coloured clothing, wearing pink boas and their faces painted in rainbow stripes walking towards Preston Park just to the north of the centre of Brighton. Then we saw it. A large poster advertising Brighton’s Gay Pride March!!!! Cars were being parked at the road side and in streets branching off the main thoroughfare into Brighton. We realised we were not going to be able to drive into the centre of Brighton so we found a parking spot in Clermont Road  that leads up to Preston Park Station. We walked into Brighton as far as Preston Park. The park was full of fairground rides and a gigantic arena set out in front of a large  main stage. Other stages were set up in other parts of the park. Large banners advertised Paloma Faith’s DJ set, Alison Moyet, Sugababes, Stooshe and MS Dynamite.


    The crowds were gathering and yellow vested security marshals were keeping the crowds on the pavements. The Gay Pride march was on it’s way with floats, banners, flags and thousands and thousands of participants. Leading the march was an open top sports car with a naked gentleman with breast implants, jiggling his breasts and waving and smiling at everybody to the cheers of the he was driven ceremoniously past. Then followed float after float carrying people of every gender and sexual orientation. The drums and the music blared and people waved and people smiled.
    There were estimated to be 200, 000 people on the streets of Brighton for the march. The police, the NHS, the fire service, teachers, UNISON, workers unions and rather obtusely, TESCOS and the THE COOP, all had their Gay Pride presence and the march went on and on. The atmosphere was joyous and happy and fun. We were having a fantastic time.


    After the march had gone past and entered Preston Park, Marilyn, Abigail and I walked on through the crowds to the centre of Brighton and the sea front. The atmosphere was fantastic. It was electric. The whole of Brighton was buzzing. People were hanging out of windows. They stood on roof tops and balconies and waved and cheered to all of us walking past. The streets were crowded and the parks were full of seated and prone people drinking and talking and laughing. We walked along the seafront and found a fish and chip shop where surprisingly we found a table and chairs to sit at. The fish and chips were beautiful. The best chips have a light slightly crunchy texture. The best fish is cooked to a light fluffy moist consistency inside a golden crispy batter. These fish and chips were beautiful sprinkled with sea salt and splashed with  malt vinegar.

    We went down onto the gravel beach and sat in the sun amongst the crowds and watched the glassy green sea crash it’s waves against the shingle. The sound of Brighton Beach, with the sea crashing against the shore is captured in the opening moments of Quadrophenia by The Who.  It is a refreshing and exciting sound. All around, men were kissing men, women kissing women and a few men and women kissing too. One great big affectionate love affair was going on. We wandered round some of the art galleries near the sea front and I took lots of photographs.

    Later in the afternoon when we were making our way out of Brighton to our car next to Preston Station the streets were beginning to fill with drunken and raucous people.. It was getting very loud and crazy. A couple of minor incidents where fights were beginning. The police were keeping a calm presence. Marilyn nearly intervened  when we witnessed a man lifting the dress of a comatose drunken women laying on the steps of a house and his friend was taking photographs of the woman’s knickers. As Mariyln approached, ready to  pull the man away and give him some verbal stick, she can give some aggressive verbal castigation when she needs to, I know, the woman woke and smacked the man around the face with a strong round house lunge, laughing manically at him. It was all a joke. I hope anyway.

    As we approached Preston Park, Paloma Faith was pulling in the crowds at one stage and on the main stage a band was belting out a piece to a massive adoring crowd of tens of thousands.

    We got to the car and drove on home.

    . A Lambretta Scooter. A Brighton icon from the 60's.



    Here is a history of Brighton Gay Pride from their website.




    When do you think Brighton held its first Gay Pride march … 2000? 1990? You might be surprised to hear it was 1973. You probably won’t be surprised to hear it was a very small affair, certainly not the big parade with carnival floats and huge crowds we’re used to today.

    Organised by the Sussex Gay Liberation Front, it was a brave thing to do at the time. Only seven years before that and gay men simply getting it on together would’ve ended in a gaol sentence. The first Pride march may have been small in numbers but they did it in style ending the day with a Gay Dance at the Royal Albion Hotel.



    It wasn’t until 1991 that Pride came back to Brighton. It was born out of political objection to the government passing laws to ban the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. Pride in 1991 was very homemade but very ambitious with a festival of events around town over the May bank holiday, ending in a Pink Picnic in Preston Park.

    The political pride marches lasted four years struggling against a homophobic local press and pitiful financial support from the local council. Pride 1992 returned to Preston Park but Pride 1993 ended with a Pink Picnic in Queens Park. A taste of the march through town and after-party on the Level in 1994 can be seen in this film – how times have changed…
    The following year saw the start of the party prides, though once again Pride took place on the relatively small space at the Level. The organisers managed to convince local businesses and performers that it was a good thing to be associated with and slowly Pride began to grow and change. The classic format of parade/park/street party is now something we all expect.

    The organisers have changed regularly over the years and financial problems never seemed far away, yet Pride has endured. In 1996 it returned to Preston Park where it has remained ever since. In a controversial move at the time, the date for Pride in 1997 was moved from the May bank holiday to early August. However, being an outdoor event it has always been hostage to weather conditions and some years have seen merry revellers happily rolling around in mud lakes Glastonbury style.

    Marylin. (NOT MY WIFE!!!)

    Over the decades Pride has seen a couple of ‘weddings’, ever more outrageous floats and the odd anti-gay demonstrators who have been booed out of the park. In 2004 it was awarded charitable status, and as the crowds grew so did the scale of the celebrity appearances from Lisa Stansfield to Barbara Windsor, and more recently local talent The Freemasons and Fatboy Slim.

    The diversity of tents in the park has expanded to reflect the attendees, including specific spaces for women, people of colour, trans folk, bears, cabaret and more, until it was acknowledged to be the largest free Pride event in the UK.

    Things came to a head in 2010 when a record-busting estimated 160,000 people celebrated Pride in Brighton, yet it was still dogged by

    money worries. The following year saw the controversial introduction of charged entry to the park celebrations.
    From its birth last century to the present day Brighton Pride has meant many things to many people. It has played its part in changing attitudes and promoting acceptance and equality, and of course that being LGBTQ or whoever you are, is something to be proud of.

    As with most histories of lesbian and gay Brighton, thanks must go to the work of Brighton Ourstory.
    Alf Le Flohic




    0 0
  • 08/20/13--11:29: LYME REGIS
  • Lyme Regis looking back from The Cobb
    On the 6th August I was driving back to London from Newquay in Cornwall along the A30. The A30, the road of dreams, a route right through British history that lays England bare. Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman, Saxon, Norman, Tudor and on, right through the whole of history like a scalpel to the heart of the matter, it wends it long beautiful way. (Reminds me, must write an article about the A30 one of these days.) Parts of the route are variously replaced or bypassed by the A303 and other variants or extensions named A3… with various digits added and finally on to the M3. It is almost an arrow straight route from Penzance at the very tip of Cornwall, the heel of land attached to Cornwall’s leg, right to the heart of London. Marilyn, Abigail and I had set out early from Newquay. We had all day. London is 250 miles from Newquay. We decided we had time to visit places on the way back. Abigail, at first said she would like to walk around Bath. I was happy to do that. Marilyn suggested finding a village in the Cotswolds such as Castle Combe or Laycock. It was a lovely sunny day. I then thought the beach at Lyme Regis would be a pleasant place to sit, eat ice creams and watch the sea sparkiling in the sun, its waves breaking into surf on the shingle beach. Abigail and Marilyn thought that would be a good idea too.Ice cream!!!! Marilyn took Abigail and Emily to The Natural History Museum in Kensington last year and there they saw one of Mary Anning’s Ichthyosaurus fossils displayed. There are many fossils to be found as you walk beneath the cliffs at Lyme and there are an abundance of fossil shops selling exquisite ammonites. I suggested it would also be good to walk along The Cobb at Lyme like Jane Austen. It was decided, we would go to Lyme.

     Lyme, a very British place.

    At Honiton we branched south from the A30 along the A35 which took us directly to Lyme through woods of oak, elm and beech, fields of Dorset sheep and a rolling and dipping landscape. Dairy cattle  grazed in small thickly hedged fields  that dipped into  steeply dropping and rising valleys that made me think of Thomas Hardy’s Blackmore Vale , The Vale of Little Dairies, and home to Tess of the Durbevilles. Blackmore Vale is actually in the north part of Dorset around Sturminster Newton. I can never travel through Dorset without thinking about Hardy, his stories ; the  deeply passionate rural life he described, an age gone by, that provided me with a deep love of Dorset and Dorset people and set many feelings and emotions loose inside my fevered adolescent mind; especially after reading Far From The Madding Crowd.

    The Lias clay cliffs and undercliffe near Lyme

    Lyme Regis is set on the side of Lyme Bay that is edged by tall cliffs consisting of marls which are a mixture of clays and shales which create impressive cliffs. However the cliffs are liable to landslides. This geological structure has lead to land slips along the length of cliffs either side of Lyme Regis and this has created wide shelving. These ledges have been named, The Undercliffe. Their location facing south and towards the sea , sheltered from the cold which comes down from the north  in the winter, has formed almost rainforest conditions against the face of the cliffs. Because the cliffs erode relatively quickly fossils are revealed everywhere. The coast has been called The Jurassic Coast and it is against the steep sides of these cliffs Lyme has grown and developed. It is a fishing port and was a trading centre. It is ideal for taking holidays because of its mild climate and beautiful seascapes.

    We drove down a steeply inclined road, round winding country lanes into Lyme. I put the car into a low gear and used the foot break on tight corners. Because of the sharp winding turns going down a steep incline I focussed carefully on the bends ahead watching for cars and vehicles coming up and ready to break if necessary. We were all concentrating hard, Marilyn, Abigail and myself as we wended our tortuous way into Lyme. A white signpost with a large blue letter P denoted the way to a car park. We took the left turn, following the signpost. Down we plunged again, carefully, slowly, an ever steeper incline. It felt almost vertical in its steepness, to a car park next to the town library at the bottom of the valley.

    Once we had parked the car we had to walk back up this steep road before turning left into Lyme High Street which then dropped down sharply itself to the glistening sea, sparkling, blindingly in the sun. The sea in front of us was a carpet of bright light reflecting jewels.

    The seafront at Lyme.

    Lyme Regis is a lovely English seaside town. In some ways it is typical of its type. It has buildings from different periods in our history, some modern buildings from the 1960’s and 1970’s and one or two even more recent. It has a variety of grand Victorian shops and houses and quite a range of Georgian buildings too. Some may go back to Tudor times and fragments of buildings, foundations, walls, may go back earlier still. This lovely mixture gives a place character, a certain Englishness, something that has taken time to create and form. As we walked down Lyme High Street to the sea we passed, clothes shops with displays behind their small Victorian and Georgian windows, fossil shops, cafes and restaurants, a beautifully bright and cheerful and invitingly picturesque children’s bookshop with inviting pictures and books on display in the window. The Royal Lion Hotel, a grand Georgian inn with an archway to the right of the main entrance where carriages would have entered to the stables behind two hundred years ago came up on our left. Opposite is a tiny house with its front door straight onto the street with a plaque displayed above the door saying, Pyne House. This is the most likely lodging of Jane Austen, whose visits to Lyme in 1803 and 1804 gave birth to her novel, “Persuasion.”

    Pyne House, where Jane Austen reputedly stayed.

    Marilyn, Abigail and myself walked further on the to end of the street near the sea and beach where a large black painted 18thcentury cannon from an ancient man of war, points out to sea. The town was crowded the day we were there. Some clouds above shaded us at times but mostly bright sun shone down from blue skies. People were all over the beach on deckchairs, lying out on towels and plunging into the sea. I overheard one young girl say to her friend as they walked near us, “Its just like the magazines and picture books.” Indeed the scene was picturesque, bright and cheerful. A view of England and the English at play in the Summer.

    We found a beach side café, bright and white in its décor looking out onto Lyme beach and harbour. We had cool drinks sitting outside the cafe, at a table next to the sand and the sounds of the sea surf, children and adults playing beach volleyball, making sandcastles and burying their brothers, sisters and dads under great patted down mounds , leaving only heads and feet visible.A notable thing  about  Lyme are the sea front  lampposts. They curl at the top into amazing ammonite shapes.

    Ammonite lampposts.
    There were many activities going on, on the beach. A sandcastle competition with entrants creating elaborate castles out of wet sand. Some deckchairs were displayed in a curve on the shingle part of the beach. Their canvas seats showed intricate designs displaying a different theme for each deckchair. One deckchair was a history of fossil hunting and the life of Mary Anning. Another showed typical seaside activities. The designs and pictures were created with an appliqué technique.

    Artistic deckchairs.

     Near the deckchairs children were being guided and taught how to make pavement art using chalk on concrete paving stones. Further along the beach there was positioned a brightly painted 18th century bathing machine. It was painted with broad vertical stripes of bright red and pastel blue. Its doors,one at either end and its sloping roof and its wheels and wooden steps up to each door, were gloss white. It looked so picturesque set there on the seafront beside the beach. A lady and her daughter sat next to it in deckchairs and invited passers-by to step inside the bathing machine.  A board resting against the wheels explained that the contents of the machine were the results of a project carried out by Lyme Museum. They had got school children to spend an afternoon in the museum and asked them to find their favourite objects. They were asked to use the object to inspire them to create a work of art. The display in the museum were  the artefacts the children had made.

    The stripy bathing machine cum museum.

    I was particularly excited to see and read a handmade book with pieces of writing, stories and poems inspired by museum objects. The book had been not only written by the children but made by them. They had designed the cover, invented some lettering for the title page, sewn the pages of the book together from some coarse heavily textured paper, used scrim, webbing and card to make the hard board cover and then glued the sewn pages into the cover. The whole book was a work of art in itself. I know about creating books  with children because in the past I have made many books like this. It brought back some wonderful memories of glue and paper and needles and thread and marbling trays and rolls of scrim to be cut up. Making a whole book like this is a very satisfying thing to do. There were also puppets inspired by Punch and Judy, pebbles off the beach painted with seaside pictures, wooden models of people dressed for the beach, postcards designed by children and pieces of ceramics beautifully designed and glazed, paintings and posters. This little museum inside an old brightly painted bathing machine was such a joy. It lightened my heart.

    Some of the children's work inside the bathing machine.

    We walked on along the seafront and sat on the sandy part of the beach for a while and ate ice creams. I had a Magnum. Its an ice cream covered in a coating of crisp chocolate. I know what you are thinking. Ok I love the sound of the chocolate coating cracking as I bight into it and then using my tongue to lift pieces of the chocolate off the ice cream part and eating it before I get my lips and tongue around the ice cream itself. It’s just one of those fads I have.

    Just behind were situated a row of beach huts. beach huts are particularly English thing. They are like small sheds or bathing machines without wheels set at the edge of the beach. They might be rented out by the local council or they might be owned by an individual family. The idea is very simple. Inside, deckchairs, tea, coffee, a small stove perhaps, a mini fridge , in fact all the comforts the family might require on the beach are stored. They are  much prized. To buy one of these small ,"home from homes," on the beach you would have to pay a small fortune.

    Beach huts.

    After that delicious ice cream moment we walked on along the seafront to The Cobb, past  two Georgian cottages called Harville and Benwick. Only a Jane Austen fan would know!! And, then we came across a lovely shop, just before The Cobb, called, Persuasion, no less. We were, persuaded, and spent sometime inside.


    After that The Cobb beckoned. The Cobb, a massive curving and twisting harbour wall that protects the small fishing community at the far end of the beach, a little distance away from the main part of the town, is made of great limestone blocks. You can see how the limestone surface is becoming pitted and you can see many fossils of small sea creatures embedded in the stone. When we got on to the top level of The Cobb, which slopes quite alarmingly outwards towards the open sea, we discovered that it was quite crowded with people. My first reaction was that either the Jane Austen fan base in Britain has increased dramatically or The French Lieutenants Woman by John Fowles has suffered a resurgence in popularity. However, it was neither of these. A long boat regatta was taking place from The Cobb. Twenty or thirty brightly painted longboats manned by rowing crews, each sporting their own teams coloured shirts, were racing against each other in  competition.

    Long boat racing competition from The Cobb.

    We stepped down Grannies Teeth, a series of limestone blocks that are set, protruding from the inner side of the Upper Cobb wall as a series of steps to the lower part of The Cobb. It is these steps that it is presumed Jane Austen referred to in Persuasion, as the steps Louisa Musgrove fell from.

    From the far end of The Cobb we looked back at Lyme and the cliffs surrounding the bay. Lyme looks huddled and small set in this impressive Jurassic landscape. We could follow the line of the Undercliffe with its luxurious vegetation.

    For those who have never been to England here is a bit of advice.  If you really want to get to know England and the English forget about visiting London,don’t go to any place, town, grand house or museum you might have heard of. Spend some time, one Summer, a week or so, at an English seaside resort such as Lyme. There are many; it does not have to be Lyme. You will get to feel what we are like. You will be imbued with Englishness, and probably make a lot of friends who speak with local English accents like me. A visit to TESCOS or a COOP or a Waitrose is a must. Why? It’s where we shop. You will discover PG Tips  and enjoy drinking it too. You might try Marmite and love it or hate it. You will enjoy bangers and mash and maybe, as a treat, fish and chips on a Friday night. And, by the way, forget what you have heard, English beer is not really warm, it  goes down a treat. You will love going to the pub on occasion.

    The bottom of Lyme High Street near the sea.

    Leave all the other famous places and sites to a second visit, years later. You will have already found out what it is to be English and you will understand the rest so much better!!!!!!!

    Here is short of history of Lyme Regis to wet your appetite.

    Lyme Regis is situated 25 miles west of Dorchester , the county town of Dorset and the home of Thomas Hardy who recreated Dorchester as Casterbridge in his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge.

    In Saxon times the abbots of Sherborne Abbey had salt boiling rights next to the mouth of the River Lym. The Abbey once owned land covering part of the town. It was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086 which incidentally was recorded in Winchester in the county of Hampshire. By the 13thcentury it became a major port and was regarded as more important than Liverpool tight up to 1780 when it then began to decline because it could not handle the larger ships that were beginning to be used. A Royal Charter was given to it by Edward I in 1284 which added the, Regis, to the towns name. John Leland visited the town in the 16th century. Leland was a poet and reliquary and began the convention of studying local history. It was his idea to study the history of each county.

    He wrote,

    “ a praty market town set in the rootes of an high rokky hille down to the hard shore.”

    In 1644 during the English Civil war it withheld an eight week siege under the Royalist Prince Maurice.

    The Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme 11th June 1685 to begin the Monmouth Rebellion. This was a rebellion based in the West Country attempt to overthrow James II who had become very unpopular.

    News of the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805, arrived in England at Lyme when the Bermuda sloop HMS Pickle docked in the port. It was re-enacted in 2005, the bicentenary of the battle.

    In 2011 the town census showed that 3,671 people lived in Lyme.. It is situated in Lyme bay on the English Channel. The town is famous for its fossils. It is part of the Heritage Coast also known as The Jurassic Coast and now a World heritage Site. The Jurassic coast stretches for 153 kilometeres from Orcombe Point near Exeter to Old harry Rocks in the east. Geologically the coastline exposes a continuous sequence of Triassic, Jurassic and cretaceous rocks spanning 185 million years of earth’s history. The Blue lias clays around Lyme are home to a whole range of Jurassic fossils. It is a very important geological region. There are many well preserved remains. Some are displayed in Lyme Museum and in some of the fossil shops in the town. Some of the most important and spectacular examples are now in The Natural History Museum in Kensington. Many of the earliest discoveries of dinosaur and other prehistoric remains were found in the cliffs around Lyme. Mary Anning 1799-1847 is the most notable of the early fossil hunters. She found almost complete examples of Ichthyosaurs, Plesiosaurs, Dimorphodons, Scelidosaurus ( an early armour plated dinosaur) and Dapediums. A fossil of the worlds largest moth was discovered in 1966 in Lyme.

    Because the coast around Lyme is mostly clays it is prone to landslips. One of the most spectacular slips occurred in 1839 when three miles of cliff slipped. Another smaller slip happened in 1840. In 2005 work began on £16 million of engineering works to stabilise the cliffs.

    Cottages along the front including Harville Cottage and Benwick Cottage.

    The Cobb is one of the most famous places of interest in Lyme. It is a major setting in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion published in 1818. In chapter 11 Jane almost becomes a writer of guide books.  She must have been very taken with Lyme herself.

    “ …the remarkable situation of the town, the principle street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb skirting round the pleasant little bay, which in the season is animated with bathing machines and company, the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the strangers eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme.

     But of course the Cobb is where the scene of the most dramatic consequence to the whole novel occurs.

    This is about the midway point in Persuasion.

    Crowds of spectators on The Cobb watching the rowing regatta.

    “There was too much wind to make the high part of the Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth.In all their walks, he had had to jump her from the stiles; the sensation was delightful to her. The hardness of the pavement for her feet made, made him less willing upon the present occasion; he did it, however; she was safely down, and instantly, to show her enjoyment ran up the steps to be jumped down again. He advised her against it; thought the jar too great; but no he reasoned and talked in vain; she smiled and said, “ I am determined I will; he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless.”

    Grannies steps on The Cobb. Louisa Musgrove fell to the  pavement below.

    John Fowles,until his death, lived in Lyme. His house is open to the public on application. He used Lyme and specifically the Cobb in his novel, The French Lieutenants Woman. The film of the novel, starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep was actually filmed in Lyme and used  the Cobb in one its dramatic scenes. I like The French Lieutenants Woman and I think it is one of John Fowles best books. The time shift concept in the film, an adaptation by Harold Pinter,creates  comparisons between two historical periods and especially the exploration of Victorian attitudes is very good.The novel itself has three endings and again the exploration of human nature, good and bad, is interesting. I read The Magus just after returning from holiday to Ios and Naxos in the Aegean sea many years ago. The story I found dark and intimidating and I know, with all literature, you have to suspend belief at times but the amount of belief I found myself required to suspend in The Magus was too much. I couldn't work out why Nicholas Urfe really got involved  with that Mephistophelean character. Would boredom really get him that interested in such an uninteresting person? The mind games  rather bored me too. I know how the poor chap felt!!! I still don't get the book. Maybe it is just me. The Collector once again explores mans darker nature. His deeper needs and urges. I haven't read this one but I saw a dramatisation of it on TV many years ago.

    Looking up Lyme High Street with the sea behind me.

    The house that John Fowles lived in ,"Belmont House," used to be owned by Eleanor Coade (1733-1821).
    She invented and manufactured coade stone. It was a very tough ceramic based stone. It was purported to be virtually weather proof. It was used to create statues and the front ornamentation of houses. Belmont House is  trimmed with coade stone. Another famous example is the lion statue on the South Bank end of Westminster Bridge. It is next to what was County Hall where London used to be governed from.County Hall is now a Marriott Hotel, A Premier Inn, London Aquarium, an art gallery and London Dungeon.It is right next to The London Eye.

    The Royal Lion Hotel where Ann Elliot probably stayed in the novel Persuasion. It is the most prominent inn in the high street and it is positioned directly opposite Pyne Cottage where it is thought Jane Austen herself stayed.

    0 0

    Where I am sitting now, this very spot, just a little over eighty years ago, a cow could have been standing where I am, ripping grass up with its teeth and gently chewing away, ruminating. I suppose there could have been a haystack or perhaps just a muddy patch in the middle of a field here too. Up to the late 1920’s this, here, where I live, was farmland. A family called the Raynes had their large farmhouse,  about seven hundred meters from where my house stands just to the north west of me. A little over to the east is Blakes Lane, named after Farmer Blake who owned the land  where Motspur Park Railway Station is now. And, the name of the road I live in,  West Barnes Lane, recalls some large barns that stood along this road when indeed it was a country lane.

    West Barnes lane, just outside my house.Notice the preponderance of trees in a garden suburb.

    To be precise,my house is 83 years old. It was built in 1930 and was first owned just before the 6th June 1930. The pond in my back garden has a rough, pebbled concrete border around it and in the concrete is marked, “6th June 1930.” All the houses round here were built in the 1930’s. It is a time warp. We live here in a time gone past. We don’t actually think we are living in a museum, but I suppose if you stop to think, we are custodians of this bit of built British history. The thing is, the houses are good and solid, made of brick and hefty timbers and good weatherproof clay tiles cover them. They have been loved and cared for and extended and improved over the decades and the generations. They are almost the perfect house for the British. We have been born, brought up in them and continue to live in them. 

    The bureaux on the left of the fireplace was bought by my great grandmother, in Southampton, in the 1930's.

    The 1930’s in Britain were not a good time. We were not recovering well from the First World War. We had, The Depression, a time of unemployment and poverty for many.The traditional industries, coal mining, shipbuilding, iron and textiles were not doing well. The infrastructure was old and needed replacing. We were not competing in the world markets as well as we used to. There were hunger marches coming down to London from Tyneside, the traditional shipbuilding areas. Oswald Moseley’s fascist party was vociferous but didn't ultimately gain significant support. Communists groups were popular too but again they didn’t make headway either. What people wanted were jobs. Many of the industrial cities and major conurbations were blighted by old Victorian terraces, back to back housing with no lighting, and poor sanitation. The toilet facilities for one of these slum terraces would have been in a small shed at the bottom of the garden. Flush toilets did not exist for the working class. The toilet was a bucket with some soil in it which ,once full, was emptied into a cess tank. The tank was emptied, every now and then, by the local council. Clean water for the house was provided by a tap in the backyard. Hot water had to be heated over a fire, using precious coal,  and bath time would have happened in a zinc tub placed in the middle of the kitchen floor.

    The Art Nouveayu style glass next to my front door.

    Eventually new industries began to flourish in the south east and in the Midlands, such as car manufacture, synthetic textiles, chemicals and light engineering and so people began to get money. They also wanted better housing conditions. The dream for everybody was to live in an idealised rural setting, so the garden suburb was invented. This was a mixture of new housing with modern facilities, gardens and parks. A significant feature of these suburb were trees. People who bought these new houses and moved to the suburbs felt they owned a piece of the countryside. Each suburb had its infrastructure to enable good comfortable enjoyable lifestyles. These modern new houses were a world away from the dirty grimy slums that many had been brought up in. They had electric lighting. They had modern kitchens with cookers and fridges. They had inside plumbing with gas boilers that provided hot water and not just to the downstairs kitchen but to a proper bathroom with bath, sink and a decent flush toilet up stairs. They mostly were built with three bedrooms, two double rooms and single room. The single room, as in my house, were invariably over the front door. Theses house all had front gardens where people grew shrubs and plants and had their little patch of grass. What is more they were all provided with back gardens where they could create their own little cottage garden or their own piece of luxurious parkland. Cooking new things became popular and pamphlets and cookery books were published. Gardening became popular too. Many people planted fruit trees and dug over a small vegetable patch. My own back garden still has two apple trees, quite old now, but still producing fruit in abundance each year.

    This 1930's house has bow windows. A Georgian feature.

    The council provided what we term, allotments, for people with smaller gardens who wanted to grow crops. They are still very popular today. Allotments first developed at the end of the 19th century to provide the urban poor with a piece of land where they good grow good healthy food. Growth of allotments intensified during the first and second world wars when rationing reduced the amount of food people could buy. My mother always says that rationing created a healthier population than we have today. People got a balanced diet and received what they needed and no more. Gluttony didn’t exist!!! After the Second World War interest in allotments declined but they are on the increase again because of green issues and people are becoming more aware of healthy living. It is also a great way to exercise.. Allotments do produce a healthier population. They also can help towards sustainable development. One of the initial benefits seen for allotments was that if somebody was unemployed they could still grow their own food. Some kept chickens for eggs and would be able to provide the occasional roast dinner.

    Some Merton Council allotments near where I live. Not only are allotments places to grow produce but the people working on them form societies and hold meetings. They have produce shows in the Summer. A community feel is created. Cultivating an allotment is a life changing experience. 

    Motspur Park, where I live, in the Borough of Merton South London was and is one of these ideal rural living areas. Within a few hundred yards of my front door, there is a parade of shops that even now, even for the dominance of enormous hypermarkets nearby, still has a butchers shop, a green grocers, a pub ,a couple of restaurants, two newsagents and a fish and chip shop. On the corner by the railway station, which allows me to get to central London and be standing next to the Royal Festival Hall looking at the Houses of Parliament within twenty minutes, is The Earl Beaty, my local pub and next to that is Motspur Park Library. Just behind the shopping parade is the Sir Joseph Hood playing fields. It has all weather tennis courts, artificial climbing walls, a zip wire and basketball courts. The grassy area is big enough for four football pitches in the winter and a couple of cricket squares in the summer. Motspur Park is truly a garden suburb, a little bit of British heaven.

    My house in West Barnes Lane. The white is pebble dashing plastered over London Stock Bricks, which helps prevent weathering. An old Roman recipe.

    These 1930 style houses have claimed a deep and close relationship with us British. They feel part of us. There is something quintessentially English or British about them which is different from all other styles throughout the world. They draw very much from the Arts and Crafts Movement that developed at the end of the 19th century, from 1870 onwards, and was pioneered by John Ruskin the writer and art critic and William Morris the Pre-Raphaelite designer and entrepreneur. Ruskin examined the relationship between art, society and labour. Morris put Ruskin’s philosophy into practice placing great value on work, the joy of craftsmanship and beautiful materials. Incidentally Morris’s workshops were situated at Merton Abbey mills and many people in The London Borough of Merton learned the crafts of printing materials, dyeing, furniture making and tile making when they worked for Morris & CO.They learned the skills of the medieavl craftsman.

    This house in grand drive, which adjoins West Barnes Lane, has many Arts and Crafts features, the medieval timber frame look, the clay tiled farmhouse roof style, the leaded windows, the white plaster facing which recalls medieval wattle and daub , the front door set centrally is a farmhouse feature too and the door has a certain art nouveau look to it with its flowing curved shape. The dormer window and sharply pointed eaves over the front door , are all Tudor features.

    If you were to stand outside my front door and look up and down the road, all the houses are not exactly the same. They differ in some architectural details. Some are a little bigger than others and perhaps have an added bedroom. Some are detached and some, like mine, are semi-detached. However, essentially they all fit a certain style and have something English about them. If you know your British history it might begin to dawn on you. Many houses have bay windows, a key Georgian feature. Many have peaked eves which essentially hasn’t changed since Tudor and medieval times. Some even, to make it more obvious, look as though they might be timber framed. They are not. A closer inspection will reveal that the timbers are thin wooden cladding attached to the wall surface to make the house look timber framed. Others have oriel windows , which you find in Elizabethan mansions.

    As well as the influence of Georgian bay windows in these terrace houses , you can also see small oriel windows positioned above the front doors. This is a feature reminiscent of windows found in Elizabethan mansions.

    They all have clay tile roofs which give a mellow warm feel to them. You will find clay tiled roofs in every country village throughout the land. Many of the shops in the parade down the road, in the centre of Motspur Park, are built in brick with a herring bone pattern to their construction, a Tudor feature. I have stained glass set within a frosted oval at the top part of my front door. It has Art Nouveau design features. Many of the front doors in my road, indeed my front door is just such a one, are constructed from heavy timbers like a farmhouse door. Although there is a preponderance of brickwork, many of the houses in my road are pebble dashed on top of the basic brick construction of London stock bricks. Pebble dashing is something the Romans used to weather proof the surface of some of their buildings. Some houses, and these are fewer than the arts and crafts style  houses, are art deco,with clean smooth white walls, austere flat roofs and curved glass windows framed in thin steal frames.

    An art deco house near the A3, the main duel carriageway out of London just to the north of Motspur Park. It's clean efficient lines appealed to a few.

    The appeal is that these garden suburbs are really a mixture,a coming together, of all the great architectural features that England has produced. They are distilled Englishness. They are, what is more, set within a garden, trees and shrubs and beautifully mown lawns. The garden suburbs, Motspur Park and all the others put together, comprise four million homes built in the 1930’’s

    Tudor timber frame exteriors, or not!?Notice that the top floor appears to overhang the ground floor. This is a feature of Tudor town houses designed to create more floor space in cramped conditions within  a walled city's confines. 

    We do not live in the past in these 1930’s homes. We change with the times. My own house has had a double story extension added to it in the 1970’s. The extension doubled the size of the kitchen and added a fourth bedroom. This year Marilyn and I have been lucky enough to save enough money to extend and renovate the house further. We will add a fifth bedroom with en suit bathroom, and create an open plan living, eating and kitchen area along the back of the house. We will create a modern patio where we can have barbeques if the weather allows, next summer. Bifold doors will open up the back of the house and make the garden into an extra room on balmy summers evenings. The chimney pots on the roof now vent the central heating. We still have our old analogue TV aerial attached to the roof. We do have broadband and television cabled into the house so the aerial is just one of those historical features from the past. The walls and roof have been insulated so the house is more energy efficient. However, on the outside it still looks as though we are in the 1930’s and we are proud to retain some of the 1930’s features inside the house too.

    The 1930's fireplace in my living room.It is constructed with tiles and creates a farm house feel.

    In some ways we are very lucky our house is still here. Mr Hitler tried to remove it from the face of the earth. Between the 7thOctober 1940 and the 6th June 1941 the Luftwaffe bombed London,all the major ports in Britain and the industrial areas of the Midlands. It was called the Blitz. The history department at University College London have produced a map documenting where all the bombs during this period, landed on London.

    West Barnes Lane is my address. You can see how close the high explosive bombs got. Often houses that were not apparently affected by a bomb blast later formed cracks in walls and inside their roofs. Local builders had a boom time during and especially after the war reapiring the damage.

     Looking at the part of the map that shows West Barnes Lane, one bomb landed at the far end of West Barnes lane near the station. Another landed in Station Road, it seems they were trying to obliterate the station. Others destroyed the Church of England Church round the corner in Adela Avenue, a bomb landed in Arthur Road a mere few hundred yards from my house, another landed in Marina Avenue and one in Byron Avenue. These were high explosive bombs that took out half dozen houses in one blast. My house survived.!!! In Motspur Park there were a lot of small manufacturing units and it was these, as well as the station, they were trying to destroy. Half a mile from me in Raynes Park there was a  film unit that produced training films for the military. A couple of other factories produced the new radar equipment.

    After a night of bombing.You cannot imagine the emotions and feelings of that man walking along at the bottom of the picture.

    One bizarre story from our local park is told of a German pilot baling out over Motspur Park and parachuting down to land on top of the  gasometers that stored and supplied gas for many of the households in South London. These gasometers are still there beside the Sir Joseph Hood playing fields although not used nowadays. He apparently landed on the top of these great cylinders and then promptly fell off to his death.

    As an addenda to all of the above, and just in case you are interested, a house in West Barnes Lane cost between £500 and £600 when they were first built. In the year 2013,a kind of symmetry has been achieved. They are valued at between £500,000 and £600,000. 

    0 0

    Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

    I have spent the last four days in Edinburgh, by myself.

    After I had registered at the Priestfield B&B, just a little out from the centre of Edinburgh on the Jedburgh Road and close to the base of Arthurs Seat, a great volcanic shelf of basalts and granites tilted up like a rough lop sided table top, savage and rugged, reminding Edinburgh of its volcanic origins, I walked into the centre of the city.

    I was in the High Street, the Royal Mile, just by the road that slips down to the North Bridge. The Royal Mile sloped down to my right, grey cobbled, hard granite buildings, four or five storeys high. St Giles Cathedral with its granite crown surmounting its main tower to my left.

    I was on my own, in twilight Edinburgh, and the streets were full of people, partners, families and groups of friends, talking, laughing, being together and I was on my own. I began to have that dull feeling, slightly panicky feeling, when you have nobody to talk to; you stand on your own; you try not to be noticed and make people think, he’s on his own; you try to look as though you are about to meet somebody or you are stopping for a short moment before you go to meet somebody. You have a nonchalant air and look about you as though  you don’t care about being on your own, because it won’t be for long. You try to portray that image and I very quickly found myself doing that. It was a subconscious act; a survival tactic emerging from a natural human impulse. I felt uncomfortable and the thought seeped into my brain that I have three more days of this feeling. What should I do?

    I walked up and down the Royal Mile, just looking. If I kept active, looking and thinking about things, learning as I went, that could occupy me and create a way of interacting and learning even if it was just with my surroundings. My time would not all be, feeling alone.I was going to be positive or as positive as i could. This would be a good experience

    The time was getting on towards eight o'clock on that first evening and I hadn't eaten. I started looking at places to eat. All the pubs, their bright glossy fronts, red or green or blue areas of gloss paint, had their menus displayed prominantly. The prices didn't matter. How was I to get inside, get a table, order some food? That was what concerned me. On my own in those packed establishments heaving with people who all knew somebody, who all had somebody to talk to, how was I going to do this? I didn't have the courage at first to just go in and brave it.

    Deacon Brodies on The Royal Mile.

    I saw a pub called Deacon Brodie’s that had a garish life size portrait of the deacon on the outside in his 18th century attire. He looked coarse, a little worse for drink with pink cheeks and his black bushy prominent eye brows. He was not judging me anyway. I thought, if I just go into this pub, find a quiet corner at the end of the bar, out of the line of sight of everybody, just order one pint, drink it slowly and then leave, maybe that’s what I would do. It would be a start. So I walked in and sidled past people and said, “Excuse me,” to get past a couple and then three tall young blokes parted to let me continue through the middle of them and eventually I got to the end of the bar. There were two bar maids dressed in black blouses, black pencil skirts and black tights. Their costumes fitted the dark sombre feel of the place with its dark brown stained panelled walls and leaded windows looking out on to the street. I called to one who was standing waiting. To be truthful she had already spotted me and was making a gesture towards me.

    “Could I have a pint, please?”

    “What would you like sir?”

    Her voice sounded bright and welcoming, a smile split across her face parting her lips, bright red with lipstick. Her eyes showed friendliness. Her voice, a mixture of that gentle Scottish lilt and an element of  toughness, a confidence against the world, underlying the softness that shows the Scottish character. She was not judging me because I was on my own.

    “I’m a southerner as you can tell.” 

    She smiled  some more.I began to smile too. Her look encouraged me, lightened my mood and I asked.

    “What would you suggest?”

    “Nicholsons is a local brew. Would you like a dark beer or a light beer?”

    ”I don’t mind, which one you would suggest?”

    “The brown beer has the best flavour.”

    “I’ll have the brown beer.”

    She smiled again. I could see the other barmaid smiling at me too. They were both welcoming and made me feel relaxed.

    I noticed there was a menu. I asked them about food. The taller of the two barmaids, the one who had served me said,

    “If you want to sir, just go upstairs to the restaurant and our colleagues will sort you out.”

    She made me feel, after my earlier apprehensions, that I could do that. So I drank the brown pint. I enjoyed it very much. The beer tasted slightly sweet, but it had a hoppy smell and flavour to it. The pint went down very nicely. I said thank you to the two barmaids and they looked at me.

    “I’m just going upstairs to try my luck,” I said. 

    That feeling of nervousness made me seek reassurance again.

    ”OK,” said one.

    The tall barmaid said.

    ”Enjoy your meal.”


    And upstairs I went. The staircase was lit dimly with lamps on the walls as the stairs twisted to the right. Wood panelling lined the walls of the stairwell and large ornately framed prints of old Edinburgh hung at each stage.

    When I got to the top there was a small lobby area before the restaurant room opened out in front of me. The lobby was brightly lit and a young couple stood waiting. In front of us a red rope looped between short posts barring our way. The young man said in an Italian, accent,

    “If you wait here they will see you.”

    His young lady looked slight in build and shy with a gentle unassuming prettiness about her and she stole a glance at me and smiled. She didn’t say anything.

    “Are you from Italy?”

    “Yes, we are from Rimini, do you know it?”

    “I’ve been to Rome and Naples and Venice but not to Rimini, I hear it has a beautiful coast. I will go there one day.”

    A young waitress, small, slim and neat with red hair cut in a short tight Joan of Arc crop came and asked me if I would like a seat.

    “There is only me. Can you fit me in? I’ll understand if that is difficult. Don’t worry. “

    “No trouble sir, I’’ll find you a place. Don’t you worry now. You might have to wait a minute or two.”

    “Thank you. That would be nice.”

    I was beginning to feel good. The two barmaids downstairs, the Italian couple and now the the waitress. It wasn't so bad being on my own. I could talk to people and feel good.

    The two Italians went in first.

    “Enjoy your meal. Nice to meet you.”

    “Nice to meet you too,” said the young man. His girlfriend smiled again.

    The Royal Mile.

    It wasn’t long before the little waitress came back and showed me a table by the window overlooking The Royal Mile and St Giles Cathedral.She gave me a menu to read and left me to it. I sat in a position so I could look out of the window and also into the room at all the other diners. I could see the Italian couple ordering their food on the other side of the room. They looked happy. They looked in love. They looked so easy together. I thought of home and Marilyn and Abi and Alice and Sam and of course Emily in Cardiff. I wished that they were with me. Marilyn would have enjoyed being here.

    The little waitress came over standing in front of me talking with fun and happiness in her voice. I’d overheard her at other tables. She appeared so happy to meet everybody and to talk to them and she was being happy and fun with me too now. I loved the experience of ordering my meal. I could feel my mood becoming lighter and a good feeling was coming into my voice and I could hear myself sounding light and funny.

    “This is my first time in Edinburgh. This is my first time in Scotland. I must have a haggis.”

    “Haggis and tatties, sir?”

    “What are tatties?”

    “Tatties are mashed potatoes. They traditionally go with haggis.”

    “Yes please.”

    “What gravy would you like? There is a lovely gravy we do with whisky in it.”

    “That sounds wonderful.”

    She had been writing down the codes for the different things I had ordered and I felt tempted to try another pint of the Nicholsons brown brew, so I ordered another pint.

    I was warming to Edinburgh and Edinburgh people and Edinburgh eating places. This was going to be alright. My feeling of apprehension when realising the consequences of being alone were beginning to dissipate.

    The haggis and tatties with a jug of the whisky gravy arrived. The brown pint came and I began on them. I was hungry.

    Now, haggis is a mixture of things and if I was to describe what went into a haggis, a lot of unmentionable parts of a sheep, my description might make you utter the expletive,”Ugh!!”  All I will say is that it tasted wonderful, meaty, aromatic with herbs and the texture was like warm porridge and the gravy indeed had a tang of whisky to it and the, "tatties," were soft and fluffy. The eating of it all and the drinking of the pint was a real joy. The meal filled a space, I can tell you and this second pint of the brown stuff began to make me feel a warm comfortable glow inside.

    When I paid the bill and walked out into the night air I was beginning to feel good about this whole adventure, this whole escapade.

    Holyrood Palace in the dark.

    I thought I would walk to end of The Royal Mile in the dark; there was some moonlight. I gazed at Holyrood Palace through the railings of the gate and saw the massive hump of Arthurs Seat looming behind it. I spent a moment looking at the modernist architectural confection of the Scottish Parliament building across the way and then walked all the way back to Priestfield and sleep.

    0 0

    A cup of delicious coffee.

    Edinburgh has many cafes. The chain shops such as Starbucks and Costa are there, in fact, recently when I was in Edinburgh, I discovered one of each. They were hard to find. I came across them unexpectedly. It appears the big chains have not been successful in dominating the café world in Edinburgh, at least. Edinburgh, has an abundance of cafes, mostly individual businesses and some of them family run establishments. Some were begun as what is termed as,” pop ups.” The Edinburgh Festival held each year during the month of August attracts people from all over the world to view artists work, performance art, new theatre productions, comedy and music shown at various venues around the city. The cafes thrive. Their use continues throughout the year being frequented by locals and the large student population who attend Edinburgh University with its campus sites situated in the heart of the city and further out in the suburbs.

    I was walking along Princes Street towards Calton Hill. I passed, Princes Gardens, The National Gallery of Scotland, with its multi-coloured Ionic columns, Waverley Station down in the hollow of the N’Or Loch and the cathedral like gothic spire of Walter Scott’s memorial all on my right. In front of me I could see the iconic memorials high on Calton Hill, Nelsons Tower, The Dugald Monument, like a small round temple from Ancient Greece, and ”The National Disgrace,” or so it is termed by many Scots. The National Monument is a row of Greek columns, reminiscent of one side of the Parthenon that is situated high on The Acropolis in Athens. It is unfinished and nobody intends to complete it. The money ran out so it remains in its present state today.

    The, "National Disgrace."

    At the bottom of Calton Hill, before I was about to make my way up the steep road to the monuments, I saw a small café called, “Pep and Fodder”. There were a few tables and chairs on the pavement outside and some clean deal tables with harp back chairs inside. The ceiling was high. It was an old Victorian shop and by the tiles on the walls it looked as though it had once been a butchers shop or maybe an old dairy. A young couple were behind the counter. The girl, with tattoos up her arms and a neat workmanlike striped apron, asked me what I would like. I looked up at the menu behind her on large blackboards, painted carefully in bright white paint. I chose an Americano with milk and decided to try one of their delicious looking cheese and ham paninis. She heated the panini for me in a grill. I chose a table inside by the café window so I could look out at the world. A couple of other people came in and ordered coffees and sat down at one of the other tables. It was a welcoming place, warm and fresh and new. I noticed on the pavement outside that a sign had been stuck to pavement saying, “pop up.” I asked the waitress what this meant. She explained that a pop up was a small business that is provided with a premise for a short period at a low rent to enable the business to get established. If the business took off, became popular, made money then a more substantial rent could be charged and the business could continue. This café, the Pep and Fodder was fresh and bright and seemed popular and what it was offering, good coffees and freshly made food seemed to be a winner. I noticed new pieces of art work on the walls. The bloke behind the counter informed me that they were painted by friends, art students who were trying to make their way too.

    I left the café and explored Calton Hill and took photographs of Edinburgh from on high. There was a fantastic view of, Holyrood Palace, with Arthurs Seat and Salisbury Crags, massive, behind the palace. Edinburgh stretched out towards the castle and I could pick out many famous Edinburgh sites now that I had got to know Edinburgh.

    Holyrood Palace from Calton Hill.

    On my walk each day from and to Priestfield, about a mile and half from the centre of Edinburgh, I passed many local cafes. As I walked down Nicolson Street each day I always got attracted by first, the sight of The festival Theatre, glass fronted and modern which is the main venue for Edinburgh festival every year and followed by the Greek columned and porticoed Surgeons Hall on my right and the domed edifice of Edinburgh University on my left. At first, little did I know, that just before the university entrance and across the street from it, was, SPOON, a very famous Edinburgh café. I walked past it a few times and didn’t even look in. This was one of the cafes JK Rowling sat in while she penned Harry Potter. Being so close to the old and main part of the university it is often full of students with their Apple Mac laptops open, writing essays. But I will come back to students in cafes and the clientele of Edinburgh cafes later.

    The Hula Juice bar in the Grassmarket area just down behind The Royal Mile, was one of the friendliest and heart-warming cafes I went into. It too, like the Pep and Fodder café had a sign on the pavement outside announcing it as a pop up business. It was immaculate inside and the people running the shop were so warm and friendly in their welcome. The coffee was freshly roasted and ground, it smelled and tasted wonderful appealing to all the senses. The food was delicious and made right in front of me. I sat down at a table near two ladies discussing their children. A brash young man with his girlfriend sat two tables away but he spoke so loudly in his American accent, I knew all about his business in no time. A student at Edinburgh he talked about Paris and Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin, places he had been to while in Europe and he talked on and on, laughing at his own witticisms, about where he was going next when the university term ended at Christmas. I wondered what his degree could be. The girl with him didn't say much. A couple of free newspapers lay on the table next to me and I picked one up. It was a local student paper. It had articles about new music, art and new places to go in Edinburgh. It had interviews with students asking about their experiences of Edinburgh. Some of it, the arts pages were analytical and thought provoking. There was an article about  a sex club just set up in Edinburgh based on a club that somebody had come across in Barcelona, bondage and mild forms of pain, that sort of thing. I turned a page and there was a full page about the Hula Bar itself. The girl behind the counter I now discovered was the owner and she was interviewed on the page and there was a photograph displayed on the page taken of her, taken just about where she was standing as I looked across at her.  In the article she spoke about the, “pop up,” schemes in Edinburgh and the ethos and philosophy of the Hula Café and her plans for the development of the cafe. I was most impressed and mentioned the article to her. She smiled and was pleased. She told me about another place I should visit, which a friend of hers had set up.

    The Dugald Monument on Calton Hill overlooking Edinburgh.

    On another day I was walking up the cobbled street of The Royal Mile between high sided shops selling kilts and tweeds. I walked past The Whisky Centre and a restaurant or two, and just before the entrance to the forecourt of Edinburgh Castle there is a tall 18th century church with a high steeple that is now called, The Hub. It is the offices and main focal point for The Edinburgh Festival. I walked inside and it discovered that it has mostly kept its church layout with gothic arched windows and its vaulted barrel ceiling with wide oak beam arches. There is a café and restaurant to one side and various offices and performance and display spaces spread around. In the entrance there was a wonderful display showing sketches, finished watercolours and hand written text with annotations. It showed the development of a children’s book called Ruffled Russell; a collaboration between Mary Paulson and Audrey Grant the artist. It is the existential journey of a dog called, Russell, who is in search of a soul.

    Ruffled Russel in search of his soul.

    I sat there looking at the various elements of the display and actually began to think about my own soul and what it’s essence was. As a teacher of young children, over thirty three years, I believe you must challenge children with the deepest of concepts and they respond in many surprising ways.

    One afternoon it began to rain and I escaped into a café called the, Brew Lab, situated again on The Royal Mile. Two nice young ladies served me a coffee and I took it upstairs. There were a lot of people up there, mostly students with their Hewlett Packards, Acers  and Apple Macs flipped open in front of them. They sat singly or in pairs. Most of the tables were taken except one small table by a window. A bespectacled girl sat at the table close to the table I was aiming for. The back of her chair was touching the rim of the table I wanted to sit at. She was totally focussed on the screen of her Apple Mac. She had a couple of weighty looking books open on the window sill next to her. She had marked pages by placing post it notes sticking out with page numbers and an annotation on each. Without looking at me or removing her gaze from the laptop screen she muttered, “sorry,”  and shuffled her chair sideways to allow me room to get to the table I wanted to sit at. Her focus on her bright screen never wavered. I couldn't help look over at her screen. She had got to the end of her essay. I could see she was working on the bibliography and she was formatting the essay. I glanced at one of the books. It was book on theology. I tried hard to glimpse the first line of her concluding paragraph. I wear glasses and my eyesight isn't great. I squinted. I didn't want her to realise I was looking at her work. She couldn't see me. I was slightly to one side of her and behind. I managed to work out a sentence, something about Jesus as a philosopher. I couldn't quite get the full gist of it. I looked around me and noticed that all the other people in the café appeared to be working on essays too.

    The Elephant House where J K Rowling drafted some of Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone.

    It made me think of what I had heard about JK Rowling who as an unemployed mother with a baby, living on government benefits, worked on writing her first Harry Potter novel The Philosophers Stone, in Edinburgh cafes. Indeed, The Spoon, opposite the Edinburgh Festival Theatre was where JK Rowling wrote some of her first Harry Potter.  I came across The Elephant House, another JK Rowling haunt. The Elephant House is interesting, because the rear of the café, where JK Rowling is supposed to have sat, overlooks the back of Edinburgh Castle High on its rocky outcrop. I have never seen anything more like a vision of Hogworts School, high on its rocky outcrop. Just across the road from the Elephant House is the National Library of Scotland. A library member can study and research any subject they choose. JK Rowling, if she had been a member, would have been able to request every book written on witchcraft, black magic and the dark arts. Close by, The Elephant House, there is an old, well renowned Edinburgh School called George Heriots. It is a very high achieving school and pupils do very well there. It is a mixed, boys and girls school and in the late afternoon I watched the pupils on their way home walking past The Elephant House in their smart dark blazers, striped ties and white collared shirts, the boys in grey flannels, the girls in tartan skirts. The pupils of Hogwarts, no less!!!!

    The cafes in Edinburgh are places to read papers, to enjoy reading novels, for students to write their essays, for Mums to relax and for authors to set themselves on the way to fame. They often display art work, live music is performed in some and next to John Knox House not far from Holyrood Palace is the Story Telling centre, which is a café and restaurant but it is where poets and story writers come to perform their work to the public.

    John Knox House with the Story Telling cafe next door.

     These varied and inspiring uses for cafes in Edinburgh reminded me of the cafes of the 18th century that first of all sprung up in Oxford and a little later, in London and their importance to all forms of public, artistic, scientific and economic life.

    Coffee houses began in earnest in England during the mid-17thcentury. Oxford was the first place in England where coffee houses began. A Jewish gentleman named Jacob began a coffee house called the Angel in 1650.A distinctive coffee house culture grew up. They were places where scholars could meet, debate and discuss new ideas openly. They were not restricted by the codes of the university. Christopher Wren and other famous illuminati gathered in Oxfords Coffee houses such as John Evelyn, Thomas Millington and John Lampshire. These Oxford style coffee houses which acted as centres for social intercourse, gossip and scholastic interest quickly came to London.. Pasqua Rosee, the servant of a Levant Company merchant called Daniel Edwards, set up the first of the London Coffee House in 1652. In 1656 the second coffee house began in Temple Bar set up by James Farr.

           Tom in The Rakes Progress outside of Whites Chocolate House. St James's Palace is in the background.

    Coffee houses spread. Each had its own character and style of clientèle.

    Lloyds coffee house in 1692 was home to England’s insurance brokers. Jonathans Coffee house in Change Alley was the start of London’s Stock exchange. The Chapter coffee House was renowned for its clientèle being voracious readers and also authors and aspiring writers went there to read their works and gain inspiration. The Grecian Coffee House was an upmarket place for scientists, philosophers and classical scholars. Isaac newton frequented this establishment. White’s Chocolate house near St James palace was the haunt of gamblers, whores and highwaymen. Hogarth depicts his dissolute character Tom from The Rakes Progress, in Whites Chocolate House.

    Comparing Edinburgh’s coffee shops with London and Oxfords Coffee houses in the 17th century little has changed, well perhaps the whores are not around or not obviously, but as places of gossip, news, education, discussion, art and literature, nothing has much changed. A day shopping for me is finding a good coffee shop to sit, be invigorated by a good draft of coffee, to read and to observe people. If a bookshops has a coffee shop attached to it all the best.

    Roasted Coffee beans.

    A cup of coffee, depending on its strength, has 20 to 100 milligrams of caffeine in it. Caffeine has been proven over the centuries to be a mild stimulant that reduces tiredness and can make people more alert. It is easy to see why from the 18th century right up to the coffee shops of Edinburgh and indeed The Elephant House, coffee shops are places for discussion, debate, writers, writing, thinkers and academics. The other sort of place for social gathering, the pub, which involves the drinking of beer can very quickly cause a situation where thinking clearly is not the foremost attribute to be stimulated. Caffeine can also help remove headaches, increase heart rate, the metabolic rate and blood pressure; just the things to promote exciting performances from poets, debaters, musicians and comedians. But of course it has its down side restlessness, nausea, sleep disturbances and cause the heart to have an arrhythmic beat, so it needs to be taken responsibly!!!

    0 0

    A piper.

    As the Easyjet airliner came down low on its approach to Edinburgh Airport I felt quite excited. I had never been to anywhere in Scotland before. I feel that Scotland is part of my spiritual home. The British Isles over the centuries has seen a cross migration and integration of people, this is a separate issue to immigrants coming into Britain from further afield. The Irish have come to England in search of work and polarised around the big conurbations because of the building skills they have predominantly brought to the mainland, they have come with their poetry, their Guinness and their airlines. The Scots have infiltrated England through banking services, whisky, salmon and of course the world’s best football managers, the Welsh have provided coal, the power source of our industrial growth, fantastic singers and beautiful poetry. The United Kingdom has been for centuries a close and seamless joining of these four nations. I am an example of this cross pollination. I have a lot of Irish blood a little Anglo Saxon blood from my mother, my wife is Welsh but more noticeably, my surname, being Grant, I have some Scottish ancestry through my father’s father. Hence the partial spiritual connection to Scotland. I feel that part of me comes from Scotland. However, my recent visit to Edinburgh was my first crossing of the boarder. My first touch of Scottish bedrock.

    The Forth Rail Bridge opened in 1890.

    As the jet reduced its altitude and the very substance of Scotland came closer I got a clear view of The Firth of Forth and then the magnificent Forth Bridge, the looped railway viaduct designed and built by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker and opened on the 4th march 1890. There it stretched across the width of The Forth all 2,528.7 metres of it like sound waves on an audio monitor. Just behind it arched the great Forth Road Suspension Bridge. All around were the humped and rolling Pentland Hills and off into the horizon. I had never imagined Edinburgh’s surrounds. I have seen pictures of Edinburgh’s iconic buildings and places over the years but I had never tried to imagine its location and setting. Perhaps I had never seen or been provided with that sort of information. Nobody I know, knows Edinburgh, so nobody had described it to me.

    Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat

    Maps, books and photographs and TV documentaries have been my only contact. The maps and atlases have given me a sense of Edinburgh’s location in relation to Scotland as a whole, what is near it and what is further away. Its landscape has been only brown and green patches on a map and perhaps the backdrop to the film Thirty Nine Steps adapted from John Buchans novel. Its communication network have appeared to me as spidery lines, blue, yellow and black on a map. Atlases have shown me Scotland and Edinburgh’s  relationship to what I already know and have experienced of England and also its far distance from my birthplace, Southampton, on the south coast. All these things have informed me about Scotland in the past. I also know facts about its history and facts about its industries, its landscapes, its sports, its language and its myths and legends. All this was garnered from books and a variety of other secondary sources. These are very important sources of information when you are engaging with a place but to actually go there, look at it personally, talk to people, to just be physically present is another level of learning about a place altogether.

    The airport is not inspiring. A collection of glass cubes and girder boxes. I caught the airport bus into Edinburgh. The stops were displayed on a computer screen as we drove along. Edinburgh ZOO appeared on the left and Murrayfield Stadium, the home of Scottish rugby, came up on the right. Many houses made from stone and corner shops selling familiar products passed and Edinburgh itself began to appear. The bus driver announced that we could not going to drive down Princes Street, we would travel parallel to Princes Street along Queen Street. We rode through the elegant Georgian town houses of the New Town. This was my first realisation that there are two parts to Edinburgh. There is the New Town, designed by James Craig in 1766 and built between 1766 and 1850 and then there is the old town on the other side of the N’Or Loch high up on the escarpment ridge that slopes eastward from the massive volcanic plug on which Edinburgh Castle is situated.

    Edinburgh Castle with Princes Gardens in the foreground.

    I felt excited at my first site of Edinburgh Castle high above me, dominating the whole city, the angular lines and points of its rugged buildings, sharp in silhouette with the sun behind its massive bulk. I had a Berlitz pocket guide to Edinburgh in my pocket and I had my i-phone with its satellite navigation. The bus stopped at Waverley Station, Edinburgh’s main railway station, deep down in the N’Or Loch which extends eastwards from Princes Gardens. I had worked out by using Bing Maps where the guest house I was going to stay in was located in the Priestfield area south east of the centre of Edinburgh right next to Holyrood Park with Arthur’s seat behind it. However standing next to Waverley Station I could not see Arthurs Seat and I felt a little disorientated. I set the satellite navigation on my i-phone, to locate the guest house I was going to stay at. I put in the post code. It placed a blinking marker for me on the screen. I could see a flashing point showing where I was standing too. However I didn’t know which way to turn. The surroundings didn’t at first fit the map on my screen. I couldn’t work it out straight away. I tried walking up towards the castle and it showed me on the the screen that I was walking in the wrong direction. I then stopped a little old lady and asked directions and in her lilting Edinburgh accent she was able to give me directions to Nicholson Street and Dalkeith Road. Once she pointed me in the right direction then the satellite navigation was fine. I walked and walked and began to discover Edinburgh. I was carrying a small back pack and my Samsung SLR camera around my neck so walking wasn’t a problem. It was a brisk walk of about a mile and half. The last part was downhill, sloping away from the centre of the city.

    The Mercat Cross

    I took three tours whilst I was in Edinburgh. I had seen in The Royal Mile, next to the city cross called The Mercat Cross, just behind St Giles Cathedral, stalls and signs advertising Edinburgh walks. Gentlemen in black top hats and ladies in long black capes hand out leaflets and tell you about their tours if asked. It is the traditional place where the people of Edinburgh receive news of great events. It is still used to make pronouncements of historic importance. You can choose a night time ghost walk, a walk through Edinburgh’s hidden underground chambers or perhaps you might choose a walk around Edinburgh’s historic sites. At the entrance to one of the Closes, named Mary Kings Close, another walk was advertised to the hidden underground streets of Edinburgh. The third guided tour that I took was around the confines of Edinburgh Castle. Each guide had a different approach.

    Auld Reekie Tours

    The Mercat Tour guide, Mercat being a Scottish form of the word, Market, began her talk and walk next to the Mercat Cross. She announced to us, standing up on the steps to the cross, some of the gruesome Medieval and Stuart period practices of retribution and punishment that the cross was witness to. Interesting facts delivered with emphasise and relish, but perhaps not too much exaggeration. I am sure an unfortunate person being punished or executed at that time would agree with the powerful sentiments of the guide. A good guiding technique and trick to keep the facts vividly remembered by the people on the tour is to assault their imaginations and senses and put the fear of God into them. The lady leading the Mercat tour took us to the Blair Street underground vaults. These were chambers created under the foundations of the South Bridge which was built in the 1780’s. Business men used the vaults for storage and they were also used as workshops for craftsmen. Taverns often created oyster cellars in these chambers. They were used for illicit whisky distilling and finally for criminals and squatters to hide in.prostitution was also known to occur in these dark vaults. As with all deep dark damp vaults, ghost stories are bound to emerge,stories of strange sounds, lights and whisperings. The guide did not dwell too much on ghost stories, she probably wanted to keep her tour group from running away. She told stories of actual goings on in these cellars. A room displayed artefacts found in the vaults from various periods which we could view and some we could handle. She was very good at explaining the research and archaeology that had taken place and was continuing, and which was uncovering the story  of the vaults and of course we were all asking questions.

    The Blair Street Vaults

    The young lady who took myself and a group around the Mary Kings Close was dressed for the part in 18th century maid’s costume. She played her part and used her actors skills. Mary King Close is situated in a different part of the Royal Mile from the Blair Street vaults. These underground rooms were created in the late 1750’s when the old town of Edinburgh was dilapidated and disease ridden. The new town across the other side of The N’Or Loch designed by James Craig was now the place to live. It was suggested that a new Royal Exchange be built on the site of some of the ruinous tenements that branched off the Royal Mile. They cut the buildings down in height by half to make a level area for the foundations of the new building , which was designed by James Craig the designer of the first phase of the new town. The fine new exchange dominated the Royal Mile next to St Giles but the old streets including Mary Kings close still existed, reduced in height, under the new building. The chambers and streets were abandoned and people were not allowed to live there underground. These chambers, as in the Blair Street Vaults, could be used for storage and in some craftsmen's workshops were located. Our actress guide, in her flowing 18th century maids attire acted the part of an actual historical person, Mary King, who had been the maid to a wealthy family when the Close was an open Edinburgh street.We know about her through law court records because her master was murdered in the house by his mother in-law over a debt and so Mary King’s name appears in the court papers as a witness. We therefore have written proof she lived in the close. It is interesting to see the remnants of rooms in the truncated houses from this hidden and once forgotten underworld. In one room the remains of plastered walls made from wattle and daub are still there with their 18th century patterns and designs. You can see fireplaces, and doorways. There are some artefacts to examine. The guide dramatizes the story superbly and with passion. We hear about the  plague in Edinburgh both the Bubonic plague and the Pneumonic plague. We learned which of the two plagues it was preferable to get. Apparently it was preferable to get the Bubonic Plague.There was a gruesome, painful cure. The buboes could be lanced and the wounds cauterised with a branding iron. You had no hope with pneumonic plague. We learned about people being prone to arthritis, rheumatism, tuberculosis and lung conditions and both the wealth and poverty in the closes of Edinburgh cheek by jowl with each other, the rich and poor, the criminal and the priest, side by side. One particular set of facts all guides loved to emphasise to horrify and fascinate us in equal measure were the sanitation problems of old Edinburgh. All those on the tour, came away with thoughts of the streets as foul smelling open sewers with piss pots being emptied from windows out onto the closes and wynds below with the shout, “Gardyloo,” which derives from the French ,”prenez garde a l’eau (mind the water), to warn passers-by. So lots of vivid descriptions and enthralling stories and a sense of humour is always needed. The guide at Edinburgh Castle added another approach. She told us the stories about the castle, its development, its uses and its present use but she also asked, us, questions. How many gates had we passed on our way into the inner ward of the castle? Which building did we think looked the oldest? She encouraged us us to observe and question. She also set the scene very nicely. She spoke with a French accent and was obviously French. She related how she was married to a Scotsman and now lived in Edinburgh but also pointed out that Mary Queen of Scots was brought up in France, spoke French and had a French accent just like hers. This guide used her attributes well.

    The oldest part of Edinburgh Castle. St Margaret's Chapel.

    Before I embarked on this adventure in Edinburgh I went into Wimbledon Town one day and went into Waterstones to find a guide book about Edinburgh. There were various ones but I chose the Berltiz pocket guide, partly because it was a pocket guide and was small enough to fit into my trouser pocket. But mostly, however, because it had two clear maps of the centre of Edinburgh and it laid out its sections in an easy to follow and find format. The photographs were good, illustrating the various articles about, festivals, history, the act of Union, the old town, the new town, The Royal Mile, Holyrood, entertainment, sports, where to eat, galleries and museums. It was all there, described succinctly. And although I did not go into the restaurants illustrated in the guide book, it gave me a good,"flavour," of what to expect. It allowed me to explore for myself. Apart from using the maps, to begin with, I did not actually use the guide book while I was in Edinburgh but it has been a valuable tool to find answers to some of my questions since being there and has given me a deeper knowledge of Edinburgh since I have come back. It has helped and informed me in retrospect. The front cover of the guide book shows a picture of Edinburgh from Calton Hill and in the foreground is the Dugald Stewart monument, like a small round Greek temple. I went up onto Calton Hill, took out the guide book and tried to replicate the same picture. I got close, but it is almost impossible to replicate a picture exactly. You need the same lens, camera, lighting, time of day and weather conditions, but I did get close.

    The Dugald Stewart Monument roughly the same view as on the front of my Berlitz Guide Book.

    I love taking pictures. I have had a number of digital cameras over the years, some small pocket ones and two much larger single reflex cameras. I feel the need to take pictures wherever I go,  sometimes even in the supermarket and definitely out on the street. I took a few hundred pictures in Edinburgh. Taking photographs makes me look carefully. I compose the picture in the view finder. I think about what the information is I am capturing. My eyes and thoughts and thoughts begin to focus on something carefully. Looking teaches  so much. We learn from looking. I certainly have. I find myself beginning to create stories and observations  when I’m looking through a lens about the coffee shops, famous Edinburgh buildings, historical sites, and people within the context of Edinburgh places. 

    Tweed suits!!

    Walking about, looking and sometimes randomly taking a chance in the direction or the street I turn down always provides a learning experience. I want to be surprised and find the unexpected. I use past experience to  age buildings.  “This one is modern with its steel and glass construction. Those are 18th century town houses with its vertical social structure. Over there is a Victorian intrusion, copying neatly, Tudor features. What is a Scottish architectural style? And then of course there are the plaques and labels on things “ John Knox House, Enter Here,”  “Tweedle Court,” “Architectural Design Centre,” (this way arrow sign), “Welcome to the Scottish Parliament,” ”Abbey Strand,” “Horse Wynd,” ”Welcome to Holyrood Park,” “Highland Tour Departures,” “Greyfriars Bobby,” “Jenners,” “Coppers Coffee Bar,” “The University of Edinburgh Old College,” “North Bridge,” “The Royal Mile,” “Auld Reekie Tours,” “ “NEW ASSEMBLY CLOSE, Mansion of Murray of Blackbarony c1580 Ancestor of the Lords Elibank  In courtyard were dancing assemblies hall 1766-1784, commercial bank of Scotland and later children refuge, ” ”Riddles Close, “ House of Cashmere,” “Gladstones Land 1617,” “In a house on the east side of this close, Robert Burns lived during his first visit to Edinburgh 1766.” “The Scott Monument erected 1840-44 Sir Walter Scott bart 1771- 1832” Labels and signs are found everywhere, down every nook and cranny of the city,  increasing your interest, your knowledge, your curiosity. It’s just lovely to say the words on the signs. There is a sort of lyricism, a sort of musicality to them.

    Museums and galleries are a rich source of artefacts often displayed in a time line which portrays the story that the locals want to hear. Each artefact , every painting has its own intricate story. They provide a source for interpretation that can continue forever and these collections develop over time and into the future.
    I walked around The Scottish National Gallery and came across a beautiful painting of a young girl which struck me forcefully reminding me vividly of Abigail my youngest daughter. It provided a personal moment for me.

    The young Scottish girl that reminded me of Abigail.

    Learning about Edinburgh or any place occurs in so many ways. Some we are aware of, some we might not be aware of, unless we stop to think.

    0 0
  • 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!!!!!!"

    0 0

    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. 

older | 1 | (Page 2) | 3 | 4 | .... | 6 | newer