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    A news article, published today on the BBC website, describes how Charles Dicken’s lobbied for his own personal letter box to be installed in the brick wall that separated his garden and house at Gads Hill, from the main road.

    Gads Hill Place at Higham near Rochester.

    In the 19th Century, when the postal service was in its infancy, Charles Dickens lobbied for his own personal letterbox, writes Kathryn Westcott.

    It's Christmas 1869 and Charles Dickens, prolific letter writer, is hurriedly finishing off a correspondence. "The postman is waiting at the gate to tramp through the snow to Rochester and is unlawfully drinking a glass of gin while I write this," Dickens reveals to his friend Charles Kent.

    The postman was a familiar sight at Dickens's Georgian home, Gad's Hill Place in Higham, Kent. A postbox, installed by the postal service at the author's request, was one of the earliest wall-boxes to be introduced in Britain, following the introduction of the pillar box across the nation by fellow writer Anthony Trollope in 1852.

    Dickens had personally lobbied for that postbox in 1859. Perhaps acting on a tip-off by friend and writer Edmund Yates, who worked in the Postmaster General's office, he replies to a correspondence from Yates stating:

    "I think that no one seeing the place can well doubt that my house at Gad's Hill is the place for the letter-box. The wall is accessible by all sorts and conditions of men, on the bold high road, and the house altogether is the great landmark of the whole neighbourhood. Captain Goldsmith's house is up a lane considerably off the high road; but he has a garden wall abutting on the road itself..."

    Rochester Cathedral

    In August of 2009 my friend ,Clive, and I drove down from London to Rochester for the day. We visited many of the Dickens sites, such as Rochester Cathedral, where Edwin Drood, Dicken’s final and unfinished novel plays out its dark and mysterious plot. We stood outside of  Satis House at the end of the High Street which Dickens used in Great Expectations as the home of Miss Haversham. We lingered outside the old town hall, now Rochester Museum, where Joe Gargery took Pip to be indentured.

    Satis House.

     We found the Swiss Chalet situated behind buildings off the High Street, now removed from Gads Hill. It was a present from a friend, Dickens had it constructed in his garden.  It was where he escaped to write in privacy. We photographed The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel where, not only Dickens and his friends sometimes stayed, but where the illustrious Mr Pickwick resided.Rochester and, The Bull, mark the start of Pickwicks travels.

    The Bull
    Without a doubt Clive and I made our way out of Rochester across the bridge over The Medway and up to the top of Gads Hill to visit Gads Hill Place, Dickens final residence and where he died.

    Gads Hill Place is an imposing, large Victorian house set back from the main road within ample grounds. Shrubs and trees shade it. A crescent drive enters, from the road at one side, arcs round to the front door of the house and then curves round to the other side of the property to re-enter the main road again. A brick wall fronts the property separating it from the pavement and main road.

    The tunnel to the Swiss Chalet.
    There are two unique features to Gads Hill Place and gardens that are observable from outside. The most obviously noticeable are the steep sloping steps that lead from the front of the house down into the ground to a wide, high arched tunnel. The floor of the tunnel is cobbled. It leads under the road to where a small plot of land is grassed over, surrounded by shrubs and trees, with a bench to sit on. On this piece of land Dickens had his Swiss Chalet initially erected. When you study the tunnel and its entrance and exit you can imagine Dickens briskly entering the tunnel and emerging the other side to climb up the opposite set of steep steps to his Swiss Chalet.  I wonder how much the process of using the tunnel created a sense of entering another world?

    The Swiss Chalet Dickens used for writing. It was here that he was writing Edwin Drood before he died.
    The other feature is something you might miss. It is a dull  metal oblong plate, about thirty inches in height and about ten inches wide fixed into the brick wall fronting the road. This piece of metal is covered in flaking red paint and has patches of rust covering it. On it is embossed the words, LETTER BOX."

    Dickens letter box at Gads Hill Place.

    Underneath that title is a royal crown with the capital letters V and R situated either side.
    Under the crown are the words ,"cleared  at," Two  holes made below this statement show where a metal holder was positioned to take the collection time sign.This is the letter box Dickens lobbied to have installed at Gads Hill.

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  • 12/15/14--02:35: THE BOOK
  • Waterstones chief executive James Daunt
    James Daunt, the Chief Executive of Waterstones,

    I read an article in this Sunday’s, Observer, entitled

    Whisper it quietly, the book is back … and here’s the man leading the revival

    The man in question is James Daunt, the Chief Executive of Waterstones, the main High Street, quality bookshop chain we have in Britain. The article stated,

    “The news that, for the first time in a long time, Waterstones is beginning to show signs of modest growth (new shops; new optimism; new markets) is symbolic of a sea-change in the world of books. Whisper it discreetly, but the book is showing signs of making a modest comeback, with British bookselling exhibiting the symptoms of an unfamiliar, fragile optimism.

    During the first decade of the new century, this sector cornered the market in gloomy predictions that the end of the world was nigh. The digital revolution, plus Amazon, plus the credit crunch, seemed to add up to a literary apocalypse. There were moments, some CEOs in book publishing now concede, when they could hardly see a commercial way forward. A mood of panic quickly spread, with many dire predictions.

    In Britain, hardbacks were said to be on the rocks, libraries doomed, the ebook all conquering, with the Visigoths of online selling storming through the high street. Among writers, with the tumbleweed blowing down Grub Street, the garret loomed.”

    Lets imagine a certain scenario leading up to Christmas. I am sitting at home. I have my i-pad on my lap, lounging comfortably on a sofa. I look up AMAZON in my GOOGLE search box. I click on the heading, books. Recently  I read a review of a book by Andy Miller entitled, A Year of Reading Dangerously. The title sounded interesting. I wondered what wild things could have been happening in Andy’s reading adventures this year. Looking at the book on-line, without moving so  much as an arm, I  moved a finger or two, gliding my hand over the virtual keyboard on the screen in front of me and typed an enquiry that revealed there was a link to a similar book written by Henry Miller. The surnames are a coincidence by the way. I thought then there must be some depth, some profundity in this apparently flippant Christmas stocking filler. A couple of clicks later I accessed my AMAZON account and paid for an e-book version of the above tomb and there it appeared in my i- book app.

    I clicked on it and perused the introduction. I had a look at the chapter headings and then clicked it off to read further at a later date, bookmarking the page I had got to.

    I then proceeded to click on my TESCOS account, reviewed my last food shopping list, adjusted a couple of items, added McVities Chocolate Biscuits and sent my order in. A few more deft movements of my fingers only, required.

    In my head, I must admit, and this must be a throwback to Neanderthal times, when I would have actually had to drive my car, park it and walk to a book shop in Wimbledon, or drive a mile to my local TESCOS and walk the aisles pushing a trolley, I imagined the people who were about to do the work for me, in my place. I still have an inbuilt memory of actual human contact and interactions. A fault perhaps in my programming. I recall the inconvenience of other people around me, waiting in queues,  using my VISA card and having to press the digits on the card machine to enter my code and then all the trouble of carrying and bringing my purchases home!!! My goodness, the time wasted.

    So this brings me back to the above article in the Observer. How can book shops be making a comeback, even a tentative come back? What on earth is going on? AMAZON, like some far off alien force has zapped all actual shops. They bring everything to my door. E- Shopping with TESCOS has eliminated the need to walk around the shopping aisles making that tedious effort to lift an arm, flex the fingers of  a hand,grip an item and then place it in a trolley. There was the matter of having to make the effort of using my legs too, of course!!! And meeting real flesh and blood people!!??

    So what is it about holding a book in your hands and having to physically turn the pages? A book, has weight. It is a solid object. You can feel its texture. You can dog ear the pages. In a whisper, you can scribble notes in its margins. If you want to, you could deface it . Various autocratic and draconian regimes have even done that. Burning piles of them have been known. A real solid paper and card book, with real print and real pictures, some are works of art in themselves, is something you can touch, smell, taste, if those are your wants, and experience its presence through all your senses. You can actually hear it too. It makes quiet sounds when you turn the pages or loud sounds if you drop it from a height and it causes screams, as it flutters through the air, when , in a fit of anger, you might want throw it at someone. It is something, even apart from its cerebral content, that we can have a relationship with.

    What might be happening then, with Waterstones as an example? Is the world  now readjusting to a more human scale? Is internet shopping being rebalanced so we can become human again?Are people now wanting to get back some elements of a real, physical world of shopping? And when the dust has settled I wonder in which favour the balance might be weighted?

    Sane human beings need contact with people  and all manner of things including solid paper books through the use of our senses. It is how we make relationships. If a lot of those points of contact are removed and we are only left with the cerebral bit, the thought process bit and everything else is imagined in our heads, or, perish the thought, a generation or two down the line, they might not even have the memory of a full sensory life, then we are doomed as a human race. We cannot be human.

    Long live experiences which bring us into real contact with people and real contact with things, including books. Long live Waterstones and all the independent book shops all over the country. I hope you are surviving and not only surviving but are a real valued part of your community.

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    Last week I was working in a school in Dorking. Dorking is a county town situated roughly in the centre of the county of Surrey. It nestles amongst the hills of the North Downs. Box Hill is to the North East and Leith hill is towards the South West. To get to the school I got the train from Motspur Park, where I live. It is a direct route passing through Epsom and West Humble. The journey takes about twenty eight minutes. The school I go to is on the other side of Dorking to the railway station. It takes a further twenty minute to walk to the school from the station.  I enjoyed the train journey because the Surrey countryside is beautiful. I enjoyed the walk through Dorking High Street because the town is quaint and has many old buildings dating back to Victorian, Georgian, Stuart and Tudor times. Dorking itself was probably begun by the Romans. It is on the route of the old Roman Road, Staine Street, from London to Chichester. As I walked through the High Street I noticed a sign pointing towards West Street. The sign read, “To The House of William Mullins, Pilgrim Father.” That evening on my way back to the station I walked down West Street and found William Mullins’s house.

    The house of William Mullins, West Street, Dorking, Surrey.

    William Mullins was born about 1572 in West Street, Dorking, in the County of Surrey. He followed his father into the shoemaking trade. In 1612 he bought his own property, a house that had been built in 1550, in West Street and continued his trade as a shoemaker. From his first marriage he had a son, also named William, and a daughter, Sarah. He married a second time to Alice who already had a son, Joseph who was been born in 1614. William and Alice had a daughter together named Priscilla. William’s son, William, married and also lived in Dorking. His daughter, Sarah, married and probably lived in London. William Mullins decided to become part of the group who sailed on the Mayflower. There is no evidence for him being a religious dissenter but he appears to have invested money in the company helping to finance the venture. He took with him to The New World two hundred and fifty shoes and thirteen pairs of boots.  The majority of those who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 were called, “Saints,” English separatists seeking religious freedom. Those like William Mullins, who joined the Mayflower as a financial venture were termed, “Strangers.”

    The Speedwell and The Mayflower left Rotherhithe in July 1620. They called in at Southampton to take on more provisions and others wishing to go to The New World. They left Southampton for North America but sailing along the English Channel towards the Atlantic it was evident that The Speedwell was not seaworthy so they put into Plymouth. The Mayflower continued alone across the Atlantic. The journey was a gruelling escapade. The people on board suffered all sorts of privations and malnutrition. It was more than two months before they found a spot to land near Cape Cod, much further north of their intended landing site. In the first year of founding the colony many died of tuberculosis, scurvy and pneumonia. They were also not used to the freezing temperatures they encountered when first landing. It was a desperate situation and they had to steal corn from local indigenous tribes to survive. This did not endear them to the local population at first.

    William Mullins died in February 1621. Alice and Joseph died that April. Priscilla was the sole survivor from Mullins family. Priscilla married John Alden in 1622. John Alden had been in charge of looking after the barrels of water and provisions on board the Mayflower. He was born in Harwich, Essex. He and Priscilla became famous through the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called,” The Courtship of Miles Standish.” Miles Standish persuaded John Alden to woo Priscilla for him. However Priscilla had her own ideas about who she wanted to marry and encouraged John. “Why don’t you speak for yourself?” She told him.

    John and Priscilla set up home in the newly established town of Duxbury. Their house still survives today. John Alden took up important administrative positions in the colony. Two Presidents were directly descended from John and Priscilla; they were John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams.

    The house in West Street Dorking and the house in Duxbury, Massachusetts are the only remaining properties directly connected to the Pilgrim Fathers.

    From: "The Courtship of Miles Standish,"(1858)  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    Then from a stall near at hand, amid exclamations of wonder,
    Alden the thoughtful, the careful, so happy, so proud of
    Brought out his snow-white bull, obeying the hand of its master,
    Led by a cord that was tied to an iron ring in its nostrils,
    Covered with crimson cloth, and a cushion placed for a saddle.
    She should not walk, he said, through the dust and heat of the
    Nay, she should ride like a queen, not plod along like a peasant.
    Somewhat alarmed at first, but reassured by the others,
    Placing her hand on the cushion, her foot in the hand of her
    Gayly, with joyous laugh, Priscilla mounted her palfrey.
    "Nothing is wanting now," he said with a smile, "but the distaff;
    Then you would be in truth my queen, my beautiful Bertha!"


    The will and last testament of William Mullins still exists. It was written down by John Carver on the day of Mullins’s death. It was witnessed by Captain Christopher Jones, Giles Heale, the surgeon and John Carver, the governor of the colony. The will was sent back to England on board The Mayflower so it could be administered by Sarah, William Mullins’s daughter,who lived in London.

     The blue plaque on William Mullins's house in Dorking.

    This is a transcript of the will:

    April 2, 1621]

    In the name of God Amen : I comit my soule to God that gave it and my bodie to the earth from whence it came. Alsoe I give my goodes as followeth That fforty poundes in the hand of goodman Woodes I give my wife tenn poundes, my sonne Joseph tenn poundes, my daughter Priscilla tenn poundes, and my eldest sonne tenn poundes Also I give to my eldest sonne all my debtes, bonds, bills (onelye yt forty poundes excepted in the handes of goodman Wood) given as aforsaid wth all the stock in his owne handes. To my eldest daughter I give ten shillings to be paied out of my sonnes stock Furthermore that goodes I have in Virginia as followeth To my wife Alice halfe my goodes & to Joseph and Priscilla the other halfe equallie to be devided betweene them. Alsoe I have xxj dozen of shoes, and thirteene paire of bootes wch I give into the Companies handes for forty poundes at seaven years and if thy like them at that rate. If it be thought to deare as my Overseers shall thinck good And if they like them at that rate at the divident I shall have nyne shares whereof I give as followeth twoe to my wife, twoe to my sonne William, twoe to my sonne Joseph, twoe to my daugher Priscilla, and one to the Companie. Allsoe if my sonne William will come to Virginia I give him my share of land furdermore I give to my twoe Overseers Mr John Carver and Mr Williamson, twentye shillinges apeece to see this my will performed desiringe them that he would have an eye over my wife and children to be as fathers and freindes to them ; Allsoe to have a speciall eye to my man Robert wch hathe not so approved himselfe as I would he should have done.

    This is a Coppye of Mr Mullens his Will of all particulars he hathe given. In witnes whereof I have sett my hande  John Carver, Giles Heale, Christopher Joanes.

    The last will and testament of William Mullins.

    A picture of a horse drawn on a plastered wall inside the house of William Mullins.

    Here is a link to an article I wrote about The Pilgrim father’s previously.

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    Entering the Museum of London to see the Sherlock Holmes exhibition.

    The first exhibition in London about Sherlock Holmes for over sixty years is at the Museum of London. It began last year on the 17th October and is due to finish on the 12thApril 2015, this year. Marilyn, Abi and myself went to see it on Saturday 22ndof February.

    This exhibition has been inspired by the continued interest in Sherlock Holmes and what he represents. The recent BBC’s series, Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson has given a modern twist to Conan Doyle’s original detective stories. However in recent years Hollywood has been fascinated by the exploits of the Victorian sleuth too. Robert Doherty in the modern day TV series, Elementary, set in New York and which relies on the concept of Sherlock Holmes, is one example. “Sherlock Holmes,” the 2009 film, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Jude Law as Watson and Robert Downey Junior as Sherlock was a smash hit at the box office worldwide. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 2009.

    This exhibition covers not just the filmic and stage history of Sherlock Holmes. The London of Sherlock Holmes features in an inspirational way if not totally as a physical entity and includes the scientific and technological innovations of the time that Holmes employed in his search for answers. The city itself , its enormity, its mix of population, its extremes of poverty and wealth, its maze like structure, its smoke and dense fogs, its play on the dreams, real and imaginary, of the people of the time who were horrified almost equally by the fiction of Jekyll and Hyde and the reality of the Jack the Ripper murders. All this created a climate of possibilities in which Conan Doyle could set his great character to work.

     Benedict Cumberbatch playing Sherlock.

    The origins of Holmes is also explored. Where did the concept of a super sleuth come from? A man who could use minute analysis in any situation to solve a mystery? Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician who had studied at the University of Edinburgh Medical School from 1876 to 1881. His tutor was a Dr Joseph Bell. Doyle worked for Bell as his assistant during this time. Dr Joseph Bell was renowned for his use of close observation. Bell had a theory that a person’s personality could be deduced from studying his face. Dr Bell, physically was tall and thin and had a hooked nose. Conan Doyle used Dr Bell not only for the appearance of Sherlock Holmes but also for his approach to forensic analysis.

    The exhibition is advertised on a poster that shows a side view of Sherlock Holmes’s head wearing a deer stalker and smoking his pipe. It is an x-ray picture which reveals the brain inside his skull. The brain is diagrammatically drawn. It labels the functions of the various parts of the brain. This diagram is tailored to what we know about Sherlock Holmes. These brain diagrams really reveal the thoughts and ideas of the illustrator of the diagram rather than what the brain actually does. For instance you can find diagrams depicting the brain of a Labour party supporter let’s say or the brain of a Southampton football fan for instance. They are a joke nowadays.These brain diagrams can be taken to ridiculous lengths.The Victorians took this all much more seriously. Doctors believed in a system of understanding the brain called phrenology. This has been disproved nowadays. In The Hound of The Baskervilles Holmes's skull surprises Dr Mortimer who remarks,

     "I had hardly expected so dolichocephalic a skull or such  well marked supra orbital  development."

    So for this exhibition we have the brain diagram of Sherlock Holmes. Some of the main areas show, reflectiveness and perceptiveness written large at the front of the brain. Traits such as domestic and aspiring come large at the back of the brain. Cautiousness and mirthfulness are written in small type, lost within the brains mass, amongst many other traits either written smaller or larger depending on the strength or weakness in the character of Sherlock Holmes. This has all been deduced analytically from the stories no doubt. 

    The brain of Sherlock Holmes.

    We entered the exhibition through a bookcase. A melodramatic way to enter. The lady at the entrance, directing people to the exhibition, suggested the best way to take a dramatic photograph. She has obviously has had a lot of experience at directing exhibition goers so. She opened the door in the bookcase ajar for us. Marilyn stood with her left arm raised and hand against the panel looking back at me. And so we entered the exhibition.

    Marilyn entering the mysterious world of Sherlock Holmes!!!!

    The first things that confront us are theatre and film posters for the likes of the TV series in which Jeremy Brett starred, and early film versions with Basil Rathbone, Arthur Wontner, John Barrymore and Ellie Norwood. The quintessential early Sherlock Holmes was played by William Gillette on stage primarily but he also starred in the first film of Sherlock Holmes. Gillettes physique, looks and manner became the publics, illustrators and dramatists personification of Sherlock Holmes. You immediately realise that Holmes is more than a character in a book devised by Conan Doyle. He has taken on a life of his own and is reinvented for each generation, hence the more recent adaptations I mentioned at the start of this article. We know that Conan Doyle attempted to kill off his character in a story, The Final Problem, published in The Strand Magazine in December 1893. Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes plunge to their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. However, with strong popular demand from both English and American readers, Conan Doyle had to bring his character back. In 1901, Eight years after, The Final Problem, Doyle wrote The Hound of The Baskervilles. To get round the fact that he had killed Holmes off Doyle set the story in a time before the Reichenbach episode. However there were calls for Sherlock Holmes to be reincarnated. Conan Doyle had to bring him back in real time. Miraculously Holmes Conan Doyle ,"arranged," that he had survived his fall into the Reichenbach Falls. He had not in fact fallen over with Moriarty but had overcome his opponent using a Japanese martial arts technique called bartitsu.     He was able to hide his tracks thereafter.

     The death of Sherlock Holmes illustrated by Sidney Paget, Paget was Holmes's most famous illustrator creating some the most iconic images of Sherlock Holmes.

    There are few other characters that have this sort of power in literature and fiction. In recent years I can only think of Dr Who and perhaps James Bond and maybe characters like Superman and Frankenstein that have this life which is indestructible. They live beyond their authors and even the demands of readers and fans. They exist in themselves in our consciousness. Maybe you can think of others yourself.
    Some Bartitsu moves and other accomplishments of Sherlock Holmes.

    The next part of the exhibition displayed maps of London, both road and rail and many original Victorian and Edwardian photographs depicting the London of Sherlock Holmes. The great rail stations, of Waterloo, Paddington and Kings Cross, feature.  The Grand hotels such as, The Langham, The Savoy, The Cecil, The Hyde Park Hotel and The Russell, in Russell Square are portrayed. These were the locations of some of Holmes’s mysteries.

    A railway map of London in the exhibition.

    The development of technology that was happening at the time, the telephone, the typewriter and the proliferation of steam trains as well as horse drawn hackney cabs are all displayed, some as objects, the telephone and typewriter and some as old photographs, the stations, the trains and hackney cabs. These forms of transport and the millions of inhabitants filled the bustling streets and stations of the metropolis. The new technologies were things that helped Sherlock Holmes in solving his crimes.

     An interesting point is made that Conan Doyle was not a Londoner in the way perhaps Dickens was. When you read the Conan Doyle stories it becomes evident that although he lists places in London that Watson and Holmes pass on their way to some station or  grand hotel, a list of places and streets is all he relates. There are no detailed descriptions and sense of place. He doesn’t have a feel for London as such. A lot of his stories may start in a room at 221B Baker Street, which incidentally, Conan Doyle asserted that he never visited and never travelled along, then the stories move invariably to some rural location outside of London, mostly to places in the South of England which Conan Doyle did know well.

    However, the exhibition shows us that Conan Doyle does use London in one particular way. The fog creates an atmosphere. The massive void between rich and poor is a source of tensions. London as a world centre with embassies and foreign dignitaries from all over the world create situations where individuals are compromised. He uses London in what it does to people. The crimes and mysteries in Conan Doyle’s stories are those of individual human beings and their tragedies are brought about in a place where literally millions of people are thrown together.

    Theatrical make up for creating disguises.

    Sherlock Holmes in his quest for enlightenment and understanding resorts to all sorts of strategies. He calms his mind by playing the violin and of course his violin is displayed He smokes a pipe. He experiments with cocaine and morphine. As a personality he shows many traits of the addict. His behaviour is erratic. He has mood swings. He doesn't eat for long periods of time. Starvation can create a heightening of the senses. Some say that they detect elements of what we term now as autism in his personality. He had few friends and acquaintances beyond Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson who more often than not suffer his behaviour. In his quest to find answers and to aid his observation he often dresses up in various guises as vagrants, old ladies, clergymen and in fact whatever guise might help him melt unnoticed into his surroundings, to watch and observe unnoticed. This strong bohemian free thinking aspect to Holmes is important to who he is and creates a sort of frisson which was and is appealing.

    Smoking implements that Sherlock Holmes would use..

    One display shows all the equipment needed to create a disguise, wigs, make up and costumes. All the requirements of a Victorian theatre dressing room. Holmes was a consummate actor in the stories being able to trick even those close to him. Another shows all the accoutrements of the smoker, pipes, tobacco, match boxes and various contemporary adverts for smoking. One display shows a hypodermic syringe and glass files that contained morphine for Holmes’s use.

    Then there are the display cases with the iconic clothing associated with Sherlock Holmes; an evening dress for the theatre, a tweed cape and deerstalker for the moors and an elaborate dressing gown for sitting in front of the coal fire upstairs at 221B Baker Street. In one case is displayed Dominic Cumberbatch’s, Holmes, overcoat. It is displayed on a dummy. It  easy to imagine Dominic Cumberbatch himself filling the void inside that coat. Unfortunately, for his numerous fans, he is not filling the inner space created by the coat but he does appear on the many video loops alongside all the other incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, acting out their part on screens set around the exhibition.

    Dominic Cumberbatch's coat in Sherlock.

    Eventually, long after having entered by the bookcase and been mesmerised throughout by the master himself we arrive at the final denouement. There we are with Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes, perched at the top of the Reichenbach Falls. We enter the final room and find we too have jumped into the boiling surging waters of that waterfall too.We are surrounded by a floor to wall screen showing the spray and tumbling water of a large waterfall. We are immersed in it and enveloped by it. Will we survive miraculously too just as Sherlock Holmes does? Were we able to use bartitsu, a form of Japanese judo, to throw off our opponent as Holmes threw Moriarty to his death and escape into apparent oblivion? Let us use Holmes methods to ascertain a conclusion. The process of deduction Sherlock Holmes used was called abductive reasoning which is logical inference. You observe, Marilyn, Abi and I were at the top of the Reichenbach Falls. I am here writing this. The hypothesis must be that we live.  Oh well, something like that. It is all based on the strongest inference amongst other inferences.

    Right at the end we too were confronted by the Reichenbach Falls.

    Here is Sherlock Holmes explaining it all himself in,” The Mystery of The Dancing Men,”

     "You see, my dear Watson" -- he propped his test-tube in the rack, and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class --"it is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all the centralinferences and presents one's audience with the starting-point and the conclusion, one may produce a startling, though possibly a meretricious, effect.”

    You see. It’s simple!!!!!

    I suppose I could have used the dancing men code itself to explain what happened to us. Here is the alphabet. Try constructing your own messages.

    Conan Doyle explained Sherlock Holmes missing years by telling us that he travelled in the Far East. He was probably sharpening up his bartitsu skills no doubt.

    One of the main points that this exhibition reveals and perhaps helps us understand is Sherlock Holmes’s continuing appeal to every generation. He has an ability to be incredibly adaptable. He looks for the unexpected. He uses forensic analysis. He acts quickly. The problems in this world with ISIS, Russian brinkmanship and the Arab unrest would be fertile ground for Conan Doyle’s creative imagination and Sherlock Holmes’s talents. So I think what this exhibition shows us is that Sherlock Holmes, “the man who was never born, will never die.” 

    On the upper floor of The Sherlock Holmes pub next to Charing Cross station there is a reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes study in 221B Baker Street. The descriptions of the room  in Conan Doyles stories and novels were used to recreate it.

    Sherlock Holmes study at 221B Baker Street (The Sherlock Holmes pub)

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  • 04/03/15--09:43: JUST GOING FOR A RUN

  • Taken on a run along the Cornish coast at Holywell Bay

    The words, “Just going for a run,” are the words I invariably say when I leave the house to indulge in my form of fitness exercise, which is running of course. I usually turn left out of my front door and along West Barnes Lane, through Crossway and then onto Grand Drive. My runs tend to vary from that point. I take different routes.  I am never sure what form the run will take. It is a little like stream of consciousness writing, a Jackson Pollock painting or Miles Davis improvising with his trumpet on a theme.  I have certain tools, feet, legs and a pair of lungs and of course I run on pavements but with those prerequisites anything can happen. The streets are my pallet.   When I was young, early twenties, I took the George Best viewpoint. Drink and fitness can go together for a few years at that age. I have never smoked, so that has never been a problem, but as far as drinking alcohol goes, I think regular running has made me moderate my drinking of beer and wine as I have got older.  Running enables me to feel that I do not want to drink alcohol or not much. I still have a great night out with a group of mates once in a while. Marilyn and I get mellow together drinking a bottle of wine on occasion too.

    Approaching running from an improvisational point of view, I have found that over the years I have been to locations and seen places I would never have seen if I didn't get out and run. I have run through alleyways between houses, run along paths and bye ways via allotments, parks and on occasion, between the gravestones of cemeteries. At the pace I run I have time to take in my surroundings and enjoy them.

    Running is a great way to explore your environment, whether in your local area or on holiday. Many years ago, Marilyn and I were staying in a YMCA quite near the UN building in New York. While I am on holiday I try to keep up my regular running regime. One morning I decided to tackle the paths and byeways of Central Park. My good ness the park was full of cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers. It was like being in the worst traffic hour ever but with everything moving fast. I survived.That was an experience. I have run along the cliffs north of Newquay in Cornwall and experienced the most amazing sea and coastal views in bright sunshine. It is awe inspiring seeing wild gorse and heathers along the cliff tops and circling gulls and diving cormorants over the sea. The fresh smell of the sea air and the clean cool breeze are wonderful.  Before kids Marilyn and I went camping in a two man tent, yes very cosy, in a quiet valley beneath the peaks of the Skafells. This was thirty years ago. I imagined I could run to the top of one of the fells that abutted our campsite. I started off early one morning. My legs began to feel heavy half way but there was no way I was going to stop. I forced myself on and upwards. I got to a point where will power didn’t come into it anymore. I had been going up this very steep incline for twenty minutes or more, and this is the only time this has ever happened to me, my legs stopped moving. I could not consciously make them move any more. I stopped. I had to sit while the sensation in my legs came back. I was determined to get to the top and I did. That was scary because my legs had actually stopped of their own accord even though I wanted them to continue. I tried the same run every day for a week. By the end of the week I could do it with a degree of comfort.

     I have a passion for local history.  I mostly run where I live. My favourite routes take me through South Wimbledon , through the John Innes conservation area. There are some famous places in South Wimbledon. Merton is connected with Admiral Lord Nelson who lived at Merton Hall. William Morris’s works, where his wallpapers were printed and his furniture was made by local craftsmen, was situated at Merton Abbey Mills. The only remaining parts of the medieval Merton Priory, the chapter house, is under Merantun Way . Merantun Way itself marks the Roman road, Staine Street which lead from the Roman London Bridge to Chichester Harbour on the south coast near Portsmouth. I especially love running on Wimbledon Common though. There are parts of the common, bits of woodland, up there that have never been developed by human touch, ever. The common is managed but in a way to continue its health, growth and continuance. There are two golf courses within its bounds, The Royal Wimbledon and London Scottish both begun in Victorian times. Parts of it have been used by the military over the centuries too. Charles II’s Tangier regiment was formed and trained on the common before going out to Tangiers in 1662. The Royal Flying Core had an airfield on the common before the RAF was formed. It was a military shooting rifle range in Victorian times and was used to train rifle regiments in the First World War. Highwaymen and duelists took advantage of the remoteness of the common during the 18th century. It is however the silver birch woods and the wild grasses and the wild birds that proliferate on the common that I love to look at and experience as I run. Running on the common puts me in touch with nature. As an aside, for you lovers of all things connected with Ancient Egypt, the Putney cemetery on the west side of the common contains a very important grave. Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 is buried there I see blue and green plaques on buildings and have time to stop and read them. Robert Graves lived as a child near the Ridgeway in Wimbledon Village. A V Roe, the aircraft pioneer, worked in a shed at the back of his brother’s house at the bottom of the hill leading to Wandsworth High Street. The Putney debates of 1647, held after the English Civil War about religion and government, took place in St Mary the Virgin church next to the Putney side of the bridge going over the Thames. Buildings, gardens, trees, people and all manner of life is observable as I run. Running from your front door around the locality where you live is a great way to interact with and  learn about and enjoy where you live.

    A selfie taken in Edinburgh running around Arthur's Seat.

    On the down side, I have been sworn at from passing cars, been made fun of, had eggs thrown at me from the top of the multi storey car park in New Malden, tripped over and gashed my knees and elbows and even once, because I was distracted by a car without its headlights on in the dark, run into a lamppost and concussed myself. But the bad things are very rare and represent a negligible fraction of one percent of the running time have clocked up over the years.

    There is an industry built up around running and sport in general. Who can blame the magazines, shops, gyms, clubs and TV programmes from trying to encourage people to take up sport and what seems to be highly important, buy their product? There is a benefit for the consumer if they are serious about the sport. It is running magazines that I have a particular issue with. I am sure my thoughts and concerns can be extrapolated to other magazine titles attached to other sports and events too. These magazines have nice glossy pictures of fit young men and women looking attractive. Many pages are used to advertise running shoes, clothes, computerised running devices to track speed, distance and heart rate, energy drinks and food.  The magazines are however, unnecessary. They are a shop window for various businesses and manufacturers to make money. Maybe it is controversial to say this but all the myriad of energy food products created and marketed for runners and participants of sports are not needed. The different running shoes made by different manufacturers are really unnecessary too. Most running shoes on the market are of a reasonably high standard. The only difference between them is their logo. The prices are all much the same. The articles in these magazines are of limited use too. How to get fit for a marathon. What shoes to wear? How to run. Keeping a running diary; and various other obvious themes.  The articles are worded in different ways and are given different angles to grab the interest. Different people write them or ghost write them so they always sound new and fresh. I have discovered that if you buy a monthly series of any one of these magazines over a year, they all end up saying the same sort of thing. Different authors might talk about their individual experiences and give you their advice and all of this information is good if not entirely applicable to you. You can actually learn the same stuff by just getting out there and running. But what you must realise about these magazines and what should stop you buying them is that year after year the same things are repeated.  You can only say so much about running. Everybody is an individual and we all have different body types. There is no information a magazine will provide that will really apply to you. There are the obvious things like staying hydrated and eating energy foods like pasta, but we all know that stuff anyway. You really do have to get out there and find what is good for you yourself.

    My reasons now for running are not to get fit, or lose weight or necessarily run for charity these days, and although I think these things are worthy things my reasoning for running is about feeling good and exploring and enjoying my environment. I already have a high level of fitness so I am not aiming to achieve a particular level of fitness any more. I have discovered that being fit helps me think and provides me with the energy to do a multitude of things with enthusiasm and effort. I feel so much more active in every way being fit.  The feeling and sensation of running is one of the things that I like. There are those moments, when I have attained a comfortable rhythm in stride, arms swinging and breathing that creates almost a feeling of euphoria. That particular feeling doesn’t happen often but when it does I feel as though I could run forever. It is almost a floating sensation. I think I actually attain a level of karma. Mostly however, running is a comfortable experience. I tend to run on the front of my foot. I have never adhered to the heal toe principle. I have consciously tried using the heel toe combination but it is an unnatural technique I think. I get a better pace, more spring in my step, a more natural flowing movement and a cushioned feeling from running on the front part of each foot. I have never suffered, ankle or tendon problems so I must have found a way of doing it right. The other feeling I get derives from the fitness I have achieved. It is good to feel fit. There is no doubt about that. I am 62 years old and I feel fit and well. My lungs work well. My weight is right for my height. I eat when I need to, generally what may be termed a balanced diet.  I probably drink too much coffee and tea, especially coffee. Coffee gives me a buzz. A drug, I know.

    The way technology is going, one day we will be able to design our own running shoes based on the evidence collected on a personal application that monitors our running experiences. Imagine connecting your phone to a 3D printer and the printer making a bespoke pair of shoes for you? It will happen. Take my word for it.

    I combine recycling with running too. Marilyn bought me a pair of baggy tracksuit trousers from a car boot sale for 50p. (I am NOT into tight fitting lycra you might be pleased to know.) I also wear inexpensive £2 tee shirts from my local supermarket.

    Running is wonderful. It is good for you!!!!!

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    The picture on the Fairport Convention album cover UNHALFBRICKING (1969)

    The album cover to Fairport Convention’s second 1969 album UNHALFBRICKING shows a rather traditional, apparently timeless English scene. A middle aged couple, conservatively dressed, are standing before an English scene consisting of trees, lawn and a fine example of  a church  depicting  traditional English church architecture. A sense of  calm and continuity is created. Just after the recording of the album, Martin Lamble , the groups drummer,  died, at the age of nineteen. The band was travelling from a gig in a van, which crashed on the M1. Eric Hayes was the photographer who took the picture. Joe Boyd, the American record producer who produced Fairport Convention at the time, later said that the photograph for the cover was taken in early spring just before the crash. The title of the album, the second album they released in 1969, is apparently the result of a game the band often played while returning from concerts. Sandy Denny invented the word during a game called, Ghosts, a word creation game. The rules stated that you had to form non-existent words. However, within the context of the album cover it could have other meanings and explanations. The year of the album, 1969 was the year Harold Wilson,at the Labour Party Conference in Scarborough, made his, “White Heat,” speech about the vital importance of technology and science for the future prosperity and development of Britain, . Bob Dylan and friends had recorded  the Basement Tapes by 1967. Germaine Greer, published The Female Eunuch the year after in 1970. Charles Manson and his, “family,” committed terrible murders in California in 1969. The Vietnam War had been raging since 1955 and still had another six years to go. Jenny Lee, the Minister of State for Education under Harold Wilson enabled the Open University to be created opening up degree level study and the consequent work, social and economic opportunities to a strata of society that had never considered a University education before. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was promoting transcendental meditation. Sexual liberation was being practised. Social and personal experimentation were the driving forces of the time.

    Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough  (1750)

    The photograph on the front of the album has many Rennaissance influences. There are strong directional lines created within the picture leading the eye to various points. In the foreground the fence and wall take the eye from the upper left  of the picture, gently sloping away to a focal point low on the right of the picture. The, “half brick,” divide, created by the brick wall and the latticed fence on top of it, create a  barrier between the foreground and the background.  The tree just behind the wall, slightly off centre, compartmentalises the scene. It appears to separate the church from the rest of the picture. The spire of St Mary’s church in the background points heavenwards. The grid pattern, Renaissance artists experimented with grids and perspective lines to create and structure their paintings, produces the effect of showing us individual portraits of the band member. The central focal point of the picture is the slightly open gate between the foreground and the background. Is the gate opening or closing? The portrait of Edna and Neil Denny, Sandy Denny’s parents has a little of Thomas Gainsborough’s painting of Mr and Mrs Andrews about it. Gainsborough showed a wealthy landowning couple standing to one side of the painting showing off their estate in the same way as Edna and Neil reveal their garden to the observer.Even the arm and hand gestures are similar. Neil Denny, crooks his elbows as does Mr Andrews and Edna Denny's hands hold each other in a demure pose just as Mrs Andrews hands hold each other in her lap.

    The same scene as the front cover fourty six years later.
    (The address is 9B Arthur Road Wimbledon.)

    This combination of using an art vocabulary from the past in a modern setting links with the music on the album. Reviewers have written that Unhalfbricking is an album which  links the past with the present in folk music. It is a combination of old folk music and its traditions with new ideas of rock music creating a new genre, folk rock. On different tracks Sandy Denny sings with the traditional folk singers tone and the group harmonise in a traditional folk manner. On other tracks she has a clear unaffected singing style more in common with a rock singer. This is most evident in the only track that is a traditional folk song on the entire album, “A sailors Life.” During the track, rock elements are introduced, two worlds come together.  Many of the tracks on the album are by Bob Dylan from his renowned, “Basement Tapes,” which were recorded up to 1967, such as Si Tu Dois Parter, which interestingly the members of Fairport Convention translated into French. Dylan’s original title was “If You Gotta Go Go now. “Whether this was an oblique support by the members of Fairport Convention for Britain joining the European Common Market which it did do in 1973, I am not sure. There is also, Percy’s Song, by Dylan, and on the recent publication of the album  two extra tracks, both either written or influenced by Dylan, Dear Landlord and Ballad of Easy Rider. The opening track, Genesis Hall, was written by Richard Thompson as was a Southern United States style song, Cajun Woman. Sandy Denny introduces her well known song, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, and also a song called, Autopsy. In many ways it is an experimental album trying out new ideas and using different influences. Listening to it you can understand where Fairport Convention were leading.

    In 1969 feminism and sexual liberation were two of the great social forces of the time. Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch in 1970. The pill was available. Having sex was prevalent outside marriage and women were being encouraged to not only have fun and enjoy sex but to take the lead too. Abortion was an option and there were shows of public nudity. This did not only happen at music festivals. I remember a news headline in a local paper with an companying picture of a naked woman streaking across Kingston Bridge. Women were going to university and getting an education. Men were encouraged to become, what was termed as, equal partners, house husbands, and take an equal share in looking after the children. I have changed my fair share of nappies!!!!!. Equality was being explored. The world seemed to be changing fast. The picture on the front cover of Unhalfbricking makes a powerful commentary about feminism and sexual liberation. Sandy Denny’s parents, Edna and Neil Denny at the front of the picture portray the past and conservatism with a small c. It is almost the same portrayal of the couple Thomas Gainsborough achieved in Mr and Mrs Andrews in 1748.  This is a view of relationships from the past. The wall, the half brick barrier behind Edna and Neil, separates them from their daughter Sandy and the members of Fairport Convention. The band all wear long hair, men and women both. They wear clothing influenced by India and the United States, jeans and caftans. Sandy Denny,is a female member of a group that is all male apart from herself. At the time of the picture she is travelling the country, playing at gigs with these men. She is living the liberated life.  I mentioned before, I wondered if the gate is being closed or is it being opened. It is open at the moment. Does this mean there is still a link between her parents ideals and beliefs and the new social revolution that is going on?

    Sandy Denny died after falling down stairs and hitting her head.She was only 31 years old. Here is her grave in Putney Vale Cemetery, South London.

    The church, St Mary’s Wimbledon, in the top right of the picture, isolated from the rest of the picture by the strong lines of the tree, is evocative of the established religion, the established order. To illustrate how little unchanging the world had been up to this point  we can consider the history of St Marys. The church is first recorded in 1086. The building has been changed and adapted  much since then,  to meet a rising population in the area over the decades and centuries. There remnants from each period within the fabric of the church. Some medieval oak beams have been found in the structure. The Georgians developed it further and then in the 1860’s Gilbert Scott was commissioned to redesign it and expand its size to take a further four hundred seats and he also  built the 196 foot spire. Within its structure are parts of all the historical periods. Scott clad the outside of the church completely in flint so it looked like one complete entity. This goes to  illustrate that until the 1960’s the world and society hadn't changed much. The population grew but basic beliefs  and attitudes about the world and society remained similar. However by 1969 Britain was actually becoming more and more multicultural. People such as the members of Fairport Convention were experimenting with new ideas of religion and culture. They were not sticking with the old beliefs caricatured by the church in the picture. They were looking at the world with new eyes which are reflected in the lyrics of their songs. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was not only bringing transcendental meditation to the Beatles but many other young people of the time were trying out these new ideas of philosophy, spirituality and self-discovery. This idea of spirituality, self discovery and mind expansion, replacing the old ways of the established church, included drug taking. Sandy Denny was to be affected greatly by this. Drugs and alcohol probably contributed to the terrible accident which brought about her untimely death at the age of 31. In a way the church in this picture is a symbol of tradition and the past and is as strong a symbol of  what was changing and passing away as the pose made by Sandy Denny’s parents.

    What  this picture also does, in its almost rural calm and sense of middle class peace and tranquillity,  is give the lie to what was going on in the world at the time. The Vietnam War had been raging for the previous fourteen years and still had another six years to go. The picture, with the members of the group in the distant, surrounded and almost swallowed up by their surroundings appear out of place and time. They don’t want to be there. It is not their world. Many in the folk world, the traditionalists, probably thought the same about them with regards to their new musical ideas that were emerging. Were Fairport Convention part of the old order in folk or were they the new? Dylan was castigated by the traditionalists for turning to the electric guitar rather than continuing with an acoustic sound. In contrast to this picture,of  middle class timeless  England there was another opposite image in the Wimbledon of the time. On a brick wall beside the railway line, as the train entered Wimbledon Station from the South, there was daubed the slogan, “America will be defeated by the Viet Cong.” How the graffiti artist knew that, many years before the end of the war, is difficult to discern. It was obviously a new way of looking at the war. We come to the use of the prefix un. As with the word, unknowable, or unlikely and all the other words beginning with un, it creates the opposite meaning to the root word. Perhaps Sandy Denny in her use of the prefix, un, knew something about removing barriers such as the “halfbrick,” barrier in her parents garden. Perhaps the gate is being opened and not being closed. Perhaps the gate to the old style of folk music is still being left open and not being closed in this album.

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  • 06/05/15--06:08: JOSEPHINE BUTLER

  • On my regular runs up to Wimbledon Common, I often go along North View which is situated on the south edge of the common. There are a number of tall elegant Victorian houses along this short stretch of road that borders one of the greens belonging to The Royal Wimbledon Golf Club. Beyond the smooth surface of the green is an area of thick woodland that stretches deep into the common itself. One of these houses has an English Heritage blue plaque located on the left of its façade just above the front door. In the past I have stopped and read the information on this plaque. The blue roundel reads from the top;

     English Heritage, Josephine Butler, 1828 – 1906 Champion of Women’s Rights lived here 1890 – 1893.

    Josephine Butler

    I must admit I have never given it much thought. I have looked at it a few times but it has never taken my interest. The only thoughts that occurred to me were that she must have been an upper class ,”do gooder,” a sort of prototype early form of suffragette, one of the lesser known ones. A friend of mine was talking about walking on Wimbledon Common recently and mentioned the plaque to me. I said that I had seen it. Another friend mentioned it recently too. I began to think I must look into this woman’s life further.  After all, English Heritage, do not put up a plaque for just anybody. She didn’t live in Wimbledon for long, three years according to the plaque.

    Josephine Butler was born in a village in Northumberland called Milfield, in 1828.Her father was John Grey, a local landowner and Whig politician.. He was a supporter of the abolition of slavery and he wanted an extension to the right to vote. He was cousin of Earl Grey who brought in the Parliamentary reform Act of 1832. Her father encouraged Josephine and her brothers and sisters to take an interest in local affairs and she grew up from an early age discussing politics. She became a committed Christian but her early life was marked only by herself and her sister enjoying the county social whirl of balls and parties.

    In 1852 she married George Butler who was a lecturer at Durham University who became an Anglican minister. They moved to Oxford when he became the examiner of schools at Oxford University. She found herself in a male world. Most Oxford dons were unmarried. They looked down on women and didn’t think their views were worth listening to.  After a few years an incident happened which began to change things for Josephine. A don of Balliol College had got a local girl pregnant and abandoned her. In her desperation the girl had killed the baby. She was sent to jail. Josephine appealed to the Master of Balliol, Benjamin Jowett, to make the don, who had got the girl pregnant, to realise his crime. Jowett replied,

    “It would only do harm to open in any way such a question as this. It is dangerous to arouse a waking lion.”

    Josephine was appalled. When the girl was eventually released from prison Josephine and her husband gave the girl a job as their housekeeper.

    In 1857 George Butler moved from Oxford to become the Vice principal of Cheltenham College. While at Cheltenham their daughter, Eva, died at the age of six, when she fell down some stairs. This incident affected her for the rest of her life. When her husband was offered the job as the principal of Liverpool College they were only too pleased to move. Cheltenham held such painful memories.

    Josephine threw herself into charity work to help her overcome the grief of losing her daughter so tragically. She joined a Christian mission at Brownlow Hill Workhouse. Many of the women in Brownlow workhouse were prostitutes.  Josephine began to invite starving and sick prostitutes in to her own home. She persuaded local businessmen to provide money to set up a house as a woman’s refuge to help these prostitutes. The reasons for them becoming prostitutes was poverty and lack of food. Josephine set about starting a work training scheme to give the girls skills that they could use to gain employment. Also the refuge set up its own business, making envelopes. This created an income to cover the running costs of the hostel.

    Brownlow Workhouse, Liverpool ( This is now the site of the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral )

    At the same time as setting up the hostel she became involved in a campaign for better educational facilities for women. In 1867 the, North of England Council for Promoting the Higher education of Women, began with Josephine as its first president. The Council organised public lectures which developed into the University Extension Scheme. She also petitioned Cambridge University to admit women to its higher local exams which was achieved in 1869. This provided education for upper class women. In 1868 Josephine wrote a pamphlet entitled, “Education and employment of women.” She argued that poor women did not have the opportunities of the apprenticeship schemes that were set up for boys. She argued that lack of skills and poor employment prospects drove some women to prostitution. She also made it clear that women were not less intelligent than men but that they were equals. This was the first time Josephine stated her beliefs in the equality of the sexes and that they should be treated equally. The following year, 1869, she edited a magazine called “Woman’s Work and Woman’s Culture.” Contributors argued for women’s rights in a whole range of areas including education and property rights.

    Josephine herself stated,

    “I wish it were felt that women who are labouring especially for women are not one sided or selfish. We are human first; women secondarily. We care about the evils affecting women most of all because they react upon the whole of society and abstract from the common good. Women are not men’s rivals but their helpers. There can be no antagonism that is not injurious to both.”

    In 1869 something else happened which was to set Josephine on a course that brought her to national significance. She returned home from a holiday in Europe to find a message waiting for her. 1869 was the year that the third Contagious Diseases Act was passed through Parliament and it increased the scope and power of the previous two acts. The first Contagious Diseases Act was passed in 1864. The terms of the act were to be followed and explored for three years to ascertain its effectiveness.

    In the 1850’s the Crimean War had created a cause for concern over the health of the army. The major problem was syphilis which the military thought was caused and spread by prostitutes. A Royal Commission on health, was set up in 1857 to look at this question. To find out the extent of venereal disease in the army regiments were encouraged to carry out regular examinations of their men. Both army surgeons and the men themselves complained about the humiliation and degradation of this process so the practice was curtailed. Surgeon Perry of the Royal Artillery complained that he felt degraded having to examine soldiers in this way.

    “I thought that I was placed in an utterly false position as a gentleman and as a medical man.”

     In 1864, to replace this earlier attempts at controlling and treating venereal diseases, the Contagious Diseases Act was first passed. This was set up for three years to assess the procedures set out in it. Magistrates had the power to order any prostitute to undergo an examination of their sexual organs by a doctor. All doctors were men of course. If they were found to be infected they would be forcibly detained in a special hospital for three months to undergo treatment. Refusal to do this was punishable by prison. To ascertain if somebody was a prostitute was the reporting of rumours about a woman to the police. All the police had to do was swear before a magistrate they had reason to believe somebody was a prostitute. It was up to the woman to prove she was not a prostitute which would have been virtually impossible. How does somebody prove they are not a prostitute?

    The experiment was extended in 1866 when the second Contagious Diseases Act was passed. It included more clauses and increased the number of towns form the original eleven to be covered by the act. The towns chosen where this work was carried out were all military towns or strongly connected with the military; places such as Colchester and Portsmouth. In 1869, when a third, more permanent bill was drafted and passed through Parliament, there were calls from some quarters for it to be extended to cover the whole country.

    An advertisement poster for a meeting at which Josephine Butler spoke.

    This was when Josephine Butler got involved. In 1869, in Bristol, a group of libertarian activists met to discuss the Contagious Diseases Act and its adverse consequences on women in general. Amongst there number was Josephine Butler. Elizabeth Wolstenholme, who knew Josephine Butler through her work in education had contacted Josephine Butler about this. As a result of the meeting the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act was set up. However, soon after the feminists decided to set up their own organisation, the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act. On New Years Day 1870 the Ladies National Association published their manifesto. It covered eight points. They brought attention to the unequal treatment by the Contagious Diseases Acts, of men and women and the degradation the act brought upon women.

    The second of the points stated,

    “ So far as women concerned, (the Acts) remove every guarantee of personal security which the law has established and held sacred, and put their reputation, their freedom and their persons absolutely in the power of the police.”

    The fourth point explained,

    “ It is unjust to punish the sex who are victims of a vice, and leave unpunished the sex who are the main cause both of the vice and its dreaded consequences.”

    They also pointed out that the act threatened civil liberties by punishing an offence that was nowhere clearly defined.

    The two associations carried out a vigorous publicity campaign against the acts. Josephine Butler proved to be a charismatic speaker and a prolific writer of pamphlets and she became the leading figure in the Ladies National Association. In April 1870 at the Newark by election, they conducted such an effective public campaign against Major General Sir Henry Storks he withdrew as a candidate. The government tried to get Storks into government again at a Colchester by election. Once again the repealers acted. They put up their own independent candidate. Eventually the Conservative candidate won and Storks had to wait until later in the year to finally achieve success at a further by-election. What emerged at the Colchester by election though was a violent and aggressive response to the campaign by Josephine Butler and her colleagues. Local pimps and brothel owners grouped together and attacked the hotel Butler was staying in. Eventually she was invited to stay at the home of a local working man.

    During 1871 the Royal Commission took evidence from both the Repealers and the Regulationists. The Regulationists had only ever considered the Act from the point of view of did it reduce the prevalence of VD. The Repealers made them now consider also the question of principle, whether it was right to treat men and women unequally. This changed the tone of the debate and the regulationists found it harder to uphold their stance. In February 1872 the Home secretary introduced a repeal bill but it was really just a milder version of the original acts. Some were prepared to accept it but not Josephine Butler and her colleagues. There was going to be no quick victory to their campaign.

    As a Christian, Josephine Butler refused to believe that men could not control their sexual urges. One of the arguments for the Regulationists was that men needed sexual gratification and prostitutes enabled them to fulfil their urges. Male immorality was treated as a trivial matter and the virtue of prostitutes did not count. As a libertarian Butler believed in the ,

    ” inviolability of the individual.”

    The Regulationists on the other hand made their case using the accepted double standards of the Victorian era. One contemporary writer, W.E.H. Lecky wrote,

     “Herself the supreme type of vice, she is ultimately the most efficient guardian of virtue.”

    Virtue meaning the virtue of respectable women. Men could satisfy their urges with prostitutes and so not defile their wives. These people actually thought that this was right. Another idea that was used was that abstinence from sex was actually harmful to men’s health.

    The Repealers also attacked the medical profession. Many doctors thought that the acts were necessary to prevent venereal disease and any method that worked was the correct approach. Josephine Butler saw this attitude as a form of communism. The idea that if society benefitted as a whole then the acts were right went against her beliefs in the inviolability of the needs of the individual.

    The portrait of Josephine Butler by the eminent Victorian artist G F Watts.

    In 1874 the campaign carried out by Josephine Butler and her colleagues had a set back. A new Conservative Government under Disraeli got in. Many of the MP’s in Disraeli’s government were Regulationists. Josephine decided to take a break from Britain and campaign in Europe against state regulated prostitution there. France had one of the worst laws regulating prostitutes and Josephine Butler toured France gaining support against regulation.

    When she returned to England she set up a new organisation called British, Continental and General federation for the Abolition of Government regulation of Vice. She also set about collecting evidence of abuse. She discovered some terrible cases of abuse by the special police set up to monitor prostitutes. Many of the cases involved innocent women who were not actually prostitutes, just suspected of being so. In one awful case in Chatham, a naval dockyard town, a young nineteen year old girl, Caroline Wyburgh, had been seen walking with her soldier boyfriend late at night. She was woken up in the middle of the night by a special police inspector. She argued and fought furiously when the policeman tried to detain her. She was put in a straightjacket before she could be examined and it was found that she was still a virgin.  One of the things the acts did was force women into prostitution. If a woman was brought before the courts because she was suspected of prostitution, her reputation would be ruined and there would be no possibility of her gaining other employment. Josephine Butler had noticed with her work in the Liverpool workhouses that many prostitutes drifted in and out of prostitution. They only resorted to it in dire circumstances. The acts forced more women into permanent employment as prostitutes. Josephine Butler collected numerous examples of evidence for the maltreatment of women because they were merely suspected of prostitution. As Josephine published her evidence in pamphlets and spoke about the injustices in speeches, the tide of public opinion began turn. Josephine Butler was still faced with violence and at some of her public speaking events she was still attacked and sometimes knocked to the ground. In 1879 the then conservative government agreed to set up a new select committee to look into the acts. In 1882 the committee published two reports,, one in favour of keeping the acts and one for repealing the acts. The repealers lobbied MP’s as hard as they could. In April 1883 the House of Commons passed a motion to repeal the acts. In 1886 the acts were finally repealed.

    Another important element of her work was to stop the kidnapping of British girls who were then taken to brothels in Belgium. She collected evidence for these atrocities. She presented her evidence to the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt. He took her seriously although the Belgium authorities were ready to sue her. A statement by Josephine Butler was published in the Belgium press and any attempts at a cover up evaporated. In December 1880 various Police des Moeurs, the Belgium equivalent of the British special police who monitored prostitution, were found guilty of aiding brothel keepers and eleven brothel keepers in Belgium were all prosecuted.

    After the Belgium scandal Josephine Butler turned her attention to child abduction and prostitution in Britain. Two police inspectors made a statement describing the prostitution of young girls far worse in Britain than it had been in Belgium. Josephine Butler tried to get the age of consent raised from that of thirteen to sixteen. There were some powerful men involved in patronising this youthful prostitution trade and they tried to get any changes in the law blocked. Incredibly they argued that the raising of the age would put their sons at a disadvantage. After various ploys by powerful individuals to prevent any changes Josephine Butler showed the evidence she had gathered. On the 23rd May 1885, Benjamin Scott, the chairman of the London Committee went to see W T Stead the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette . He was famous for his lurid headlines and publishing sensational stories. He was also a devout Christian. As a character he was emotionally unstable and Josephine Butler and others were reticent about approaching him. However they felt desperate measures were called for. Stead certainly took up the cause with energy. On the 16th July 1885 he published a story called The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. Other editors were against Stead for publishing the story. However the public were incensed and thousands marched through the streets of London. On the 14th August that year the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was passed raising the age of consent to sixteen. W.T. Stead then set up a new organisation called the National Vigilance Association. Josephie Butler and many of her followers broke away from Stead. He wanted to go too far and intrude into people’s private lives. Josephine Butler had worked tirelessly for abuses against women and children to be stopped but personal privacy and what people consent to in their own private lives was something that should be left up to individual consciences she thought.

    The house Josephine Butler lived in for three years on the edge of Wimbledon Common.

    On the 26th August 2014 Professor Alexis Jay published a grim report on the sex abuse s that had occurred in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013. Gangs of mainly Muslim youths had targeted vulnerable teenage girls as young as twelve years of age, kidnapped, forced them into prostitution, raped, abused and trafficked them. The report said that a conservative estimate was that 1400 girls had been abused in Rotherham and that thousands of others throughout the country had been abused too. Sex abuse scandals have been uncovered in Rochdale, Derby, Oxford, Bristol, Telford and Peterborough so far. This seems to suggest that child abuse and coercive prostitution has not changed since Josephine Butler’s day 150 years ago. The laws might be different but Josephine Butler in her day acknowledged that it took more than a change in the law it needed proactive action within communities including, education and police action. All these things were failing in Rotherham primarily because there was a culture of not wanting to be accused of racism when challenging an ethnic community such as the Muslim community. Since Professor Jays report the Muslim community has come out strongly in support of the report and are appalled by the behaviour of some of their young men who were creating careers out of this dire situation. The failures of society in Josephine Butler’s day can be mirrored nowadays. Laws do not need to be changed but attitudes do. In many ways she is an icon for modern times.

    The Library of Women's Studies at the London School of Economics Library, just off The Aldwych, holds a number of collections related to Josephine Butler. These include the Records of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene renamed the Josephine Butler Society i honour of its founder;Over 2,500 letters in the Josephine Butler Collection and the Josephine Butler Society Library consisting of books and pamphlets collected by the society. In 2005 The University of Durham honoured her by naming the Josephine Butler College after her.


    Josephine Butler (1828-1906):Feminist, Christian and Libertarian  (Libertarian heritage No. 10) The Libertarian Alliance.

    The Guardian, Wednesday 27 August  2014.  The Guardian Editorial “The Guardian View on the Rotherham child abuse scandal.”

    The Josephine Butler Society (www,

    Josephine Butler (From Wikipaedia. the free encyclopaedia)

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    Napoleon Bonaparte on the island of St Helena.
    On the 18th June 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at The Battle of Waterloo by Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington and the Prussian General Blucher, who arrived later in the day with a force of 30,000 troops, causing Napoleon to split his forces. The battle commenced at 11.20am and was finished by 8.30pm. A day later, on the 19th June, Napoleon abdicated and was taken into custody by the British and exiled to the remote island of St Helena, situated in the middle of the South Atlantic, thousands of miles from Europe and any sort of civilisation.

    Two years later, in August of 1817 a young Royal Naval officer, called Captain Hall, arrived on St Helena on board HMS Lyra which was transporting Lord Amherst, the British Ambassador to China, back to the United Kingdom. Captain Hall made every attempt to gain an interview with Napoleon who was living in a house called Longwood high on the island. Eventually Napoleon did grant him an interview after much negotiation. At first negotiating through the Governor of St Helena, Sir Hudson Lowe, seemed somewhat futile. Lowe and Napoleon did not hit it off. Captain Blakeney, who was Napoleaons guard, proved a better approach. Blakeney and Napoleons physician, Dr D’elleara got some response, however, Napoleon was either too tired after a walk or about to do some task and a meeting always seemed inconvenient. Captain Hall got as far as visiting Marshal Bertrand and his wife Countess Bertrand in their house close by Napoleons residence. THall and Bertrand got along very well and Countess Bertrand sympathised with Captain Hall in his request to meet Napoleon. Marshall Bertrand himself made overtures to Napoleaon about the possibility of a meeting but Napoleon apparently ignored his friend’s suggestion. As an aside, Captain Hall mentioned to Dr D’elleeara that his father, Sir John Hall,  had visited and spent some time at Brienne, the French military academy, when Napoleon was there himself as a student. Dr D’elleraua immediately replied that Hall should have mentioned this before. Apparently, Napoleon had great respect for officers who had attended courses at Brienne. He himself had promoted many officers to his own staff from the Brienne academy. This news was relayed to Napoleon and Napoleon was all too pleased to then receive Captain Hall.  Captain Hall recorded his encounter in his journal. He reveals much about Napoleon as a man and a leader of men.

    Longwood, Napoleon's house on St Helena.

    On the 13th August Hall received a message. It first got to his two colleagues, Captain Harvey and Lieutenant Clifford  and he only heard later in the day, because the message had been sent to James Town the signaller presuming he would be there. Captain Hall , after visiting Marshal Bertrand had returned to the Governor’s residence and not to James Town. Hall immediately felt panic when he received the message.It had been sent at 1pm. He feared he would be late for the appointed time  for the meeting as he had received the message so late. He rushed to Longwood, Napoleon’s home on the island. The message had read:

    “General Bonaparte wishes to see Captain Hall at two o’clock”.

    Hall stated,

    “I lost no time in obeying the invitation, but galloped over the hills as fast as I could, being prompted to use all speed lest Bonaparte should think that I had intentionally kept him waiting. 

    On being ushered into the room, I observed Bonaparte standing before the fire. He was leaning his head on his hand, with his elbow resting on the mantle piece. He looked up and immediately advanced a pace towards me, returning my bow in a quick, careless manner. On my going close up to him he asked me in a hurried way “What is your name?” I answered “Hall”.

    From this we can see that Napoleon was an intense quick witted individual.

    Upon telling him my name he said, “Ah Hall, I knew your Father at Brienne. He was then learning French and reading Mathematics. He was very fond of Mathematics and liked to converse on the subject. He did not mix much with the young men at the college; he lived principally with the priests, apart from us.

    I expressed some surprise at his recollecting any individual for so long a time, when his thoughts had been so much engaged with important affairs. “Oh it is not in the least extraordinary” said Bonaparte “because your Father was the first Englishman I ever saw, and I have recollected him on that account during all my life”. 

    Napoleon was one of those individuals that can hold everything in their head. He is able to separate things so that he gives due importance to each.

    Upon his asking me more particularly about my Father’s occupations, I told him that he was president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

    This furnished him with a new topic, and he continued for some minutes cross questioning me about the nature of the Edinburgh Royal Society.

    Hall had heard that Napoleon was interested in the sciences and new ideas of all types. His questioning proved to show that this was right.

    He next asked how many children my Father had? I said, “Nine alive”. “Ah c’est beaucoup” said Bonaparte with an air of affected gravity accompanied by a formal sort of bow, as if he felt desirous of making up for the slighting manner in which he had just been treating my Father on the score of age.

    His next question was, “Are you married?”, and on my stating that I was not, he asked in a quick impatient way, “Why don’t you marry?”.

    He showed a close interest in Hall himself and his circumstances. Hall replied to Napoleon's enquiries about his married status that he didn’t have enough money to marry yet. Napoleon seemed to understand this situation and moved the discussion on.

    Bonaparte now began questioning me about our late voyage of discovery, of which he had heard nothing from any of the gentlemen of the [HMS] Alceste who had preceded me. This was very fortunate for me, because the topic was quite new to him. It accordingly interested him highly. Bonaparte had been always supposed to have a strong taste for every thing oriental, and for whatever related to voyages of discovery in particular. 

     I can fully believe that this is correct, for he appeared deeply interested in by the account which I gave him of what we had seen, and he carried on his enquiries with a fervour and an anxiety to be informed which I have never seen in any other person.

    He wanted to know all about Loochoo,an island group south west of Japan where Hall had visited on his voyages. He interrogated Hall about the people, money, arms, agriculture and religion. He studied intensely some sketches that that had been made of the people and customs. His questions were incisive and searching. He showed a deep interest.

    Loochoo Islands off Japan.

    It would be in the highest degree satisfactory to be able to give his questions in the order and in the very words they were put, but this is unfortunately not in my power. They were very numerous and sagacious, not thrown out at random, but ingeniously connected with one another, so as to make every thing assist in forming a clear comprehension of the subject. I felt that there was no escaping his scrutiny, and such was the rapidity and precision with which he apprehended the subject, that I felt at times as if he were as well or better informed upon it than I was myself, and that he was interrogating me with a view to discover my veracity and powers of description.

    Napoleon was in high spirits while putting these questions and carried on his enquiry with so much cheerfulness, not to say familiarity that I was more than once thrown completely off my guard, and caught myself unconsciously addressing him with the freedom and confidence of an equal. When I checked myself upon these occasions and became more formal and respectful, he encouraged me to go on with so much real cheerfulness, that I soon felt myself quite at ease in his presence.”

    Hall relaxed in his presence and felt that at times he was lured by Bonaparte’s effusiveness into being too familiar and overly animated and tried to check himself but easily returned to being familiar once more.It is known that Napoleon had a close relationship with his Imperial Guard. He inspired great loyalty. He also had a close relationship with his officers and it is easy to see how at the height of his powers he could be the supreme commander. He encouraged not just loyalty but love and affection .The interview with Captain Hall lasted about twenty minutes.

    In those short twenty minutes we can see how Napoleon  formed a closeness with Hall.  Napoleon was not only adored by soldiers but also by the French people. He had an open personality ready to encompass everybody and everything.

    Hall stated,

    “ I have scarcely discovered a single topic on which Bonaparte did not put some questions. He spoke deliberately and distinctly and waited with the utmost patience and attention for answers.”

     Captain Hall was impressed by Bonaparte and through Halls words it makes us feel impressed by him too.

    All the reports concerning the Duke of Wellington’s personality and his relationships with people show him to be arrogant, officious, misogynistic and demanding. Two more very different personalities as adversaries I cannot imagine. I know who I prefer.


    Captain Hall’s journal:

    The National Army Museum:

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    The Royal Pavilion, Brighton.

    Thomas Daniell was born in 1749 in Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. His father was the landlord of the Swann pub in Chertsey, a few miles from Kingston. He was born in the same year as Charles James Fox, the great Whig politician and adversary of William Pitt the Younger who lived in Chertsey in the latter part of his life.. However, I am sure the two never met, partly because of their differing backgrounds and also because their respective occupations were so very different. Thomas had an artistic talent. He spent his early career as an heraldic and coach painter. He became a member of the Royal Academy but found it hard to establish himself even though he exhibited over thirty works, paintings and illustrations at The Royal Academy between 1772 and 1784.

    In 1785 he decided to try his luck in India. He got permission to travel to India from The East India Company. He took with him, as his assistant, his young sixteen year old nephew William Daniell. William Daniell had been born in 1769 and also resided in the Swan Inn in Chertsey, his father taking over the tenancy from Thomas’s father. The two left from Gravesend on the 7th April 1785 and they arrived in Calcutta in early 1786.Thomas kept a detailed journal of their time in India and it is through this journal that we can follow their tours and know exactly where they were on given dates.

    Thomas immediately took an advertisement out in The Calcutta Chronicle. It stated his intention to publish a set of views of the city created by etching and aquatint.. He completed twelve plates. Selling prints from these plates provided Thomas and William with the money to set out and tour India.

    In September 1788 the Daniells toured Northern India setting out by boat along the Ganges. They set off initially for Murshidababd and went on to Bhagalpur where they stayed for a while with Samuel Davis of the East India Company. They then went on to Kanpur and then overland to Delhi visiting Agra, Fatehpur, Sikri and Mathura. The following April they went to Srinager. Uttarkhand and on to Gharwal in the Himalayas. They sketched and painted temples, palaces, tombs and the scenery wherever they went. They held a lottery in Calcutta for their finished work. The fact the lottery raised enough money for their further exploits shows that their work was admired and its importance recognised. People were prepared to buy lottery tickets knowing they only had a small chance of obtaining one of the original pictures.  The Darnell’s must have held an exhibition of their work for all the people buying the lottery tickets to see the paintings. They used the funds to tour south.

    By February 1792 the Daniells were back in Calcutta. On the 10th March 1792 the Daniells left Calcutta once more for Madras which they reached on the 29thMarch. They hired servants and then followed the route of the British Army the year before. The British had defeated Tipu Sultan. By January 1793 they were back in Madras.

    A final tour took Thomas and William through Western India from Madras to Bombay. They eventually left India in May 1793 and arrived back in England in September 1794.

     William Daniell

    Once back in England their main priority was to publish acquatint prints of their paintings of India. William worked extremely hard and worked for the next seven years from 6am in the morning to midnight perfecting his techniques. The Daniell’s great work, “Oriental  Scenery,” was eventually published between 1795 and 1805.They consisted of one hundred and forty four coloured acquatints and six uncoloured title pages. The cost of one set was £210. The publication was a success both financially and artistically. Thirty sets were sold to The East India Company and there was a further order of eighteen. Some of the acquatints were based on the drawings of James Wales showing the Caves of Ellora. Each plate was etched by the two Daniells, uncle and nephew.

    Much of the buildings they painted in India were those of the Mughal Empire which was situated in northern and central India. The Mughal emperors brought together Persian, Indian and local designs. They were a Muslim nation who followed Islam. Muhammed was their profit and their lives were governed by the Quran.  Human,, animal and living things could not be represented in art or architecture. This had not been written in the Quran but the Muslim worlds contact through war and trade with the Christian world with its art and architecture considered western art forms idolatrous to the thinking of Muslims. With this clash of cultures Islam formed its rules against the portrayal of living things. The architecture, the Daniells painted, comprised of mostly holy places such as mosques and royal palaces, the great buildings of the Mughal Empire which reflected these beliefs. Their architecture encompassed intricate, geometrical design that intrinsically was not influenced by living nature. However it is easy to see leaf and plant forms in many examples of Muslim architecture. Whether this is accidental or intentional I am not sure. Architecture was put to practical uses and the needs of the people. It was influenced by the landscape and climate.  Intricately designed latticed stone screens created spaces and allowed air to flow through to cool the space. They wanted large spacious prayer halls in their mosques so that large groups of people could gather. The idea of domes to provide roofs over these large spaces was formed. Domes are also good for circulating air so helping to keep the space below cool. Minarets were constructed so that mullahs could send their prayers and their call to prayer out to the surrounding world. In the 18th century, nothing like this had been seen before. Architecture, whether western or eastern, modern or ancient always has a purpose.

    One particular building the Daniell’s painted and has become the epitome of Persian and northern Indian architecture is the Taj Mahal. They were probably amongst the first western artists to draw and paint it. It was created by the Shah Jahan I the first half of the 17th century. This period marked the emergence of Persian architecture in India. The use of the double dome, recessed horse shoe shaped archways a perfect symmetry and balance between the different parts of the building and the setting within formal gardens. These features, portrayed in the Daniell’s paintings were to have an influence not imagined by the Mughals in India.

    A painting by Thomas Daniell.

    The Daniell’s hard work and efforts were a great achievement. They showed Indian architecture to the England of the 18th century. They played no small part in the west’s understanding of the east. However their work was also bastardised and misused. George IV as Prince Regent had a holiday home in Brighton. He was extravagant, indulgent and indifferent to the opinions of others. In 1787, the architect Henry Holland extended the original lodging house  the prince used, into a neoclassical building called the Marine Pavilion.George was a lover of French decorative art but also Chinoiserie, a style influenced by China. The captains of tea clippers often brought examples of furniture and pottery from china along with their cargo of tea. The style took off in 18th century England and George was a great advocate.  He employed Crace, the firm of interior decorators to furnish his marine pavilion with Chinoiserie. At about the same time George had the magnificent stables next to the pavilion, built in the Indian style of architecture and designed by William Porden. The stables dwarfed the Marine Pavilion. George turned his attention once more to pavilion. He wanted to build a new pavilion. He chose the architect John Nash who proposed an Indian style to match the stables complex. Nash was also influenced by Humphrey Repton who had ideas for a formal Indian garden. Of course the illustrated book of Indian Architecture, “Oriental Scenery,” by Thomas and William Daniell had been published at that time too. Nash plundered ideas from their book. He was provided with all the design ideas he needed.

    The Taj Mahal by Thomas Daniell.

    If you study the Royal Pavilion at Brighton today you can see how the Daniell’’s paintings influenced the design. Many of the features of the pavilion can be seen in the Taj Mahal. There are domes covering spacious areas beneath. A number of minarets are interspersed between the domes. The surfaces are covered by intricate geometric designs, some of them plant like. Latticed stone archways create shaded cool spaces along one side of the pavilion. Latticed balconies and symmetrically arched windows adorn the outside. However, the large spaces the domes surmount were used for profligate activities. In identical spaces in Indian mosques where prayers would be intoned, lavish, gluttonous feasts would be held, brandy and wine fuelled balls would take place and women lusted after by mysoginistic men. Where the call to prayer at the top of minarets was intoned the smoke from coal fires, warming the Royal Pavilion, poured out into the atmosphere. I may exaggerate a little but the contrast between the two purposes was stark. Although 18thcentury England might have been shown many cultural elements of the east, it is not sure they understood or empathised.

    The rear of The Royal pavilion Brighton from the surrounding gardens originally designed by Humphrey Repton.

    There are some dire consequences and dangerous resonances today of course caused by our still inability to understand and empathise with other cultures. You only need to tune into BBC Radio 4 or watch the news on television, every day. The fear caused is palpable.


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    The audience gathering at The Tooting Folk and Blues Festival.

    It seems that I have been hearing about the Tooting Folk and Blues Festival as long as I can remember. Gabriel, a good friend of mine, has been planning this event with Ellen, his daughter, for the last year or two. The festival is the legitimate offspring of their much lauded folk nights at The Breathing Room held at the back of the Antelope Pub just off Tooting Broadway on the last Sunday of every month.

    Now Ellen Harrison and Gabriel Mesh have achieved their dream. 

    The proud organisers Ellen and Gabriel.
    The festival took place on Saturday afternoon the 8th August in a setting that belies the fact that this was South London. The event location was in a beautiful corner of Tooting Common just along the road from Tooting Bec station.  A setting with large glorious oaks and bordered by poplars and low shrubs. The birth pains are over with a delivery as sunny and joyous as the blue skies and warm sunshine that graced the festival on its first outing.

    Marilyn and I arrived early. There were mums and dads with young toddlers settling down on their blankets dispersed around the large grassy area. A relaxed family orientated atmosphere was beginning to be formed. Food stalls surrounded the arena area. There were the smells of delicious kebabs, Korean barbecues, various burger grills heating up and vegetarian stalls. The stage area and Green Room tent were located at one end.

    I was sitting on the grass in front of the stage. As the minutes passed by before the first act at 1pm, approached, I looked around. Where there had been a few groups of people, families and friends, there was now a large crowd forming and as the event progressed more and more people joined the crowd  from all points of Tooting Common. By the time the music began there were at least two thousand gathered and this number was added to as the afternoon progressed. There was a buzz of voices, people enjoying themselves and relaxing. As the afternoon unfolded toddlers danced, sometimes even moving to the beat and sometimes, in a totally unaffected way, approached the stage. Some mums in floaty dresses did impressions of a hippy past taking great joy in performing loose limbed dances like strands of wheat in a gentle breeze. Their little children laughed.

    The beer tent provided by The Antelope Pub did a very good trade. The queue stretched far back along one side of the arena area for most of the afternoon. They had five staff on the bar and I think this is something that could be expanded next year. Two beer tents perhaps? I had three pints of the local Wandle brew which created a very pleasant sensation.  

    Steve Morrison,opening the  first Tooting Folk and Blues Festival.

    Some of the musical highlights included the opening set by Steve Morrison. He made the excuse that he was starting the event because he had another gig to go to later. However, I am sure the crowd got the feeling after a while that he so much enjoyed playing to such an appreciative audience in such beautiful surroundings under  a blue warm sky that he was regretting having to depart later. I think he realised that he was the first act in an event that was important and going to be important for the future. Steve played his version of delta blues, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf style. There were some Eric Clapton riffs in there too.When, inadvertently, one of his guitar strings broke and he had to leave the stage for a few moments to replace it  the excellent professional stage crew slipped in a few  blues tracks and just as slickly, faded their sounds  out  as soon as Steve rejoined us.  He created a rich fruit cake of moods that tickled your arm pits and punched you in the guts, occasionally, both at the same time.

    The one and only Gabriel Mesh.

    The great Gabriel Mesh performed an iconic set in the middle of the afternoon. Gabriel’s exciting and brilliant guitar riffs and techniques pervaded the arena creating a kaleidoscope of  fantastic sounds. He performed his wonderful eclectic collection of self-written and well known numbers. His songs are often personal, especially those penned to his, “special lady.” His voice has an elastic quality bending notes from a deep guttural base to a high invigorating flute like pitch.

    Other great performances included the Case Hardin band with their electric blues ; a mixture of insistent electric guitar riffs overlying some stomach churning drum beats. 

    Wizz Jones performing.

    The wonderful, hoary headed, hunched form of Wizz Jones, his white shock  of unkempt hair like a sparkling explosive November the 5th firework graced the stage towards the end of the afternoon with his famous  mix of blues numbers. In one song he reminisced about his father who was awarded the Burma Cross.  His wonderful guitar playing was overlayed by his clear lyrical voice pushing through the air like a forceful breeze. He was backed at times by  his son, Simeon Jones,a talented  musician who added some Gerry Rafferty style saxophone and  Jethro Tull type flute chords. An exciting and interesting collection of musical delights.

    To complete a fantastic afternoon, other wonderful performances included the brilliant Niall Kelly Band, The Bara Bara Band, both groups stalwarts of the Breathing Room nights, Whom By Fire, who I have also seen at the Breathing Room alongside Chaz Thorogood and Garry Smith. There was not one under par performance. They were all incredible.

    The atmosphere at the whole event was relaxed and fun. I can only imagine that all those who attended will tell their friends. The local press was there to report on the festival. I hope Croydon Radio will invite Gabriel and Ellen back to tell the wider world about the events great success too. I spoke to the two members of the parks police who were obliged to attend. I commented on what a wonderful event it was and how friendly and happy everybody seemed to be. They agreed with me. They said that they will report back to the council. Both of the constables could not see why Gabriel and  Ellen should not get council funding  in the future. They also suggested that lottery funding would be possible. I know Gabriel and Ellen found it tough to get enough funding this time and are so grateful to The Antelope, Daniel James, the Pearl Chemist Group and the Tooting Daily Press for the bulk of their funding this time.

    Everybody who I have talked to thinks that this event is the start of something important.  I fully agree with that. Events like this one are important for our community.  I am looking forward to the Tooting Folk and Blues festival, next year.

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  • 08/11/15--05:16: TEA CUP...maybe!!!!!

  • A definition of what good design is as difficult to come by as a definition for what the word, art, means and art is impossible to define really. Here are a few attempts.

    “Good design is not just what looks good. It also needs to perform, convert, astonish, and fulfil its purpose. It can be innovative or it might just get the job done.”

    “A good design cannot be measured by a finite way – multiple perspectives are needed.”

    “A good design is always the simplest possible working solution.”

    Statements taken from Dieter Rams: ten principles for good design.


    “Design is the way we decide how we want things to be. Everything we make is designed by somebody. So the question is not whether we need or can afford design. It’s whether design is good enough.

    Richard Simmons Chief executive, CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment)


    “The stock answer is that good design is generally a combination of different qualities - what it does, what it looks like, and so on. But as our expectations of design change, so do those qualities and the relationship between them.”

     Alice Rawstham (design critic) writing in the New York Times, June 2008

    There are many more sources where definitions of good design can be found but these, I think, cover the generally accepted ideas even though they are merely generalisations. It is difficult to pin down a truly satisfactory definition maybe because new designs to solve new problems are always being created. Especially with modern technologies new things never seen or imagined before are being created. So to tie things down to strictly prescribed criteria is  impossible.

    Roughly speaking then, good design is about ensuring something is able to do a job well. It can be easily  used for its purpose. Often, just by looking at a well-designed artefact, you can see immediately what it is for. A side effect of a well-designed artefact is that it has elegance and beauty. Maybe that is what beauty is, if something works well and does a job it is beautiful and elegant.

    Minoan cups from about 1500BCE

    This all leads to the moment when I walked into the rooms I and II on the ground floor of Heraklion Archaeological Museum during our recent holiday on Crete. Most of the museum has artefacts from the Minoan period, a very sophisticated Bronze Age civilisation that was centred on Crete and the island of Santorini before the catastrophic explosion of the volcano at Santorini in about 1450BCE. The Minoan Civilisation lasted from approximately 2600 to 1400 BCE. A lot of the artefacts come from Arthur Evans excavations at Knossos, the main Minoan palace on Crete but there were also many artefacts from the other Minoan palaces, country houses and temples located at Phaistos, Gallitos, Mallia and Hersinnosis. Rooms I and II have many pottery artefacts from Knossos. When I walked into rooms I and II, there in front of me was an elegant cup with a handle attached to one side, perfectly turned on a potter’s wheel sitting there on a tray. It was ready to be used for afternoon tea  in one of Jane Austens drawing rooms. I felt immediately disoriented. How could this be?

    This cup was 3,500 years old. Cups with handles looking identical to this one were designed for use in English drawing rooms in the 19th century. The tea trade with China also brought with it tea bowls from China to drink our tea from. However, the Britiish liked their tea hot and the design was adapted by adding a small handle to one side so we didn’t burn our hands. Drinking from saucers, to cool the tea, as an alternative, was quickly passed by. New manners and tea drinking conventions were created. A tea etiquette was created to go with teacups with handles that sat on small saucers to protect the varnished and veneered table surfaces they were placed on. But here was a tea cup that was designed well before the British Empire was thought of, long before tea drinking was even imagined, when here in Britain we lived in mud and thatched roofed houses, hunted with flint tipped arrows and were just beginning to create cast iron and bronze artefacts in small furnaces. We were a hunter gatherer society slowly settling into a more rural farming lifestyle.

    The cups in Heraklion Museum were designed almost identically to the cups first designed in the 19th century and the same design is still used today. If we agree that design, using our earlier definitions, are for a given purpose then surely these Minoan cups must have been designed for the same purpose and for the same reasons.

     A tray to hold six cups and a teapot?"Afternoon tea Jeeves!"
    There were many examples of cups with handles in the Heraklion Museum. They are round in shape and taper from the top to the bottom getting narrower at the flat base. A flat base enabling the cup to stand on a flat surface without being unstable. From visual evidence the volume of liquid each cup could hold looked about the same as a 19th century or modern cup will hold. In one display cabinet there was a circular tray with holes in it to rest a series of cups on. This suggests they were used when a group of people gathered for some purpose somewhat like afternoon tea with a group of friends. The fact that these cups are of an identical design with identical small round handles attached to one side, to their modern counterparts, suggest that the cups were held in the same way. I can just imagine an ancient Minoan, man or woman sticking out their little,”pinky,” and delicately raising the cup to their lips.

     In the 19th century the handle was a necessary design feature because the liquid inside the cup was hot. I can only guess that the liquid the Minoans drank in these cups must have been hot too. However, I am sure it was not hot tea. I decided to find out about  the Minoan diet and maybe discover if there were any drinks they might have drunk hot. Surprisingly, nowadays scientists can discover what ancient people ate and drank from their eating and drinking vessels. Scrapings from the inside of containers can be examined and their DNA molecular structure can reveal what foods and drinks had been used in them. The Minoans drank a variety of wines produced on Crete but also imported from around the Mediterranean. Of course they ate olives and used olive oil in their cooking. They sweetened their food with honey. They also made a form of mead using honey. Interestingly I discovered that Herodotus, the Ancient Greek historian, living about 500BCE, wrote about the drinking of mulled wines and meads. Mulling a wine involves adding spices and herbs to a drink and then heating it until it is hot. This was the only mention of a hot drink that the Ancient Greeks might drink that I could discover. We know wine drinking and mead drinking was popular amongst the Minoans so why wouldn’t they mull their drinks? A,”tea cup,” with a handle would be ideal to drink hot mulled wine from.

    "Will you pour or shall I?"
    One more thing. Drinking a hot drink from a cup with a handle solves one problem. However, the hot drink has got to get into the cup. In the 19thcentury and nowadays we use a tea pot, with a lid and a long spout enables us to poor  the steaming liquid accurately into the cup. A large handle, large enough for our whole hand is placed to one side of the teapot to make it easy to hold , lift and pour. So what about the Minoans and their hot drink? They would want to pour it accurately and carefully into each cup on their tray too before serving. Yes, they too designed a ,”teapot,” with a spout and handle. Amazing!! Their teapot looks much better designed than our version. Claris Cliffe herself would have been proud of designing the Minoan teapot.

    I am sure Jane Austen would approve.

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    The official starting place.

    Alfred Wainwright, who is famous for his pictorial guides to the Lakeland Fells, married for the second time at the age of 63. Incidentally that is my age now. He married Betty, arguably the second love of his life.  Read a page or two of any of his guides to the fells or, A Coast to Coast Walk, to sense Wainwright’s absorbing love of that landscape. The language and phrases he uses create a sense of a voluptuous beauty, the curves and contours of the landscape lovingly cherished. It is said that it is Betty who inspired Alfred to create, A Coast to Coast Walk. He researched and wrote the guide between 1971 and 1972. It was published in 1973.

    Alfred Wainwright, the creator of,,A Coast to Coast Walk.

    About this time last year, Clive and Michael, two old school friends and I decided that we would like to walk the Coast to Coast. Why would we want to do that? People have been asked similar questions. Why climb Everest or walk across the Sahara? Why did men go to the Moon? Sometimes, for want of a better answer, they might say, “Because it is there.” Actually there is a certain truth in that statement because when you examine any actions the true root is often an emotional almost psychological cause. You have an inexplicable need to do it but can’t really explain the reason why. Of course a lot of things are not that obtuse. You may well have a concrete reason to do something. You might want to go to TESCOS to buy tonight’s dinner. So anyway, we decided we would do Wainwrights long distance walk, because….? I had certain ideas about what the walk would do for me. I knew the three of us would develop our relationship. With what result? This would be part of our challenge, part of the reason for doing the walk. Then there was the physical challenge of whether my body, our bodies, were up to it. Were the three of us fit enough? Then there were thoughts of meeting new people, seeing new places and eating locally produced and grown foods and of course drinking locally brewed ales.  Experiencing different landscapes in the Lakes followed by the Yorkshire Dales and then the Yorkshire Moors, was going to provide so many unknowns and emotional and awe inspiring moments. The fourteen days the walk was planned for was going to be a microcosm of life itself.  I wanted to live the walk and see how it affected me and I am sure Michael and Clive must have had similar thoughts. What could I learn along the way? These would be good enough reasons for doing the walk.

    Michael, me and Clive. Leaving our guest house in St Bees to start the walk.

    The Coast to Coast walk begins at St Bees Head, on the Cumbrian Coast. A steep grassy ascent to the top of St Bees promontory exercises the legs immediately. The high cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea provide breath-taking, dramatic, rugged scenery. The cliffs and landscape here is formed from sandstones from the Permian and Triassic periods over 200 million years ago. They have a deep dark rusty red hew. This was just the first bit of landscape that took our breath away, almost literally with the strong gusts from the sea blowing inland. We were up with cormorants and black headed gulls high above swirling seas crashing on the rocks below. The view down to the white foaming sea was precipitous and created heart thumping moments. After this dramatic overture we turned inland south of Whitehaven. Some farm tracks and field pathways took us through a calmer landscape. As we crossed England from west to east, the landscape changed. The emotions and the effects on our senses changed with the landscapes we passed through.

    The walk starts. St Bees Head.

     The massed fells of the Lake District came first. Some people call the fells, mountains and some people don’t but the fells are unique challenging masses of rock. In most cases they reach well over 2000feet. Helvelyn is 3114 feet high and is a true mountain. However, the fells are cut by steep sided valleys gouged out by glacial erosion. They look and feel spectacular and dramatic. At the summit of Dent Hill, our first high walk, the views back to Whitehaven and the coast were wonderful. The descent down the other side of this particular fell was truly dramatic. It looked as though we were going to drop off a cliff as we descended. It was the steepest descent I think we encountered on the whole walk. It was my first experience of descending a fell. My knees hurt. They were in pain at times. This was the first concern I had about my physical capacity. Michael, enjoyed the descent and was much quicker than Clive and me. Clive took it carefully and cautiously using his poles to aid him. At the bottom, arriving in a beautiful steep sided valley, my knees stopped hurting. I was relieved. This valley, between Dent Hill and Flat Fell with the Nannycatch Beck bubbling through it, was my first real experience of how the landscape could affect us emotionally.

    Peace and ,"heaven," once we descended Dent Hill.

     I live in South London. There are always people about, cars, snatches of conversations taking place, hustle and bustle. In this valley there was none of that. It was the first time I had noticed it. The word that came to mind at first was, silence, but it wasn’t silent. Gradually I got used to new sounds. There was the wind, the insistent sound of bubbling water over rocks, an insect flying by and there was the sounds of our feet brushing threw clumps of heather and scuffing rocks. As we walked beside the stream there was also the swish of spiky reeds against our legs. There was no road or pathway through this valley. There were a few sheep scattered here and there. It felt wild and abandoned. It was a strange sensation. It took a while to adjust. The sun shone down us and our backs felt warm. I could only think that this place was a piece of heaven.

    Making our way along Hawsewater.

    On our second day, out of Ennerdale Bridge, we encountered our next new challenge. We started the walk along Ennerdale Water. On the map the path we were to take hugged the contours next to the lake.  The path, however, turned out to be rugged, rock strewn and at one place, half way along the side of the lake, the path came to an end and a high rock outcrop stuck out into the lake. We had to scramble around and over it, looking for cracks that might provide finger and toe holds. Our first bit of rock climbing, horizontally. This part of the walk turned out to be merely an introduction to what was to come. We were soon to realise that when we walked through a pleasant valley it would soon end. Every valley has been created by glaciation. Britain was covered by glaciers 18000 years ago and when the ice receded at the end of this period it scoured out deep valleys across the landscape of Britain and the Lake District was formed in this process. The glaciers started high up in the mountains and the tarns, small mountain lakes, are the remains of these high in the fells. This means that valleys in the Lake District come to abrupt ends blocked by steep 2000 feet high rocky faces. This is what happed on the second day. We came to the end of the Ennerdale Valley and we had to go up. If you know about map contours it is those contours that are tightly packed together that you have to worry about. 

    The climb out of Hawsewater.

    The contours on our map showed a whole series of them very closely drawn together. This was going to be steep. Encountering the climb out of the valley alongside the almost vertical, Loft Beck, was hard work. We had to ascend 2500 feet scrambling over sharp rocks and outcrops. In places, Lake District National Park volunteers, had placed rocks in situations where we could place our feet more easily, but these much welcomed stretches of the climb were few. It took us a number of hours to climb up out of that valley. This walk provided a mixture of pain, doubt and belief, in equal shares, in our physical strength. At the top we were rewarded with incredibly beautiful views. This is what walking the Coast to Coast is really about. At the top, breathless and amazed that we had climbed so far and for so long we got our prize.  We were looking out over a large part of The Lakes. Ennerdale Water was to our left and to the right we caught a glimpse of Buttermere and the high fells of Red Pike, High Crag, Haystacks and Grey Knotts which were all magnificent in front of us. Before we left the Lakes we had to walk the length of Haweswater. The Fells above Haweswater, up near the top of Helvelyn and Angle Tarn were the first time I felt afraid. The winds were immense. It was difficult to walk and even stand up straight. Michael lost the waterproof cover to his back pack, grabbed by a gust of wind and blown beyond reach. Trying to cross a fast flowing waterfall I was blown from my footing on a boulder into the fast moving current. Luckily it was shallow and I was able to wade to the bank.

    Me and a waterfall high in the fells.

      I loved the Yorkshire Dales. I was reminded of the picture on the Yorkshire Tea boxes showing fields surrounded by dry stone walls. It was a more gentle landscape than the Lakes but it was harsh and unforgiving in places too. Many of the valleys had deserted and derelict farm buildings. Sheep pens, like ancient Celtic circles, made from limestone blocks were scattered here and there. It was in the Dales that we met sheep after sheep; so many of the hardy creatures with their benign expressions staring straight at us as we passed. We came across some well fed and rather large cows and not a few bulls. They were at peace and gave us cursory glances as we walked past them. It was in this landscape that we came across, limestone pavements. These are created by a strata of limestone that has been exposed in places by the action, once again, of the scouring  of glaciers during the ice age. This limestone landscape is the landscape that gives rise to potholes made by  streams and water seeping underground. . It is a soluble rock easily dissolved in water. Limestone, is a sedimentary rock created from marine fragments such as corals and molluscs. The pavements  are raised above the surrounding bogs and soils, perhaps just a few feet.  They are dramatic. They are flat and uniform in height but deeply fissured and cracked  covering hundreds of square metres giving the impression of a raised pavement.

    A limestone pavement.

     Another landscape we encountered, especially on the high fells but also on the moors, were peat bogs. These were a special sort of challenge. Seamus Heaney, in his poem,”Bogland,” writes,

    "Every layer they strip seems camped on before

    The bog holes might be Atlantic seepage

    The wet centre is bottomless."

    Heaney, in some of his poetry refers to, bog people. These were thought to be ancient Celtic human sacrifices left to sink into the peat and preserved in the peat’s rich damp composition.   I had thoughts of seeing leathery skinned heads or arms sticking out of the exposed black peat.    Heaney’s line, “The wet centre is bottomless,” is apt. I sank up to my knees making a wrong step on a couple of occasions in those treacherous bogs. I had to yank my left leg out with quite some effort one time. That was a little worrying. Clive, Michael and I learned to negotiate peat bogs as we might play a game of chess. Every move had to be worked out. We soon learned an effective strategy.  We looked for stones and rocks first of all that we could step on. We worked out that if a rock was visible it wasn’t about to sink. Where there were no rocks we learned to step on substantial sized clumps of heather. We believed that their root systems would hold us and like snow shoes on soft snow they spread our load. In the absence of handy heather clumps we looked for reeds. If we stepped on the long leathery reed spikes we could create a tough strong ,”carpet ,” to walk on and we discovered that this would hold our weight. Walking across bog land understandably slowed our progress considerably.  

    Peat showing just under the surface. A treacherous terrain. 

    The North Yorkshire Moors should have, could have, provided many more beautiful and awe inspiring vistas. What we were presented with, on our first encounter on the moors, from Ingleby Cross to Clay Bank was a relentless walk, after a steep climb, in low cloud and incessant rain that lasted all day. Everything looked grey. Our mood felt grey. Visibility was poor, it was wet and we were cold. All we could do was trudge on and on. The moors improved considerably the next day, after we left Clay Bank. The purple heathers, undulating gently across the landscape were beautiful. We came across pheasants and grouse and indeed were halted for a while because a grouse shoot was taking place. Grouse are very inquisitive creatures. They seemed to be unafraid and stood close to where we walked to look at us. We all thought they had the funniest voices of any bird we had ever heard. They garbled away in a sort of high pitched turkey gobble. This part of the moors was like a switch back. We ascended steeply and then descended just as steeply. This roller coaster continued for three ascents and descents.

    Michael in the wet, damp mists up on the moors.

     The final ascent took us up to the Wainstones, a group of massive, broken, fissured blocks of sandstone, some twenty or thirty feet high forming a barrier in front of us. They stuck out of the hill at crazy angles. I wondered how a feature like this could have been formed. Michael thought water and ice entering cracks and fissures and forcing the rock apart  had caused it. He was right. I lead the way up to the Wainstones and because I was concentrating on where to place my feet, missed the narrow path that lead to one side. We spent half an hour trying to find a route around or over the Wainstones. Eventually we returned to my first route and discovered the correct path, although it wasn’t easy. Some scrambling was required.

    The Wainstones.

    The beauty of the different landscapes we passed through is an important element of our walk but more importantly it was who we were with.   Michael, Clive and I have known each other since we were about 14 years of age. We met at St Edwards School near Market Drayton in Shropshire.  Over the years we lost contact and then reconnected. We decided to do this walk together about a year ago.   In the years of re-connection we have got to know each other again.  Doing the walk together was an intense experience and I think we learned a lot of new things about each other which can only be a good thing.  We stuck together through a few challenges during the walk. An important element of being together was to give each other breathing space.  While we walked the three of us stretched out along the different paths. We in effect walked on our own for a lot of the time. We could see each other ahead or behind.  Often we had to concentrate on where we placed each step. That took a lot of concentration. We each got into our own individual, mind zones. We formed our own walking rhythms. Once in a while we would stop and come together to consult maps and stand in awe of the surroundings we happened to be passing through. In the evening we also had time to ourselves before we met in the bar or restaurant of the place we were staying at. We had individual rooms in all our bed and breakfasts. I think these opportunities to have our own thoughts and personal time was a healthy thing and made our joint efforts that bit stronger. It helped get us through.

    Me, Michael and Clive at the start of "High Street" high on the fells above Hawsewater. We got lost!!!

    We met some lovely people along the way.  An Australian couple called Dan and Jane kept appearing at various stages, either, high on the fells or going off down a path on the moors. We had a number of very friendly conversations with them. Betty, a New Zealander, was an elderly lady, older than us three anyway, we first met carrying a heavy back pack in the woods along the end of Ennerdale Valley. She was walking alone. We chatted for a while before moving on. We saw her climb the steep precipitous waterfall at the end of the valley stepping carefully and slowly, a long way behind us. We met her again later on. She had undoubtedly made it. Betty was a very impressive lady.

    While continuing our walk through the beautiful Dales we came across Nun Cote Nook Farm, between Reeth and Richmond. A hand written sign informed us that cream teas were available if we went round the back to the conservatory attached to the rear of the farmhouse. There we met a smiling flowery aproned lady called Elaine. She was all smiles. Her youngest daughter appeared and asked us if we would like to sit in the garden while she brought us a menu. Teas and coffees were prominent at the top of the menu followed by a selection of cakes and scones. I chose a piece of the most mouth-watering chocolate fudge cake with a large cup of Yorkshire Tea to wash it down with. Michael, chose a Victoria sponge cake with clotted cream and real strawberries as its filling. Clive had cream with scones. The sun was shining, the garden had beautiful vistas over, stone walls, high hills, sheep and cows. We were in heaven! When I took my empty cup and plate back to Elaine’s kitchen I saw her kitchen ceiling festooned with masses and masses of ribbons. She told us that they were prize winning rosettes for her sheep. Her kitchen looked spectacular. Elaine’s daughter told me that the whole family take part in the competitions. They were two very proud and happy ladies. Elaine sold Coast to Coast mugs. She had had them made herself, so we were not going to be able to buy them anywhere else. We each bought one of her lovely mugs.

    Elaine's farmhouse kitchen with her ceiling festooned with rosettes.

    After walking further into the Dales on another day and traversing a river by a beautiful stone bridge we ascended a high hill. We could see in front of us another working farmhouse. It had a row of tractors in front of it and a number of farmers and tractor drivers milling about. As we approached an amusing sign announced, BEWARE! FREE RANGE CHILDREN. Another sign a little further along informed us that we could get tea and coffee at this farmhouse too. It was called, Ravenseat. There were other walkers outside the farmhouse drinking tea as we approached. The tractor drivers had started up there tractors and the smell of diesel pervaded the air. I asked about this and I was told that they were getting ready to drive in convoy to a local fair for charity. We approached the farmhouse door to ask about tea when suddenly a rather tall ebullient lady burst forth, took our order and suggested the three of us did not need sugar in our tea because we were, “sweet enough.” That brought coy smiles to our faces. The order of tea was passed on to one of her, “free range children,” as their mother jumped on to a four wheel drive buggy, grabbing her youngest toddler to her bosom and then dramatically roaring off on this sturdy carriage up the opposite hillside where she stopped to take pictures of the now long stream of chugging tractors as they wended their smoky way over the hill and away from the farm. She was very impressive and I immediately named her, “Boudicca.” She reminded me of the strident statue of Boudicca in her chariot next to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge in London. It was not till later, back in London, I was looking at the books about The Coast to Coast walk in Waterstones in Wimbledon when I caught sight of a book entitled, “The Yorkshire Shepherdess, “by Amanda Owen. The picture on the front immediately showed me that,” Boudicca,” was indeed the Yorkshire Shepherdess. We had been given tea by a famous author. I bought the book.

    A convoy of tractors on their way from Ravenseat Farm.

    All the landladies at our various bed and breakfast were lovely. They were always friendly and appeared so pleased to see us. We were invariably made most welcome.  Sue and her husband Chris, who run the Eden House Bed and Breakfast in Kirby Stephen were particularly helpful. They saved us! We were booked in to the Jolly Farmers guest house next door to Eden House. We waited for some time but there was no answer to our knock on the door or to our phone calls. We knocked on the door of Eden House to find out if they knew anything. We discovered that The Jolly Farmers was closed. The proprietor had gone to Spain for a wedding. Sherpa, the company who transported our heavy luggage each day between B&B’s had a key to the Jolly Farmer’s to let themselves in and had deposited our luggage inside and locked the door after them. We had no way of getting to it. While I negotiated with Sue at Eden House, Michael phoned Macs Adventures, our tour company. Sue and her husband Chris were able to get hold of a lady who worked at The Jolly Farmers who had an access key. She arrived and allowed us to retrieve our luggage. Sue offered us a double room for the night and Michael negotiated with Macs Adventures to get us another room in a B&B along the road. All was saved. Sue and Chris were more than wonderful.

    The School House bed and breakfast at Patterdale.

    The most intriguing B&B we stayed in was at The School House, Patterdale. The tiny village is set in a narrow valley with the high crags of Catstycam , Arniston and Birks surrounding it. We couldn’t get a mobile phone signal here and the internet connection was weak. The school house had been built in the 1860’s and looked a little austere from the outside. However, once we walked through the door an incredible sight was revealed. The owners had decorated it with carved wood panelling from Thailand. There were rugs and wall hangings festooned around the bare stone walls. My bedroom had a four-poster bed with intricately carved posts and rails. Our hosts were wonderful too. I had my peat bog soaked jeans washed that night. You could have stood them up on their own, they were so stiff with peat. The mattress on my bed was unbelievably high and I had to use a low stool to enable me climb up onto the bed. I was reminded of Grimm’s fairy tales.

    Robin Hoods Bay in the distance as we turned the headland.
    We arrived in Robin Hoods Bay on Saturday 5thSeptember absolutely elated. Our last days walk from Glaisdale had provided us walking encounters with roads, fields and some moor lands which we had been informed had peat bogs. Our initial thoughts were, not dreaded peat bogs like we had encountered before on the fells. These proved to be mild versions of what we had encountered before. There was no chance that we would sink and disappear into these shallow excuses for a bog. The last part of our walk was negotiating the headland, high up on the cliffs leading to Robin Hoods Bay. We were once again walking high  above  very impressive cliffs, wind-blown. It was a sea ravaged and rugged red sandstone landscape and proved to go on and on forever. Then we saw the huddled buildings of Robin Hoods Bay spilling down the cliffs to the beach. We had made it!!!!!!!!! The walk had provided us with a dramatic start high above the sea and it had ended with a dramatic finish high above the sea. We walked on to the village and straight down the steep main street to the beach. We threw our pebbles from St Bees into the sea. A kind gentlemen took a group photograph of the three of us and then we retired for a pint of Wainwrights beer in Wainwrights Bar at The Bay Hotel next to the pebbly beach. We had a lovely meal at The Smugglers Restaurant that evening and stayed in a beautiful Victorian guest house, at the top of the village, called, The Villa, owned by a kind and friendly lady called Jane who loved  barn dancing we discovered. On Sunday 6th we took a bus to Scarborough and then a train to London. Walking the Coast to Coast and completing it together is very important to the three of us. I began this review of our adventure wondering, why we should do it. There is no definitive answer but the process of walking it and its effect on our senses, our relationships with people and how it has informed an understanding of ourselves is something very special. We have lived it.

     The happy three of us standing on the beach at Robin Hoods Bay.


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    Standing on top of Grey Knotts looking out over The Lake District.

    At the top of Greenup Gill.

    A rainbow over Patterdale.

    Easedale Tarn.

    A lunch stop.

    We came across the skeletons of sheep, rabbits and sometimes rats.

    On the North Yorkshire Moors. The purple heathers were a beautiful sight.

    Some moorland ponies.

    Working out our route.

    We met a few cows.

    We met a lot of sheep.

    Clive negotiating an electric cattle wire.

    We came across Dan and Jane every so often. Taken in Reeth, 

    More sheep!!!!

    In a local pub. Those glasses are empty!!!

    The fish and chips were delicious I can tell you.

    The dry stone walls were awe-inspiring, spidering over the Yorkshire landscape

    . Grosmont.


    A sandstone cliff at St Bees.

    A sandstone cliff near Robin Hoods Bay.

     I posted photographs daily on Facebook.

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    The catalogue to go with the exhibition ticket. 
    It contains photographs and quotations from Barbara Hepworth.

    I went to see the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at the Tate Britain recently. Over the years, on family holidays to Cornwall and specifically to St Ives, we have visited Barbara Hepworth’s home and garden at the Trewyn studios, twice. We enjoyed seeing her workshop with the rusting tools laid out on benches as she may have left them, the stained and used workmen’s overalls hanging on pegs and the rotating wooden platforms she had constructed so she could turn a piece of stone to get to every angle and facet without changing her position and of course changing the angle of light. I love the photographs of Barbara Hepworth relating to her sculptures. You often see her standing next to a sculpture in some stylized pose or sometimes looking through the holes she often created in her sculptures. She liked to show how a human being can interact with her, forms.

    Barbara Hepworth DBE (Born:January 10, 1903, Wakefield  DiedMay 20, 1975, St Ives.) posing with some of her tools.Every photograph was staged to give meaning.

     Also she was intellectually concerned with the way her sculptures fitted into and interacted with their surroundings. Her garden at the Trewyn studio is a great example of this. Her sculptures relate to plants, leaves, the sky and each other within the garden. It is as though some sort of discourse is taking place between every element of the whole. Her writing often discusses form, its meaning and its effects on us. Her sculptures were not meant to represent, things or something we know but to create a spiritual essence a new sort of life that affected us spiritually. They are really abstract. Her adherence to Christian Science as espoused by the American Mary Baker Eddy is one explanation for Hepworth’s thinking, “the spiritual world is the only reality.”

    I was not permitted to take photographs in the exhibition. I took photographs of the pictures in the small catalogue that I was provided with  to go with my entrance ticket.

    My ticket for the exhibition.

    When we as a family visited her Trewyn studios in St Ives I also took  photographs of her garden so I will show some of those here.

    Barbara Hepworth wrote many articles for architectural magazines and art magazines explaining  her thoughts and ideas. TO go with my pictures, I have used  quotations from these journals to annotate my pictures.Hepworth herself took many photographs of her work. 

    The Trewyn Garden and studio at St Ives.

    "Carving to me is more interesting than modelling, because there is an unlimited variety of materials from which to draw inspiration. Each material demands a particular treatment and there are an infinite number of subjects in life each to be re-created in a particular material. In fact, it would be possible to carve the same subject in a different stone each time, throughout life, without a repetition of form."

    "There must be a perfect unity between the idea, the substance and the dimension: this unity gives scale... Vitality is not a physical, organic attribute of sculpture - it is a spiritual inner life."

    Inside The Trewyn workshop. Notice the coats and overalls left hanging on the rail ready for use.

    "Art at the moment is thrilling. The work of the artist today springs from innate impulses towards life, towards growth - impulses whose rhythms and structures have to do with the power and insistence of life."

    "I have always been interested in oval or ovoid shapes. The first carvings were simple realistic oval forms of the human head or of a bird. Gradually my interest grew in more abstract values - the weight, poise, and curvature of the ovoid as a basic form. The carving and piercing of such a form seems to open up an infinite variety of continuous curves in the third dimension, changing in accordance with the contours of the original ovoid and with the degree of penetration of the material. Here is sufficient field for exploration to last a lifetime."

    "There is an inside and an outside to every form. When they are in special accord, as for instance a nut in its shell or a child in the womb, or in the structure of shells or crystals, or when one senses the architecture of bones in the human figure, then I am most drawn to the effect of light. Every shadow cast by the sun from an ever-varying angle reveals the harmony of the inside to outside. Light gives full play to our tactile perceptions through the experience of our eyes, and the vitality of forms is revealed by the interplay between space and volume."

     One of the wooden turntables Hepworth had made so she could carve stone outside in the open.

    "In the late evenings, and during the night I did innumerable drawings in gouache and pencil – all of them abstract, and all them my own way of exploring the particular tensions and relationships of form and colour which were to occupy me in sculpture during the later years of the war. At that time I was reading very extensively and I became concerned as to the true relationship of the artist and society. I remember expecting the major upheaval of war to change my outlook; but it seemed as though the worse the international scene became the more determined and passionate became my desire to find a full expression of the ideas which had germinated before the war broke out, retaining freedom to do so whilst carrying out what was demanded of me as a human being."

     The view from Barbara Hepworths garden towards St Ives Parish Church.

    "So many ideas spring from an inside response to form: for example, if I see a woman carrying a child in her arms it is not so much what I see that affects me, but what I feel within my own body. There is an immediate transference of sensation, a response within to the rhythm of weight, balance and tension of the large and small form making an interior organic whole."

    Inside the studio at Trewyn.

    "If human beings respond so decisively to mood and environment, and also to space and proportion in architecture, then it is possible to, and imperative that we should, rediscover those perceptions in ourselves, so that architecture and sculpture can in the future evoke those definite responses in human beings which grew with Venice and still live to-day."

     Outside the door to the Trewyn Gallery.

    A cave along the coast from St Ives. The Yorkshire landscape and then the landscape of Cornwall influenced Barbara Hepworth. You can walk around, look through and almost get inside her sculptures as you can with many Cornish landscape features.

    "All my early memories are of forms and shapes and textures. Moving through and over the West Riding landscape with my father in his car, the hills were sculptures; the roads defined the form. Above all, there was the sensation of moving physically over the contours of fulnesses and concavities, through hollows and over peaks – feeling, touching, seeing, through mind and hand and eye. This sensation has never left me. I, the sculptor, am the landscape. I am the form and I am the hollow, the thrust and the contour." 

    A view showing how the sculptures interrelate with each other  and the leaves and structures of the trees. How they relate to their surroundings.One of her great problems was to solve  how art fits in with the built environment. 

    'Contemporary English Sculptors', The Architectural Association Journal, London, vol. XLV, no. 518, April 1930, p. 384

    "the Sculptor carves because he must"', The Studio, London, vol. 104, December 1932, p. 332

    'Sculpture', in Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art, ed. by J.L. Martin, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, London, 1937, p. 113

    from Chapter 5:
    Rhythm and space, 1946–1949

    from Chapter 6:
    Artist in society, 1949–1952

    A Pictorial Autobiography, Bath, 1971

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    The CELTS art and identity at The British Museum.

    There are a number of things that come to mind when I think about the term, Celts. Last year I was teaching in a school near Chertsey. In the class I taught, there was a little girl called Siobhan. Even for her obvious Irish name she spoke with a Surrey accent. However, her family were definitely Irish. Siobhan arrived in the classroom one Monday morning very excited and clutching a trophy which she was very keen to show me.

    “What is this Siobhan?”

    “I came first in the under twelves Irish dancing contest at Weybridge on Saturday, Mr Grant.”

    “Oh that’s fantastic, Siobhan. You must be very good.”

    “Do you want to see me dance? I’ll get my friend Brigid from next door to dance with me.”

     I obviously had no choice in the matter. Within moments Siobhan and Brigid were standing to attention in the classroom, then they began. They were incredible. Feet and legs flew in all directions. They bounced and twirled and all the time keeping perfectly erect and in time with each other. They had so much energy. They continued for a while and then finished in a flurry of bounces and leg and foot flicks and stopped in unison. I clapped and just said, “Wow!!!” The two of them grinned from ear to ear.

    This is one of the things that come to mind when I think of the Celts. Another is my wife. She is Welsh. Eistedffods, Welsh Rugby, Druids, intricately carved love spoons and the Welsh language, closed mining villages  and the political party, Plywd Cymru, all conjure up the Celtic land that is Wales. To add to the list of Celtic topics nowadays there is the Scottish National Party,  the Cornish political movements, the Irish question and the IRA, kilts and bagpipes and the intricate Celtic art that encompasses mythical beasts, intricate twisting patterns and a more modern version of this, Rennie Mackintoshes architecture and art that came out of the Glasgow school of art. Then of course there is the wide diaspora. The Irish and Scots populated the world, well, North America and places in South America. They emigrated to South Africa , Australia and New Zealand and helped make those countries what they are today. It also conjures up ideas about communities held together by strong beliefs in Christianity, Roman Catholic in Ireland, Scottish Presbyterianism hard fought for by the dissenters in Scotland and the Wesleyan congregations in the  Welsh Chapels. The fact that the so called Celtic world can be described in this way is true today, but what does the word Celtic actually mean and where does it come from?  

    The Battersea Shield. (350 - 50 BC)

    This exhibiton at the British Museum tries to answer that question to a certain degree. The labels on the artefacts and the scholarly research described in the book produced to go with the exhibition admit that because of a lack of any written or recorded evidence from ancient times it is difficult to interpret what Celt actually means. The Celts were first mentioned by the Ancient Greeks in about 500BC. However they meant anybody north of the Meditteranean world, in other words the barbarians. This did not refer to a single group of people. The Romans, specifically Julius Caesar, mentioned the Celts in one part of Gaul and nowhere else. Britain, to the Romans, was divided amongst the Brittani and the Hiberni. These people were never called the Celts. The Medieval texts refer to the Gaels, Scots, Picts and Britons. There is no homogeneous group of people called the Celts in history until up to the 18thcentury. This was because antiquarians in the 18th century such as Stukeley, at Stonehenge and Avebury were struggling to interpret, archaeological finds that had similarities in design. They also noticed that there were connections between the languages of the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Bretons. Infact they could trace similarities between the languages of people from Ireland to Turkey, right across Europe. They went back to the Ancient term, Celt, to help them group these ideas. This gathered momentum in the early 19th century in the Industrial Revolution, when the great expansion of Victorian infrastructure took place. The building of bridges, roads and railways took place. Large areas of land was dug up and rivers dredged in the course of this enormous building project and of course more and more finds of ancient objects were discovered. Rivers seemed to produce a rich source of artefacts. These objects included some spectacular finds such as the Battersea Shield found in the Thames and the Hunterston Brooch near Glasgow.

    Finds with similarities in abstract designs often incorporating mythical beasts and stylised human and animal forms have been found right across Europe. Because of the locations that these artefacts have been found, for instance the Battersea Shield dredged up from the River Thames, they have lead archaeologists and historians to make assumptions. The Battersea shield could have been an offering to the river god. There have been a substantial number of finds in rivers and this idea has strengthened. Then of course there is the thought, what might this highly decorated ornate, shield be used for? I have seen the Battersea Shield displayed at The Museum of London and now at this exhibition about the Celts at the British Museum. I have looked at it a number of times. It has no marks on it to suggest it has been used in a fight. It looks too delicate and precious. This might suggest it was a ceremonial artefact. It is made of bronze and has a golden smooth sheen to it. It has red glass enamelling. It is designed with symmetrical curls and swirls that mirror each other on the front of the shield. Some of the circular red glass is inset between embossed snaking S shaped swirls and they almost look like stylised abstract faces and eyes. One use for this shield could have actually been in battle, held aloft for all to see, perhaps surrounded by flaming torches the light flickering on the polished surfaces and illuminating the red glass eyes of the stylised faces to make them glow. It might have looked as though it was alive, possessed by a potent spirit. It could have been used to inspire and motivate the warriors crowded around it.

    One panel from the Gundestrup Caldroun(150 - 50 BC). (The cauldron is 69 centimeters deep.  This picture shows one of seven heads. The eyes had precious stones set in them that caught the light. Inside the cauldron are embossed scenes of warriors, bulls, lions and griffins. The interior was only have been seen by the those very close to it. They must have been of high status or held some important religious role.The ordinary person only saw it at a distance with tallow flames and flickering firelight playing on its polished silver and gold surfaces. It must have held great importance and wielded a potent power.)

    The fact that many artefacts found right across Europe have similar designs does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that there was a single cultural and ethnic group called the Celts. The spectacular centre piece of the British Museums exhibition, the Gundestrup Cauldron found on Jutland leads to other conclusions. It is decorated with stylised humans and animals embossed in silver and gold. But it lacks the embossed symmetrical swirls and the hatching patterns that are prevalent in the Celtic artefacts found in Britain for instance. The design and structure fits more with artefacts found in South Eastern Europe where Romania and Bulgaria are now. This suggests it was traded or was the spoils of war. Whatever the reasons for its displacement across Europe the Gundestrup Cauldron shows that ideas could be and were fused together from different contacts in different places. If there was movement of artefacts there was movement of ideas, beliefs and language. We see  that process very much today in the world we live in. Fusions of ideas, beliefs and knowledge is vital to humanities growth and development. For instance the second most popular food in Britain, after fish and chips, is a Korma Curry. During the 1970’s there was a great interest in Europe and the West in Eastern religions and meditation. Clothing fashions develop by contact with new ideas from different cultural backgrounds. Music is a great example of the fusion of different ideas sounds, rhythms and the development of instruments.The world moves at an incredible pace nowadays compared to the world 3,500 years ago through the internet and transport facilitates  but the same cross cultural rules and cross fertilisation of ideas applied then as it does now. It is a trait of human nature and human development. This can explain the tentative connections between languages from Turkey to Ireland and the similarities in art and artefacts so long ago.

    More examples of this cross fertilisation of ideas is shown in many examples throughout the exhibition. There is a Roman soldier’s helmet with an embossed design that is typical of British Celtic art. The soldier could have been a Celtic warrior serving in the Roman Army. There are also examples of Roman swords and scabbards with locally inspired intricate designs on them. The Anglo Saxon Sutton Hoo burial revealed artefacts with Celtic designs and enamels on them. The Hunterston Brooch, found near Glasgow, shows a range of influences. Its style is Irish, but it has beads and interlaced wire which was an Anglo Saxon technique. It also passed on to a Viking at some time because eit has Viking runic writing on the back.Later on in the Christian era the Christian church embraced Celtic design wholeheartedly. Religious artefacts, such as the St Cuileain bell shrine and the Monymusk casket, stone crosses set up in churchyards, silver and gold crosses carried by bishops and high clergymen, dating from 600AD onwards have  Celtic designs which Christianity took for its own. The most spectacular examples being the handwritten gospels from the Saxon era such as the St Chad Gospels from Litchfield in Staffordshire and the Lindsfarne Gospels in Northumberland and many of the Gospels found in Ireland. The Christian Church took on Celtic designs perhaps because of its spiritual and otherworldly qualities. The gold and silver and jewels combined in intricate Celtic designs created a potent spiritual force.

    The illuminated text from the St Chad Gospels at Litchfied Cathedral dated from 700AD.

    The strong emotions, especially in the modern Celtic diaspora that people feel for being Celtic is a cultural, social and political phenomenon. It helps some people try to understand their past. The archaeological discoveries of the early 19th century fuelled peoples imaginations. Artists took the designs they observed on these artefacts and incorporated them into their own artworks. This helped aid the emergence of the arts and crafts movement and people in the late 1800’s and early 1900;s, like Rennie Mackintosh, Archibold Knox and John Duncan  created vases, brooches and architecture based on and influenced by these ancient designs.  People need to have something that connects them and joins them together.

    A poster from the Glasgow Institute of Fine Art showing how a modernist approach was applied to Celtic design.
    This can be a good thing and it can be a negative thing too. The Irish Societies in America are almost more Irish than the Irish in Ireland when concerned with nationalist and political allegiances andissues. They also think of themselves as pure Irish which is really impossible. It’s a delusion. You often find within the communities of the diaspora people marry their own. Intermarriage outside the Irish or Afro Carribean or Jewish or Puerto Ricanan communities is not exactly forbidden but it is culturally difficult. The famous film, A West Side Story illustrates this situation. They do not allow for the fact that they are really a mix of cultures and roots. Even the Irish in Ireland know they have Scots, Viking, Spanish and English blood in them. Many Irish traditions have been formed from different cultural influences but you would not think that within the Irish diaspora in other parts of the world. Things are Irish and that’s it. This inflexible attitude can bring about bigotry, hatred, the IRA and nationalist Paramilitary groups and probably more importantly a lack of development and growth. There is no empathy or reaching out and willingness to adapt and so there is no growth and  development. This close mindedness that can be recognised in the Celtic diaspora can be seen in other parts of the world and cultures. The British are terrified of the BBC being dismantled or the NHS being diluted. I would never want to see the BBC disappear  because it is a cornerstone of our democracy and free thinking  but it needs to grow, adapt and be more flexible. The NHS needs to change too. New technologies and drugs and attitudes to personal health and fitness should help. We all need to change. The Russians are taking a massive step back to what looks like Cold War politics and Communist non democratic ways of thinking. They are creating a world of, us and them, once more. Religious  and political fundamentalism, whether evident in ISIS, the Taliban, certain Christian groups, the gun lobby in the USA, the dogged belief that a National Health Service in the USA is somehow communist and non-constitutional, The British Government under the Conservatives believing that being out of Europe is best in some way for Britain, the Scottish Nationalist Party and Nationalist parties everywhere, all are trying to create situations of fear, loathing, and non-communication between different groups of people. If the Celts exhibition at the British Museum shows one thing it is that it is a natural human process to integrate ideas, take on new beliefs, and have empathy and understanding between different groups of people. That may well mean that we adapt and change and take on characteristics from each other. In the process I think we develop in a healthy strong way. It’s a good thing.

    CELTS art and identity by Ian Lens (The British Museum)
    (A combined exhibition created by The British Museum and the National Museums of Scotland)

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    I went for a walk recently  from my front door in Motspur Park into the centre of London. Ever since we returned from the Coast to Coast Walk, from St Bees on the Cumbrian Coast across England to Robin Hoods Bay on the Yorkshire Coast I have had the thought, almost a nagging request, at the back of my mind, to go for a walk again. Not just to the end of the road or round to Tescos to shop for food, but a long walk. Today I walked into London. That is about eighteen miles. I know the route I took was eighteen miles because the health app on my i-phone told me so. I have it set to miles. What has got me so interested in walking? It is not actually a conscious thing. I have tried to reason it and work out why walking is so important in a logical analytical way. I can reason it, enumerating fitness and health at the top of the list but it is more than that. I have a deep gut feeling about it. It’s something deep inside my brain that needs me to walk. So what is this walking? It is simply placing one foot in front of the other I know and getting i a forward motion going. It’s a fluid motion. An unconscious motion. Its about moving forward rhythmically. Nobody gives the actual process of physically walking much attention. I flowed along using an easy stride. There was some urgency to move so I didn’t dawdle. I wasn’t walking aimlessly. I gave myself the target of reaching Trafalgar Square. The speed I walked, about three to four miles an hour, I have discovered, is an optimum pace. Walking is a way of communing with the world. I hear and see things and they enter my brain and thoughts, ideas and imagination. There is something psychologically deep seated in our psyche making it necessary to move and change. We are not creatures designed for staying still. “Time and Tide wait for no man,” as the saying goes. I have got this idea, which keeps coming into my head that walking is a metaphor for life, for living. You are born, you grow and move about, love, experience things, some hard and painful and some joyous and love filled and then one day it stops because you die.  Taking a walk is a small illustration of life. Its purpose is the act of walking and experiencing. The whole of your life is just a longer walk with many more experiences along the way. I feel that is what we are made for. Our bodies are made to move and do things. If we stop moving we become unhealthy. If we stop moving both physically and mentally we ossify and stop living.

    Some road works in Worple Road

    London is an amazing place. It is a gigantic living organism. People are the living cells of the body. I walked along Worple Road towards Wimbledon High Street, People were rushing by striding towards bus stops or further towards Wimbledon Station. A woman strode out of her flat entrance purposefully past me, her wet hair straggly about her face straight out of the shower apparently. A young suited man, a briefcase gripped knuckle white in his hand, powerwalked on by. I could sense the early morning, going to work, tension. Strange contrasts occur everywhere in London. As I walked out of Wimbledon Village towards the A3 and the Putney, Wandsworth roundabout I had Wimbledon Common on my left and some large expensive houses on my right. On my right side I had bricks and mortar with neat structured gardens and on my left I had a whole variety of trees, shrubs, birds and wildlife, an untouched and untamed expanse. There is a wild pond at the side of the road, on the common side. I saw a heron standing perfectly still in amongst some tall reeds contemplating with the utmost patience one particular spot on the surface of the pond. It was waiting. There is a bus stop near the pond and suddenly a red London transport double decker bus roared to a standstill next to the pond and a passenger got off. The heron did not move. My mind was split. Two very different sensations were arriving in my brain simultaneously. A strange and slightly disquieting contrast of built order, a transport system and untamed nature. Bringing diverse things together can be very creative. Unexpected contrasts can create new ideas. This is one of the many things London enables, a coming together of unexpected contrasts which create a climate for new ideas. Maybe this is why London, as well as all its other aspects, is such an amazing, creative hub.

    As I arrived at the corner of Wimbledon Common where it meets the Putney Roundabout there is a tunnel system for pedestrians and cyclists which take you underneath this busy junction of roads.

    This pathway system is unobtrusive. In its construction large smoothly shaped mounds of earth, like small hills are piled up on the land in the middle of the roundabout and at various other places in this complex maze. They are smoothly grassed and have small copses of silver birch and rowen populating them.  I say complex because the pathways cross each other through tunnels taking you to the A3 and West Hill which continues into Wandsworth, to the A219 Tibbetts Ride leading to Putney and Wimbledon Parkside, which I had just walked along, or along the A3 back towards Kingston Vale and Kingston upon Thames. The clearly displayed blue information signs with their simple letter design make it easy to follow your intended route and the, brutalist, simplicity of the curving, sinuous, concrete paths and pillared tunnels lead you on your way with the minimum of fuss. Everything about brutalist architecture from the late 1960’s to the late 1970s is minimal. Brutalist architecture excites me. There is no flamboyance, or intricate detail to it. It is simple and straightforward. It has a new fresh feel about it even today. It is built strongly with reinforced concrete. It uses basic geometric shapes, squares, rectangles, cubes, cuboids and cylinders. I remember visiting my brother Michael at Sussex University in the 70’s when he was a student there. Sussex had been built in the 60’s and designed by Sir Basil Spence. It felt modern. It felt cutting edge and as such gave me and everybody else an uplifting feel. The feeling of going forward into the future, is the feeling a university should instil in its students. I think the term, brutalism, has done this form of architecture by the likes of Erno Goldfinger, Richard Seifert and Basil Spence a disservice. The word derives from the French word for raw, brut. The French called the material used,”beton brut,” (raw concrete). An English art critic, Reyner Banham, used the word brut, and turned it into brutalism, which obviously gives it the idea of being brutal in a different sense. The term has given this type of architecture a bad press. The many high story blocks of flats, that were not socially compatible places to live, it turned out, created in the brutalist style, probably, did not help its reputation either.

    The simple clean lined design that is called Brutalist. The underpass at Putney Roundabout.

    I took my camera with me on this walk, thinking I would use it to take pictures of things I could write about in this essay. However, in the end I took, maybe, two or three pictures with it. I was much more interested in looking, listening and just walking along. I used my i-phone camera on occasions when the urge became overwhelming. Marilyn has told me off for taking pictures when we have been out together. She informed me in the past, “You are not with us.” I didn’t know what she meant. Perhaps it was difficult to admit it. I knew that by taking pictures, or so many of them, I was making myself detached. I was a pace or two behind, always. When you go out with people the point is to be with each other and relate to each other and experience things together. Is it really important to photograph what you see?  I have had mixed feelings about taking photographs for some time. We live in an age when people are seemingly always taking selfies, photographs of their food, continually recording what they see everywhere. What is the purpose? Recently I have read Helen MacDonald’s intense, personal account in, ”H is for Hawk,” She writes about her father, who had died and who was a photojournalist.

     Putting a lens between himself and the world was a defence against more than physical danger: it shielded him from other things he had to photograph: awful things, tragic things, accidents, train crashes, the aftermath of city bombs. He’d worried that this survival strategy had become a habit. “I see the world through a lens,” he said once, a little sadly, as if the camera was always there, stopping him getting involved, something between him and the life that other people had.

    This is exactly how I have become to feel about using a camera. So on this walk I took very few pictures.

    My camera. The cause of controversy.

    There are bits of history that came to mind everywhere as I walked along. Every inch of this country has layers of history going far back into the depths of time. At the bottom of Putney High Street is St Mary’s church on the right, next to the bridge and positioned on the river bank. This church has a very important role in our present constitution. In the summer of 1647 after the First Civil war, General Cromwell and General Ireton had tried to negotiate with the King. This had lost them support amongst military and civilian radical thinkers. In October five cavalry regiments nominated, “New Agents,” to represent their views. They endorsed the proposals put down in the Levellers document, “The Agreement of the People.” The Levellers wanted a new constitution based on manhood suffrage, one man, one vote. They also wanted all authority invested in Parliament and not the King or the House of Lords. The Grandees, Cromwell, and Ireton invited the New Agents and their civilian supporters, the Levellers to a debate in front of the General Council of the Army. The debates began on 28th October 1647 and were held in St Marys Church Putney. They were chaired by Oliver Cromwell. The Levellers, regarded the right to vote as the right of all freeborn Englishmen. Cromwell and Ireton regarded the idea of manhood suffrage as a recipe for anarchy. They wanted only property owners to have the vote. After several days of heated debate the Levellers agreed that servants and alms takers should be exempt. The Grandees decided that soldiers who had fought for Parliament should be allowed the vote. Cromwell and Ireton were alarmed at the extremism of The Levellers and suspended the army council. The Agitators were ordered back to their regiments. A new council was formed of only officers. They created a set of new proposals that were not acceptable by the radicals. A near mutiny took place. Meanwhile Charles1st had escaped from Hampton Court and a second Civil War loomed. The army closed ranks. The representation of rank and file soldiers on the Army Council was dropped and things continued without reform. Inside the church there is a quote from, Colonel Rainsborough, who was the highest ranking soldier who supported the beliefs of the ordinary soldier during the Putney Debates.

    “I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he.”

    The Levellers and those who agreed with their beliefs wanted the sort of democracy we have today. Oliver Cromwell at the time, thought that this would amount to anarchy and a fragmented state.

    There I was at the bottom of Putney High Street walking past the very spot that this drama, unfolded. The ideas expressed at the Putney Debates never went away and resurfaced and resurfaced for hundreds of years afterwards. I walked over the very ground the representatives of the Levellers, The New Model Army and Oliver Cromwell trod. That gave me a thrill.  It was not ghosts but it was the past that I walked with.

    St Mary's Church, Putney. The scene of The Putney Debates.

    Normally when I drive into London I go via Wandsworth. I decided to walk over Putney Bridge because I don’t know that route nearly so well. I wanted to experience new places.

    Once over Putney Bridge, which crosses that piece of the Thames, although at low tide it is more mud banks than river, where the Oxford verses Cambridge Boat Race starts, on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April, I turned right into The New Kings Road. Most of the buildings and houses are late Victorian or Edwardian and have a dull grey brick look with black slated roofs. One remnant of an earlier Victorian past is the solitary brick beehive that is all that remains of the Fulham Pottery works. South London rivalled, “The Five Towns, “on the northern border of Shropshire for its pottery production. The Thames River has many clay deposits along its banks an ideal resource for pottery. The London Basin is mostly clay.

    An original pottery kiln in Fulham.

    I walked along the New Kings Road reading street names and places I have heard of and probably driven past in a blur in the past not taking any notice of them and having time to enjoy them. This is what walking does. It gives you time and space to have a good look, take things in, and absorb your surroundings.

    I passed by Parsons Green. I had a feint recognition of the name before. Was it famous for something? I found a board explaining its history. It is not a place of fame. It is merely a piece of common land that has survived from the Middle Ages as land belonging to the local community for their use. It probably had the sheep of villains munching on its verdant surface long ago. It is set amongst Victorian terraces and Victorian Villas. It a lovely leafy bit of Fulham and Chelsea that people have enjoyed for centuries. The day I walked past people were walking their dogs on it. One large Victorian house, on the New Kings Road side of the green, caught my attention. I took a photograph of it on my i-phone. Unfortunately the name of the house, carved in stone over the front door, is partly obscured by some foliage in the picture and memory as it is does not help.  I think it is called, Romona House. The letter R is hidden behind a leaf in my photograph. What seemed special about it was the size and height of its windows. The rooms inside, I could see, were flooded with light. The large front window of one room at the top of the house enabled me to see up to the ceiling of the room but there was no ceiling just large glass panels forming the ceiling and roof above. It looked unusually well lit. Parsons Green is not far from the start of The Kings Road and Chelsea where many artists, especially in Victorian times lived. Some of the Pre-Raphaelites lived in Cheyne Walk beside the Thames at Chelsea. I could only think that perhaps this was a Victorian artist’s house with that room in the roof that appeared full of light. It would have made a great studio. It faced north so perhaps the artist may have been interested in a subdued even grey lighting in the winter and autumn. On a clear summers day it would have been a vivid blue light but not the blinding white light of direct sunlight coming from the south.

    Romona House. Possibly a Victorian  artists studio at Parsons Green.

    I walked on. My legs were feeling good. However, I had blisters on my left heel. They were sore. This brought a wry smile to my face. All through the Coast to Coast Walk with Clive and Michael, the three of us were aware of getting injuries both serious and minor such as blisters. I think Clive got a sore heel at one stage but the application of blister plasters soon solved that. We wore walking boots which had spent time breaking in and using often before we started the walk. I think we had virtually sorted out any boot problems before we began The Coast to Coast. However, on my walk to the centre of London I decided that It seemed a little silly to wear my walking boots. I wear Dr Martins which are tough shoes and designed for urban walking. I thought I would be fine, especially as I have worn them every day for the last year. But no, I got blisters. I stopped at a Boots the Chemists and bought some blister plasters which I applied to the red raw heel but it was too late. The damage had been done. The plasters alleviated the pain but it still felt uncomfortable. I merely continued walking and tried to forget the discomfort.

    Bishop's Stores in The New Kings Road.

     The part of the New Kings Road just before it becomes The Kings Road has many shops. There was a local newsagents, BISHOP’S STORES, its name emblazoned across a red and white Coca Cola swoosh that went from one side of the shop to the other. It looked particularly scruffy and untidy. The crowded mess of advertisements stuck across its frontage, shouted out to the passing world. Walls Ice Cream, Hermes delivery vans, Lotto and Lottery tickets sold, grocery’s  and off licence alcohol, posters for LOVE magazine all crowded across it. The patchwork effect of contrasting colours, fonts and photographs make it look like a glorified side of a fridge covered in fridge magnets and reminders.  Maybe we have grown used to being bombarded by pictures and slogans in our society? It has become a familiar assault on our senses which we don’t take notice of but would feel something was missing if it wasn’t there. In this part of the New Kings Road, Bishop’s Stores was in the minority. Most of the shops, set within Victorian Shop shells, were specialist shops. There were lighting emporia displaying glittering chandeliers. There were specialist shoe shops with shoes displayed like sculptural works of art. Shops for hats, gowns, and bespoke tailors proliferated. Hand crafted furniture pieces were displayed in one shop. The style and moneyed wealth of the Kings Road area was near at hand. Chelsea beckoned. The blisters on my left heal numbed.

    A luxury bathroom shop in The New Kings Road.

    As I walked along looking at buildings and gardens and passing people the thought occurred to me, how is it actually possible to walk along a street with people in front, approaching you, walking past you, you walking past people, somebody crossing in front and various other random and unexpected movements  without having a collision? We don’t think about it. It a appears to be a subconscious skill to avoid, step aside speed up slow down and perform whatever swerve and change of direction that is needed to negotiate all these human obstacles. I suppose we are actually aware of what we are doing but it takes minimal thought. There must be a hierarchy of problem solving. We do some things with no thought at all. Breathing for instance. We do other things such as walking at a very low level of consciousness. We buy a newspaper at a more sophisticated level of awareness and we rea d that newspaper and think about the ideas at a much more aware and sophisticated level still. There must be a hierarchy of thinking skills. Walking along a street includes a mixture of these different levels of thinking abilities.

    One thing I always look out for or rather they grab my attention are the blue plaques. The following is a quotation from the English Heritage website. It tells us something about blue plaques.

     “By showing us where famous people have lived and worked, blue plaques celebrate the architecture of London’s streets and the diversity and the achievements of its past residents. London’s blue plaques scheme founded in 1866, is believed to be the oldest of its kind in the world. The iconic Blue Plaque design has been the subject of regular experimentation over the years. Plaques have been made of bronze, stone and lead, in square, round and rectangular forms, and have been finished in shades of brown, sage, terracotta and – of course – blue. The earliest plaques, commissioned by the Society of Arts (in 1886), were handmade by the pottery firm Minton, Hollins & Co. The inlaid or encaustic roundel had a distinctive border pattern with the letters of the name of the Society of Arts worked into the decorative design. Some were set into a painted wooden mount.

    English Heritage plaques (today) are made by highly skilled artisan craftspeople, Frank and Sue Ashworth of London Plaques who have been creating them for the charity since 1984. The surface is slightly domed to encourage self-cleaning, and the lettering, because it is handpiped, is slightly raised. As long as the plaques are protected during any building works, they will last for as long as the building they are attached to.”

    Number 9 Paultons Square just off The Kings Road.

    On my walk, legs striding forward, my eyes, ears and other senses alert to the environment about me, ( a little like Helen Macdonald in H is for Hawk) I came across a number of blue plaques. The names I saw and read, the houses where they lived, the thresholds they crossed and pavements they must have trod, where I was treading myself, gave me a thrill.

    The first I noticed was that of Gavin Maxwell (1914-1969) who was a naturalist and writer, famous for his book, “Ring of Bright Water.” He lived at number 9 Paultons Square just off the Kings Road. I could see his blue plaque standing out from the white stuccoed surface of his house from a distance. It was just another blue roundel until I approached it and discovered who it commemorated. Maxwell lived in Paultons Square from 1961 to 1965.

    A walk is full of unexpected occurrences. The blue plaques were another pleasant series of unexpected discoveries and memories. At the sites of the blue plaques, the locations gave me time to pause in my walk and read about and remember what I knew of the people. I didn’t have to go far for the next blue plaque. It was on the opposite side of Paultons Square to that of Gavin Maxwell’s home. Jean Rhys (1890-1979) lived at flat 22 Paultons Square from 1936 – 1938. She hadn’t published The Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jayne Eyre by then. Even so the name Jean Rhys conjured up thoughts of the mentally deranged creole, Antoinette/Bertha, Mrs Rochester. A disturbing consideration, standing in the street and looking up at the blue plaque high on the brick wall under the window of the flat Rhys lived in. 

    Jean Rhys lived here in Paultons Square.

    The next blue plaque I came across was very intriguing. Flat 22B Ebury Street, Belgravia was the home of Ian Flemming. The entrance lobby to the various flats is open to the street. Four doors lettered E, F, G, and H are presented to you. It appears that Fleming’s flat was either E or F because they are on the side of the building the blue plaque has been placed, but which one? It’s enough to throw any self-respecting Russian Spy off the scent. The blue plaques in London show you where the famous and infamous lived/. People who have made their mark on the world and usually, as with the cases I have just mentioned, have continued to be important to us all.

    Ian Fleming lived here in Ebury Street.

    Onwards I walked. I must admit by the time I got to the top of The Kings Road in Sloane Square I was getting tired. I didn’t really feel the blister on my heel anymore or rather it had become bearable. There, in Sloane Square is The Royal Court. It’s an ordinary looking theatre from the outside.It was opened on 24 September 1888 as the New Court Theatre. Designed by Walter Emden and Bertie Crewe it is constructed of fine red brick, moulded brick, and a stone facade in free Italianate style. Originally the theatre had a capacity of 841 in the stalls, dress circle, amphitheatre, and a gallery.By London standards that is pretty ordinary. It doesn’t stand out as anything special in the myriad of architectures and the built environment of London. In 1952 The English Stage Company took it over. It was home to avante garde playwrights and stage productions. John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, was staged here. Laurence Olivier appeared in The Entertainer. Arnold Wesker and John Arden wrote for the Royal Court.

    “In the mid-1960s, the ESC became involved in issues of censorship. Their premiere productions of Osborne's A Patriot for Me and Saved, by Edward Bond (both 1965) necessitated the theatre turning itself into a 'private members club' to circumvent the Lord Chamberlain, formally responsible for the licensing of plays until theTheatres Act 1968. The succès de scandale of the two plays helped to bring about the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK.”(wikipaedia)

    The Royal Court Theater in Sloane Square.

    I have a sense of attachment to The Royal Court, its rebelliousness, its artistic challenge to society, its questioning of the status quo. I wish I went to more productions there. In fact that is my promises to myself, “go and see more productions at The Royal Court.” Marilyn and I go to the National Theatre quite often so in one respect I do see challenging and thought provoking plays.

    Chelsea and the Sloane Square area at the top of The Kings Road is renowned for its rebelliousness, to a certain extent. It is an area where world renowned artists, writers and musicians have lived and worked. It is where Vivienne Westwood designed the clothes that epitomised Punk Rock and where her then lover and partner Malcolm McLaren produced and promoted arguably, the most iconic Punk Rock group of all time, The Sex Pistols. It is a shame that John Lydon alias Johnny Rotten, their lead singer, nowadays promotes Country Life Butter in TV adverts. However on the other hand was Punk Rock always about selling something? The Sloane area is also famous for the, “Sloane Rangers,” the wealthy heiresses, of multimillionaire and billionaire, “daddies.” It is home to, “Made in Chelsea.” My feet are beginning to drag, just a little by now.

    The Duke on The Green. A typical Victorian style pub on Parsons Green.

    Walking was becoming a matter of will power. The graceful effortless stride gone.  Seventeen miles walked and still a mile to Trafalgar Square my destination. So onwards once more towards Buckingham Palace Road and, “Buck House.” The streets get darker here somehow. Tall Victorian mansion houses where the nobility of the past had town houses near to the Palace and giant plains trees turn the light down a few lumens. I got to Beaston Place and Victoria Square. Beaston Place has the Gresham Hotel with its brightly lit chandeliers and doormen wearing top hats and gold braid. Smart, straight backed gentlemen. They all look ex-military. The Gresham was where the then future Duchess of Cambridge with her mother and father stayed the night before her wedding to The Duke of Cornwall. Here I am going on about Royalty, using their title. We British think nothing of giving one family millions of pounds every year to live in luxury and splendour and on the other hand our Conservative Government is desperate to take tax credits away from the families living on borderline poverty who could starve. The argument is that the Royal Family are an integral part of our constitution and have to perform on the world stage. Isn’t it an immoral and a twisted sort of thinking? So I struggled on past the palace, not struggling physically but with mixed emotions and thoughts of republicanism fizzing around my brain. “Send the Queen and her leeching family into retirement!” Crowds of tourists were filling the pavements. The Mall was festooned with Union Jacks interspersed with the national flag of China. The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, was to visit our democratic shores within days and he was to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace. It was to be a brightly coloured, pageant laden sales pitch. Britain needs investment. The Queen and The Royals were going to earn their exalted position for flag and country.

    The Irish Guards in The Mall

    As I got close to Trafalgar Square at the end of The Mall, The Irish Guards band marched past on their way to the Palace. They looked splendid in scarlet jackets and black busbies. I don’t know what they were playing but it sounded wonderful and inspiring. I stopped to look and listen. Trafalgar Square is famous. There are all the obvious things, The National Gallery, South Africa House, The Canadian High Commission, the empty plinth, St Martins in the Fields and of course Nelsons Column. There are two things which make it extra special I think. The first is an awareness of something we might not have been told. Look at the four bronze reliefs positioned around the square base of Nelsons Column. They depict four battles that Nelson was most famous for, The Battle of The Nile, The Battle of Copenhagen, St Vincent and of course Trafalgar in which he was shot and died. The relief that faces south, towards Whitehall, is a scene of battle on one of Nelsons ships. It shows detailed close ups of various officers and ratings in action. One of the ratings is an African. It is good to remember that a great number of the ordinary crew on British 18th century naval ships were press ganged from nations and ports all across the world. The number of languages spoken must have been diverse. It is a tribute to British naval training that Nelson’s crews worked efficiently and with great expertise. 

    Part of one of the bronze plaques at the base of Nelsons Column.

    Another thing about Trafalgar Square that is special to me are the activities that go on at St Martins in the Field Church. It is a glorious specimen of Georgian church architecture form the 18th century but firstly it is also famous for its free lunchtime music concerts. I have attended a few of these over the years. They comprise performances by up and coming new young musical talent from The Royal College of Music. Very often they are young musicians completing PHD’s in some aspect of music and just starting on their musical performance careers. Every concert I have attended there has, “blown,” my mind. They are terrific. The other thing about St Martins in the Field is its charity work and work with the homeless of London. A gentleman called Dick Shepherd who was the vicar of St Martins from 1914 to 1927 opened his doors to the homeless of London. The crypt of St Martins has been turned into lodgings. The homeless can still stay there. I always think I might need its services one day. I hope not though.

    The rear of St Martins in The Fields.

    When I arrived at Trafalgar Square I touched the stone base of one of the four bronze lions that surround Nelson’s Column. I can remember when my grandmother first took Michael, my brother and myself up to London the first time for a day trip. Michael was six years old and I was nine years old. We visited The Tower of London. I remember climbing some wooden steps to enter the Norman Keep, the White Tower. I leaned forward and touched the stone surface. I felt as though I was touching the past. I felt connected to a time a thousand years ago. I have tended to do that whenever I visit an ancient site or place of historical interest. I touch it, surreptitiously, when nobody is looking. Just a quick brush with my hand. It connects me.

    After this I had a pub lunch at The Princess of Wales in Villiers Street and then walked my tired legs across Hungerford Bridge to Waterloo and used my London Freedom Pass to get me home on the train.

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    Helen Macdonald

    Helen Macdonald is an affiliated research scholar at Cambridge University working in the department of History and Philosophy of Science. Until 2007 she had been a research fellow at Jesus College Cambridge. She has published three books, Shalers Fish, in 2001, Falcon, in 2006 and H is for Hawk, in 2014 for which she won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction and became a Sunday Times best seller.

    and I’m just standing there. I can’t say a word,”cause everything’s just gone. I’ve got nothing absolutely nothing.” (Mike Skinner, The Streets, 2004)

    This is a line from a song written by Mike Skinner of The Streets called “Dry Your Eyes. “It is a self-confessional style written in the first person. The reader is brought into immediate emotional contact with the writer. You are being talked to directly and have no choice but to listen. Helen Macdonald uses this style to great effect in H is for Hawk. The lines written by Mike Skinner above could almost have come straight from Helen Macdonald’s book. She expresses those very thoughts and emotions when she thinks she has lost, Mabel, her Goshawk, on a number of occasions. Macdonald is a complex person. We all are, I know, but she conveys that complexity in great depth in her book.

    The first person style seems to be thing of the moment. It is the style of all autobiographies past and present of course but the first person autobiographical style has been taken up by many of our modern modes of communication and entertainment.We have reality TV, people like me for instance writing blog posts; Instagram , Twitter and Facebook are relatively new ways of creating a first person contact with an  audience of so called friends. We do have to be careful with this sort of self-promotion because the, “Friends”, we have on Facebook or Instagram for instance and other social media are not real friends. On the other hand, perhaps its me not understanding. Maybe the term, friend, has changed and my interpretation is now past its sell by date. Social media creates an alternative reality which might not be healthy. I am not saying Macdonald is doing this. She is publishing her thoughts and ideas in a traditional and tried format, the book, both hard and soft copies. I am sure H is for Hawk can also be downloaded onto a Kindle. But for all the apparent intimacy of her style, she uses the distance of the book format. She is not baring her soul on a whim on Instagram or Facebook. I have just read A Shepherds Life by James Rebanks, who incidently was Oxbridge educated too but at Oxford in his case.  His book began as a series of Twitter messages. His twitter account is still extant. He appears to be in control of what he does. These things should not overwhelm the person creating them. Helen Macdonald has enough to overwhelm her in H is For Hawk without the complexities caused by social media. She appears, thank goodness, not to have gone down that route.

    A goshawk.

    H is for Hawk, is about Helen MacDonald’s self-analysis and psychological and emotional recovery from the death of her father and combatting her own self. It is a sort of growing and maturing process. She does this through a number of ways. The training and learning process needed and personal skill of being an austringer is one way for her. She trains, a goshawk, she names Mabel. This  is her primary focus. However, the process of training Mabel is closely connected  with coping or not coping with the bereavement of her much loved father. It is a flawed coping mechanism in many ways. She also has a difficult and tortuous relationship with the long dead T H White, he died in 1964 and Macdonald was born in 1970. He is the famous author of, The Once and Future King, which is a series of books about the development of a young boy into the mythical King Arthur. The Sword in the Stone is the first of the books that make up The Once and Future King. Macdonald’s interest in White is allied somewhat to Whites mental journey in writing his fiction, The Once and Future King, but is mostly connected to a book White wrote about training a hawk he called GOS. In this book, which he named, Gos, he relates his progress in the training of the goshawk and it is this process that Helen Macdonald argues with, challenges and has very strong emotional reactions to.

    T H White
    Macdonald has a discourse with her past and her present. She is caught up in the struggle created by her emotional responses and memories of her dead father and the dead White. They appear to be the only three dimensional characters in the book. Any friends, including her mother, and  a few Hawking friends, are one dimensional, almost ghosts, hardly there. She is close to Stuart and his wife who live in a cottage and breed and fly hawks. We get a small sense of her attachment and love for them. Her friends seem to be varied, from different social strata. She feels more at home with a truck driver than an academic. Macdonald hones in on warmth of personality and for want of another word, love. The connection is always hawks though. She is not a snob. I worried about Macdonald as the book unfolded. She was so single minded, so mentally focussed on the hawk that the real world disappeared for her. She makes you believe that she is beginning to think, feel and actually be a hawk herself. It was almost a relief at one point to know that she herself realised this and went to a doctor for depression and received medication. She was breaking down in front of the readers eyes. At the end of the book she has a healthy distance from Mabel which she doesn’t have for most of the book. 

    I found it interesting to hear Macdonalds account of when she heard that her father had died. Her mother phoned her. When her mother got the words out Macdonald described her feelings as like being hit hard. It was a physical shock as much as an emotional hit. She had no control over it. I remember, when I was a student in my 20’s getting a phone call from my mother telling me my much loved grandmother had died. I too felt that physical punch. My brain was awash, I couldn’t think straight and I had to lie down. My whole body shook. Part of the process that happens during the book is Macdonald’s recovery from that emotional and physical shock of hearing that her father was dead. She couldn’t choose to control it. The shock controlled her and took its own time. The process involving her father was about memories, how her father had taken her bird watching, how he had shown interest in what she was interested in. She describes how he had taken a part in shaping her as a human being. What she is now is part due to her father.

    This awareness of self and the effect our inner emotional and psychological selves can have on our exterior lives and relationships is one of the key elements of this book. She takes strong umbridge with White in the training of Gos. Macdonald tells us that White is a sado masochist. There is a lot of White’s autobiography in this book. He had been beaten often as a school boy at the great public school of Stowe in Buckinghamshire. Where the older boys had beaten him ritualistically as a young boy, as he became one of the older boys he beat the younger ones. He went on to be a teacher at Stowe and so the process continued with him. Macdonald sees signs of Whites suppressed sado erotic and masochistic traits in his training of Gos. Macdonald thinks that White gets it mostly wrong and indeed he loses Gos who escapes. White is desolate and defeated. However, for all Macdonalds obvious dislike of White, she has a strong fatalistic attachment to him. It almost feels that she is joined to him in his struggles. She is always comparing her struggles with Mabel to Whites struggles with Gos. Macdonald is far from perfect herself even for her strong views that she is right and White is wrong.

    Macdonald bought her goshawk from a breeder in Northern Ireland. She had to meet her hawk on the quayside of some Scottish harbour. The whole description of her getting the goshawk has a sense of mystery and subterfuge. It is as though some sort of illegal exchange is going on. I think this is heightened by Macdonalds admiration and feeling of awe for the hawk. Hawks have a dark sinister aspect to them. We are reminded throughout the book that hawks mean death. They are killing machines. MacDonald thinks that the imagery that hawks have been used for over the centuries is a bad thing. The Nazis saw the goshawk as a symbol for their air force. In fact Goring had been an austringer himself. Cambridge where she lives is in the middle of the Fens. It is low lying marshy land all around and the wind blows in off The North Sea. There are USAF airbases with planes carrying nuclear warheads stationed in East Anglia. Her are moments when air force planes roar overhead as she is flying Mabel on the Fens. The connection between killing machines, plane and hawk, is not lost. To Macdonald, and of course this is true, hawks are hawks. They are wild animals. They do not have human thoughts and motivations. They do what hawks do and should not be connected to other things for human gratification.

    One thing that is clear, Macdonald is an obsessive. She has total focus on what she is doing. She shows this throughout the book in the exactness of her training of Mabel. She is so intense that every nerve ending, every sense is stretched to the limit with her. She even begins to see the world as a hawk would see it or rather as she imagines a hawk would see it. She is thinking in unison with Mabel. Or she thinks she is. When things don’t go right Macdonald is distraught. She becomes hyper sensitive to every nuance. Does this make her a genius? Does this make her brilliant? One thing It made me think. At one stage Macdonald ends her fellowship at St Johns and at the same time has to move from her rented accommodation, so she is virtually jobless and homeless. What makes each one of us great or brilliant in our own way is not what society dictates. Society dictates that success is owning a house, having a well-paid job, having authority over others, being  well educated, having ambitions of which society approves and so on. Macdonald spurns these. She is obviously well educated but has no income or societal benefits at this moment. There is an awareness that she does care about these things, especially about not having a job or roof over her head but she adamantly pursues what she loves for no financial gain or approval from society. I have mentioned already that her friends are those she loves and feels comfortable with not those who can benefit her in other ways or have high positions. I admire her for this. She reminds of James Rebanks, The Shepherd. He was advised at school to leave farming and get another job because farming was seen as servile and low. He baulked at this suggestion. He could see the nobility and intelligence needed and the life long and generational adherence to a landscape and way of life. That was important to him. I get the same sense of what is of true value from Helen Macdonald too.

    Towards the end of the book there is a chapter where she and her mother are   spending Christmas with friends in Southern Maine. The chapter is called New World. It was not lost on me that this had various meanings. The New World being America is obvious, but at this point Macdonald is emerging from her depressions and introversions into the,”new world,” of sanity and normality. She is much more relaxed and the people around her, including her mother, can be seen three dimensionally. They are living and breathing people once again. She also discusses the land use laws in Maine and compares them to the more stringent rules in Britain. Macdonald thinks hunting is a good thing, She is thinking about Mabel, and the natural preditor prey situation of a balanced habitat. She gives the idea that there is a bond and strong understating between hunter and hunted. How this relates to grouse shooting for the wealthy in this country I am not sure. What are the moral implications of it all?

    The book cover for, "H is for Hawk," by Helen Macdonald.

    There is another chapter entitled, Winter Histories. She is flying Mabel in local, familiar fields around Cambridge. These are fields that Mabel knows well. Macdonald recalls where Mabel caught a rabbit under some hedge. She remembers how Mabel got entangled in the branches of a tree nearby. She watches Mabel visit in a swooping flight, various places where she had caught and killed prey in the past. Revisiting. Remembering. Having a relationship with her environment and habitat. And its true. When we live and experience a place over time we form a deep relationship of memories, good and bad with it. I know the area I live in well. It has memories built up over years. I like going to visit other countries and meeting people from other cultures but here is my home. It is part of me and I am part of it.

    One of the major themes of this book is love. Macdonald has love for friends. The love for her father comes across strongly. Her love for Mabel is a major theme. Throughout the book you can see how a loving relationship forms in the way she relates to Mabel. Macdonald gives her whole self to Mabel. At one point, I thought will she ever be able to have a relationship in this way with a human? But Macdonald does mention her close human relationships and friendships with men and women. There are flashes, hints, mentions. I suppose the books central character, apart from, Macdonald herself, her father and T H White is really Mabel so we can forgive her for not exploring other aspects of her life.

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    We met on the steps of the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus at the exact spot where 46 years earlier Skinheads and Hippies got close.

    What is life about when you are 16 years old and still at school? You are an adult but your experience is mainly  that of a child.  Emotions can fly high. Moods swing so violently you are sick inside and your brain swims and spins. You have very strong thoughts, about, everything. So many questions and no answers yet. What can you do? Probably one thing is to get more and more new experiences, of the good kind, although maybe some mistakes along the way are inevitable.

    So there I was the other day, rushing from Waterloo Station to Piccadilly Circus to meet up with Morten and his students, over from Denmark for a week. A group of eleven 16 year olds who have never been out of Copenhagen before. How all this came about was when I met Morten at my brother, Michael’s sixtieth birthday party at Sostrup Slot a few weeks ago. He is the step father of Philip, my niece Clara’s husband. At the event for Michael the two of us got talking. Morten told me  he was teaching his students about youth culture and that he was bringing them to London for a few days. I told him that I have had experience of taking tours in London and I offered to take him and his students on a 1960’s Pop cultural tour. I had in mind, SOHO, the site of the Marquee Club in Wardour Street, the 2i’s café , Carnaby Street and Jimi Hendrix’s flat in Brook Street. That was our initial agenda. I added to and refined the walk later. Morten, sounded interested and a few e-mails later we had set up the walk and agreed a more detailed agenda.

    On my way on the undergound to meet Morten and his students.

    I got to Piccadilly Circus early and so had time for a coffee in  Starbucks in Vigo Street, just off Regents Street. That also gave me time to pop round the corner from Vigo Street into Savile Row and check that I could get a good 4G signal on my I phone outside of number 3 Savile Row. That would be important later. There are always parked cars in Savile Row which is a bit of a pain. When I arrived at Eros’s Statue a few minutes early, we had arranged  to meet at 10am, Morton and his students were already there. They were looking towards the giant,lit up, computerised advertising signs looking out over Piccadilly Circus and I approached from behind and muttered to some of the students ,”Hi I am Tony.” They exclaimed ,”Hi!” in surprise.They had obviously heard of my name and were expecting me.  I told them not to say anything and I approached Morton from behind and grabbed him by the shoulders saying ,”Hi!!” as I did so. He spun round and gave me a hug. The students, some of them sitting on the steps leading up to Eros’s statute, smiled. They probably thought I was mad. Anyway, I made a point of shaking each by the hand, smiling and getting eye contact, whether they were sitting on the steps or standing around. I introduced myself and tried to catch their names.  I realised that their English was not good. That surprised me because I have got used to Danes being virtually fluent in English. I then said hello to Morten’s two colleagues. I have to admit here, apart from Morten’s name, I cannot remember anybody else’s name. I know, that is terrible. It might mean I am not a good listener. Teachers are great at dishing out words but not so good at listening to what people are saying. This a major fault, for me at least. We should listen to others as part of our job. Maybe it’s just me. So, apologetically, I shall refer to people in this article as he, she and they. It’s impersonal I know.  I think I did relate closely with them all on the whole and tried to speak to each and every one.

    Piccadilly Circus with Eros boarded up unfortunately on a grey day.

    The first thing I did was to get my black folder out and show them a picture taken by Terry Spencer in 1969 of a group of Skinheads walking past a group of Hippies sitting on the same steps that they were sitting on. The buildings in the picture were the same buildings that were behind them at that moment.  It was like looking into a mirror and seeing the past and linking now and then, two events separated by 46 years. I wonder if it did give the students a link with the past?

    I started to talk. Maybe too quickly. I was fired up and ready to talk about the  different youth cultural groups from the sixties. The picture was my in. Who were skinheads? So I talked about the changes to society after the second world war. I talked about working class culture and how skinheads, often a violent minority, developed and then, I knew I had lost the Dane’s. I wanted to talk about links with what freedom means then and now and how the arguments and discussions always continue. They couldn’t understand me. Some were paying great attention. Two lads to my left were facing the other way. I ignored them. They seemed uninterested and I am not in the game of making people listen. If they wanted to connect with what we were doing in their own time that was fine with me. There was another problem. I was right about my first impressions of their English speaking ability. Some were better than others and I was assured they understood more English than perhaps they could speak. Morton and his two lovely lady colleagues interjected once in a while and translated what I had said into Danish. A few students would then ask questions in Danish which were relayed to me in English. I tried to answer and my answers were relayed back. The students seemed to require less interpretation as we went along. Maybe they got used to my voice and could pick up my English more readily. They began to ask me questions and talk to me directly. We began to have a laugh!!!! I tried not to be too intense about the themes and topics that arose as we continued. I became a lot briefer and only went into detail if I felt some were interested and wanted more.

    A little dark in Great Windmill Street with the lap dancing club of the Raymonds Review Bar  ahead.

    We moved on to Shaftesbury Avenue. We negotiated the crossing from the Eros statue to the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, some red double decker buses going past. Cars and cyclists darted by. We crossed at a red crossing light. One of the teachers said to me. “I have noticed English people often cross when the figure is red.” I replied,” If there are no cars coming we tend to cross. Maybe we shouldn’t,” and we both laughed. There are road works at the start of Shaftesbury Avenue so our next act was to cross again to the left hand pavement, the SOHO side of Shaftesbury Avenue .That was the side we wanted to be on anyway. I mentioned the theatres and that this was called the West End.

    Within a short few steps we turned left down, Great Windmill Street. In front of us was the unlit neon sign, Raymonds Revue Bar, looking lifeless and glassy, sprawling down the side of a glum looking blackened wall. A sign on the side of the theatre read, “The Festival of Erotica.” I had warned Morten that we would be walking through SOHO to get to some of the sites on our itinerary and told him about the sort of things to expect. He said it was no problem.  “The students all come from run down parts of Copenhagen and they are used to seeing signs for the seedy aspects of Copenhagen.” Copenhagen is more open about sex than we are, the BritishIndeed, I was expecting giggles and comments but nobody even made a murmur or thought anything of it. Well they kept it to themselves if they did. Maybe they couldn’t read what it said. There was a picture of a nude woman stretched out length ways showing her naked curves but this didn’t draw any comment either. I was a little relieved. I didn’t want to discuss, erotica. We went on past the SOHO bookshop which sells pornography and the word SEX was lit up in the window in large neon letters. Why is the word SEX always lit up large and glowing red, or in fact in large neon glowing anything? We passed a steel shuttered and padlocked club that announced a certain type of entertainment. The exterior was grimy and stained. I am sure it looks much more inviting at night in a garishly lit thoroughfare. 

    Graffitti in SOHO.

    We reached Wardour Street but before finding points of interest there we turned sharply right and then immediately left into Old Compton Street and on our right was the Hoi Vietnamese restaurant with its green plaque commemorating the 2i’s  Coffee Bar. I waited until all the students and their teachers had caught up. “This is the birthplace of British Rock and Roll I said. There was no response until one girl with a big beaming smile announced in a loud husky voice, the poor thing was suffering from a sore throat, “Rock and Roll!!” and everybody laughed. “Yes!!! I said, probably more enthusiastically than I intended. I had just got a positive reaction after all. I told them about Tommy Steele, The Vipers, Hank Marvin and Cliff Richards. An awed silence ensued. I suppose I had done my bit and we moved back into Wardour Street and walked along, with parked cars, hurrying vans and scruffy looking individuals going in and out of local cafes and newsagents, dry cleaners and a myriad of scruffy looking local establishments. We walked a few yards to where a large skip was situated at the side of the road, scaffolding to one side, men in hard builder’s helmets and hustle and bustle all around. I asked the students to stop and stand back to let pedestrians go by. We put our backs to the skip full of rubble and I got everybody to look up. A green plaque read,

     “Keith Moon 1946 to 1978. Legendary Rock Drummer with The Who, performed here with The Who in the 1960’s.”

    This was the entrance to The Marquee in Wardour Street, the most important location in the world for Rock music. Anybody who was anybody performed here.

    We were at the site of the legendary, Marquee Club. Now for me this was one of those moments. I can be standing in a load of shit, but if a place has resonances I feel that thrill, a chill going down my spine, a sort of connection with history. It’s almost orgasmic. We were standing on a spot, in a place that is probably the most important place in Rock history in the world. The very ground we were standing on has supported the bodily, mental and spiritual forms of the greatest musicians the world has ever known. I am going to make a list now, a little like a religious litany but these names must be said, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals, Yes, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream The Who, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Genesis…. I could go on and on. I hope you get my drift. This place, standing there amongst the detritus of builder’s rubble, is the Mecca of Rock. Morten, who is a part time musician and has his own band back in Copenhagen was in awe, as I was too. The two other teachers showed reverence and understanding and the students, well, they just shuffled and looked tired. I think they had done a lot of walking in the time they had been in London.

    "Whats The Story Morning Glory." Photographed in Berwick Street near  Wardour Street.

     We walked on to Berwick Street. We had to stop here, because I have omitted to tell you, one of the students was feeling sick and feint back at the statue of Eros and had remained behind until she felt better. One of the teachers had phoned her on her i-phone and the student wanted to join us so the teacher returned to Piccadilly Circus to find her and bring her to where we were, in Berwick Street. So, Berwick Street. I got out my CD cover for the OASIS album, “What’s The Story Morning Glory.” The cover of the album shows the back of a white shirted gentleman striding down a street towards another white shirted gentleman, probably the Gallagher brothers. There are  shops with a block of 1960’s flats in the distance. The album cover picture is of Berwick Street. We took a few moments passing round the album cover working out where we were standing in relation to the striding gentlemen in the picture and picked out the key buildings  and recognised them from where we were standing. While we waited some went into the local shops and bought sweets and in one case, painkillers. The poor girl, who normally smokes weed, was not permitted to smoke on the school trip and so was suffering from lack of sleep and had headaches as a consequence. One girl sank to the floor on her bottom and sat crouched with her back against a shop front as we waited. The teacher I stood with said to her in English, “You just want to go back to the hotel and put on make up to make yourself look good, don’t you?” The teacher turned to me and said that the girls like to spend time making themselves up. I looked at the crouching girl and said to her, “but you look lovely anyway.” At first she smiled back. Then it seemed to sink in what I had said,”Oh thank you.” She beamed even more. Then after a pause,” Thank you very much,” in an even more animated voice than at first and now she was really beaming and smiling at what I had said. It occurred to me later, that maybe nobody has ever said to her before that she is beautiful.   As we continued our walk Morten informed me that these teenagers all came from the rougher areas of Copenhagen and had all been school refusers. This was a final chance to enable them to get exams so they could choose courses to do at further education colleges. It dawned on me that this group really were on a last chance. They were polite to me the whole day and at times they warmed to the walk and were appreciative and some were  interested in what we were seeing. They were moody and there were some arguments between them but they did what they were told. They were just normal teenagers. One lad looked very disgruntled most of the time I was with them. At one moment I touched him on the arm in a friendly sort of way to get eye contact and just asked, “are you OK?” He looked at me and said, “Yes, I’m OK.” As I touched his arm the thought occurred to me that this could go two ways. But he was gentle and sensitive. I could just tell.I have no idea what lives these students live. I have no idea what has happened to them in the past. I thought they were amazing though and fun and full of potential.

    Carnaby Street.

    From Berwick Street we walked on to Carnaby Street. The Christmas lights are hanging across the street and the arched Carnaby Street signs at both ends of the street were festooned with Christmas lights and garlands. The street was looking festive. The shops are glossy and expensive looking. I pointed out the Dr Martins and Ben Sherman shops as being throw backs to the sixties. We recalled the Skinheads in the picture I first showed them and I pointed out they were all  wearing Dr Martins. I showed them that I was actually wearing a pair of Dr Martins myself but it didn’t seem to get much of a reaction. A couple of the girls said that they liked Dr Martin’s boots. I am not sure they actually have any though. The boots are excessively expensive. I showed them a picture of an OZ magazine from the era. I recalled how I had seen, in the early 70’s, OZ magazines being sold in Carnaby Street. I mentioned how it was a subversive publication and that it challenged the norms of society and in some cases it advocated illegal practices and hence the editors Richard Neville, Richard Walsh and Martin Sharp ended up in prison. A quick mention of Charlie Hebdo, what is blasphemy and how our freedoms, especially of speech are often challenged. Morten assured me that what I was talking about might not mean much at the moment to them but all these things they could return to in the classroom. The students, he assured me, after having time to reflect, would be able to come back to all these subjects. I was doing my best to mention topics that might be of interest.

    Number 3 Savile Row, the Apple Corp building.

    Our next stop was Savile Row. We stood outside of number 3 Savile Row. I said,”Look up at the roof.” We all did. “That is where the Beetles , on the 30th January 1969, held a roof top concert that featured in a film called, Let It Be. “And so we all looked and , having 4G on my i-phone and also having previously checked I could get a signal from this spot I played a Vimeo recording of the concert. We all stood round and listened to the Beetles as they appeared on that roof top and got themselves ready to play. We listed to, a rendition of Get Back and another of, Don’t Let me Down. I and one of the teachers started to dance to the music. One or two of the students nervously giggled and attempted to dance and then gave up. I told them a little of the Beetles history connected to the building. I mentioned the extra £2 million the Beetles had earned at the time  that would have gone to the taxman but instead was used to purchase the building which became, “Apple Corp.” The students didn’t get the innuendo sadly.  That title is definitely a John Lennon bit of humour I thought. Having said that he probably didn’t think of it himself. I wonder if anybody knows who decided on the name?

    The basement of number 3 Savile Row was turned into a recording studio.

    So, on down Savile Row, marvelling at the smart suits, shoes and hats in the tailors windows. Wealth and quality, the very texture and weight of the cloth used to make the suits infects the feeling of the Row. The air you breathe is redolent of quality. A few murmurs from the teachers about the smart suits as we wended our way. One lad was looking particularly grumpy and disaffected. It was difficult to get eye contact. I touched his arm and immediately got eye contact. I asked him, “Are you Ok?” He answered, “Yes, I am OK.” He certainly didn’t look it. As I touched his arm to get his attention the thought did occur to me that my gesture might cause aggression but it resulted in a sort of personal contact. We walked on until we got to the back of St Georges Church, Hanover Square. I began to search my memory banks for any Dickens connections here. It looked ancient and grimy covering an elegant classical Greek Style with pillared portico. A typical Wren 17thcentury style. It occurred to me that it was the sort of church where Dickens might have written about a starving pauper begging on the steps or where some child bride got married at. Must check Dickens out for Hanover Square.

    23 Brook Street where Jimi Hendrix lived with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. The Jimmy Hendrix , George Frederik Handel Museum is undergoing renovation and a revamp at the moment.

    We crossed the road by the corner of St George Street and Brook Street. Some scaffolding at the front of a building a little way down Brook Street showed me where the flat Jimi Hendrix lived at was located. Unfortunately the Georgian terrace is being renovated and the whole front of the building is covered in scaffolding at the moment. The builders had been kind enough though to display the London County Council Blue plaque with Hendrix’s name on the front of the scaffolding. My i-phone came in handy again and I played,”Hey Joe,” and some of the students huddled round to watch the video clip on my phone. Morton and I mentioned, Kathy Etchingham his girlfriend and something about Monterey and Woodstock and then moved on quickly. They were getting tired now. I could sense they had had enough. The day before they had walked around London all day and here I was getting them to walk again.

    One last place and then they could shop to their hearts content in Oxford Street. We made for the 100 Club at the top of Oxford Street, The British Museum end. After a quick discussion about The Who, The Stones and of course The Sex Pistols who performed at the 100 Club on a number of occasions, I stopped.

    The 100 Club in Oxford Street where the Sex Pistols and many other bands have performed.

    It was, it seemed, time to say goodbye. I had completed my walk with them. They  had put up with me admirably. Each one came and shook my hand and said thank you and smiled. I was quite touched. Maybe I had connected with them after all? Suddenly one or two of the quiet ones started to ask questions. One girl very animatedly started asking about Amy Winehouse. How did she get famous? What do you do to get famous? She had obviously been mulling things over. I tried to answer as best I could. I told her as far as I knew Amy Winehouse had started singing in pubs in Camden. She had a great talent and was discovered by record producers. I emphasised that you need talent. I asked the girl if she sang. She went coy and sounded shocked. Oh no, she couldn’t sing. A big lad, who had been quiet the whole day, then came up to me and asked which football team I supported. I told him, Southampton. He knew all about the position the Saints are now in the league and then proceeded to tell me everything he knew about London teams which was quite considerable. I was taken aback.

    After this the students disappeared off down Oxford Street to do some shopping. Primark, was a target for some. Morten and his two colleagues invited me to lunch and we had a lovely Italian meal just off Oxford Street at a nearby Bella Pasta.

    The WHO at The Marquee in 1967.

    Analysing my contribution to the day, I must admit, it is difficult talking to a group of fourteen people on the crowded, busy streets of London. I am not sure how more professional guides do it. It is a skill I need to learn. I think, probably, at any one time I only had the attention of some of the group. I feel bad about that. In my defence I think I talked to each and everyone of them though . I tried to relate to everybody.I am not sure the topic interested everyone either. But as Morten said, the topic is something he will return to with them.

    My wish for this walk is that this group of teenagers have something to think about in the future. Now, and on the day we did the walk, they probably feel that they have to put up with me, with life happening to them.  There are a number of themes they can get to grips with, freedom of speech, fashions, the cultural meaning of music, youth cults, such as skinheads and hippies, religion, art and politics. However, all these subjects, although important and they need to think about them, are overshadowed by what is most important. They now have new experiences such as being in a different country. On this trip they have had to get on with each other. They have shown discipline about keeping to a timetable of events. They have had to combat their own feelings. They have seen a different world from that which they are used to. These kids, because they still are kids, need to be noticed, be made to feel important, listened to, smiled at and shown that what they think and have to say has value. I hope they have great ambitions. I hope each one of them finds something they really want to do.

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    THE BRITISH MUSEUM in Bloomsbury

    On the 4th December I went up to London by train and got the underground, the northern line, to Tottenham Court Road. I got out there and walked to the British Museum in Bloomsbury. I wanted to take one of the free gallery tours the British Museum provides. I saw that there was a free tour starting at 11.15am in Room 49, one of the Roman Galleries. The tour and accompanying talk was titled, “Gods and Goddesses in Roman Britain.” I walked to room 49 by way of the grand staircase that is located on the left of the main entrance to the British Museum. I noticed a lady standing in the far right hand corner, looking around at the people in the gallery. One gentleman was standing with her. She saw me looking and smiled. I realized that this lady was the tour guide and I introduced myself. The gentleman waiting with her said hello too. There was just the two of us on this guided tour apparently but just as she began to talk, showing us a map of Roman Britain positioned on the wall, another gentleman joined us. So it was to be three of us.

    The grand staircase leading to the upper galleries and Room 49.

    The lady taking the tour was genial and enthusiastic. She explained that the tour lasted half an hour and that she would be showing us a range of gods and goddesses from locations found in different parts of the Roman Provence, Britannia. She demonstrated on the map of Roman Britain where the places the Gods, she was going to talk about, were found. She pointed out Corbridge on the River Tyne in the far north,  places in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and Londinium. Finally, we were going as far south as Hinton St Mary in Dorset.  The Gods and Goddesses we were going to consider mostly came from the 4 th century AD, towards the end of Roman rule in Britain, when there was upheaval in the political and social makeup of the island. It was a time when there were less individual Gods and one or two gods were becoming preeminent such as Minerva the goddess of water and Mithras, the god of war, but it also was a time that saw  the introduction of Christianity. It was a time of religious contrasts and change as well a political change.

    A fine figure of a man. The God Mars from Fossdyke.

    We started our tour with a case of small bronze votive offerings.It appears that the people of Britannia were superstitious. If they were going on a business trip, or they were unwell or perhaps they wanted good fortune, they would make an offering to their favourite god or goddess, the one they thought would be most favourable to their cause. This votive offering usually took the form of a small bronze effigy placed in the temple associated with their god. I presume prayers and chants were intoned, probably accompanied with scented tapers. The worship would include sensory effects of all kinds. Psychologically the worshiper would be now in a positive state of mind ready for their task ahead. The first effigy we looked at was a small, very detailed bronze statue of Mars, the god of war found at Fossdyke in Lincolnshire. It is a statue of a naked man looking muscular and well built.  It is a very flattering male figure to say the least. One aspect that is interesting about this statue  is that it stands on a bronze plinth  inscribed with a dedication to the God Mars and also to the Emperor. It  reads that it was dedicated by the Colasuni, Bruccius and Caratius and was made by the bronzesmith  Celatus who also donated some of the metal. Bruccius and Caratius were brothers, probably setting out on a business trip to another part of the Empire. What is  unusual is that the person who made the statue, Caratius, also provided some of the expensive bronze. Caratius was not thinking about making and selling a votive offering for profit it seems. Maybe by making a contribution to the statue, Ceratius, also wanted to praise the god Mars. He too must have wanted a favour. You wonder what his intentions might have been. As it is a particularly fine specimen of a votive offering  he has put a lot of work and effort into making it. These three men are investing much in this statuette. They want something badly. It is easy to say they are ignorant and superstitious. However, superstition is created through human imagination and sometimes partial knowledge about something and this belief can increase in power over time. In our own lives we invest meaning in objects. A collective family memory has meaning for us, a photograph of a best friend living on the other side of the world, a piece of furniture or a vase passed down through the family. Stories and memories attached to objects build up meaning and attachment within that object. So perhaps we should not deride the people of the Roman province nearly two thousand years ago because,  are we different really?

    The Corbridge Lanx.

    One particularly impressive artefact was the Corbridge, Lanx found in the River Tyne. It is ,an almost pristine, embossed rectangular silver dish. It portrays a scene of five gods and goddesses from ancient Greek antiquity. It is important to note that all the Roman Gods were taken from the Greeks. The Lanx shows a shrine to Apollo. What is interesting about it though is that it was made, like many of the objects we were looking at in our tour, in the 4th century AD when Christianity was becoming popular throughout the Empire. There are various speculations about its purpose. It could be that the owner wanted to show that he or she knew about the old gods even though he or she may well have taken on Christianity. It might be a teaching aid about the old gods. Unlike some of the other silver and gold wear artefacts on display in room 49, it is unscratched. It probably was not used to carry food. Other elaborate embossed plates show evidence for knives being used to cut food on their surface. The Corbridge, Lanx has no such marks. Perhaps it was merely displayed to be looked at?  Because it was made at a time of religious and political upheaval it can be read as the owner hedging their bets. He or she may have become a Christian but they were keeping the old Gods happy too. This attitude can also be seen in the mosaic floor uncovered in Dorset that we also looked at later.

    The most flattering view of Senuna. Her front is mostly worn away and decayed.

    Ashwell is a lovely village positioned on the edge of a chalk escarpment, fourty five miles north of the centre of London, in Hertfordshire. The springs that emerge from the chalk escarpment there are the source of the River Cam. It was here in 2002 that Alan Meek, a detectorist, came across the Ashwell hoard consisting of gold jewelry, several plaques of gold and silver and a small silver figurine of the goddess, Senuna. The plaques have her name embossed on them so the archaeologists were able to make this association of the statue and the plaques. Senuna was an unknown goddess. She seems to have been connected with the Roman Goddess Minerva because she has similar characteristics. One thing that this talk revealed is that the term Romano Britain is a good description of Roman Britain. The Romans did not replace local customs and beliefs but were very good at assimilating what the local people believed in and integrated local traditions with Roman traditions. Roman Britain had its own unique characteristics therefore, different from other parts of the Empire. Other parts of the Empire too would have had their local characteristics. However, all places within the Empire would have had recognizably  Roman characteristics too. This goddess figurine of Senuna is a good example of that process. Senuna is believed to have been a local water goddess associated with the springs. Minerva was a Roman water goddess and so the two became associated in this part of Roman Britain. The Roman Army is a good example of this adaptive process also. Roman legions throughout the Empire were recruited from local regional tribes. Even the great Roman Army became, over time, an amalgam of nations. One of the important linking traits though was that they were all Roman Citizens.

    Some of the gold and silver votive offerings  with Senuna's name printed on them. It was been noticed that these were made with dies that were pressed into the thin metal leaves. Some of them were printed with the same die.

    The other issue that the Ashwell hoard find highlights is the assistance of amateur metal detectorists and their undoubted modern day contribution to archaeology. Alan Meek, the gentleman who discovered the hoard was one such metal detectorist. Archaeologists try and include detectorists, with their expertise in detecting metal objects, in the exploration of archaeological sites. Dr Francis Pryor, the archaeologist who has excavated many Mesolithic sites in Britain, discusses the useful help detectorists provide, in his book, Home, a study of the, "home", in Mesolithic and subsequent ancient times. Obviously metal is a prerequisite so Francis Prior discusses the use of detectorists on Bronze Age and Iron Age sites and those following on from those periods in our history. I got the sense from his book that at first he was against using these amateurs, who, admittedly, have caused problems in the past, disturbing archaeological sites and sometimes stealing rare and important finds. However, Francis Pryor and many other archaeologists have formed friendly and productive relationships with detectorists where their expertise, which the run of the mill archaeologist might not have, can be used constructively in a planned and structured way alongside archaeologists working in the field. Many rare finds, especially some of the fantastic metal hoards such as the one found at Ashwell would not have been discovered.

    The roundel from the Hinton St Mary villa mosaic.

    Finally, we arrived at a particularly impressive display in our tour of Roman gods and goddesses. It was a 4th century AD mosaic roundel from a floor discovered in a Roman Villa at Hinton St Mary in Dorset. It depicts a large head of a young man gazing straight out of the mosaic, looking the onlooker squarely in the eye. It is an unwavering stare. Behind his head protrude the overlapping letters P and X. These are the Greek letters chi and rho. They stand for the early Christian symbol for Jesus Christ. It probably means that the mosaic portrait depicts Christ. But we have to be careful. There are oblique references to the Roman pagan gods too in the roundel. In the four corners, where in a pagan depiction there would be representations of the four seasons, there are instead representations of what could be the four gospel writers. Or maybe they are the four seasons amalgamated with the Christian symbolism of the central portrait? The image does strongly suggest a Christian depiction but we have always got to remember that the Romans were good at mixing and matching and playing the political game. They liked to hedge their bets. Joined to the apparently Christian roundel a short step away in the next room of the villa at Hinton St Mary is another floor that shows the pagan hero Bellepheron overcoming the triple headed Chimera. A pagan symbol for good overcoming evil, but isn’t that also a Christian belief?

    The portrayal of a time when religious,political and national upheaval was going on, the 4th century AD, has its resonances today. There is  evidence for all sorts of  beliefs, customs and ideas coming together, adapting and changing the way people lived. So many things were being put into a sort of melting pot. We only have to look at modern times to see the same types of forces and changes going on. This gives us a strong attachment to the ancient people of Britain. They really were no different from us. The human condition doesn’t change does it?

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    The cast of A Christmas Carol at the Rose Theater Kingston upon Thames
     ( Picture:Rose Theater website)

    The sentence, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” was coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for his play, “Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy.” It is easy to say, that Bulwer-Lytton’s statement is self-evident. However, it is an interesting concept to look at more closely. It does seem the power of words are a very powerful and potent weapon in all our lives.

    Marilyn, Abigail and I went into Kingston upon Thames this afternoon to watch “A Christmas Carol,” at The Rose Theatre, performed by a company of actors along with members of The Rose Youth Theatre in a production adapted and directed by Ciaran McConville. Charles Dickens, the author of A Christmas Carol, himself became wealthy and gained considerable influence in society and throughout the whole world. He was , what might be termed, using an often misused and maligned phrase, a ,”superstar,” of the Victorian era. He became so through, primarily, the power of the pen and the written and spoken word. Through words he was able to rise out of poor circumstances and virtual penury and be a powerful influence on those in power and society as a whole.

     The actors of  The Rose Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol, use the playwright’s words, interpreting them with meaning. They created a strong, emotional and intellectual response amongst a large audience using words that, to be honest, were not even their own to begin with but they certainly made those words their own. Words don't have to be your own  for you to make them powerful.

    The auditorium of The Rose Theater Kingston upon Thames at the interval.

     The young actors, who performed in this production, raise an interesting aspect. This production used children and teenagers from The Rose Youth Theater. Drama Clubs for children and young people are numerous. My own four children all went to drama clubs when they were young for quite a number of years. In each case they went from the age five or six to at least the age of twelve. Once they went on to secondary schools they fell by the way but not until they had gained inestimable benefits and enjoyment from participating in all that a drama club offers. Abigail can stand in front of an audience and read a text out clearly and confidently. She can  learn a few lines and speak to an audience with them. Two very powerful and useful skills in our society. It will be interesting to consider what strengths and powers  the ability to use language creatively in various circumstances, has given them and other young people for the future as they develop into adulthood.


     A Christmas Carol
    Ebenezer Scrooge (Rose Theater website picture)

     For these sort of productions, such as A Christmas Carol, whole families turn up. If not the fathers, and they too turn up more often than not if they possibly can, at least, usually, the mothers with their offspring attend. Often,more than one family go together. The various families being friends. This observation alone attests to the importance the use of language and words mean to people. It is interesting, for the purpose of the title of this article, to examine the use of language and the conversations that go on among these families. Before I am accused, it sounds as though I might be an eavesdropper, these family groups tend to talk loudly and dramatically so conversations among them cannot be avoided by those nearby such as myself. By listening to their conversation it is perhaps a little too easy to make assumptions about their education and social background, which of course leads on to, through their use of language,  a consideration of the power these people might wield in society. What sort of families go to the theater? Do all families from every part of society go? Do schools and teachers think the theater, and all it means, is important in main stream education? What might this all mean for society?

    I have been reading Landscapes by Robert McFarlane recently. He has created whole glossaries of words covering all sorts of landscape, often collecting words that have been lost or gone out of use. He states that particular words and language connected with particular places enables those using the words to understand and connect at a deep level with an environment. His book is a collection of glossaries that contain words which describe various landscapes such as mountains, water, coasts, woodland and what he terms as, edge lands. The ability to know and use these words provide great power to the user. Macfarlane sites an example where AMC, a company that develops wind farms and the local council of the Outer Hebrides, wanted to build 240 wind turbines on Brindled Moor. He tells about AMC, the wind turbine company gaining planning permission to build these wind turbines. However, the local community  gathered all the local information they could about the moorland to present to the planning department to prove that the moor is of great natural and scientific importance. Both the council and AMC thought of it and portrayed it as a useless wilderness, a barren wasteland. The local people won their case because they found words, some that had fallen out of use because they were no longer used,  that described the meaning of so many surprising aspects of the moors and hence proved the moors importance. This was an incredible example of the power of words in action.

    So there were Marilyn, Abigail and myself sitting in the audience of The Rose Theatre, maybe ten or fifteen minutes before the production of, A Christmas Carol, began. All around us were vibrant and lively children and vibrant and lively adults mostly talking with clipped, clear, southern home counties accents, shall we say.

    Imagine these words spoken loudly with no awareness of other people around them and let me assure you, there were lots of other people around.

    “ Oh Emily, will you sit still? ( said with a slightly strained desperation in the tone). That is your seat.

    Robert, come here at once. Stop faffing about,

    What ,are, you doing my love?

    Take off your coat. You will be too warm.

    Arthur,what are you doing as well? Sit down!”

    Then to her best friend, who has also brought her sparkling, super bright, beautiful offspring.

    “Amelia, we will get them settled soon. Oh by the way, how was yours and Roberts holiday on the Amalfi Coast? Philip and I absolutely loved it when we went. Those villages perched on the cliffs. So delightful. Oh darling,we drank too much Retsina. Got quite drunk one night. Haw! Haw! Antonio, the waiter, he was gorgeous let me tell you. Got me in quite a flutter. I don’t think Philip noticed. Ha! Ha! Well if he did he didn’t say anything the love. Mind you, between you and me and the gate post, I think he fancied the waitress. Ha! Ha! Ha! I didn’t say anything.”

    Its not so much the content of this sort of conversation but the absolute confidence it is delivered with.

    And so conversations like this all over the theater took place in insular groups. These people do not seem to be aware of anybody else. There is something self centered about them. They are the most important people on this earth after all, aren’t they? They speak and use words with enormous confidence. That is the thing that sets them apart. They are all extremely confident. Words, language derived through a really good education, have given them this ability. These people are in advertising, or their husbands might be solicitors or doctors. I will leave out teachers and their families, although they could be grouped in this middle class strata of society. There is an element that teacher’s families have, I think, which makes them a little different and that is a consideration for others. They have a certain humility. But, I am biased!   The middle classes therefore are the mainstay of local theaters such as The Rose in Kingston or Richmond Theater in Richmond upon Thames, The National Theater on the South Bank and various other National productions put on at other theaters around London. They generally do not go to the productions that tourists from around the world attend. They read novels voraciously, give confident, apt, sometimes humorous speeches at functions and always speak with just the right words and tone at funerals and weddings. They have the words and confidence to persuade employers to give them a job at interviews. These are just a few examples of the  power of using language well.

    These people sitting around us, and these type of families who  fill theaters everywhere, are supremely confident with language. They will know, not just the plot of the play, but they probably can quote well known parts of the dialogue and understand things like the meaning of the play and the characterization and subtleties of mood and tone. They will be able to discuss the play afterwards over a nice meal in Jamie Oliver’s Italian Kitchen just down the road or at, Costas, over a cup of coffee and a croissant. If that is not power what is? They know how to persuade and get things done by using language.

    So how can this trend for one part of society to claim words and language as their own, spread throughout the rest of society at all levels? In schools the national Curriculum requires all children to study Shakespeare from the age of ten years. All younger children have to take school library books home to read with their parents and a strict record of this is kept. At sixteen, for their GCSE exams children from all backgrounds have to read an 19th century novel, a piece of modern literature such as George Orwell’s Animal farm or 1984, and an American novel such as, John Steinbeck’s, The Grapes of Wrath. They have to read poetry, know even more Shakespeare than they did at the age of twelve and be able to quote from Shakespeare and know not only plots but characterization and how characters interact and different aspects of the arc of the story. They have to know this in some depth, questioning and analyzing the text. They are also taken to the theater to see various productions. This possession of language by all strata’s of society is promoted strongly in schools. Language with all the power it carries is offered to all not just a few. Unfortunately, the families of some children hold them back. Some children almost learn to live a double life. They have the rich diverse language they know and learn at school and then when they go home they use an impoverished language. At The Rose Theater there were no working class families. Working class children, because of their experience of language at school would most probably have accessed the play just as well as those families and children who did go but it is not the done thing for them. This is a great shame. What is hopeful though is that because they are exposed to a rich variety and use of language at school they may be inspired and make their own decisions as they grow older. At the very least when they do come across this rich use of words during their lives they will not feel completely excluded because they will have experienced it at school.

    It really is important to read and write well and use language. Make it work for you.

    An introductory film clip of the show: 

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