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    On Saturday 13th February this year Marilyn, Abi and myself went to see, “Painting the Modern Garden Monet to Matisse ,“ at the Royal Academy of Arts, just off Piccadilly.

    It was an excellent exhibition displaying pictures from various artists who painted their gardens during the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Claude Monet’s garden pictures dominate, however the exhibition provided a detailed examination of the role of the garden in art and in peoples’ lives of the early 20th century right up to now. It covered all the modern genres of painting, Impressionism, Symbolism and the Avante Garde and also included artists from right across Europe. Of course there are pictures from Monets gardens at Argenteuil and finally Giverny, but also paintings by Gustave Caillebotte, Camille Pisarro and Pierre August Renoir. One painting by Pissaro depicts Monet painting in his garden at Arguenteuil. These garden pictures show the garden as a motif for modern life, relaxation and pleasure and not, as in the past, the utilitarian garden that grew vegetables and produce for eating and source of food and were, in a sense, a part of peoples survival. Other artists include John Singer Sergeants pictures executed in the Cotswold village of Broadway, Laurits Tuxen and Peder Kroyer in Denmark, Karl Nordstrom in Sweden, The German Impressionist Max Liebermann in Berlin and Joaquin Sorolla in Madrid. The American, Childe Hassam has some paintings displayed. He painted the garden of his friend, Celia Thaxter in Maine. This exhibition is not only about just the relationship between individual artists and their gardens it also has a broader meaning that encompasses the human relationship with nature and how gardens affects us all psychologically and help shape us as human beings. The artists in this exhibition find symbolic meaning, explore the effects of combining colour and a deeper emotional world through painting their gardens. 

    Claude Monet's Agapanthus triptych. ( The three parts are owned respectively by Nelson Atkins Museum, St Louis Art Museum and Cleveland Museum of Art in America.)

    The final room of the exhibiton has a triptych of Monets waterlilies that he painted between 1915 and 1919 covering the period of the first world war. Monet remained at Giverny during this time, which is north west of Paris, throughout the war although many local village people and indeed members of his own family left the area for safety. Giverny was very close to the war front and always there was the possibility that the Germans could overrun Giverny and on their route to  Paris. Monet did not want to leave Giverny ,the source of his inspiration and  wanted to continue painting. Some critics suggest that paintings such as this triptych were Monets response to war and his fears. The triptych is enormous and standing in front of it your sight is filled with the painting and your mind becomes completely taken over. Monet has stooped painting any reference to land or connections with the world. The painting is all water surface with its plays of light and shadow and large patches of waterlily pads and flowers. I could feel myself being absorbed into its depths. It was a sensation of almost sinking into the picture. It is as though in painting this Monet was passing into another world away from the terrible strife and unimaginable death  toll happening around him. It is an example of how we can interact with our gardens.

    Blue bells at the bottom of my garden.

    I can remember as a young child spending a lot of time in my grandparents’ house near to where I lived in Woolston in Southampton. Their garden had various meanings. I was shown the site where the air raid shelter had been dug to protect them from bombing in the second world war. I was shown pictures of how the garden had been dug over to grow vegetables to help feed themselves during the time of rationing. By the time I was born in 1952 their garden had been turned back to a place of relaxation and fun. They had a grass lawn, and flower beds with roses and various border shrubs and plants. In the spring there was a patch, near the garden shed at the bottom of the garden, where lilly of the valley grew and another patch that produced primroses. The fruit trees growing plums, greengages, cooking apples and eating apples and the cherry tree and the hazelnut tree that all been planted during the war to provide fruit to eat as a part of their austere diet still remained but they had become places of shade in the summer months and were islands of enjoyment producing juicy and luscious fruits.

    By Emil Nolde

    However, it was Mr Biggs’s garden, who was their next door neighbour that really took hold of my imagination. Sometimes my grandmother and I would squeeze through the gap in the fence at the bottom of my grandparent’s garden and emerge into Mr Biggs garden. This was perfectly alright to do. The two families, all through the war years, had shared each other’s garden in this way. My grandparents had provided fruit from their trees for the Biggs family and the Biggs family, whose garden was twice the size of my grandparent’s garden, had chicken runs providing eggs and the occasional chicken to be roasted and eaten. They also had space for a giant compost heap which both families shared. They had a large murky pond covered in water lily pads that held a multitude of fish. The Biggs family shared my grandparents air raid shelter when the warning sirens howled across the district warning of an impending Luftwaffe bombing raid. My grandfather had built an extra-large shelter for this purpose. I remember as a young childwalking through Mr Biggs garden. It seemd like a forest with a tall brick wall dividing the bottom of my grandparents garden from his. It was darkly shded and blinding splinters of sunlight broke through the foliage in places. The pond, its edegs covered in mosses and reeds seemed deep in its glassy blackness and occasionally the back of a what appeared to me as that of a giant under water monster broke the surface. The compost heap, to one side of the pond, smelled musty and sour with rotting vegetation thrown on it. I can’t explain, but I liked the feeling of being there. It was dark and mysterious. I felt submerged in its shadowy depths. It felt like being inside a fantasy world. Elves and goblins could be just behind each tree trunk. Every sense of my young boyhood self was stimulated, smells, sites, shadowy shapes the sounds of birds and squirrels. I must have felt then like Claude Monet in his garden or Camille Pissaro or Laurtis Tuxen or Joaquin Sorolla, in their gardens.

    Monet's garden at Giverny.

    At the back of the gallery guide to this exhibition are two pages advertising events and lectures, free talks and family events associated with the exhibition. One particular event caught my eye. An afternoon talk, “ Provocations in Art: Contemporary Urban Gardening.” It was held on Saturday 27th February so I  missed it but the description of the talk got me thinking and exploring the websites of the people involved. It was chaired by the journalist and horticulturalist, Alys Fowler. The guerrilla gardener and author Richard Reynolds, forager John Rensten and artist Wendy Shillman took part. I checked out Wendy Stillman first and discovered that she  and her husband have created a small urban garden on the roof top of their house near the BBC Centre just north of Oxford Circus and close to the British telecom Tower. A photograph on her website shows Wendy standing among her plants high above London with the BT tower in the background. She is an urban architect. She lives in an urban environment and combines producing her own food and using her house as a bed and breakfast for visitors to stay so they too can be inspired by her living experience in a big city. John Rensten lives and works in London too. He studies wild food such as fungi, wild flowers and fruits. He has set up an organization called, Forage London. He takes groups around London and other parts of the country searching for wild, free growing foods and teaching about them. Discovering about Richard Reynolds and his ideas about guerrilla gardening really inspired me. Reynolds has written and published a book recently entitled,“On Guerrilla Gardening,” In the book he describes gardeners he has met around the world who garden in subversive ways.The book refers to horticultural “sleeper cells” and “shock and awe” plantings, and takes tactical advice from the writings of Che Guevara and Mao Zedong. It all sounds like  1970’s student protest stuff. However it is exciting to learn about his nighttime escapades to isolated pieces of waste land all over London with his followers and collaborators. . Overnight they can plant whole areas and clean away the detritus of urban living. He has created twenty eight gardens so far. One article about him tells how the authorities, the local councils and the police have confronted him but on the whole have left him in peace. He defines guerilla gardening as, “ the cultivation of someone else’s land without their permission.” He used his tactics in the Tate Modern. On the 20th October 2015 Cruzvillegas created an installation that he said was inspired by guerilla gardens. He layed out a whole series of triangular planters filled with soil. However they were under the roof of the Tate Modern and there seemed no prospect of anything growing in these planters. Reynolds and his friend Vanessa Harden prepared some seed bombs and stood on the balcony overlooking the installation and began throwing the ,”bombs,” into the planters. The Tate Modern wasn’t sure how to react at first but decided it was a positive response to the installation and allowed them to continue with their obviously enthusiastic escapade. Even visitors of all ages attending the gallery joined in.

    Wendy Stillman in her rooftop garden.

    I think these people ,John Rensten, Wendy Stillman and Richard Reynolds are the modern equivalent of Monet and Matisse. They are taking, in some ways, the idea of gardens as being important to peoples emotional, physical and imaginative lives forward into nowadays.They are responding to gardens and using gardens in  human contexts.

    The lily pond at Giverny

    The exhibiton of great paintings and the interviews with John Rensten, Wendy Shillman and Richard Reynolds have now inspired me to think of my garden in a range of different ways from how I have considered it before. I feel inspired to find out about what is there already. I know about the buddleia bush, some blue bells that shoot up creating a carpet of leaves and blue dangling flowers in the spring and a couple of  dilapidated looking apple trees, oh, and a few shrubs. However there is a lot I don’t know. I want to plan how I can develop it creating colours, smells, light and shade and sounds. This exhibition has got me thinking about it all. Watch this space. The Summer months will give me time to do something. In the words of Citizen Smith of the Tooting Popular front, “Power to the People,” and my back garden.

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    Vivien Leigh as Titania in Midsummer Nights Dream performed at The Old Vic
    With bated breath, on Saturday 16thApril, Marilyn , Abi and I, we bear a charmed life by the way, put our best foot forward and went up to The British Library to see the Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. Shakespeare breathed his last in Stratford upon Avon at his home, New Place, on the 23rd April 1616. This year is the 400thanniversary of his death. As good luck would have it, The British Library has created a wonderful exhibition to commemorate his death. Arguably, come what may, Shakespeare is the greatest writer this brave new world has known.  Before I continue, I hope Shakespeare addicts who peruse this article will not accuse me of plagiarism. It must be a foregone conclusion that I have already  used the Bard’s very own words a number of times. Actually we can’t get away from Shakespeare. He introduced so many common place words and phrases into our vocabulary, we use them all the time without even realizing what we do. They have become household words. (Ha! Ha! there I go again. Didn’t even realise it.) So far in this introductory paragraph, I have quoted Shakespeare countless times already. I have done it consciously as you probably realise . I will continue this article though without consciously trying to quote the Bard but I am sure I will. Please don’t be too critical, to write this successfully I can’t get away from him. (and yes, I have quoted him again in the last two sentences.) He’s everywhere in nearly everything we write or say !!!!!  The words and phrases are there in his plays. It is his plays and his written words, that the library has turned to to explain Shakespeare’s enduring importance and greatness. The exhibition begins with a display showing a first folio edition of thirty six of his plays collected by two of Shakespeare’s friends, John Hemynges and Henry Condell and published in 1623 seven years after Shakespeare died. Before 1623 and during Shakespeare’s lifetime, eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays had been published in quarto editions. Wothout Hemynges and Condell we may never have had some of Shakespeares plays passed on down through the centuries to us today. The folio edition frontice piece shows the picture of Shakespeare we all know, a slightly balding fresh faced gentleman with wide open eyes staring out of the page straight at us. The exhibition explains Shakespeare in ten iconic productions of his plays over the centuries that have been milestones in his popularity.
    The first folio edition. Thirty six plays collected by John Hemynges and Henry Condell.

    I was introduced to Shakespeare at a very young age. There was obviously the mere act of speaking to start with. We can’t get away from Shakespeare. At school, Macbeth, the Scottish play was the first engagement with one of Shakespeare’s plays we had . Being educated in a catholic school in Southampton we were all used to engaging, rather vividly, with concepts of the conscience, confession, the ten commandments, guilt, God, the devil, hell , good and evil and Macbeth has all this in abundance. We were in our Roman Catholic element. Macbeth is powerful stuff and we learned the witches chants and spells avidly. Lady Macbeths wringing her hands, “out damned spot,” the making of her confession and trying to get her soul clean , resonated with  our guilty catholic consciences  , and how! Later on we were taken to see Macbeth at Stratford upon Avon on a day trip from school. The school six formers created a production of Macbeth for us all to participate in too. We were imbued with Macbeth. Later I saw Peter Brooks 1970, production of a Midsummer Nights Dream at Southampton Gaumont when it toured the country. That production is one of the ten important productions featured in the ,”The Ten Acts,”at the British Library exhibition. Over the years I have seen a number of Shakespeares plays on stage and on film. Some of the most memorable are of course Macbeth at Stratford, and A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Gaumont but also Henry IV part one at the Mermaid Theater at  Puddledock  in Blackfriars next to the Thames in the City., As You Like It, at The Globe Theatre on the South Bank, Lear at The National, Midsummer Nights Dream, recently at The Rose Theater, Kingston upon Thames with Judy Dench playing an aged Queen Elizabeth I. I have seen, Hamlet  at Stratford. Leonardo de Caprio’ s Romeo and Juliet and Orson Welles, Macbeth, come to mind as powerful incarnations of the bards works on the screen. We all of know of course, once more, Laurence Olivier’s, Henry V. There is the brilliant adaptation of Romeo and Juliet,West Side Story, too.

    There were believed to have been 750 copies of the first folio printed. 234 of them are known to have survived. The British Library has five copies. The first folio is one the rarest books in the world and is sort after. Recently at the library of Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute a copy that has been in the library’s collection for a hundred years was confirmed as authentic by Professor Emma Smith of Oxford University. After seeing this rare and precious edition of the first folio we were introduced to quarto versions of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were published individually in quarto form in his lifetime. Some are better than others. Some believe that publishers plagiarised the texts from the official theatre prompt books. Some say that they were written from the memory of people who attended performances of the plays. This process lead to inconsistencies meaning that some of the quartos are of reasonable quality but some are poor bastardised versions of the plays. Condell and Hemynges, the publishers of the folio edition, contested the validity of many of the quarto versions of the plays. But still, seeing these original volumes showed us what people of Shakespeare’s time would have seen and read. Being able to see the folio edition is a special moment. It is a connection with Shakespeare himself. We are only permitted to see with our eyes. Touching would be destructive. The folio edition is something from the past for us now to see but also for  future generations.
    Shakespeare as he appears in the title page of the first folio.

    The first of the ten plays that were important to creating Shakespeare’s legacy is the first Hamlet performed at the Globe Theatre in about 1600 in Southwark on the South Bank. Revenge was common in a lot plays written at the time and most were bloodthirsty but Shakespeares Hamlet was more cerebral. He wrote to the strengths of the Lord Chamberlaynes men, later the Kings Men, of whom Shakespeare was shareholder. He wrote a part specifically for his friend Richard Burbage. Making Hamlet appeal to the audience’s minds linked the life experinces of each member of the audience with the charcters in the play. There was empathy. Through theatre people could now act out in their own imaginings their own real problems whether they be thoughts of revenge or other human issues.

    During the winter months, the Kings men performed in the Blackfriars theater, the ancient refectory of the Blackfriars situated just south west of St Pauls Cathedral.  It no longer exists but you can walk through the narrow streets that still retain the Medieval street pattern to this day. You can see the location of the old monastery gatehouse that Shakespeare bought as his London home. You can still see the site of the graveyard attached to the monastery and plaques showing where the Blackfriars Monastery was located. Also you can still walk into the courtyard where the Kings Wardrobe was. Shakespeare and The Kings Men borrowed or hired costumes from The Kings Wardrobe to wear as costumes for their plays. The Kings Men played at the Blackfriars Playhouse from 1609 onwards during the Winter months and at the open air Globe Theatre during the Summer. The indoor atmosphere created by the Balckfriars theater, a candlelit space, caused Shakespeare to write plays that made full advantage of the indoor location by , “using magic, music and spectacle.” Shakespeare wrote The Tempest to take advantage of this more moody, enclosed atmosphere of the Blackfriars Playhouse.
    Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford upon Avon.

    On the 5th September 1607 The Crew of the Red Dragon, an East India Company ship, reputedly performed Hamlet off the coast of Sierra Leone to an audience of African guests. It takes a moment to think about that. Hamlet was performed to Aficans in Africa during Shakespeares lifetime. During the 1600s, because of travel and trade Shakespeare’s plays were already being performed outside of England. There was institutional sexism against women who performed on the stage during Shakespeare’s time and women were played by adolescent boys. However, on the 8thDecember 1660 the part of Desdemona in Othello was played by a woman. She was introduced as a novelty and her name was not recorded. Later in the 18thand 19th  century women did act on stage but very often they were thought of as no better than prostitutes. By the end of the 18thcentury Shakespeare was greatly revered. David Garrick had promoted Shakespeare. It was a time that Shakespeare was so revered, forgery became a temptation. In 1795 law clerk, William Henry Ireland astonished his Shakespeare father when he discovered a cache of Shakespeare documents. Including King Lear, Hamlet and an unknown play called Vortigern. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane snapped up Vortigern. It was performed on the 2nd April 1796. The performance was ridiculed and Ireland’s documents were exposed as forgeries. In 1825 Ira Aldridge was part of the African Theater in New York and performed Shakespeare. The actors were treated badly by the authorities and beaten badly. Aldridge came to Britain in 1824 and acted in Britain for over 40 years. He was the first black actor to play Othello. By the end of the 17th century Shakespeare was considered old fashioned and many of his plays were rewritten to suit the times.It was strange to learn that by the end of the 17thcentury Shakespeare’s plays were considered old fashioned and many had been rewritten. For instance King Lear was rewritten by Nahum Tate in 1681 giving Lear a happy ending. In 1838 William Charles Macready reintroduced Lear’s fool into the play and got nearer to the original although even Macready’s version was still an adaptation.
    The site of New Place in Stratford where Shakespeare lived the last years of his life and died.

    Closer to my heart is the 1970 Peter Brook’s Midsummer Nights Dream, staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was 18 years old. Peter Brook took the production on tour, or it was doing a run of a limited number of theaters before decamping for the USA. I can’t remember exactly the situation but I saw it at Southampton’s  Gaumont Theater. It was incredible . A minimal white stage,   that enhanced the simple geometric shaped costumes of poster paint colours. A character was either yellow, blue, green, white and so on, very simply attired. Swings and ropes helped characters ascend , descend and fly. I remember being thrilled by this bright vivid production. I remember being awestruck after the play had ended when outside the theater I saw the characters of Bottom and other mechanicals appear out of a side door to the theater  in their ordinary clothes and line up outside a nearby fish and chip shop to buy some fish and chips. My friends and I stood and stared at them. It was slightly surreal as indeed this production was. The production had a hippie element to it, combined with its minimal stage, costumes and acrobatics. It was a [production that really fitted ,”the age of Aquarius.” Peter Brook showed what can be done and how each generation can interpret and learn from Shakespeare.
    A scene from Peter Brooks 1970 production of A Midsummer Nights Dream.

    More recently, in 2002, the acclaimed actor Mark Rilence, whilst director of The Globe Theater on the South Bank returned Twelfth Night back to what Shakespeare would have known using the music and costumes of Shakespeare’s time. He also made it an all male cast with women played by men. Rilence was trying to inject some authenticity into Twelfth Night making a connection with Shakespeares time.
    Mark Rylance in the 2002 production of Twelfth Night at The Globe Theatre on the South Bank.

    And most recently, "the tenth act" and so tenth play that demonstrates how Shakespeare is for all times, an adaptation of Hamlet in 2013 by The Wooster Group. They have created a Hamlet that uses modern technology to connect productions  of Hamlet from past generations with a Hamlet of today.It was first performed I the USA in 2007 and more recently at the Edinburgh Festival in 2013. The live performance used digital technology to combine its live performance with the film of Richard Burton's 1964 Broadway production. Other footage of Hamlet films were combined into the production too. It must have created a layered effect of multiple interpretations. This could only have been achieved now in this digital age. As technology progresses we can only wonder what the future will bring.

    In one final exhibition case, there is displayed the delicate bejeweled and flowered headdress Vivien Leigh wore as Titania in the 1937 production of A Midsummer Nights dream at The Old Vic. The exhibition poster, not over cool, the exhibition book, available for our perusal and the exhibition guide,which can never be described as too much of a good thing,  use the picture of Vivien Leigh wearing this head piece, on their front covers. Vivien Leigh does indeed look like a beautiful dream. This exhibition is superbly curated and presented. Swift as a shadow it leads us through the various key moments in the development of Shakespeare over the centuries through various productions and interpretations. It shows us Shakespeare in ten acts just as Shakespeare shows us his dramatic stories in a series of acts.  A superb exhibition. It begins with an original first folio and it is this that  is so important to us today enabling us to discover what Shakespeare intended.

    In this last paragraph, can you discover which are Shakespeare’s words and which are mine? And I might say to finish, all's well that ends well.

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  • 05/26/16--04:29: THE EU REFERENDUM

  • The Grand Canal. Marilyn and I had a lovely few days in Venice.  Travelling freely around Europe is brilliant.  

    On the 23rd June 2016 the people of the United Kingdom will go to their local polling stations and vote on the EU referendum. Do they want the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union or do they want them to leave?

    This question has split our political parties.
    The Conservatives, who are in government at the moment, lead by David Cameron, are going through the process of a particularly nasty and vicious struggle between members of their own party. UKIP (The United Kingdom Independence party) lead by Nigel Farage, are vociferously cheerleading the exit group. The  Labour Party is split into the two camps like the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats but the in fighting in those other political parties appears to be less destructive or it might be that the Conservatives are so loud and prominent in their campaigning for leaving or remaining, we don’t hear so much about the differences and possible seismic rifts between the members of those other parties.

    A recent series of polls produced by ICM (ICM Research, is a public opinion researcher) for the Guardian reveals that probably, overall, the British public are equally split over the referendum. Phone polling, which is probably the most accurate because the people are chosen by the researchers and they are chosen to be a cross section of society taking into account age, ethnicity, gender, social status, work and location. Internet polling seems to be age biased towards a younger group and also there is no control over the other factors that phone polling can take into account. Also internet polling proved to be wildly inaccurate in our last general election. Both polling strategies were used in this recent poll by ICM. It showed that in their phone poll 47% were in favour of remaining in the EU, 39% were in favour of leaving and 14% were undecided. Internet polling showed 43% in favour of remaining, 47% in favour of leaving and 10% undecided. If however you take into account all possible variables the picture looks pretty much as though the British public could be split half and half. This is a little worrying because it could go either way still. There does not seem a big lean one way or the other which is creating tensions in our economic dealings and indeed it is causing tensions throughout Europe. Businesses do not know where or when to invest. It is hampering growth at the moment. Hopefully this is going to be a short term situation which will be clarified when the referendum has been voted on.

    Why is a referendum being held? Our Prime Minister, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum if he won the 2015 general election, in response to growing calls from his own Conservative MPs and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who argued that Britain had not had a say since 1975, when it voted to stay in the EU in a referendum. The EU has changed a lot since then, gaining more control over our daily lives. Immigration issues, questions about sovereignty, questions about democracy and being in charge of our own economic destiny are all issues being hotly debated connected with this issue. Mr Cameron said: "It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics."

    Emily, Abi and Marilyn enjoying a walk around La Guell, Gaudi's park in Barcelona.
    One of my most favourite places to visit in all of Europe.

    David Cameron negotiated with the European Council in Brussels and came back to the British people with changes to our membership that he thinks warrant us remaining in the EU because they deal with some of the worries people have in Britain about being members of the EU.

    These cover, firstly child benefit. Migrant workers will still be able to send child benefit payments back to their home country - Mr Cameron had wanted to end this practice - but the payments will be set at a level reflecting the cost of living in their home country rather than the full UK rate.

    Secondly there is the question of migrant welfare payments. Mr Cameron says cutting the amount of benefits low paid workers from other EU nations can claim when they take a job in the UK will remove one of the reasons people come to Britain in such large numbers (critics say it will make little difference). He did not get the blanket ban he wanted. New arrivals will not be able to claim tax credits and other welfare payments straight away - but will gradually gain the right to more benefits the longer they stay, at a rate yet to be decided.

    British people want to keep the pound. Mr Cameron has said Britain will never join the Euro. He secured assurances that the Eurozone countries will not discriminate against Britain for having a different currency. Any British money spent on bailing out Eurozone nations that get into trouble will also be reimbursed.

    There is also the question of the large financial sector we have in the City of London. Mr Cameron has negotiated safeguards for Britain's large financial services industry to prevent Eurozone regulations being imposed on it. 

    Finally, for the first time, there will be a clear commitment that Britain is not part of a move towards "ever closer union" with other EU member states - one of the core principles of the EU. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change. Mr Cameron also secured a "red card" system for national parliaments making it easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it will be rethought. Critics say it is not clear if this would ever be used.

    Robert Clive, Clive of India negotiating with a Moghul.

    Britain and trade have always had a close and fruitful relationship. We are an island sea going nation. The ability that Britain had for enormous growth in trade goes back to the late 1600s. Compared to other European countries such as France, Spain and the Netherlands, which were our trading rivals at the time, Britain appeared to have a much larger middle cl,ass which had a facility for commerce and a desire to settle in new continents. They had the education and wealth to get things done. Merchant ships went to North America and the West Indies. The triangular trading system was born. Slaves would be brought from Africa to the Americas to work on the plantations which grew sugar and cotton and other commodities. These were then shipped back to Britain. In turn these commodities boosted the growth of industries for processing the commodities. Ship building, industrialisation, with its accompanying technological inventions and agriculture, which created a parallel revolution, all boosted Britain as a world power and trading nation. To go with this the City of London became a great financial centre financing this growth alongside new developments. The loss of part of the Americas through the American Revolution was a setback but after the Napoleonic Wars when Britain was the victor and France and Spain were defeated Britain looked to the Far East and India and China and their trading strength and wealthy expanded enormously. All this was facilitated by a powerful Royal Navy policing the oceans and protecting our far reaching trading routes. The British Army in turn based around the world protected Britain’s interest on the land. Robert Clive (born 29 September 1725 – Died 22 November 1774, known as Clive of India, famously fought wars against the various states that had been formed in India after the Mughal Empire. His defence of Arcat and his great victory at Plassey are amongst his military achievements as commander in Chief of the East India Companies army. The British relationship with India was complex and it was highlighted by a series of wars that continued from about 1766 right up to 1849. The British became the dominant power in India. This provides an example of how trade, and the military are closely linked. Trade and wealth, when we think of the British annexation of most of India demonstrate that military might and trade go hand in hand. This was also mirrored somewhat in China over the tea trade. The Chinese tea trade with Britain in the 1720s onwards eventually lead to the Opium Wars.  Military might cemented Britain’s dominance as a trading nation. We can think of the recent wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the consequent terrorist and ongoing military threats and wars. They are seemingly attached to religious, political causing terrorist concerns but they are also about oil, and trade. The disastrous involvement of America, Russia, Europe and every country in the world, to some extent, shows the need to be part of the changing world landscape so they can all get their share.

    So through expansion of trade by the use of continuous wars and military might, Britain in the 18th century, became the most dominant, powerful and wealthy nation in the world.

    The trenches of the First World War

    During the 20th Century Britain experienced two world wars. The First World War came about because of a number of factors that developed in the decades before 1914. Mutual defence pacts had been agreed between various nations. Britain had agreements with France, Belgium and Japan for instance. Imperialism was an aim for various nations. Britain and France were the big Imperial powers at the time and Germany worked hard to catch up. Africa and other areas in the world were places where rich resources could be obtained to make the European nations strong and wealthy. Germany, France and Britain certainly did not want to let the other gain pre-eminence. Britain had a large navy and army and Germany wanted to match this because world trade can only be viable with a strong military element enabling it to happen. The comments about Britain in the 18thcentury previous to this section demonstrate that. There was also a strong element of Nationalism present at the time. All these elements were in place leading up to the First World War. It only took one incidence to ignite the gathering forces, the powder keg and this was created by the Serbian crisis. So the First World War had come about because of clashing self-interests and the continent split along its alliances. The Second World war was no better. Germany had been crushed and impoverished after The First World War. Clemenceau for France and Lloyd George for Britain had demanded stringent reparation from Germany. This created a fertile ground for nationalism and the growth of the Nazi party which offered the German people their self-respect back and a strong dominant future again in Europe. Would these terrible things have happened if all the countries of Europe had worked together and all been closely allied? The fact that those with strong alliances did work and go to war alongside each other against the opposing factions might give us a clue.

    The history of the EU, the European Union, has been precipitous since the end of World War II. Straight after the war efforts were begun to forge a political union throughout Europe. In 1951 the European Coal and Steel Union (ECSC) was formed. By 1957 the ECSC ratified two treaties, the European Atomic Energy Community ( EAEC) and the European Economic Community (EEC). The purpose of the EEC was to eventually remove all trade tariffs and other barriers between member states. This was established by 1967. The first member states being Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemberg and the Netherlands. A rival trade group, EFTA, was established between Austria, Denamrk, Britain and couple of other countries. In 1961 Britain had wanted to become part of the EEC but Presdinet De Gaule of France refused to let Britain in. Britain wanted special dispensations so that they could still have close trading agreements with the Commonwealth Countries and De Gaule saw this as against what Europe wanted as a whole. By 1973, Britains trading links with the Commonwealth countries was not so strong and along with Ireland and Denmark they joined the EEC. Gradually, as the 20th century progressed other staes joined the EEC too. The EEC expanded in 1981, 9186 and again in 1995.The Maastricht treaty of 1992 brought  the member states even closer together through monetary union with a single currency the Euro. The name of this economic group changed also to the European Union, the EU. Banking and foreign policy too became unified. Britain did not join the monetary union at the time but promised to look at the possibility at a later date. It looks now as though this will never happen. In 2004, most of the members of the old Soviet bloc joined the European Union. So the European union has grown enormously and trade and movement of labour has expanded. There are now twenty eight countries in the European Union.The EU is the world’s greatest trading bloc with no barriers to trade between its member states. This has obviously caused  stresses and strains within this system. There are large economic differences between member states. This has caused a one way flow of workers trying to get jobs in the more affluent countries. This in turn has a put a strain on the social services, education and health systems of those countries. Britain’s renegotiations, under David Cameron, have tried to deal with these issues and it is those sort of issues the exit campaigners are emphasising in their campaign. There are also questions about democracy and sovereignty because of decisions  being made for member states in the European Parliament outside of member states. There are also questions about free speech and other freedoms we expect in a democracy but those issues are more to do with terrorist threats and right wing religious and political movements.

    Political and economic migrants making their way across the Mediterranean.

    These questions about migration and immigration, freedom of speech and democracy are debates we should always be having. They are important issues which need to be dealt with. What is democracy in this day and age? What is freedom of speech when we have ISIS clerics standing up in Mosques preaching hatred and destruction to the west? We have to think about this and analyse what free speech means and what democracy means. How can we deal with economic migrants and migrants who are fleeing from their own countries in fear of persecution and even death? Places like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have been destabilised by western forces so how much should we now contribute to helping them?

    David Cameron arguing to stay in Europe. I am not a conservative voter but I agree. We must stay.

    It is easy to say, like the Brexiters, those wanting to leave the European Union, that we would be far better off leaving the EU. We could negotiate our own trade agreements. We can make our own laws and we can be truly democratic again. We could control our own boarders better and so the arguments go on. It all sounds ideal. However, in the light of how trade really works around the world through military power plays and economic might, how do we really think Britain on its own is going to deal with China, Russia, India, the South American countries and so on? What sort of great trade deals are we going to be able to negotiate on our own? It’s easy to look back at our history and say we did it in the past. We were then the world’s greatest military force. If we did leave the EU and other unhappy countries did start to leave also what might that mean? Is it possible alliances and the re-emergence of power struggles within Europe could happen again? That sort of thing caused two world wars not that far back in time in the great scheme of things. The EU is not perfect but it is the best trading bloc we will ever be a part of. Its strong links between countries make it a safe place politically or much safer than it has been in the past. Europe has been a peaceful place for a lot longer than it has ever been before since the second world war. Europe needs working on and adapting and improving for all member states. The best thing, I think is for us to stay and work together on all these issues. They will need to be worked on continuously, forever,I should think, but things will change within the union.

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  • 06/09/16--12:06: MUDLARKING ON THE THAMES

  • The term, mudlark, nowadays has the romantic connotation of somebody strolling along the Thames shore on a sunny afternoon and suddenly discovering an ancient Roman hoard of silver coins poking up through the mud, or perhaps the discovery of an ancient Celtic shield revealed in the slimy river bank. However, it has a much deeper social and historical meaning.
    On the beach below the OXO Tower looking towards The City.

    The first, “mudlarks,” appeared beside the Thames in the late 18th century and early 19th century. They were usually children and mostly boys who scraped a living by scavenging along the shores of the Thames at low tide looking for anything they could sell for a few pennies. The items they might collect included pieces of coal, dropped from colliers, nails and bolts, pieces of discarded rope, bones, coins and any other item of use they might discover. In 1851, Henry Mayhew, the author, interviewed a 13-year-old, “mudlark.” Mayhew described mudlarks as the poorest level of society making a meagre income, dressed in tattered clothes and having a terrible stench about them. The modern day,” mudlark,” is very different. Officially there are 51 members of the Society of Thames Mudlarks. They are registered by the Museum of London to use metal detectors and to work with the Museum in collecting archaeological finds for the museum. Roy Stephen, at the Museum of London, says that their finds help them fill in some of the gaps of the history of London. Dr Michael Lewis at the British Museum goes further in that he thinks the present day work of mudlarlks has actually helped to rewrite history. Their finds add to the rich jigsaw of evidence that helps the Archaeologist and historian interpret the past. Apart from the these official mudlarks who work closely with archaeologist and museums , anybody can walk along the shores of the Thames  and find things. This is what Keith, a very good friend of mine and myself did one sunny June day recently.
    One small spot on the beach. Terracotta, pieces of chalk, flint, broken glass and a myriad other items deposited by humanity.

    Using our ,” Freedom Passes,” we got on the train from Raynes Park to Waterloo. From Waterloo we decided to walk along the, South Bank, towards, The Tate Modern. Keith had told me, on a number of occasions, about how he had done some ,”mudlarking.” The Thames River was at low tide as we walked along and quite extensive stretches of sandy and stony beaches were visible. Keith suggested we go down to the beach opposite the OXO building to do a bit of ,”mudlarking.” I had heard it was easy to find  the remains of artefacts along the Thames within the bounds of the city. I was dubious at first. Once we got on to the beach my immediate reaction was to start looking at the ground infront of me and to each side. The first obvious things were bricks and pieces of terracotta. The beaches alongside  the river is speckled by these items. There were many yellow bricks which are thought of as the standard London Brick  or stock brick. We also came across pieces of coal. At first I wondered about this but I kept finding more and more. What had been the industry at the side of the river here in the past? I picked up quite a number of oyster shells, which excited me because my immediate reaction was; Romans. Oysters were a staple of the Roman diet but it seems at other periods in History too. There was a recently broken wine glass. We kept finding bone, large blade shaped pieces of it. These segments could only have come from cows surely? I  saw the elongated lower jaw of a cow with teeth still in place. Keith rather eerily found a set of four blackened teeth still attached to a piece of jaw. Was this human? It looked too small for either a cow or a sheep. Another find that excited me and suggested a particular period in history were the many stems of clay pipes we found. There simply lots and lots of them. This made me think of the Georgian and early Victorian period. We came across a lot of rust encrusted iron bolts, hooks and a chain link. We also kept finding pieces of terracotta. The fragments must have been part of larger containers of some sort. Mostly they were not glazed but some were on one surface. Keith found a small fragment of white glazed pottery with a blue pattern on it. One of the intriguing things that stood out  was a short stretch of jetty. It was a length of evenly laid cobble stones, about a metre wide, edged by thick wooden pillars that supported large planks that kept the cobbled path within bounds. These planks were bolted with large iron bolts to the thick wooden pillars. The stretch of this pier that remains is in reasonable condition although it is eroding. This lead me to think it could not be much older than the Victorian period. We also came across a lot of flints. Some had been napped but many pieces were nodules that had come as they were from the chalk. There were also many large and small boulders of chalk. Each one these things has a story to tell us about London and the Thames through time. Keith and I began to surmise and make suggestions as we walked. All these artefacts made us wonder what had been here in past ages before the upmarket shops and restaurants and galleries that now line the shore at this part of the Thames. What did it all mean?
    Keith searching for items.

    London Stock Bricks first originate during the 19th century when London was beginning to expand outwards and new housing and buildings were constructed with bricks made from the London Clay they were to be built on. There has been a variety of colours of stock bricks. The earliest London bricks were red, going back to the 17th century and further. Then in the 1700s many were of a grey colour. In the 1760s another brick was made called a malm. The dictionary definition for malm describes it as a soft grey limestone that crumbles easily. It also describes it as an artificial mixture of clay and chalk to make bricks. There was some confusion over the differences between malms and stocks. The supplies of natural malm was also very limited, but in 1797 John Lee took out a patent for, 'A Certain Mixture of Chalk, Whiting, or Lime, Together With Clay, Loam, or Earth, For Colouring and Making Bricks'," and thereafter malm bricks began to be manufactured artificially, chalk being mixed with inferior clays and earths. The yellow bricks we saw in great numbers scattered on the shore were probably malms. Having said that there were also numerous porous types of red brick scattered about too. Keith and I thought of them as London Stock bricks.
    Yellow London Stock bricks made with chalk and clay and a red stock brick too.

    Oyster shells are interesting because the Romans developed the oyster beds where they could around the coast of Brittania. I remember taking a class of children to Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex quite a few years ago now. We learned that amongst all the artefacts that were found on the site that the rubbish tips were the most productive in telling us about life as a Roman. All sorts of things can be found in rubbish, just think of your own bins at home. Informing us of the Roman eating habits was one of the foremost things we can find from rubbish tips. The Romans ate copious oysters. So when I started to find oyster shells on the shore line of the Thames I looked over at St Pauls Cathedral and the city and recalled that that was where Roman London, Londinium, grew up. However in researching the cultural and historical eating of oysters it was not just the Romans who enjoyed this culinary delight. They were eaten all through the Middle Ages, the Tudor Period, the Stuart Period, The Georgian period and most definitely the Victorian period.While pickled oysters became a regular food of the poor in London and other towns, Dickens' Sam Wellerremarks, "Poverty and oysters always seem to go together." In the middle of the 19th Century, oysters and scallops were being dredged in huge numbers all along Sussex coast by fleets of oyster smacks. Then, quite suddenly, the natural oyster beds became exhausted, partially through overfishing and partially through pollution; it was only deliberate artificial breeding that saved them from extinction. This far up stream in the tidal Thames at this point, the most probable assumption is that these were Victorian oyster shells. It just leaves the question, how did they get into the Thames from the dinner plates of the Victorians? The only answer is that the Thames was used like a sewer and all rubbish, including discarded oyster shells, werethrown into the Thames nearby the spot where the oyster flesh had been extracted from the shell and eaten at some person’s meal.

    An oyster shell I picked up from the beach beside the Thames.

    There were a conciderable number of pieces of terracotta pot and of course Keith’s little piece of glazed porcelain. I chose one piece to bring home. Terracotta could come from any period in History just as oyster shells can. The piece I chose was interesting because the rim has not been turned to give a nice rounded finished edge except in one place. This tongue or lip of terracotta that sticks out from the rim is too small to get a good hand hold for lifting the size and weight of the original pot. If there were a number of these lips around the edge I can only think they were used to hold the pot proud of the top of an outer container that it was placed inside. It is reasonably easy to estimate the size of the pot from the thickness of the terracotta and the curvature of the piece of rim that I have. It is a gentle curve so a complete top would have quite a large circumference. I could actually work this out on paper and continuing the curvature from the piece I have. A small pot would not need to be quite so thick. So I estimate it to be a tall round pot for containing something dry. It is not glazed either on its exterior or its interior so it would not be good for holding a liquid because of its porosity. Pottery is very durable and a piece of Roman pot can look very much like a pot from any later period in time. A modern handmade terracotta pot might merely look slightly less worn or used but there would not be much difference between the two.
    The piece of terracotta I discovered on the beach. I wonder what the small lip on the rim was for?

    The bones we found were a little creepy. Some were appeared like blades. They were slightly darkened with mud and green algae. They were large and so must have come from a large animal. A cow would be a good guess I should think. There was one bone I saw that was obviously the lower right side of a horse or cow’s jaw. It was long, tapering down from the joint of the jaw towards the front of the mouth and it had teeth all along its length. Perhaps a Victorian cabbies horse had collapsed and died on the job and its body thrown into the Thames? The bones could be just the results of the butchery trade. This is the thing with interesting artefacts like these, you begin to make up stories for them in your imagination. At one point Keith held some teeth still attached to a segment of jaw in his hand to show me. This was certainly not the teeth and jaw of a cow or horse or even a sheep. They were far too small. Was this human? I doubt it very much. It was probably the teeth and jaw bone of a dog or some such smaller animal.
    A piece of blackened and burned bone. Was a piece discarded from the process of making bone char?
    One piece of what I think is bone was blackened and fossilised. Could it be a piece of bone char? Bone char is primarily made from cow bones. The bones are heated in a sealed vessel at up to 700 °C (1,292 °F); a low concentration of oxygen must be maintained while doing this, as it affects the quality of the product. Most of the organic material in the bones is driven off by heat, and was historically collected as Dippel’s oil; that which is not driven off remains as activated carbon in the final product. Heating bones in an oxygen-rich atmosphere gives bone ash, which is chemically quite different. Bone char is used in water filtration to remove fluoride. It is used in sugar production. It is used to make the black pigment for artist’s paints. It has also been used, combined with wax, to impregnate and polish leather items to help preserve them.
    A piece of pot with the remains of a glaze on it.

    We found many pieces of coal. Just along from the OXO Tower where we were carrying out our Mudlarking exploits is the Tate Modern. That used to a coal fired power station when it was first built in the 1930s. That could answer the question about coal. Coal must have dropped into the river as it was being hoisted by cranes form coal barges onto the quay where the coals reserves for the power station were positioned. The OXO building, next to where Keith and I were mudlarking, was originally constructed as a power station to supply electricity to the Royal Mail post office, built towards the end of the 19th century. It was later owned by Liebig Extract of Meat Company in the 1920s  manufacturers of Oxo beef stock cubes, for conversion into a cold store.

    The building was largely rebuilt to an Art Deco design by company architect Albert Moore between 1928 and 1929. Much of the original power station was demolished, but the river facing facade was retained and extended.

    The short piece of cobbled jetty we found was probably where coal or other items were taken from barges to the power station on the OXO building site.
    The cobbled jetty on the beach in front of the OXO Tower site where previously, in Victorian times, a power station stood.

    The copious amounts of chalk and especially flint is interesting. Chalk can be readily obtained from the North and South Downs which are ranges of chalk hills in Southern England extending through Surrey and Sussex primarily. Flint has been used as a building material by the Romans, Saxons and all periods since. There are a number of buildings still standing in London made from flint. Churches and important buildings were made from flint. Some of the flint we discovered was napped, that means it has been, chipped into even shapes to use in buildings. Others pieces were natural flint nodes that had come straight out of the chalk. These could have been used in the infilling between a smoother outer and inner layers of napped flint. The large amount of chalk boulders could suggest that the flint was not removed from the chalk until it reached its destination in London or that brick works in the area were using the chalk to make the London stock bricks. Chalk is a little too soft as a stone to be used directly in building. It would dissolve and wear away too quickly under wet rainy conditions.
    Three pieces of clay pipe stems I discovered on the beach.

    Finally, one of the most intriguing things we found were the broken stems of numerous clay pipes. We could have collected clay pipes all day. Within minutes we both had found, perhaps a dozen each. Unfortunately, we only found stems. The bowls would have told us so much more. Often the bowl of a clay pipe has the makers stamp on it and some have intricate patterns and designs. Many are plain of course. Clay pipes have been known in England since Sir Walter Raleigh reputedly brought tobacco from Virginia to England in the 16th century.In 1578, Raleigh sailed to America with explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert, his half-brother. This expedition may have stimulated his plan to found a colony there. In 1585, he sponsored the first English colony in America on Roanoke Island, now North Carolina. The colony failed and another attempt at colonisation also failed in 1587. Raleigh has been credited with bringing potatoes and tobacco back to Britain, although both of these were already known via the Spanish. Raleigh did help to make smoking popular at Elizabeth’s court. The North American Indians used stone pipes to smoke tobacco. The clay pipes manufactured in England were of a similar design. A clay pipe is made by rolling a length of soft clay into a type of sausage with a bulge at one end. This clay sausage is placed into a mould and the two halves of the mould fastened together. A thin wire is inserted carefully in the end of the stem and pushed through until it meets the bulbous bowl shape, A thick metal, peg is then thrust into the bowl head, creating the hollowed out interior of the pipe bowl until it meets the channel made in the stem by the wire. The inside cavity of the pipe is then ready. The pipe is baked in a pottery oven until hard. The pipe is ready. The process is simple and quick and a pipe maker might make hundreds of pipes a day.
    Clay pipes and a small fragment of glazed and patterned pot that Keith found.

    Keith and I only spent about half an hour looking and finding things on the Thames shore line but it was a fascinating exploration. It got us thinking about London, it’s history and the purpose of so many items. We moved on to explore some other interesting things. We looked into a pub called The Fighting Cocks, that in the 18thcentury had actually been a cock fighting pit and saw the gallery where spectators would have looked down on the fighting pit below. We found where Shakespeare bought a house, part of the great gatehouse to the Blackfriars Monastery. We also discovered a wall, hidden out of the way, in an alleyway that still shows the lathes that were part of a wattle and daub construction. We found remains of the White Friars medieval monastery hidden beneath the steel and glass construction of an insurance company in, The City, just off Whitefriars Road. We came across an iron Victorian street urinal and a shop selling judges’ wigs situated behind the law courts, just off the Strand. A couple of pints of beer and a fish and chip meal in the Bell Inn, near the Law Courts, was our well-earned reward.

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    On Friday 24th June 2016 I woke up to the news that Britain had voted 17 million votes to 16 million votes to leave the European Union. I felt physically sick. I had a feeling of trauma and shock. Yes, it was that visceral. I had reasoned through historical context, the development of the European Union after the second world war, the development of an enormous economic bloc of countries which being in the union we were a part of, that it was ludicrous and illogical to leave. I couldn’t see how little Britain could survive out of the Union. All those lovely cultural ties, history, literature, music, drama, cheap holidays, the flow of work and places to live, were really magnetic on one level. It was these same considerations, workers moving around the European Union and immigration however which made many want to leave. I could see that this was a problem. Immigrants taking jobs and houses, the National Health Service being overburdened but I thought, by working within Europe, and because most other European countries were experiencing similar problems we could as part of the Union start to work these problems out together. That was the way I reasoned my vote to stay in. I must admit now, that probably a large part of my shock that Friday morning was that I am risk averse. I can handle gradual change but not sudden shocks.
    But now we have voted out. There is no going back. It is of no use to grumble on, looking to backtrack. Was the referendum legal? Were we told a bunch of lies which should make the vote null and void? Imagine if we did go back on it all. How utterly stupid, ineffectual, anti-democratic Britain would look. Through this vote the world has changed now for us. All the arguments for staying in the Union are valid. I am not going to change my mind about what I thought before and if we had voted to stay in we could have worked on those principals. We have voted to leave and now we must forget about all those other arguments and look at the positive creative arguments for being out of the Union. There is so much that is positive. We can do this. It is very scary but we will make it work. We could actually be stronger and better than before. We have been wallowing in a recession and suffering an element of austerity far too long because of the recently deposed Conservative government and now we have a Conservative government that sound considerably more sensible and realistic than the last lot. They are going to reduce austerity and start investing more. They are going to do what Labour promised at the last election.
    I listen to radio 4 every morning. They have a farming section. British farmers produce about 60% of our food requirements, the rest is imported mostly from Europe. Farmers are now talking about increasing output so we have to rely less on trade for our food. The fisheries industries are talking about expanding now they are no longer under EU directives.

    Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London is pushing for an immediate decision on another airport runway for Gatwick to help boost trade. The Bank of England has decided not to reduce interest rate. The three ministers, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, Liam Fox as Overseas trade secretary and David Davies as the minister for Brexit are gearing up for a trade onslaught on the world. And, would it be all that bad if we can’t get similar trading terms with Europe that we have being in the Union because we will not agree to free movement of labour? Europe can say what it likes but it’s got to live with us as well as we have to live with Europe. Boris Johnson is a buffoon, and reading in the Guardian there are stories about Liam Fox and David Davies. In a way all that doesn’t matter, does it? If they deliver on Brexit, that is what counts. It’s easy to rip people apart. I know!!!!!  Call me reckless. I am warming up to Brexit. I can sense a feeling of excitement growing.

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    Recently Marilyn and I went in to the center of London, initially to attend a lunchtime free concert at St Martins in The Fields. We heard Emma Stannard, a Mezzo Soprano, singing Grieg, Schumann, De Falla and Copeland accompanied by Keval Shah on the piano. They were superb displaying so much personality. The lunchtime concerts begin a 1pm and last for about one hour. When we came out onto a sunny Trafalgar Square we thought we would like to have a look in the National Portrait Gallery and see if any exhibitions were on.

    There is a photographic portrait exhibition on at the moment. We first looked around  pictures  created by the Bloomsbury group and portraits of artists,writers and the famous from the 20thcentury. We looked at the Tudor and Stuart galleries populated by portraits of the ,”God ordained”,  and eventually wandered into the Georgian period sauntering past that little sketch of Jane Austen created by her sister Cassandra and some of the great writers and poets of the late 18th and early 19th century, Sir Walter Scott, Shelley, Byron and so forth. There are very few women represented in the older periods. Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots appears in the Tudor period. Some of Charles II’s mistresses are hung in the Stuart galleries but the Georgian period is when women become ,”really serious.”

    The great majority of paintings in the Georgian Galleries are still of men but  there are a substantial number of women, Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Hannah More, Fanny Burney, Hester Lynch (Mrs Thrale) and Dorothy Jordan, writers, artists, actors, philosophers, playwrights, society hosts and emancipationists. These women began to push the boundaries of society showing what women could do in the world and they were brave, revolutionary and they were intellectuals and thinkers of the highest order.They all suffered one way or the other for their causes in a very strongly male orientated world. They were courageous pioneers. 

      The Trial of Queen Caroline 1820 by Sir George Hayter oil on canvas, 1820-1823 (National Portrait gallery)

    But there is one painting, with a woman in it, which could be described as even more inspirational and in some ways is more powerful than the rest and gets to the heart of what it was to be a woman in the early 19th century. This woman had courage, determination and a will to live her life the way she wanted. She was prepared to break the law, courted approbation from everybody, even her friends and supporters, those who might be on her side to a degree of sensure regarding her morals and choices in life. In acting in such a liberating way was perhaps even stronger than all the rest. “The trial of Queen Caroline in 1820,” is vast. It consists of hundreds of miniature portraits of men. The great men of the early 19th century. There is William Adams, lawyer and diplomat, Shute Barrington,the Bishop of Durham, William Cavendish the Lord Chancellor,  William Wyndham Greville the Prime Minister, the Duke of York, George IV’s brother, William Howley, The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Nelson, 1st Earl Nelson, Lord Nelson’s brother, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. There are lawyers, landowners, statesmen, the Governor General of India and various other governor generals. There are Field Marshalls, bishops and archbishops. Thomas Barnes, the editor of The Times newspaper is there, politicians of every hue, agriculturalists, bankers, sportsmen, Lords, Earls and Dukes. The world was run by these men and women were second class citizens and had to do what they were told. Almost unnoticed, in the midst of this mass of manhood, sitting calmly and still and looking unmoved is Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George IV. The painting portrays the trial brought about when George wanted to divorce her. Things did not go his way. For one the public disliked him intensely.

    Caroline of Sir Thomas Lawrence oil on canvas, 1804. (National Portrait Gallery)
    Caroline was born on the 17thMay 1768, a Princess of Brunswick. Her father was Charles William, Duke of Brunswick and her mother was Princess Augusta of Great Britain and eldest sister of George III. Her father and mother had a difficult relationship. Her father had a mistress, who lived with them, called Louise Hertefeld. Caroline was put in a difficult situation. If she was civil to one the other reprimanded her. She was also unable to lead the life she would have liked to live while she was within the same household as her parents. She was forbidden to attend grand balls except on very rare occasions. She strictly chaperoned everywhere by her governess and some elderly ladies of the court. She was refused any contact with the opposite sex. She was even forbidden to dine with her own brother. This caused her great anguish and torment. Caroline was not averse to trying some extreme tricks. She feigned being pregnant on one occasion to challenge her parents. There were rumours about her from an early age that she had given birth at the age of fifteen. She often visited the cottages of the peasantry and it was claimed that on one of these occasions she had got pregnant.

    Her mother and father considered many suitors for her from1782 onwards. Prince of Orange, Prince George of Hesse and Charles Duke of Mecklenberg were all suggested but nothing came of this. Her mother had always hope for a marriage to one of her English cousins. In 1794 Caroline became engaged to the Prince of Wales, her cousin. The reason for this were mostly political. Britain was at war with France and an Alliance with Brunswick would help Britain’s  cause. Also George was heavily in debt and if he married an eligible princess, parliament would increase his allowance. So Caroline was a political pawn, something the daughters of the aristocracy and monarchies had always been.

     John Stanley saw Caroline in 1781 and thought she was an attractive girl. In 1784 she was described as a beauty and she was also described as amiable, lively witty and handsome by others. On the.20th November 1794 Lord Malmesbury arrived in Brunswick to escort her to Britain. He wrote in his diary that, she lacked judgement, decorum and tact, spoke her mind, acted indiscreetly and often neglected to wash or change her dirty clothes. She appeared to have no innate notions of morality or the need for it. Malmesbury gives a damning account of her. It appears to be a subjective account. Caroline would not have been past, not washing, on purpose to deliberately repel Malmesbury. She was noted. for taking baths at other times, notoriously with her lover Bergami

    It was a strange arrangement from the start. When Caroline arrived in Greenwich with Malmesbury on Easter Sunday 5thApril 1795 she was met by Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey and Georges mistress. Frances Villiers had been appointed as Caroline’s Lady of the Bedchamber. Caroline and George were married in the chapel Royal in St James’s Palace on the 8th April 1795. George was drunk and had to be assisted throughout the ceremony. He thought Caroline unattractive and unhygienic. He himself had already married Maria Fitzherbert. It was an illegal marriage because Maria Fitzherbert was a Roman Catholic and through the Marriages act of 1772 was not legally valid. George, in a letter to a friend claimed that he had sexual intercourse with his new wife only three times, twice the first night and once on the second night. He said that he had to make a great effort to overcome his aversion to her. Caroline later claimed that on their wedding night George was so drunk he spent the night in the fireplace where he fell. They must have had sexual intercourse on at least one occasion because they had a daughter together, Princess Charlotte, George’s only legitimate child, born at Carlton House on the 7th January 1796.

    George’s abuse of Caroline began almost immediately. Three days after Charlotte’s birth George made  out a new will in which he left all his property to “Maria Fitzherbert, my wife.” But Caroline could give as good as she got. Caroline was feisty and fought for her rights from the start. Caroline told Malmesbury that she was disappointed with George because he  was,”very fat and he’s nothing like as handsome as his portrait.” George, didn’t like Caroline’s jibes and jokes about Lady Jersey. But of course, as well as expressing his dislike and aversion to Caroline, George was having an affair with Lady Jersey. The relationship with Caroline was becoming a disaster.  George also had to contend with public opinion. The press vilified him for his extravagant tastes especially at a time of war. The public also took sides with Caroline and portrayed her as the wronged wife and public opinion only grew in support of her. People liked her because of her ,”winning familiartity and easy open nature.” We begin to draw parallels with the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diane. The similarities of the two relationships are evident. George became dismayed at her popularity and his own unpopularity.

    In April 1796, George wrote to Caroline, “ We have unfortunately been obliged to acknowledge to each other that we cannot find happiness in our union. Let me therefore beg you to make the best of a situation unfortunate for us both.”

    In August 1797 Caroline moved to the Vicarage in Charlton, London. She then moved  to Montagu House in Blackheath. Caroline felt free from the constraints of her marriage. She had liaisons with Admiral Sir Sidney Smith and Captain George Manby. She may also have had a fling with the politician George Canning. Her daughter was put into the care of a governess and lived in a mansion near  Montague House. IT appears that Caroline had strong maternal instincts and she adopted a number of poor children who had been fostered out in the Blackheath area. In 1802 she adopted a three month old boy, William Austin. Caroline fell out with her neighbours Sir John and Lady Douglas. They claimed that Caroline had sent them obscene letters. Lady Douglas accused Caroline of infidelity and said that William Austen was Carolines illegitimate son. In 1806 a secret commission was set up to investigate the accusations. Lady Douglas testified to the commission that Caroline had admitted to her that William Austin was her son.She also told the commission that Caroline had been rude about the Royal Family and she alleged that Caroline had also touched her in an inappropriate sexual manner. The accounts of Caroline’s behaviour could not have been more lurid and frank. More lovers were added to the list, Sir Thomas Lawrence , the artist who had painted Carolines portrait and also Henry Hood the son of Lord Hood were implicated.  Carolines own servants, it’s always the servants who know everything, could not or would not confirm any of these allegations. As for William Austin, his real mother, Sophia Austin came forward to testify that she had given birth to William. The evidence that was being stacked up against Caroline appeared more and more fictional and fabricated.The commission set up to investigate the initial claims by Lady Dougals announced that there was no foundation for them.

    By the end of 1811, George III was declared permanently insane and the Prince of Wales was made Regent. George restricted Caroline’s access to Charlotte  further. Caroline became more socially isolated. She moved to Connaught House in Bayswater. In league with Henry Broughton, an ambitious Whig politician who wanted reform she began a propaganda campaign against George. George leeked the testimony of Lady Douglas to the Commission that had investigated Caroline but Broughton counteracted these allegations by releasing the testimony of the servants and Mrs Austin. Their daughter sided with her mother as did the public.

    Jane Austen, who was an avid reader of news journals, wrote of Caroline, “ Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a woman and because I hate her husband.” After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 George tried to restrict his daughter’s visits to her mother even more. Charlotte ran away to be with her mother. She was eventually persuaded to return to her father. There was a risk of public disorder which would make it more difficult for Charlotte in the long run.

    Caroline now negotiated a deal with the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh. She agreed to leave the country for an annual allowance of £35,000.  On 8thAugust 1814 Caroline left Britain. She travelled to Brunswick and then to Italy through Switzerland. Probably in Milan she hired Bartolomeo Pergami as a servant. He soon became the head of Caroline’s household.. In 1815 Caroline bought a house on the shores of Lake Como. From early 1816, she and Pergami cruised the Mediterranean. Their relationship became closer and closer. By now gossip about Caroline was rife and even Lord Byron wrote to his publisher that Caroline and Pergami were lovers. By 1817, Carolines debts were growing and she moved from the Villa d’Este to the smaller Villa Caprile near Pesaro. Meanwhile Carolines daughter, Princess Charlotte had married Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg. In November 1817 Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son and then unfortunately died soon after. George refused to inform Caroline of her daughter’s death. Caroline heard the devastating news from an official sent by George to inform the Pope. This was a cruel way to discover the news.

    A salacious cartoon depicting Caroline bathing with her lover Bartolomeo Pergami.

    The Vice Chancellor John Leach was asked to set up a commission to gather evidence of Carolines adultery. This was the only way George could obtain a divorce from Caroline. Leach sent three commissioners to Milan to interview Caroline’s servants.. He sent his own brother James to the Villa Caprile. He reported back that Pergami and Caroline were living as husband and wife. The Milan commission was gathering more and more evidence. Caroline informed James Broughton that she would agree to a divorce in exchange for money. Divorce by mutual consent was illegal however. On the 29thJanuary 1820 King George III died. George became King and as such she was the Queen. George demanded that his ministers get rid of her. George now was determined to divorce Caroline. The best and least painful way to divorce Caroline  was through an act of Parliament which would make their marriage annulled. Her name was removed from the liturgy of the Church. but he had to be very careful. His own infidelities and excesses did not deem him an innocent party in the affair. He could only divorce Caroline if it was proved she had been unfaithful and he certainly was not an innocent party in this respect. He had mistresses and an illegal wife after all.Divorce proceedings would only bring to light his own misdemeanors. Rather than run the risk Caroline was offered an increase in her annuity to £50,000 if she stayed abroad. Caroline rejected the governemenst offer. She returned to England on the 5th June. Riots broke out in support of her. She became the figurehead of a growing radical reform group who demanded change. The new King still wanted a divorce and submitted the evidence collected by his commission to Parliamnet in two green bags. They were opend on the 27thJune. Fifteen peers examined the contents and regarded the contents as scandalous. The government introduced a bill in Parliament, the Pains and Penalties Bill 1820 intended to take the title of Queen away from Caroline and to dissolve the marriage. It claimed that Caroline had committed adultery with a low born man, Bartolomeo Pergami. Various witnesses, including Theodore Majocchi,one of Caroline’s servants were brought to be questioned.All sorts of salacious  details were revealed. Caroline came to the reading of the Bill which although not a trail was virtually a trial and sat there in the middle of this maelstrom. This is the scene portrayed Sir George Hayters painting, “The Trial of Queen Caroline.” There she sits, calmly, impassively while Broughton, arm outstretched, gesturing, argues vehemently her case , lawyers discuss and Carolines detractors thump their fists on oaken tables. They seem to be dissecting what womanhood is all from a male point of view of course.

    As an addenda, All the witnesses for the prsecution were countered and their evidence shown to be untrue in many cases and eventually there was little prospect that the bill could be passed. During the trial Caroline remained immensely popular.

    Caroline stated,

    “All classes will ever find in me a sincere friend to their liberties, and a zealous advocate of their rights.”

    She tried to attend the coronation on the 19th July 1821 but was barred from entering Westminster Abbey. Caroline became ill soon after. She died three weeks later on the 7th August 1821 at the age of 53. She may have had cancer.

    Caroline of Brunswick broke ordinary moral standards, she challenged the laws of the land, she broke through the barriers between different social strata. She lived the way she wanted and not the way society or the church or the monarchy would want her to. She was a true radical, almost not taking any side but just being herself, come what may. She has an element of Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,

     “ 'There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.' 

      She was her own person and did what she wanted.

    She also connects with Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas about women.

    “I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 


    “It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men.” 

    A lot of what she was charged with was hearsay. A lot of what she was charged with was highly emotive, salacious and at the extremes of what could be imagined by her contemporaries and truly shocking to many. Her attackers were out to destroy her and stop her breaking social codes and beliefs. She was very much a woman alone. In her private life she seemed to be highly sexual, full of fun and a very warm motherly type who showed her emotions. They make her a real person. Recalling her upbringing where she was restrained from interacting with people in any meaningful way and seeing how vivacious and social she obviously was she must have had a lot of pent up feelings and emotions ready to come out. She did let them out and challenged the world. I think she was a very brave person. She challenged society to the utmost.

    “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved,” George Sand.

    I hope Caroline found this.


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    Good Canary, is a play about drug addiction, its consequences on people’s lives and livelihoods. It is about mental deterioration, driving ambition, the precariousness of literary talent, the consequences of sexual abuse and the dubious amoral world of publishing. A powerfully toxic, dark brew that is destined to take us into the dark side of human nature and help us explore our own motivations and perhaps darker side too.

    Zach Helm, is known in France , Spain and Mexico for his acclaimed productions of Good Canary produced in each case by John Malkovich. The play has been translated into French and Spanish although first written in English. It is now appearing in Britain for the first time and being produced for the first time in English  at the Rose Theater Kingston. Zach Helm is also known for the film, Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium. He is renowned as a teacher of drama. He has created a technique called ,”open input drama,” which encourages actors to use experiences from the real world.

    Zach Helms with his wife, Kiele Sanchez
    John Malkovich is famous for starring in Dangerous Liaisons, Being John Malkovich and starring and performing in over seventy films. He has two Academy Award nominations. He speaks both French and Spanish.

    I must warn any reader of this before they start reading that this is not a review but my analysis of what I saw the other day at The Rose Theatre. There will be plenty of,” plot alerts,” whatever that means? So many people write that phrase when reviewing things. I thought I would have a go at using it too.

    The two main characters are Annie, played by Freya Mavor and Jack, played by Harry Lloyd.

    Good Canary, begins with Annie and Jack in their New York apartment. Jack has just had his first novel published and has received a good review by a highly regarded New York Times reviewer. Jack reads the review to Annie who is cynical about it and analyses every phrase for its real meaning not believing it could be good. Annie is pacing about frenetically. The discussion changes.There is a lot of arguing and the free use of the F word being shouted. Jack is asks Annie how many pills she has taken. Annie is a drug addict and uses amphetamines to function. References to drugs and the world of drugs underpin this whole play. Annie cleans the apartment continually. The computerized scenery allows the windows she cleans at one stage to shrink or enlarge at will and move about on the wall almost trying to avoid Annie’s manic cleaning attempts. “How many times have you cleaned the apartment today?” Jack asks. “Oh three or four times maybe,” Annie replies as though its normal. There is a scene where her drug dealer,Jeff, played energetically and with an element of nervous energy by Ilan Goodman, comes around. He seems to be a friend of the family. Annie buys two enormous bags of pills. He says he has had to search Manhattan to obtain so much in one go. She pays him $2000 for them. The drug dealer is very nervous about letting her have the drugs. A drug dealer with a heart. A dealer with a conscience. His addiction however is money and he can’t resist selling all these drugs to Annie. He wines about her being careful. He pleads with her to not take them all in one go. This is a joke of course. Annie is not good at rationing her drugs and drugs bought to last a fortnight last four or five days. She says she wants to buy in bulk so she doesn’t have to worry the drug dealer so often and to have easy access to drugs whenever she wants. As well as the bulk buying of drugs Annie also, randomly it seems, buys a large steal red box. The audience is immediately drawn into this dark crazy world that Annie and Jack inhabit.

    Its not just drugs that are the problem. We assume that Annie has been sexually abused as a child. At a dinner party with a publishing executive and his wife she even hints that sexual abuse for women is the norm.”So when did you first get raped?” She asked Sylvia the executives wife. She goes on to say that she was nine years old when it first happened to her. We begin to discover the root causes of Annies drug addiction. At one time Jack tells Charlie how Annie pleaded with her to fuck her in the arse and forced him to try. He could see the pain he was causing her and stopped. She seemed to crave the abusive behavior she had experienced as a child.

    Annie ( Freya Mavor) searching for the drugs that Jack has hidden.

    Jack, also randomly it seems, buys a small yellow canary in a cage for Annie to look after during the day. He thinks this might give her a focus to help take her mind of drugs. Annie is completely taken by this beautiful little piece of life. She loves it. The canary hangs from a stand on the stage throughout the performance. A computerized text appears on a wall that explains the use of canaries down mines to warn of gas. A canary will visibly weaken and die with the onset of gas in the tunnels. We as the audience think this must be of great significance. Being aware of Annie’s fragility this must be the warning  for Annie’s later precariousness or even demise. However, although the canary is there on the stage virtually throughout the performance its actual significance is forgotten and references to it are no longer made. I think this is a weakness by this nonuse of a supposedly important piece of imagery.

    In many plays that deal with dark subjects there is dark humour. Zach Helms has put humour into this play but it is intermittent. A more adept playwright would keep an underlying sense of the absurd as a continuous thread throughout a play like this. The scene  where Annie is cleaning the apartment whilst on speed is funny and strange. The scene where she is buying drugs from ,Jeff.her dealer has its light moments. Annie ends up in hospital at one stage because of her attempts to vomit. Jack eventually finds that she has stuffed a hair curler deep down her throat and nearly choked to death. The ridiculousness of it is evident.

    Zach helms has tried very hard to use all the playwright’s techniques and strategies. However, they are so obvious it makes much of the play clunky. There are the dramatic pauses, too long at times. I thought the actors had forgotten their lines. We have the theater critic, who every writer is afraid off, because their review can make or break them. The publisher who doesn’t read the books he publishes. He may as well be selling potatoes as far as he cares. The wife of the wealthy publisher who sits in her expensive high rise Manhattan penthouse and who is lonely and is bored with life. These are so obvious techniques it makes me think that I have seen parts of this play before. Now where did that scene come from? Where have I seen that before?

    There is also the matter of computerized text displayed on screens. They provide us with background information at times, for instance explaining the use of canaries in mines. I think modern technology is fine in a play, and I absolutely loved the way projectors and lighting were used to create the scenery in this play but I am not convinced about its use to provide dialogue. This is more appropriate for texts displaying information in museums and galleries perhaps but I am not convinced about its use in a play. The actors spoken dialogue should provide all. There was one other use of computerized text which worried me. There is a tender scene between Jack and Annie. They are holding each other expressing their love. They lie on stage in silence. Their inner thoughts are displayed on screens above their entwined bodies. Fist Jack’s words appear and then Annie’s. This scene is a prolonged moment. Anybody with poor eyesight might think the play had ended or come to some frozen standstill. Shakespeare would have used a soliloquy. Other playwrights might have used a voice to the audience.Probably voice overs from the actors themselves would have worked much better. It detracted from the dramatic moment.

    Jack and Annie with the canary of the title.
    The  Good Canary suddenly becomes something of worth at the point when Jack reveals  that he is not the author of the new acclaimed novel but it is Annie who is the writer. There is an awareness that the center of this play, where all strands lead, is Annie.This is the crux of the play. Everybody, whether they know it or not is reliant on Annie. Jeff the drug dealer needs Annie to buy his drugs so he has an income. Jacks publisher, Charlie,  the large publishing firm wanting to buy Charlie out run by Stuart, the New York Times reviewer, Mullholland , who seems to hold all the power and Stuart’s, bored, lonely, sophisticated wife Sylvia, they need her for their very existence. They need Annie’s creative talent to provide for their livelihoods and eventually all the characters realise this.

    Jack was aware of his reliance on Annie from the start of the play. There are moments when we think, why is Jack so dedicated to Annie, he loves her yes, but love can be eroded by a partner living a drug addled existence. Charlie tries to get Jack away from Annie. He sees her as a liability. A party is to be held at Stuarts apartment. Charlie tries to persuade Jack to leave Annie at home because the party is about signing a publishing deal and he doesn’t want Annie to mess things up. Jack knows that Annie must be there. She is the real author. The audience thinks he is just being admirably loyal to his wife and I am sure he is being that but there are obviously other forces making him bring Annie along. Annie behaves in a self destructive way at the party.She ruins the party. She reveals her childhood sexual abuse and her drug reliance. Everybody is shocked and her behaviour appears to have destroyed any chance of a book deal. Charlie, Stuart and Mullholand display  blatant misogyny . Stuart has treated his wife badly. We see their marriage self destructing. Mullholland tells Jack that after Stuarts wife leaves him that Stuart won’t even remember her after a while. He will get another to replace her. The men, apart from Jack, all dismiss Annie’s cries for help. They want to discard her. Jack is forced to reveal that Annie is the real author to Mullhollnad. Charlie is informed. The realization that their own existence relies on Annie’s talent , creativity and writing, changes all their outlooks towards her. Charlie wants Jack to get Annie to write a second book. Jack can see that Annies drug habit is getting out of control. The publishers need a follow up novel to the first successful novel. Jack pays off Jeff to stay away from Annie and not sell her any more drugs. Jack gets rid of the drugs in the apartment. Annie can’t function. She becomes desperate. We realise that Annie needs her drugs to function and to  write. We can think of Dylan Thomas and his drinking or Earnest Hemmingway and his reliance on drink too. The beat poets and writers all took drugs. Ken Keysey and One flew Over The Cookoos nest comes to mind.Annie commits suicide in the apartment when Jack is away. She poors bottle after bottle of  bleach, chrome cleaner, anything she can get her hands on. She dies in agonizing convulsions on the floor. It seems that with Annie’s death everybody else’s existence has come to an end too.

    Jack is disconsolate sitting in the apartment alone. He sees the red steal box that Annie bought, what seems ages ago. He manages to get the padlock open. Inside he finds numerous brown paper parcels. As he sits there opening them, we the audience, realise along with Jack that each parcel contains a manuscript. Annie, her days spent high on amphetamines has not only been cleaning the apartment she has been writing prolifically. Screens appear all around the stage displaying the novels, and books of poetry in Annie’s name that all become national best sellers.

    John Malkovich

    Here Zach Helms tries to attempt dark humour again. Jack and Charlie appear amongst grave stones in a cemetery at Annies funeral and Charlie says, “ For Christs sakes , she died of kitchen cleaning products, goddam.” I didn’t laugh.

    Zach Helms is not an Edward Albee, or an Arthur Miller. His writing makes the  themes, of drug abuse, misogyny, the affects of sexual abuse, hidden talent, appear to be derivative and hence contrived. There is something powerful in this play however. Its strength and importance is the realisation that our existence, our world can be founded on the weakest of things. Sometimes the greatest things can come from something weak and insignificant and damaged that we all want to ignore or want to discard. John Malkovich has made a creditable attempt at producing the play. There are weaknesses in the use of projected text instead of the spoken word. Some of  the dramatic silences lose their drama after a length of time. This is probably to do with pace.The actors do their very best with lots of energy and some truly moving and emotional parts, especially from Freya Mavor as Annie. John Malkovich however,needs to get a better play script for the world to work out whether or not he can be a good stage producer. It seems he has only produced this one play, admittedly in various countries and in two other languages. Perhaps he should try an Edward Albee or an Arthur Miller, or even Shakespeare. If Malkovich is over here dipping his toes into the world of British theatre to test the waters, he needs something better. If he is here trying to emulate Kevin Spacey at The Old Vic then he has some way to go.


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    The mountainous scenery around Valldemossa

    During the second week of August this year, the 7th until the 14th, Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself stayed on Mallorca, the main island amongst the Ballearic group of islands. We had a hotel just a short distance along the coast from Palma, the capital city of the Ballearics. From Palma we could take bus trips all over the island. In planning our holiday, we researched Gaia, the little village on the north side of the island near the coast set amongst the craggy outcrops and peaks of La Serra de Tramuntana. Gaia was the small mountain village that Robert Graves made his home and we wanted to visit his house and find his grave in the little cemetery in the village. La Serra de Tramuntana is a range of craggy limestone hills and mountains, some over 1000 m high, that stretch from East to West across the whole northern part of the island. The steep sided valleys and ravines make a spectacular drive through this rugged landscape. One such spectacular town we passed through was Valldemossa, set on the side of a steep mountain with a long beautiful valley extending south from it with views almost to the sea at Palma. When we got back to our hotel that evening, I found some brochures in the hotel foyer that described  Valldemossa. We discovered it had been a retreat for George Sand and her lover Frederik Chopin in the winter of 1838. They had stayed in rooms in the abandoned Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa. When Marilyn and I read this we immediately thought we must go there. The next day the four of us got the same bus we had got to Gaia from the central bus station in Palma, except this time we alighted on edge of Valldemossa town.

    Valldemossa is well signposted.

    Valldemossa is well sign posted. We started walking up the crowded thoroughfare that comprised the main street making our way towards the Chopin and Sand museum. It was crowded with visitors from the cruise ships we had seen in the harbor at Palma. They wore their cruise ship badges so we could even pick out which ship they had come from. They looked like and sounded like a bored crowd of tourists. You could see and hear the fractious children with their worn out parents sighing and complaining back at their children in strained and reprimanding tones. Valldemossa is beautiful. The streets are lined with tamarisk and holm oaks. These trees create deep shade in the streets during the hot bright summer. The town is built from the honey coloured stones quarried from the surrounding mountains. Olive green shutters are placed over every window. Stone archways encompass heavy wooden doors. The streets are paved with worn irregular slabs of the same stone. The town is rustic, mellow and creates a warm comfortable feeling of human scale. It is the sort of place you need to walk around, stop, contemplate life  and speak to people. The atmosphere of Valldemossa seeps into you and makes you feel human again, if you give it time, away from the hurly burly of your everyday lives. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and I made our way through this unhappy crowd and gradually the crowd thinned out and it became easier to stop and experience Valldemossa properly.

    Shaded streets of Valldemossa

    Valdemossa is a mountain town, very much reliant on tourism as is the whole of Mallorca in the 21st century but it is still home, to hillside farmers growing olives, almonds and grapes. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself walked into some of the shops on the main street. There were the usual Spanish holiday mementoes. We found, a variety of straw sombreros of different circumferences. There were stuffed leather donkeys with colourful rainbow tassels for mains and tails. There was a choice of all sorts of brightly painted castanets.There were brightly coloured clothing on sale and artisan wooden carvings of fish and other animals for sale. There were traditional sangria drinking bottles with a long thin sharp spout. By holding the drinking bottle at arm’s length and above your head height you can send a long thin stream of wine arching through the air to your open mouth and straight down your throat. Watching it done is quite a skillful business. There were traditional Spanish costumes for children. There were local carved wooden statues of The Virgin Mary and Barcelona Football Team shirts side by side and various other paraphernalia, dishes, plates and bottled oils on sale too. We walked on. Interspersed with the tourist shops there were local shops selling bread and groceries. Bars and restaurants, with tables spilling out on to the streets and into the square at the top of the town were everywhere. We saw red banners all over Valldemossa advertising the, “Festival Chopin.” 

    A banner informing about the Chopin Festival.

    We eventually reached the great monastic church belonging to the Carthusian Monastery at the top of the town. An old weather beaten faced old lady selling entry tickets sat at a rickety wooden table. We asked about tickets to see around the old monastery and its church. She explained that the ticket allowed us to see the monastery. I asked where the rooms Chopin and Sand had stayed in were. She waved her arm in the air and grumbled at us with some guttural Spanish phrase gesturing to her right and then she had a go at English and said in a vague comment, “On thee urther side.”

    The Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa, dates back to 1399. It was secularised in 1835 under the Ecclesiastical Confiscations of Mendizabel. At the time there were anti clerical liberal movements in Spain and the government wanted to use the land to help the middle classes expand. The land and buildings of the monastery at Valldemossa were sold to a number of people however the towns people felt it wrong to use the old Carthusian property for their benefits so the new owners would merely rent out the rooms to vistors.

    Inside the Carthusian church.

    Entering the vast monastic church from the sun drenched courtyard in front of the entrance it took a moment to adjust our vision. The inside of the church was cool with its white washed walls reflecting any light that entered from the large roundel window positioned high in the barrel vaulted roof at one end. It was strange in the sense that were no other windows, none of the elaborate gothic arched stained glass windows of a cathedral or local church. Carthusian spirituality is about solitude and living in silence. This is one of the Carthusian statutes.

     The primary application of our vocation is to give ourselves to the silence and solitude of the cell. It is holy ground, the area where God and his servant hold frequent conversations, as between friends. There, the soul often unites itself to the Word of God, bride to the groom, the earth to the sky, man to the divine. “

    The church seemed to cut us off from the outside world. The interior was virtually empty. At one end there was an elaborate altar with a gilt painted baroque framed painting of The Virgin Mary hanging above it and a life size statue of St Bruno, the founding father of the Carthusians to one side. The walls were lined to about half height by intricately carved wooden stalls and friezes where I presume the monks had once sat during mass. There was no seating for a congregation. The body of the church was an empty space floored with stone tiles.  As we walked from the church into dimly lit whitewashed corridors this sense of the Carthusian contemplative life seemed palpable in the structure of the buildings. We came to a small verdant, cloistered square. To one side, appearing almost cartoonish, were two giants. Two statues, at least twice life size, one representing Frederik Chopin and the other George Sand. They seemed totally incongruous. I can only suggest they had something to do with the Chopin Festival. I guess, either that they must stand in pride of place as the festival of Chopin piano concertos proceeds, or perhaps they are the outer costumes and masked heads of stilt walkers and the two creative, “giants,” walk amongst festival goers creating a sense of circus and fun.  

    Frederik Chopin, myself and George Sand!!!!!

    We eventually reached a long corridor at the far side of the cloisters, with a high barrel roof. Every place throughout the monastery was whitewashed and this seemed a very plain white thoroughfare, dimly lit like the rest of the interiors. We could see  to one side, set within the the wall opposite the cloisters and courtyard, there was a row of evenly interspersed wooden doors. They were each numbered. There were thirteen doors we discovered, each being the entrance to the cell of the previous monastic occupant. Cell number four was the reputed abode of Frederik Chopin and George Sand and Sand’s two children during their stay in Valldemossa.

    The balcony garden outside of the cells where Sand and Chopin stayed.

    The rooms are interconnected nowadays and Chopin and Sand occupied at least two of them. There are two pianos within these rooms. One is the Pleyel piano that Chopin had shipped to Mallorca and eventually brought to Valldemossa for his use.  Pleyel was the company of piano makers that Chopin preferred above all others. His last concert was played on a Pleyel. There is another piano there that Chopin also used while he was waiting for the arrival of the Pleyel. The rooms have quite a number of Chopin and Sand artefacts and manuscripts.There are receipts for the sea voyage they made to Palma from Barcelona. There are letters to friends and a first edition of Sand’s book ,”A Winter in Mallorca.”  

    "Un Hiver en Majorque."

    There are sketch books that belonged to Sands two children, Maurice, born in 1823 who was fifteen years old at the time they visited Valldemossa and her daughter Solange, born in 1828, who was ten years old at the time. Their father was George Sand’s estranged husband, Casimir Dudevant. One particular artefact was a cartoon drawing that George Sand had made depicting herself, Chopin and her two children meeting the local priest. In a true cartoonists, using characature, showing her nose and Chopins nose far larger that real life. Underneath Sand has handwritten, a legend stating that the priest was lecturing them about snow. He thought they might never have seen it before and Valldemossa experienced snow falls in the Winter. The facial expressions are very good. The two children are shown sitting very politely showing quiet interest as she is but Chopin is grimacing in almost a snarl. 

    George Sand,Frederik Chopin with children, being lectured about snow.

    Chopin composed most of the preludes opus 28.  while here. He had a prolific creative period during that winter in Valldemossa which is remarkable since he was suffering from pneumonia. Chopin wrote to his friend, Julian Fontan in December from Valldemossa.

    “To Julian Fontana in Paris

    Palma 28 December 1838

    ………………….or rather Valldemosa, a few miles away; between cliffs and the sea a huge deserted Carthusian monastery where in a cell with doors larger than any carriageway in Paris you may imagine me with my hair unkempt, without white gloves and pale as evert. The cell is shaped like a tall coffin, the enormous vaulting covered with dust, the window small. In front of the window are orange trees, plams, cypresses;opposite the window is my camp bed under a Moorish filigree rose window. Close to the bed is an old square grubby box which I can scarcely use for writing on, with a leaden candlestick( a great luxury here) and a little candle. Bach, my scrawlsand someone elses old papers…silence…you can yell….still silence. In short, I am writing to you from a queer place. I received two days ago your letter of the 2nd of this month…….”

    Chopin at Valldemossa.

    Chopin’s prelude in A minor  was undoubtedly composed at Valldemossa. It has a melancholy air. The weather during the winter of 1838 was cold and misty. The mood of the abbey at Valldemossa during that winter seems to have permeated this piece

    A doll that belonged to Solange.

    George Sand wrote, “Un Huiver a Mallorca,”during this stay in Valledemossa. Sand’s book is a curious mixed sort of affair. It provides a history of Mallorca. It lambasts the Spanish Inquisition. It is part travel book and part autobiography using a dark gothic style first begun by Horace Walpole in his  “Castle de Otranto.”At times it also employs a Romantic element in the style of Wordsworth. It  criticizes the people of Mallorca to quite some extent.In January Sand wrote to her friend, Mariliani

      “I write to You from my hermitage in Valldemossa […] In this no quarter is given me by the warbling piano of Chopin working in his normal, beautiful, way, to the astonishment of the eavesdropping walls of the cell’. In a later recollection, inHistoire de ma vie: ‘He could not curb his restless imagination. Even when he felt good, the monastery seemed to him to be full of phantoms and frights […] I found him at ten in the evening sitting pale at the piano, with a vague look in his eyes, with his hair on end…’ Chopin (to Fontana): ‘I send You the Preludes. Transcribe them, You and [Edward] Wolff; I think there are no errors. You will give the transcriptions to Probst and the manuscript to Pleyel. […[ In a couple of weeks’ time You will get a ballade [F major], polonaises [A majorand C minor] and a scherzo [C sharp minor]. Tell Pleyel to agree on the timing of the publication of the preludes with Probst. I still have not yet received any letter from my parents!’ To Pleyel: ‘At last I send You my preludes, completed on Your piano. […] I advised Fontana to hand You my manuscript. For France and England I want for it one thousand five hundred francs. Probst, as You know, purchased the German rights for Härtel for one thousand francs’.

    Sand’s book ““Un Huiver a Mallorca,”(A Winter in Mallorca) begins wuth an assessment and comments about a book she has read about Mallorca written by a certain J B Laurens who had visted Mallorca a couple of years before Sand and Chopin. She enjoyed reading about the vegetation and the history and reading Lauren’s view of the island. George Sand takes great interest in facts such as population numbers, the number of square miles the island consists of. Sands goes into great detail about the temperatures at different times of the year and the differences between sheltered and unsheltered areas. She starts complaining from the beginning. They get to Mallorca by way of the ferry,” El Mallorqn,” a ship the Mallorcans had bought to help their trade with Barcelona and the rest of Spain. 

    "El Mallorqn,"the ship Sand and Chopin sailed from Barcelona to Palma in.

    There is a humerous description in her book that describes how she and Chopin got to Mallorca because of pigs. The Mallorcan sailors on board treated the 200 or more pigs they took aboard with far more care and respect than the human passengers. If it hadn’t been that the pigs were going to Mallorca Chopin and Sand would not have got there themselves. Sand’s was seasick, so that probably didn’t help matters. According to Sand, an apartment in Palma was merely a white washed box. Washing and cooking facilities were non existent. There were no windows in the rooms. According to Sand the people were lazy and stuck in their ways. They, after a short time, moved outside of Palma to a friends furnished house at Establiments, a rural area beyond Palma. She describes the cultivation and surrounding mountains in some detail. This was a silent place and she could hear babies crying at night and the slightest sound but the final straw was when winds the rains started. The deluge went on day after day. The damp got into the house. Chopin became ill and living there became unbearable. Eventually another acquaintance offered them another abode in rooms in the monastery in Valldemossa. Eventually they moved there. They arranged for Chopin’s Pleyel piano to be transported up to this mountain retreat. This was in Winter time and Chopin and Sand had not realized that Valldemossa in the mountains would be so cold. They suffered again but this time they stuck it out. It provided inspiration for Sand’s to write her book and for Chopin, although ill , to compose. The book is worth reading because although it is a jaundiced and somewhat partisan view of Mallorca and does the people of Mallorca no favours, it is a wonder that Valldemossa actually celebrates the two of them, it is entertaining at times in its exaggerations and almost ridiculous  negative descriptions of Mallorca. The book goes into all sorts of incongruous descriptions of buildings. There is a whole section on the three most important buildings in Palma for instance, The Cathedral, The Exchange and The Royal Palace. There are some dark gothic parts to it. Apart from the monastery at Valldemossa Sand’s also comes across another ruined monastery in Palma itself, one where the Inquisition had held sway. She goes into great detail about the beliefs and methods of the Inquisition. She had visited an Inquisition site before on mainland Spain and been into the caves used as prisons beneath the site, caves with walls hundreds of feet thick in places. She goes into chilling detail how the Spanish Inquisitors would imprison, Jews, reformers and anybody who didn’t toe the Catholic line. The worst offenders to the Inquisition were obliterated from existence, their names removed from any documents, their bodies burned to ashes, no record kept of their very existence. This persecution would go as far as their families too, mothers and fathers and siblings so there was no living memory of them either. Sand’s seems to take a prurient interest in this cruelty expressing her horror at the same time. Valldemossa, gets as much description and similar negativity, especially about the local people, who she thought uneducated and coarse as elsewhere in Mallorca but she does express a love for the scenery and the location. I agree with her on that point.

    A portrait of George Sand on a wall of their cell at Valledemossa.

    The rooms that Chopin and Sand occupied , although cramped and cell like, had doors that opened out on to balcony spaces. These small enclosures to this day,contain pots of flowers, palm trees, shrubs and plants of all types. They were and are, small, luxurious gardens. A low stone wall creates  the extent of each space and from that wall, looking south from the monastery,  down the v shaped valley created by the surrounding mountains you can see Palma and the sea in the far distance. The garden, its rustic stone surrounds and the mountains and the magnificent view affects all the senses and creates an uplifting experience. Sand and Chopin, for all its faults and travails, were both inspired by Valldemossa and you can see why. The surroundings and the views are spectacular.

    As well as commemorating Chopin and Sands the various cells in the Carthusian monastery also recall the life and works of the Carthusian monks who had originally lived there. There is an extensive library that the Abbot of of the monastery possessed. There is also a pharmacy. The monks were great herbalists and chemists. They also had a printing press.

    A monks cell.

    The abbots library.

    The monks chemist shop.
     Valldemossa was also home to the local saint, Saint Catalina Thomas. She was born on the 1stMay 1533 in Valldemossa. Her house, next to the towns church, is now a chapel and a shrine and they celebrate her on the 27th and 28thJuly every year. While we were there in the second week of August, the white raffia streamers still crisscrossed an area of the town square and her portrait hung amongst the fluttering raffia  was still in place.

    A statue of Saint Catalina Thomas.
    She lived a life of prayer experiencing visons from an early age. She was visited by angels and devils and experienced a sort of ecstasy for the last years of her life.  Walking along the narrow streets and alleyways of Valldemossa, making our way to the church and the home of St Catalina Thomas we saw glazed porcelain plaques on many walls depicting scenes from her life showing her experiencing some of her visions in the countryside around Valldemossa. It is easy to explain her experiences as an overactive imagination. Her life, though, has encouraged people to prayer and devotion. 

    A plaque on a house wall in Valldemossa depicting one of Saint Catalina Thomas's visions.

    We can talk about all sorts of secular and religious techniques for harnessing the mind to create well being and improvements in our lives. Meditation techniques, mindfulness, forms of self reflection are helpful in both our own relationships and in our work place. Mentally rehearsing actions we are going to take, is another way to harness the power of the mind. Sports people use mental rehearsal in many situations. Maybe that is all Catalina Thomas experienced, some or all of those type of things and we can dismiss her for that. However she means something very powerful to many Mallorcans to this day and that is what really counts. She left Valldemossa and  went to Palma where she worked as a servant in a household before joining a religious order, the Canonnesses of St Augustine at the convent of St Mary Magdelene in Palma.

    A shaded bar.

    Valldemossa and the surrounding area is good walking country. The landscape is spectacular. It is worth exploring for the wildlife, the vegetation and the breath taking views. The town itself is very photogenic. There are lots of wonderful restaurants and a few rustic hotels and guest houses.


    Chopin’s prelude in A minor  :

    Played by Martha Argerich:

    "A Winter in Mallorca," by George Sand (translated by Shirley Kirby James)
    pub: Classic Collection Carolina 

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    Donald and Hillary. 

    Tuesday 9th November 2016….. is so very nearly here.

    The World awaits. Who will it be, Donald or Hillary?

    It’s so close, we here in Britain can feel the heat from 3000miles away across a choppy Atlantic. Friction, that’s what it is. Anything that close and so abrasive causes a lot of heat.

    There is the misogynist, abuser of women, bankrupt, litigiously incontinent, egomaniac,  and total nincompoop, ( that’s an English word for idiot.) Donald the Trump. I can’t bear to look at his face on the TV and  I can’t  bear to listen to the sound of his voice. What I will do if he wins, I haven’t decided yet.

    Then there is Hillary, duplicitous, sneaky, a rather untrustworthy type who wants a national health service and wants to ban the carrying and ownership of guns. She must be a pinky left wing socialist sort. 

    So what if……………?

    Trump WINS!! IT'S President Trump.

    So we have a President Trump. His own party, the Republicans can’t believe it. Nobody wants to be a part of his administration. He has decided to have a new series of the Apprentice whereby candidates for high political office in his administration compete for government roles. He is recruiting candidates from amongst the great American beer drinkers, golfing types and bar loafers who voted for him. Wolf whistling at women will be of high priority

     As America doesn’t own any shipping companies to deport immigrants  an upsurge in the inflatable airbed industry is underway. Airbed stock market rates have gone through the roof. Thousands and thousands of inflatable Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse air beds are to be seen off the East Coast and West Coast of the USA as desperate illegal immigrants paddle for the safety of the high seas. American citizens have been given the right to shoot on sight anybody they think are undesirable sorts. There are summary executions in the streets right across America. A few mother inlaws and ex wives have been mistakenly shot. This has of course preempted Trump’s  passing a bill through  Congress banning all mother inlaws and ex wives anyway.

     Illegal Mexican immigrants in the USA having been sent back across the boarder the day after the election result  are now working for building companies right across Mexico. They are part of a desperate race  to build a high brick and concrete wall to keep out the undesirable Americans fleeing across their borders  from the USA in disgust at the Presidential result. Building companies, cement factories, brickyards, construction machinery companies,  and  yellow hard hat companies are flourishing. The Mexican economy has had a gigantic boost. 

    President Putin has been invited to  the Golden Gilt House , formerly The White House, after a quick renovation to suit President Trump’s tastes. President Trump has announced a ,”special relationship,” once attributed to Britain, with Russia. After all it was Russia who financed his Presidential campaign, got him out of two bankruptcies and provided him with a  docile, servile, wife who will do anything for her man.

    The BBC was seen as insulting Donald in the run up to the election. Rumours that the British people were making fun of him also riled the bloated red faced one, so all political ties with Britain have been severed and the USA is now at war with its old ally. Trump is reserving a large section of the American nuclear arsenal  for the bombing and total eradication of Britain.  “Who wants those National Health Service, free education,  lefty bastards anyway? They don’t even carry guns.”, he has been reported as saying.

    Also Europe is a little concerned that Trump wants to drop nuclear bombs on all major European cities.

    Donald is suing all Hollywood and music industry stars for not liking him.

    A new bright era of world dominance , let’s forget the Chinese, for the wonderful U. S. of A is dawning under this Donald Trump regime.

    As for Hillary Clinton, the Clintons have been seen escaping to Britain,. They now live in a Liverpool, council house in the  suburbs of LIverpool near Paul McCartneys childhood home. Hillary always expressed admiration for the Fab Four in her student days. The Clintons have been made penniless after the hard fought election and are seeking housing benefits and work seekers allowances from Liverpool City Council.


    Hillary is President. President Clinton the second.

    The first woman President of the United States, Hillary Clinton. The world sighed a long sigh of relief after election night. She is the normal conniving, back stabbing politician we all know and love. The status quo will be kept. Americans might not get the jobs and rejuvenated industries they want but they might, unless Hillary does a U turn, get a National Health service and guns might just be banned. Which will be a good thing, won’t it? It will be best for Hillary to act quickly on these things of course while the Gun Lobby, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Drugs Industry have been incapacitated by the shock of Donald’s defeat. Best to get in there before they recover their composure.

    The close relationship with Britain has been made closer. Hillary loved the sarcasm, and the denigrating commentary of Donald Trump by the BBC.

    Relationships with Russia have soured even further and Putin is rather upset because the Russian economy is shrinking and he can’t finance his military ambitions of invading and nuking Europe. Donald had promised him support in that area.

    Mexico are feeling ambivalent. There is not going to be a wall between them and the USA but they had already decided they hate the USA and were looking forward to keeping Americans out of their wonderful country. They no longer have an excuse.

    Donald Trump meanwhile has been spotted rowing a converted golf buggy towing suit cases full of his and Melania’s belongings, out to sea heading for Colombia. He is wondering if he can do a deal with the drugs barons there. He is bankrupt again after this Presidential campaign and he would like them to bail him out and set him up in ,"business," again. It has been discovered that Donald had mortgaged Trump Tower for every last brick to pay for the election campaign.

    Election campaign badge.

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  • 11/20/16--00:53: THE BOX OF DELIGHTS!!!!!

  • As I walked out one midsummer morning

    The Little match girl huddled nearby and lit another match.
    I Wandered lonely as a cloud




    On the road,

    Past the

    animal farm.

    I had no

    Sense or sensibility.

    Matilda stood there browsing.

    The tenant of wildfell hall hid her face.

    Emma controlled everything with a look.

    It was all set

    For whom the bell tolls.

    Ted's hawk roosted above.

    A tempest blew through

    the Old curiosity shop.


    a comedy of errors

    what a brave new world

    presented itself.

    The book  seller


    As you like it,sir.

    little women giggled in the corner with jack

    the Three pigs

    scurried away


    Choosing a book is an adventure. Try it this Christmas.

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    At the Victoria and Albert Museum  between 10 September 2016 - 26 February 2017

    I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum recently to see the exhibition about the revolutions that happened in society in the late 1960s. This was a nostalgic experience for Marilyn and myself. We were teenagers in the 1960s,  the most emotional and physical developmental period of our lives. So, the revolutions that happened in the 1960s were very important to us, helping in many ways to shape our ideas, and responses to life. This personal connection with this period in our past is a perfect example of why understanding and engaging with history is so important to the human condition. To develop as humans, we need to reflect. Understanding the past is a form of reflection and the study of history is a collective reflection. This exhibition is directly applicable with our own past but the past going back millennia is also important to our understanding of the human condition and hence an understanding of ourselves.

    I remember the 60’s; the saying goes that some people who lived through those times don’t remember anything. I remember doing my o’levels in a small school in Shropshire and learning about General Wolfe in 1759 fighting the   battle of  Quebec; The South Sea Bubble , its causes and its implications and about Clive of India. I remember reading 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell and Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Laurie Lees, Cider With Rosie and John Berger’s, Ways of Seeing and later on , when I was training to be a teacher, The Comprehensive School by Robin Pedley,  books which shaped my political, and social views and shaped my emotional life. . I remember, in my mid-teens, going in a coach with a group from the school I attended in Liverpool for a while to Liverpool Cathedral, the Protestant one, for an interfaith service and experienced Ian Paisley leading a mob of Northern Ireland Protestants in a noisy and boisterous chanting of anti-Catholic slogans and beating the sides and windows of our coach with their placards. That was thrilling.  I wore flared Levi jeans in the 1960s, my hair grew long and bushy, I grew a beard of sorts and I listened to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Hendrix and Dylan and so so many more. I remember reading the new poetry of Ted Hughes, visceral stuff and that of Thom Gunn, Sylvia Plath, George Macbeth , John Wain and Philip Larkin. There was the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) that changed the format of the mass and indeed the physical structure of how a church was built and Pope John XXIII advocating a more liberal approach to religion. He did not go far enough for many and too far for others. He was anti-abortion and anti-contraceptives but advocated more natural forms of birth control which has caused arguments ever since. Women were given a slightly, some might say cosmetic, higher profile roles within the church. They were allowed to take part in the mass more. The Catholic Church remains an authoritarian patriarchy to this day. Abortion and the pill, freedom of thought, questioning everything, student rioting in Paris and in London against the Vietnam War; the more I sit here and think the more I remember and try and work out what it all means and what it means now.

    So I remember all these things that crowd my thoughts in a sort of jumble. It was confusing at the time and even now I am struggling to make sense of it. A lot of this stuff made my early life a challenging though provoking time, the way I had been brought up, my grandparents beliefs and stories of their past, my parents views and the life they lived, the Catholic religion that I was imbued with and its very powerful strictures on the way to live and think. The Catholic Church was epitomized for me by Cannon Ibbit , my local parish priest in Woolston and the De La Mennais Brothers who taught me at St Mary’s College in Bitterne Park. They were all benign and supportive but their guidance always lead to the rules of the church.These changes, these revolutions were powerful counterweights to my already learned responses to life. This new way of living was presented in the news, the way people all around started to dress and behave, in books, in the cinema, in the music I began to listen to, in attitudes and in what people spoke about.. Have you noticed that your inner thoughts and impulses remain hidden because they don’t fit what you are used to and have always been told. Even though you are thinking and feeling them, until you hear of others’ experiences, you can’t acknowledge without them causing some sort of pain and rupture within you. Once you know others have revolutionary thoughts and beliefs similar to yours its like being given permission from society to think and feel this way. Then you feel liberated and not alone in your inner and outer responses and permit yourself to actually think and do the things you were beginning to be aware of. Yes, we do need permission to do, say and believe things and it often takes others, more brave than ourselves to say and do these things first.

    The exhibition at the V&A  charts the history of this time. Social changes that included the experimentation with drugs to enhance our minds, the new ways of living, creating new social orders in communes, new economic models based on adapting to the  world in more harmonious ways. There were new concepts of communication. Cultural changes happened in music, drama, films, writing and art and a rewriting of history from the points of view of ethnic minorities, women and the working classes. Political changes included civil rights, women’s liberation, anti war movements,  education, and the creation of  new political movements. Many of these experiments have continued and  led to ways of living, doing, thinking and believing that we have now. Some experimenst were disastrous such as the experimentation with mind enhancing drugs, the good effects were far outweighed by the detrimental effects. Music has gone on to develop through more and more synergies as has art, developing new ways of seeing and thinking. Politics has changed, through new ways of communication and people feeling free to challenge, ask questions and promote alternative ways.  Barriers to real meritocracy and equality still remain such as the two tier system of education we have, the private sector and the state sector. Womens employment still has glass ceilings and poor working practices which hamper their development within organisations. Consumerism has taken over much and there is a monitory price on everything.  It seems that we need a market economy for things to exist.

    This exhibition uses three different texts from three different periods of history to show how revolutions in thoughts, ideas, ways of living and politics are not just about the 1960s. It is five hundred years since the publication of Thomas More’s,” Utopia ,” in which inhabitants of a fictional island reject intolerance, personal gain and property, and instead find peace and contentment as part of a community.” 

    Three hundred years after More’s, Utopia, William Blake wrote “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” He raged against,” mind formed manacles,” and commented, “ if the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Perhaps the use of LSD in the 1960s was  about the search for the same sort of enlightenment. 

    The third text was written at the start of the 1960s. “The Port Huron Statement,” It addressed the cold war, the nuclear arms race, and called for the democracy of individual participation. It called for the means for the individual to participate in the social decisions determining the quality and the direction of his life.

    This exhibition portrays Britain and America at this time but more specifically London  and San Francisco. It shows the sharing of social, political and musical ideas. The traumas created by US politics and its involvement in South East Asia are covered. It displays the counter culture and underground movements in music, art and the marches against racism, especially in the US south and the anti-Vietnam War marches in London and Washington and the student protests in Paris. It portrays the new youth cultures in the use of drugs, clothes, experimental living, music, art and writing. 

    There is a large section in the exhibition focused on the Beatles and their development of new styles including the use of transcendental meditation, LSD, Indian influences from Ravi Shanker and their exploration of different sounds and instruments. The exhibition shows this through their musical transitions from   Revolver, Rubber Sole to Sgt Peppers. They wrote love songs, protest songs and music derived from the use of LSD. There were jokes and biographical memories included in their work. The Beatles moved from live performances to working in the studio and this helped in creating these developing styles. The development of their music was something they would not have been able to do to such an extent if they had concentrated on live performances. I always think it is a thrilling experience to see original drafts. To see the fresh, immediate creation just as it was made, gets you close to the creator and the creative process. John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for, “Tomorrow Never Knows, “is displayed. There are the handwritten lyrics for Lucy in The Sky with scribbled corrections and crossings out.

    This extract from a poem entitled, “On The Move,” by a young poet, Thom Gunn, encapsulated the youth of the time.

    A minute holds them, who have come to go:

    The self defined astride the created will

    They burst away; the towns they travel through

    Are home for neither bird nor holiness

    For birds and saints complete their purposes

    At worst one is in motion; and at best

    Reaching no absolute in which to rest

    One is always nearer by keeping still.

    Today we can see how things have developed. The internet has created a sort of universal “mind,” something that LSD failed to do. It was the students coming out of the universities of the 1960s who invented the internet. Those who began APPLE and GOOGLE, created ways of communal working  where creativity and sharing ideas, a counter culture concept, formed and grew these great organisations of today. Music and fashions were freed from the constraints of the past  and they have continued to develop and be continuously creative. However  consumerism has attached itself to what has developed  and all these countercultural concepts and ideas have in many ways been brought into a new main stream culture of business and wealth. Some of the most tenacious parts of the old order have remained . We still have a class system in this country controlled by an education system split into private and state. Some people would like to destroy the National Health Service which although begun soon after the second world war in 1948 was a forerunner of freedoms dreamt of that developed in the 1960s. Big business and government want to keep the majority poorly paid on low incomes. The next big change seems to be coming from the right wing. Donald Trump has been voted into the presidency of the United States. Britain has voted to leave Europe at a time of austerity under a right wing government. I wonder where things are going to go from here?

    It is interesting to see who the sponsors of this exhibiton are; Levis, the company that made the trouser choice of the 60s. Sennheiser,  provide the sound systems for the exhibiton. It is worth wearing the headphones that are provided. Walking around the exhibition is a musical experience, a continuous soundtrack of music from the sixties with appropriate music tracks connected to each part of exhibition.The Kinks ,”Waterloo Sunset” for ,”Swinging London,” fashion and the counter culture. Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,”recalling Vietnam. That one  sends a chill down your spine. The largest exhibition room, its floor spread out with Indian patterned cushions to sit on, is a surround sound and filmic experience of the Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals provided by Sennheiser. Sassoon, the creative hairdresser who started in the 1960’s who cut Twiggys hair  also recalls the fashion of Barbara Hulanicki and BIBA and Mary Quant.  Fenwick, the store company which started in the late 1880s and owns many of our High Street outles delivering the fashion of today also contributes. The Annenberg Foundation is a main sponsor too through its charitable trust and its belief in personal freedoms and the creation of outlets for the expression of creativity and the provision of free public facilities. It sponsors free public broadcasting and has promoted education, the arts and created places such as community beach houses, wetlands restoration projects and much more. Walter Annenberg who began the foundation was The American Ambassador to Britain under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

    Pete Townsend of The Who performing in 1968 at the first Isle of Wight festival.

    And finally..................................ME AS I WAS THEN!!!!!! (God help us all!! Ha! Ha!)


    The New Poetry (Selected and introduced ) by A Alvarez (Penguin 1962)

     The Comprehensive School by Robin Pedley  (Pelican 1963)

    You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966- 1970  edited by Victoria Broakes and Geoffrey Marsh  ( (V&A publishing 2016)

    Bary McGuire ,”Eve of Destruction.”

    The Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset.”        

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    To Walk Invisible is a drama documentary written and directed by Sally Wainwright, about the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne , their brother Branwell and their father Patrick during the years 1845 to 1849. This date span is dealt with flexibly. There are flash backs to childhood  when Branwell receives a present of some toy soldiers and the children use these soldiers, whose individual figures, they name, to write  poems, plays and create magazines and novelettes. They place them within a world they call Glasstown. Later as they grow older, Charlotte and Branwell extend this by creating their own country called, Angria, and Emily and Anne create their world called ,Gondal. These imaginary worlds are interlaced in the programme to show their early influences and their development as authors and artists. It references the time after 1849 with obituaries for Branwell, Emily and Anne and describes what happens to Charlotte and Patrick Bronte ,their father, at a later date.

    The moors near Haworth.

    The programme begins at a time after Branwell and Anne have left their governess and tutor roles for the Robinson Family at Thorpe Green and its emotional aftermath. It also deals with the dramatic event where Anne and Charlotte travel to London to visit their publishers Smith, Elder and Co on Cornhill in The City. The final part fades into the present day, showing  modern tourists  inside the parsonage  and we are then taken to the tourist gift shop and a view of the wild looking statue of the three sisters that is positioned beside the shop. The end is a little confusing seemingly becoming an advert for the Bronte Parsonage bookshop and the Bronte Society. It is linked to an English Literature course provided by the Open University.

    The statues of Anne, Charlotte and Emily beside the Haworth museum shop.

    Sally Wainwright, who wrote and produced ,To Walk Invisible, was an obvious choice to make this programme. She is a gritty Yorkshirewoman who understands the Yorkshire way of life. The fact that she is a ,”Yorkshire lass,” imbued with the landscape, people and a Yorkshire sensibility, connects her to the Brontes in no small way. She was born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 1963.She was brought up in Sowerby Bridge where she attended Triangle C of E Primary School and Sowerby Bridge Grammar School. She went on to attended the University of York reading English. Intellectually, socially and emotionally she was formed by Yorkshire. Like the Brontes she started writing from an early age, the age of nine. While at university she had a play called ,”Hanging On,” put on at the Edinburgh Festival. She graduated from the University of York and became a bus driver to finance her writing. The Brontes did what was available to them too, to earn money. They became tutors , governesses and teachers which they hated but stuck with these  jobs because there was nothing else for women in their situation and the family needed money. Wainwright came from that sort of position too, albeit in the present day. Sally Wainwright has gone on to create very successful television dramas including, At Home With The Braithwaites, Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley, all plays set in Yorkshire about Yorkshire people and she has also written for Coronation Street and The Archers. You could say she was predestined to write this drama about the lives of these Yorkshire writers, the Brontes.

    Sally Wainwright.

    There are two main strands in this biopic. There is a focus on Branwell, his attempts at becoming a professional artist, and writer and his dissolute character; an overriding precociousness believing the world owed him recognition as a great artist and writer and his abusiveness and self destruction in his response when that was not forthcoming. This is overlaid by his increasing drunkenness and alcoholism. We see the Bronte family struggling to barely function at times. We witness Branwell, almost destroying his father and sisters. The swearing and the implied and threatened physical abuse adds a bitter edge to the whole thing.

    The second strand involves the literary pursuits of Anne, Emily and Charlotte, under the unbearable stresses caused by Branwell. Eventually  kept their literary efforts a secret from him.  They wrote separately from each other, although they did use each other as critics. The contents of their novels, The Tennent of Wildfell Hall, Agnes Grey, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, reflect the intensity of the life they lived and the self analysis they went through about relationships, moral conflicts and the many hardships they themselves underwent as tutors and governesses. Just being a Bronte seemed hard. 

    Branwell wrote to the editor of Blackwoods Magazine; their father Patrick was a subscriber. Branwell had sent the editor some examples of his writing in the hope of gaining employment.

    “Haworth 4th January 1837

    Now, is the trouble of writing a single line,to outweigh the certainty of doing good to a fellow creature and the possibility of doing good to yourself?- Will you still so wearisomely refuse me a word, when You can neither know what you refuse or whom you are refusing? Do you think your magazine so perfect that no edition to its power would be either possible or desirable? Is it pride which actuates you- or custom- or prejudice?- Be a man-Sir! And think no more of these things! Write to me-….”

    You can sense Branwell’s frustration at not getting a reply. However, he is also being rude and on the verge of insulting the editor. Branwell  did not take rejection well. Throughout his short life any job or positon or talent he had was wasted. It has been suggested, that if Branwell was living now, he would be diagnosed with attention deficit syndrome.

    Haworth Parsonage today.

     Blackwoods Magazine was a periodical begun by William Blackwood in 1817. It was a combative magazine with radical views not just about politics but also religion and society. Charlotte, Emily and Anne were permitted to read these articles, in fact Patrick Bronte encouraged his daughters to read widely and no books were off limits in his library.Patrick taught his children literature, geography, history, mathematics, the classics, Latin, French and poetry. He encouraged them to go walking on the moors and observe nature and experience the elements. All these things were to influence their writing.

    Related image

    The front cover of an edition of Blackwoods magazine.

    An underlying theme in, To Walk Invisible, is the source of their creativity and their thinking about the world. The education and the breadth of reading was one aspect but playing and imagining was a very large part of their creative development as well. Creativity is something which schools today know they should have time for but  is not easy to include in the everyday school timetable.  The toy soldiers that Branwell was given at an early age triggered the creation of whole worlds, which existed alongside their actual lives. In their letters and diaries, it is sometimes difficult to see the difference between the real world and their imaginative worlds. Perhaps they didn’t separate them.

    The Reverend Patrick Bronte provided the money, from his meagre income, for Branwell’s art education and the travelling expenses to go to interviews.This caused the family to make sacrifices financially  so that Branwell might pursue a career. Branwell, however,wasted his fathers and the family’s money. This is highlighted in To Wlak Invisible most sharply by Branwell’s abortive visit to London to apply for entry to the Royal Academy. Branwell was granted an interview at The Royal Academy and travelled to London, using the families much needed money but he never made it to the interview. He spent his time drinking and so used up the money before returning to Hawarth.He got into debt and was nearly arrested on occasions only for his father to bail him out. He became a tutor to the children of the Robinson family at Thorpe Green but began an affair with Mrs Robinson, who Branwell described in one letter to a friend as dark eyed and beautiful . He almost complained that she wouldn’t leave him alone. He was dismissed from this post and the experience hastened  his sinking into drug addiction and alcoholism. Anne had also been a governess to the children at Thorp Green and resigned just before Branwells dismissal. Strangely the children remained in contact with Anne.They seemed to have formed an attachment to her.

    The Black Bull Inn in Haworth where Branwell would go drinking.

    Branwell was  a walking, breathing disaster, not only to himself but to the rest of his family. One aggressive scene in the film depicts a burly gentleman confronting Branwell outside the Black Bull Inn, situated at the top of Haworth High Street just outside the gates leading to the church and the Parsonage. The man wants his money and threatens Branwell. Emily intervenes and stands toe to toe, face to face with the man and threatens to hit him harder than he threatens to hit Branwell.  On another occasion Branwell is in such a drunken state, dragging himself home, the three sisters walk past trying to ignore him but Emily turns and goes back to him and holds and cradles him. Emily, for all her harshness and austere outlook, can’t help her feelings of love for her brother. It is a dour production. The clothing is muted, dark colours, the skies are overcast or the lighting is toned down on cloudless scenes. The language is violent at times, with swear words delivered with strong Yorkshire accents.There are scenes that verge on the physically violent. It gives a very powerful sense of the hard and difficult lives the Brontes lead.

    The Chapter Coffee House was situated near here next to St Pauls Cathedral.

    One of the most dramatic scenes in the programme is when Charlotte and Anne go to London to confront Charlotte’s publishers, Smith and Elder at 65 Cornhill in the City. A problem had arisen. Emily and Anne had a different publisher, a Mr Newby. There had been a lot of speculation in the newspapers as to who Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell actually were. Mr Newby was the publisher for Emily and Annes’ aliases, Ellis Bell (Emily Bronte) and Acton Bell (Anne Bronte) while Smith and Elder published Charlottes work under the name of Currer Bell.  Mr Newby had caused speculation by suggesting that they were one and the same person. Having suggested this and because he had the manuscripts of Ellis and Acton Bell, he put it about that he had the rights to publish Currer Bells next novel after the great success of Jane Ayre. Smith and Elder were obviously very concerned about this and thought that Charlotte (Currer Bell ) had given her next manuscript to Mr Newby. They wrote to Currer Bell ( Charlotte Bronte) setting out their concerns. Even the sisters  own publishers did not know who they were other than by the aliases. Charlotte, thought it right to visit Smith and Elder on Cornhill to set things straight. She wanted all three of them to go but Emily refused. In the end just herself and Anne made the journey. 

    A map drawn by Patrick Bronte to show his daughters Charlotte and Anne where the Chapter Coffee House was located.

    The scene depicted in the programme follows closely the details of the visit to their publishers that Charlotte gave to a friend, Mary Taylor, in a letter, from Haworth, dated 4th September 1848.
    “ We arrived at the Chapter Coffee House ( A cheap boarding house that members of the clergy used situated in, Paternoster Lane, next to St Pauls Cathedral) .. about eight o’clock in the morning. We washed ourselves- had some breakfast-sat a few minutes and then set off in queer, inward excitement, to 65 Cornhill. Neither Mr Smith nor Mr Williams knew we were coming- they had never seen us- they did not know whether we were men or women- but had always written to us as men.

    We found 65- to be a large bookseller’s shop in a street almost as bustling as the Strand- we went in- walked up to the counter- there were a great many young men and lads here and there- I said to the first I could accost- “May I see Mr Smith-?” he hesitated, looked a little surprised- but went to fetch him-We sat down and waited a while- looking at some books on the counter-publications of theirs well known to us- many of which they had sent us copies as presents. At last somebody came up and said dubiously, “Did you want to see me, Ma’am?” “Is it Mr Smith?” I said looking up through my spectacles at a young, tall, gentlemanly man. “It is.” I then put his own letter into his hand addressed to Currer Bell. He looked at it- then at me- again- yet again- I laughed at his queer perplexity- a recognition took place- I gave my real name-“Miss Bronte”- We were both hurried from the shop into a little back room…”

    The site of 65 Cornhill today. This was the site of Smith and Elder , Charlotte Brontes publisher.

    This portrays Charlotte Brontes propensity for the dramatic, not only in her writing, but in her life too. Many of her letters are vivid descriptions portraying her emotions, feelings and thoughts.

    There were few opportunities for work for the unmarried daughters of poor clergy men. One thing they did acquire was an education which enabled them to be teachers and governesses. Their Aunt Bronte, their fathers sister, who lived with them after their mothers death, provided the money for Charlotte and Emily to spend time at the Pensionnat Heger run by  Monsieur Heger in Brussels. Charlottes emotional attachment to Monsiuer Heger that developed while she was in Brussels is not covered by this programme however. They learned French and some Italian and German. Ability with languages made them far more employable as teachers.They thought about setting up their own school in Haworth and had notices printed advertising ,”The Misses Brontes Establishment,” offering an extensive educational experience including a range of languages, mathematics,  writing , music, drawing, needlework and history. This was not successful, perhaps because of the remote location of the parsonage in Haworth.

    Some buildings in Haworth near the church and the parsonage.

    “To Walk Invisible,” has received some criticism for its harsh portrayal of difficult lives, the stresses placed on them all by Branwell and the sense of desperation  the three sisters felt in needing to make a living and earn money. We can learn something of their lives by reading their letters and through their novels and now through this television programme. The themes of their books reveal much. Anne wrote about the plight and hardships of being a governess in Agnes Grey. The Tennent of Wildfell Hall dealt with the topic of marital abuse and in particular the abuse of women that was exceedingly shocking to Victorian sensibilities and is pertinent today. Anne Bronte is becoming a woman’s movement icon.

    “I see that a man cannot give himself up to drinking without being miserable one-half his days and mad the other.” 

    Anne Bronte: The Tennent of Wildfell Hall

    Emily wrote about the strength of human passion to almost a surreal level in Wuthering Heights and Charlotte dealt with issues of fidelity and love and morality in Jane Eyre.  

    “Feeling . . . clamoured wildly. “Oh, comply!” it said. “. . . soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?” Still indomitable was the reply: “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now.” 

    Charlotte Bronte:Jane Eyre

    A wooden carved panel on the door of 32 Cornhill depicting Charlotte and Anne Bronte meeting William Makepeace Thackeray at the offices of Smith Elder and Co.

    I think “To Walk Invisible,” captures many of the issues in the lives of the Bronte sisters. It can be said it is a modern view and that it is sensational but the evidence shows that there were sensational elements to their lives and their lives had rough and harsh elements too.   Somebody dramatising the Brontes lives in fifty years time will have a different outlook and approach to it using the same facts and evidence.“To Walk Invisible,” is a powerful piece of television drama and Sally Wainwright is the right person to have written the script and produced the TV programme. “Eeh by gum! Flippin eck!”

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  • 02/16/17--08:41: A VISIT TO BATH

  • Sometimes, among all the unwanted adverts, links and promotions that crop up on my i-phone, there  is something  of use. Recently Marilyn saw a very good one night deal advertised at The Royal Hotel Bath. That is not the Royal Crescent Hotel at the top of the city by the way. The Royal Crescent Hotel provides, I am sure, extreme luxury. Well, it should do. The cost of a suite for one night is £1000. The Royal Hotel is the sturdy building, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built in 1864, next to the main railway station located next to the River Avon. The deal was excellent. The hotel is probably three star but it offered a very comfortable experience. For £125 we had a well appointed double room with en-suite facilities. When we arrived we had a cream tea in the foyer. The evening three course meal began with a complimentary glass of champagne. The deal also included a full English breakfast.

    The Royal Hotel ,Bath. (Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1846.)

    The weather was cold but clear skied while we were in Bath. We  had to wrap up warmly.
    We have been to Bath on a few occasions and we have seen the main sites before. This time we once again visited Bath Abbey and for the first  time visited the Roman Baths complex. There was quite a queue to get into the Pump Room for afternoon tea so we decided to miss that. We have been to the Pump Room twice. We found another coffee shop nearby in the Abbey precinct.

    Bath Abbey with The Pump Room on the right.

    Of course we walked past and along many of the sites in Bath that are connected with Jane Austen.When we arrived in Bath, we first of all parked in our usual car park, near the river, very close to Green Park buildings, and the house The Reverend George Austen died in. After booking into The Royal Hotel we moved our car to the car park in Manvers Street next to the hotel.   I discovered that Fanny Burney , the playwright and novelist, a contemporary of Jane Austen's lived in South Parade, just off Manvers Street,next to the car park.We walked up Milson Street to Edgar Buildings, which are located in George Street. We turned left along George Street to Gay Street and walked up the hill to The Circus, past number 25 Gay Street, another of the houses the Austens stayed in.From, The Circus ,we walked along Bennett Street to The Upper Assembly Rooms . Later, on our return walk back into the center, we walked down Gay Street, past The Jane Austen Centre and through Queen Square, noting Trim Street on our left.

    We had never been inside the Assembly Rooms before. They were spectacular. Jane Austen describes a number of Balls in her novels, Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Northangar Abbey. She also writes, in her letters to Cassandra, about the balls she and other members of her family, and friends attended. I know about the social importance of a ball in the 18th century to the marriage market. However, actually standing in the ballroom and seeing the tea room and the Octagon card room, I became much more aware of the powerful social meaning of a place like this. The ballroom would have been set out like a sports arena with tiers of seating around the side.Mothers, fathers and often grandparents would have sat in these seats. The young participants, dressed for the part and tutored in every flirtation technique and intricate dance move were on display in the middle on the dance floor using their hard won skills to attract a partner. Emma Woodhouse is jealous of Jane Fairfax, in Jane Austen's novel Emma because of her superior accomplishments. And in Pride and Prejudice the Bennett sisters practice their dance moves, honing them to perfection. It was a spectator event, the various members of the families assessing their daughter or son's performance and also assessing the opposition. Being there made me aware of how serious a ,"sport," all this was.

    The entrance to The Upper Assembly Rooms. (Designed by John Wood The younger 1769)

    Thomas Gainsborough lived in a house in The Circus nearby the Assembly Rooms . It was not cheap to attend a ball. Living in, The Circus,Gainsborough, had access to the wealthy families who attended the balls and so was able to obtain portrait commissions more easily. Various masters of ceremonies oversaw the activities of the moneyed classes in Bath. Beau Nash, being the most influential and famous of these. He made sure the right people mixed together. He organised spectacular events in Bath which the rich and famous paid for.Gainsborough was favoured by Beau Nash and he and his family were given complimentary tickets to many of the Balls and events in Bath. In Northangar Abbey Henry Tilney and Catherine Moreland are introduced to each other by the master of ceremonies at the Lower Assembly Rooms, which no longer exist but were situated between the Abbey and the river.

    "They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentleman like young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. "

    (Northangar Abbey by Jane Austen)

    The Ballroom.

    We walked around The Royal Crescent where Jane Austen and her contemporaries went for strolls conversing and showing themselves off to society. We also visited Number 1 The Royal Crescent,which is the first house on the Royal Crescent. It is furnished with 18th century furniture and the styles prevalent between 1776  and 1796. The guides in each room told us about the people who rented and lived in the house during this period. The aristocracy and the wealthy did not live in Bath all the time but usually rented properties for, "The Bath Season."

    The Royal Crescent, Bath (Designed by John Wood the elder and John Wood the younger between 1767 and 1775)

    There is an area called The Northern Crescents in Bath which we had never visited before so we decided to do that. Bath is built on hills and to get to The Northern Crescents it is quite a steep climb that extends north of The Royal Crescent. We visited Landsdowne Crescent ,which is situated on Sion Hill. On Thursday 21st May 1801 Jane wrote to Cassandra describing a walk she made with Mrs Chamberlayne to Weston, a small village to the west of Bath, by way of Sion Hill. We also visited Somerset Place and Cavendish Crescent which are all spectacular examples of 18th century architecture easily comparable to The Circus and The Royal Crescent but perhaps on a smaller scale. We missed Camden Crescent which is further east of those crescents. Next time I go to Bath, Camden Crescent is a must. After all it is where Anne Elliot , the heroine of Persuasion and her father Sir Walter Elliot took rooms in Camden Place, nowadays known as Camden Crescent.

    “a very good house in Camden Place, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence”
    (Persuasion by Jane Austen)

    Landsdowne Crescent, Bath (designed by John Palmer 1789 -1793)

    We also walked across Pultney Bridge and along Great Pultney , a very elegant, wide thoroughfare . It was here Catherine Moreland stayed in Northangar Abbey.

    The elegant Great Pultney Street. ( designed by Thomas Baldwin and completed in 1789)

     We walked the full length of Great Pultney and turned left into Sydney Place opposite Sydney Gardens and stood outside number 4 Sydney |Place, another house Jane Austen lived in. There is a plaque commemorating this on the house front. Not all the houses Jane Austen lived in have plaques on them.. It was a little disconcerting to see two black bin liners, full of rubbish, tied to the railings at the front of number 4 Sydney Place but I suppose the rubbish has to be left somewhere on refuse collection day.

    Number 4 Sydney Place.

    There is a rather awkward story about the time Jane Austen lived in Bath. After her father retired from his holding of the Steventon parish and when the Austens first moved to Bath they stayed at number 1 The Paragon Buildings,  with Jane's Aunt and uncle, James Leigh Perrott and his wife Jane. James was Mrs Austen's brother. Jane Leigh Perrot had been accused of stealing lace from a shop in Bath and had been prosecuted. How much of this Jane knew is speculation.

    Number 1 The Paragon

    Marilyn and I walked  past The Paragon buildings noting number 1 and photographing the exterior. We walked on and discovered a house at the end of the row where the acclaimed 18th century actress Mrs Siddons had lived. At the end of the Paragon we came across St Swithuns church. It was here that Jane's mother and father were married and also where her father,the Revernd George Austen is buried. He died while they were living in Bath. What I found also interesting was that here, in St Swithuns churyard, is also buried Fanny Burney. She  influenced Jane as a writer. I have written about Fanny Burney and General D'Arblay, her husband, when they lived in Great Bookham in Surrey. The D'Arblays knew another Aunt and Uncle of Jane's, Samuel and Cassandra Cooke. The Reverend Samuel Cooke was the vicar of Great Bookham Church.Cassandra Cooke, nee Leigh, was one of Mrs Austen's cousins.

    St Swithun's Church at the end of The Paragon. ( built by John Palmer between 1777 and 1790)

    Seeing Bath through the eyes of an Austenite you become acutely aware of how Jane Austen used the city, not just as a setting for large parts of Northangar Abbey and Persuasion but how the social meaning of where characters lived, who they met and what they did in Bath,  provided social meaning to the novels.

    Looking down Milson Street where Jane Austen and many of her characters walked and shopped.

    It sounds very much like our trip to Bath was all about the Romans, Georgian architecture and Jane Austen, but it really was about having a great time together, just the two of us.

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    There should be no spiritual and religious titles like agnostic, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew. We are all human beings. We live from birth to death and during that arc of life we are experiencing what it is to be human. All those titles and labels separate and divide us and diminish us in each other’s eyes.

    I have been brought up as a Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church has many traditions, tenets of faith, beliefs and practices, many that are shared with other religions and are medieval metaphors and symbolism. The Assumption, The Immaculate Conception, The Virgin Birth, miracles, heaven, hell, three persons in one God, revelations, consubstantiation, the Resurrection and the Ascension. All of these are wrong and didn’t happen and they don’t exist. They were messages and meanings to the medieval mind.

    What has become difficult and impossible for the Catholic Church today, and this can be reflected in other religions, is that a long time ago it pronounced that all those things were points of faith and to be a christian you had to believe them. It also decided that certain pronouncements should be infallible. The Catholic Church is unable to change. It can’t go anywhere.  Religious intransigence has brought about pain and  all sorts of evils, including wars, the denunciation of whole groups of people, the deaths of individuals, abuse,  moral doubts and personal anguish; it has diminished the role of women, encouraged misogyny, and lead to groups of women and those with different sexual orientations being made to suffer.

    What we should focus on during the span of a life is, love. If our societies could be organised to promote the development of love in the community and in our personal lives that would completely fulfill us as human beings.

     Religions have gathered too much unhealthy baggage. What is apparent though is that they really do know what the essence of living should be. Different holy books, The Koran, The Tora ,The Bible, whether its Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity , all say,love, is the cornerstone of their religion. John The Evangelist wrote,”God is love,” and, “ "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Mark the Apostle stated, “ Love your neighbour as yourself.”

     Love is an abstract concept. At first we think we know what it means. We can all think of examples. However we also realise how little we know about love, its scope, its power and what it can do. If we really think about it in our lives we might even come up with things we didn’t realise were love at the time but later we became aware of them.

    So from birth to death, all we are really trying to find, experience and give, is love. That is all that we need to be a full and complete human. We can’t ask or want for any more.

    Organised religions can be good for social cohesion and it is the social bonding side of religion that many really mean when they say they are a Catholic or a Hindu or a Muslim. Organised religion can also cause social division.

    I don’t think any of us should be a member of a religious group or believe in a so called  God. What we should  do is explore what love is in our lives.

    The Beatles released, “All You Need Is Love,” in 1967 on Their Magical Mystery Tour album.

    The lyrics were written by John Winston Lennon.

    Nothing you can make that can’t be made

    No one you can save that can’t be saved

    Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time

    It’s easy

    All you need is love

    All you need is love

    All you need is love, love

    Love is all you need.

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    Most days I go for a run. The weather has been particularly good recently. Its been a warm Spring. The local parks are looking green and the shrubberies are flowering. All the local front gardens are blooming with every type of perennial, biennial and annual. Its a gardeners paradise around here I can tell you.

    When I go for a run I choose from a variety of routes which I try out depending on distance but often just for a change of scenery. For the last few days I have been running up on to Cannon Hill Park, about half a mile from my front door. It is close to Raynes Park and South Wimbledon.

    Cannon Hill today.

    It has its own unique character and has a natural, managed aspect about it, similar to some of the Capability Brown landscapes from the 18th century although it was not designed by Capability Brown. I should think some other landscape gardener at the time probably had an input.

    Records of Cannon Hill go back to the Normans.The Augustinian Canons of Merton Priory (1117-1538) owned ,"Cannondownhyll,". Merton Priory is particularly famous because Nicholas Breakspeare was a monk at the priory in 1125 ,he became Adrian IV,  the first English Pope, in 1154, and Thomas Becket was educated there by the monks in 1130.The Abbott,Walter de Merton, Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Rochester, was founder of Merton College Oxford. He took his name from the priory.
     Parliamentarian forces occupied the hill  during the English Civil War (1642- 1651). They mounted cannons on the hill to help protect London.  At one time a row of cottages in Cannon Hill Lane was called Cromwell Villas.

    A sketch of Cannon Hill Place.
    In 1763 William Taylor acquired the freehold of the site and built Cannon Hill House. William Taylor was an officer in the 32nd Regiment of foot and later became a Major General in the 14th Regiment.At that time this area was adjoined to Merton Common. The house was built from local bricks that were probably made from the black clay taken from the depression that is the lake situated at the bottom of the slope in front of where the house was positioned.
    In 1832 Richard Thornton bought Cannon Hill House and he remained in it until his death in 1865. Thornton made his fortune trading in the Baltic.The Baltic trade with Britain at the time was mostly in timber but he must had strong links with the Hanseatic league, a powerful trading group of states on the edge of The Baltic, primarily German. When William Thornton died in 1865 he was worth £3 million pounds which in todays money is about £140 million. At his death it was judged to be the greatest Victorian fortune. He had no children. The house was hardly used for many years after his death and 1880 it was abandoned. It was probably demolished by 1900 but it still appeared on Ordnance Survey maps up to 1930.

    An 1825 portrait of Richard Thornton.
    James Edwards, wrote the guide book, " Companion from London to Brighthelmston," (1789- 1801). Brighthelmston, was the name of the small fishing village that Brighton was developed from in the 1780s  when the Prince Regent began to visit.
    He stated,
    " half a mile south of the Kingston Road, adjoining Merton Common, is Cannon Hill. It is a white house situated on an eminence commanding a pleasnat and extensive prospect to the east over a small park or lawn. On the west are suitable gardens, shrubberies etc and the soil is a stiff black clay." 

    An 1825 view of the house that is displayed on an information board in the park.
    The black clay is still evident. One path I ran along, through some trees, was bare and there was dry cracked mud  underfoot. The park is a wildlife reserve nowadays taken care of by Merton Council. It is a small oasis of flaura and fauna away from the hustle and bustle of South London. I may well run there again tomorrow.

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  • 05/06/17--06:21: MY MAY DAY MANIFESTO

  • The May Day Manifesto

     “In the summer of  1966, a group of socialists met to discuss the possibility of a political intervention. They had no official positions in politics; they were mainly teachers, writers and research workers, the majority from the universities. Nor did they belong to any constituted group, though again a majority of them had been associated, at different times over the previous ten years, with what is usually described as the New Left.

    As a result of the meeting, it was decided to publish a manifesto, which was at that stage conceived as a bringing together of existing socialist positions and analysis, as a counter-statement to the Labour government’s policies and explanations. Three editors were appointed: Edward Thompson, who had been one of the founders of the New Reasoner; Stuart Hall, one of the founders of Universities and Left Review; and myself.”

    An extract from the “May Day Manifesto,” written by Raymond Williams and published by Penguin.

    The manifesto discussed poverty, inequality in society, the economy, British manufacturing and the balance of payments problems. These issues are applicable today. Its main aim was to show how capitalism created oppression. The manifesto insisted on a socialist framework to solve these problems.

    A junior school

    I know something about education having been a teacher in the state system for nearly fourty years. Education has become test based and exam based. Everything has to be measured and assessed all the time, creating an education culture that has been narrowed to exam techniques. It is political and education is being starved of money. New teachers are being put off continuing and making a career in teaching.

    I want education to be creative, imaginative and appealing to pupils, enabling them to become enthusiastic and joyous in their learning and to not be afraid to fail and not have to meet targets at frequent, given times. I want them to explore, as individuals, every aspect of what it means to be alive and to discover the world around them. The only maxim a teacher should have is, “Do whatever it takes.” I can envisage a system that does not need exams at all. A child with certain abilities should be helped to go in the direction of a particular type of work or higher education that has become obvious they are suited to throughout their school life. Politicians and governments have talked about a fair society, an equal society for what seems like generations. The only way to do that is to truly and fully support the comprehensive system. There should be no other system. Grammar schools should be abolished. The private sector should be abandoned. There should not be schools such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester. We might then be able to achieve a fair and equal society.

    I stay awake at night worrying about the, The National Health Service.It worries me intensely that the National Health Service is faltering and near the brink of collapse. Efficiencies, streamlining, new technologies can only go as far as the constraints of the present day. New technologies and medical procedures in the future will change the NHS further. What can be achieved now should be financed properly. Taxation is not a dirty word.


    Housing built using renewable energy technology.

    I also worry daily about the problems my own children have concerning  housing, absolutely necessary for their development into adulthood and their happy and fruitful futures. There is an imbalance being created. The world is out of kilter for them.Housing has become a joke. Council houses have been sold off. Lower paid workers have to rely on poor standard housing agency properties, if they are able to get them at all. The price of housing in this country has become so inflated that people in nationally vital occupations, such as nursing, teaching, the police, cannot live anywhere near where they work in the cities. I want to see councils allowed to build council housing again. I want the building trade to use new technologies to build truly affordable, well designed efficient, modern housing using locally sourced building materials, some of it recycled. It is possible. Private building companies are for profit only organisations.They are making the situation impossible for the majority on average and low wages. The government should be financing new housing projects through cheap government loans and through the banking sector. New innovative ways of building should be introduced. I can’t see why housing can’t be designed that includes an element of self-build, and certainly incorporating renewable energy sources. There are plenty of local building firms to provide the expertise and machine power for the more technical and heavy loading part of house building. 

    I have just worked something out. My family and I live in South Wimbledon. We moved into our house 23 years ago. The cost of the house was 3 times my wife and my combined wages. We were mid career teachers  and we had three children with a fourth on the way. We could put down a sizable deposit because we were moving from a smaller house and made a profit on selling it. It took us twenty years to pay off the mortgage. A mid career teacher now does not earn much more than we did then. The value of our house is now 15 times the combined income of two mid career teachers. What the .... (expletive deleted). Who has got a chance in hell now?

      We do know how to work this out.

    This is my May Day Manifesto.

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    On Tuesday 23rd May, at three o’clock, on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport, Tony and myself were standing in the reception area of, Budget and Avis, hire cars. The young gentleman representing Budget Hire Cars was filling in the rental forms for a Fiat Ducato 2.3 multijet 150 break horse power van with 13 cubic meters of storage inside. Tony was hiring the van and I was included on the forms as a second driver. The personable young man checked our driving licenses. We both signed the forms and everything was set. However, Tony inquired about adjusting the headlights on the van to be used in France and Spain. They were not adjustable. Tony asked about the EU requirements that every vehicle should carry a high visibility jacket, a spare set of headlight bulbs and have two luminous red warning triangles to be placed in front of and behind the van in the event of a breakdown. None of this was included in the itinerary of the van and the young man was totally unaware of these regulations. Budget and Avis are a reputable car hire company that have years of experience and are meant to be professional. Some muttering from Tony, and a good dose of incredulity from me accompanied our exit from the premises. Tony didn’t push the argument any further. He had all the necessary items in his own car back at home which we transferred to the van before we began our adventure.

    AN art installation beside the road in France.

    A few weeks ago, Tony Brown, John Lodge, Ivitt Dickinson, Jim Howley and myself met at The White Horse in Dorking for a drink and a lunchtime meal. Tony talked about selling his house in Spain. He wanted to bring back some items of furniture which have been passed down in his family. They are precious family heirlooms. I said that if he needed any help I would give him a hand. Tony gave me a look, paused and said,” if you mean it, yes, come along.” I thought he would need somebody to help lift and carry the items. The deal was set.

    We set off for Bognor Regis first. Tony has a caravan at Willows Caravan Park just outside of the village of Westergate, about four and half miles north of Bognor Regis. Tony’s youngest sister Marie and her brother in-law were there to meet us. We loaded some furniture from the caravan on to our van to swap with the furniture Tony wanted to bring back from Spain. We bought some deliciously hot and crisp fish and chips from a local chippie. The fish and chips were devoured and a cup of tea imbibed and we were ready to set off for Newhaven. Our Ferry sailed at 11pm. Once on board we found some couchettes to settle down for the night. They were indescribably uncomfortable. I didn’t sleep. Tony had a doze. I might have dropped off for a few minutes but to put it bluntly the night was bloody torture. Two extremely tired people began the first day’s drive at 4.30am in the morning from Dieppe. We had landed in Dieppe but I didn’t see it. It was dark when we disembarked and the road from the ferry leading to, “Toute Directions,” curved up onto the chalk cliffs and bypassed Dieppe itself. We set forth on our trip through France and Spain intending to swap driving duties every two hours to give each other a rest.

    Tony and myself, stopping at Auchan La Couronne for a break.

    Driving was a comfortable experience. The van was easy to drive and all the controls were smooth and light to the touch. It was easy to forget the size of the vehicle we were driving. There was very little traffic on the roads and we sped along. By about 9.30am cafes and motorway conveniences were opening so we decided to stop for breakfast. Coffee and croissants, lovely.  I was feeling reasonably fresh by this time. As we alternated our driving we could take the opportunity to nap when we were not driving.

    The kilometers sped by, Rouen, Evreux, Dreux, Chartres, Poitiers. We did not stop. We drove on. I had made a few notes about some of the more famous places that we passed, to be aware of their history. Rouen was the capital of the Duchy of Normandy and it was where William of Normandy ruled before he conquered England in 1066. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen during the Hundred Years War. In 732 AD there was a battle against the Muslim invaders at Chartres. The spires of Chartres cathedral pierced the sky over the ancient and modern city and could be seen from miles away as we drove on, inexorably. Poitiers is famous of course for the battle between the French and English during the hundred years’ war. In 1356, Edward The Black Prince defeated King John II of France. It was the second of the great English victories against the French during the Hundred Years’ War. The other two were Crecy and Agincourt. The main feature of these battles and the reason the English were able to defeat the French decisively, was the use of the English longbow. Poitier, also had been, in its ancient past, both a Celtic and a Roman center. There is a Roman amphitheater in Poitiers.

    We stopped for lunch at Angouleme, in the south western area of France, in the province of Aquitaine. A name also with English resonances. The countryside was flat and extended in smooth undulating expanses towards the horizon, only broken by clusters of woods interspersed across the landscape. We saw small turreted chateaux along the way often surrounded by sheltering trees to protect and shield them from the prevailing winds.

    We drove through Bordeaux. Vineyards stretched far across the landscape to our left and right. The vines were set out as neatly as ribbed corduroy.  Sauvignon, Merlot, Verdot, Malbec appeared on large signs here and there. These are the names of types of grape producing wines often with the same names. We drove on, crossing bridges spanning the great rivers, The Loire, Niotase, Canal de Pomere  the Dordogne and the Garonne. After driving all day and covering more than 600 miles we reached  the foot of the Pyrenees. In the distance we could see the Pyrenees mountain range and we caught glimpses of snow high up on the tallest peaks.

    The foothills of The Pyrenees in the distance.

    So, what did Tony and I talk about? Everything, as you would expect. Religion, politics, family, thoughts and opinions about this and that. We saw the weather forecast on televisions displayed at various stops along the way and saw Macron meeting Putin and Trump , acting very out of place, at the G7 and we talked about that. We talked about and commented on what we saw along the way, places, scenery, other drivers and how bad they were. A learner driver cut straight across the front of our van on that first day  while Tony was driving. I gasped and muttered something unrepeatable and Tony hissed, something unrepeatable. The two of us were together for seven days, in each other’s company all that time. I think we became unselfconscious. I know I can speak impulsively. I remember talking about teaching in junior schools and  rambling on about every detail and consideration needed for taking a class on a residential trip.  It just poured out. Maybe if Tony reads this he might smile and mutter,” Oh goodness, did he go on and on.” Tony gave me the low down on life in Spain and so on we went, doing a lot of talking.

    Pau, at the base of the Pyrenees was a welcome break. Before we reached the town I was becoming very tired. I wasn’t sleepy but my whole body felt exhausted.I said to Tony , “can you take over driving, I have had enough. “I didn’t realise how close we were to the hotel. As we didn’t come across anywhere to stop and change over, I continued until we pulled into the car park. We stayed in a small motel on the outskirts of Pau. I was able to have a hot shower. When we were both refreshed we met together and walked over to the restaurant for dinner. The restaurant served basic dishes, baked fish, chicken goulettes, a ratatouille, a range of cheeses, sour dough bread, water , a choice of wines and French and Belgium beers and good coffee. Well of course French food is never basic.   The French are unable to create a substandard meal. It’s in their DNA to cook well, combining herbs and sauces even for the cheapest of cheapest meals. We ate a delicious repast. Before retiring we went for a walk around the vicinity of the motel and came across some sports fields nearby covered in vans and caravans. People seemed to have gathered for a festival of some sort. My room was clean, the bed was comfortable and I went to sleep almost the moment I touched my head on the pillow and slept deeply and soundly all night.

    Driving through France.

    I woke in the morning refreshed. Tony and I met for breakfast, a hot cup of coffee, some cereal and a croissant and we were on our way. The Pyrenees loomed ahead. Once out of the town of Pau by way of innumerable roundabouts we headed towards the foothills of the Pyrenees. French roundabouts always seem to have a sharp turn right off them. It’s as though they try to slow your progress before you are able to accelerate. We had both got used to driving the Fiat van by now. It had a long wheelbase and taking these angled turns off the numerous roundabouts we encountered had to be done carefully.

    The roads in France but especially in Spain are smooth and well surfaced and in many cases new. There is also, apart from around towns and cities, very little traffic. The Fiat van being easy to drive the roads were generally a pleasure to drive along. The one thing we had to be careful about were the speed limits. Tony had installed his SATNAV in the cab of the van. The SATNAV kept us informed about our speed and the limit we should keep to. There are cameras everywhere and the French and Spanish are very strict about keeping to limits. The only drawback about this is that sometimes the speed limits changed drastically. Approaching towns it sometimes showed 50kmph but out on the main motorways it showed 90kmph or 110kmph then in places it went up to 120kmph but suddenly it would drop quickly to 100 or even 50. Approaching one town in France I remember the speed being 110kmph then dropping quickly to 50kmph and within meters shooting up to 100kmph. There seemed no logic to it. But, we had to be careful. We didn’t want a speeding ticket.  “Elizabeth,” helped us. Elizabeth being the name we gave to the assuring voice of the SATNAV. “Elizabeth,” was great. A wonderful companion. She kept us informed of temperature, speed, petrol consumption and km to go, to our next scheduled stop. During the whole journey we kept  to our driving schedule of driving in two hour intervals. We changed over at suitable stopping points where we could get a coffee and go to the gents.

    Driving through the Pyrenees.

     There are 129 peeks in the Pyrenees that are over 3000 meters. Signs showed us that sometimes we were climbing to 2000 meters or more. The Pyrenees reminded me, with their steep slopes and racing mountain streams and lakes of the Lake District. It had a feel of The Cumbrian Lakes but on a much larger scale. We saw boulders loosened from the mountain tops resting on valley sides or near streams bigger than houses. They were very impressive in size and scale. Buzzards circled overhead at times. We passed through tunnels cut through mountainsides and drove through villages constructed from the local stone. One particular rugged stone built tower, Tony informed me, was called, The Riflemen’s Tower. Indeed, the holes through which rifles could be fired were visible as we drove past it high on the rocks above. It was obviously a strategic military position defending the valley. As we passed into Spain some blue uniformed police officers stopped us and asked us what our business was. They were courteous and didn’t detain us long. I wondered if, since the random ISIS attacks in Britain and Europe, the boarders would be difficult to cross. I got the feeling these police were being careful but not in a too obstructive manner.

    The road onwards.

    Geologically, the Pyrenees must be a geologists’ paradise. Every type of rock, formation and process can be found in the Pyrenees. The range is 430 kilometers long. It divides Spain, France and Andora. Its width, north to south varies from 65 kilometers to 150 kilometers. It began to be formed in the Precambrian period from the early formation of the Earth 4.6 billion years ago to 590 million years ago when fossils began to appear. Every type of rock can be found in the Pyrenees, conglomerates which are gravels and sandstones, breccia a form of cemented gravels, sandstones, shales, siltstones, keuper deposits, limestones, schists, marls, greywackes, salts and red deposits which are sandstones that contain iron oxides. One particular road cutting we drove through, high up in the mountains, showed sides that were a deep red colour. 

    Sandstone cliffs.

    We came across sandstone cliffs that changed colour, like a rainbow across its surface and reminded me of the sandstone cliffs at Alum Bay on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. The Alum Bay sands are made from quartz, feldspar and mica and the colours are created by other minerals seeping into and staining the layers. Something similar must have happened to the sandstones in the Pyrenees. It also suggests that these Pyrenean sandstones were formed under the sea at one time. The mountain folds were caused as the Iberian Peninsula plate collided with the European plate. There are examples of volcanic activity. There are metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks. This rich and varied geology creates the most dramatic and beautiful landscape.

    Emerging from the Somport Tunnel.

    We drove through the Somport Pass and  the relatively new Somport Tunnel , a long modern well-lit sweeping insertion through part of the mountains. Once through the Pyrenees we drove on and into Spain. The landscape seemed flat and barren, sun scorched, although Tony assured me that Spain was looking greener than he expected for this time of the year. Yes, I could see the greenery but it was pretty thinly spread and the yellow and orange and red ochre earth beneath showed through. As we neared towns and villages sometimes castles were situated on high rock outcrops commanding views over the surrounding terrain. We drove on. The signs for  Jaca and  Huesca passed us by. Huesca is one of the many towns that originate from Roman times and is the capital of the Province of Huesca in the area called Aragon. Thoughts of Tudor English history came to mind. English history doesn’t just have its reach throughout France but through Spain too. Zaragoza came up next. I was interested to learn that the name, Zaragoza, is a bastardisation of the name ,”Caesar Augustus.” It is obvious therefore the origins of Zaragoza. It is the capital of the province of Zaragoza but also the capital of the wider area of Aragon. Zaragoza has a multi domed cathedral, the Nuestra Senora del Pilar basilica. It is shrine to the Virgin Mary. It combines baroque and Islamic styles in its construction, standing out from its surrounding buildings. It is a center for pilgrimage. And on we drove in this increasingly arid landscape, Teruel, Sagunto. Font de la Figuera, Elche and eventually our destination, Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca. Some smaller mountain ranges reach the sea just here and although not high, because they stick out of the flat, surrounding landscape  sharp edged and rugged they are a dramatic sight.

    Tony cleaning dead insects off the windscreen at one coffee break in Spain.

    Torrevieja is a seaside resort with many new buildings and narrow streets huddled up against a busy harbour crammed with sailing yachts and launches. Salt lagoons, Las Salinas, are on the edge of the city. Salt production is its main industry apart from tourism and the presence of a large British and foreign  ex pat community. Some old buildings remain such as Iglesia Arciprestal de la Inmaculado Concepcion which was built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1844. I walked into this church just after people emerged after hearing mass. It was dimly lit with candles. I walked past some of the small chapels inset along each side. Spanish churches and cathedrals create biblical and religious scenes with life size and lifelike statues in poses of veneration, adoration or suffering. Combined with the candle lit atmosphere these scenes become almost alive and can be very moving and affecting.

    The statues were almost lifelike in the candlelit interior.

    I walked around Torrevieja while Tony had a meeting with his solicitor about arranging the transfer of the ownership of his house to his friend. There is a pier which leads from the harbour and stretches for one kilometer, parallel with the coastline. I walked along this to the end. Many people were jogging and walking along it for the fresh sea breeze. I was able to look back and get a broad view of the city, the harbour and ships transporting salt from the conical mounds of salt positioned along the industrial wharves.

    Ships loading salt in Torrevieja.

    While we were in Torrevieja I met some of Tony’s friends and we went out for a meal with one couple and visited another couple in their home. The expat lifestyle is comfortable. Houses and the cost of living is cheaper than in Britain. Tony’s friends I met lived in beautiful villas with Spanish style roofs, doors and windows and the interiors were just as classically designed. They told me that they love living in Spain not only because of the cost of living but because of the climate. Even in the winter months the climate of Torrevieja does not go below 17 degrees celcius and can reach 20 degrees in the winter.The English who live in Spain are a gregarious lot. They support each other and form clubs. Tony told me how he and Mumtaz had started a caravan club and organized tours to various parts of Spain. Tony had also lead a walking group which went for walks together in the hills and mountains around Torrevieja.  It is common throughout Spain that communities help organize the development of the areas they live in. If a communal swimming pool is required for the area, or the employment of a road sweeper and gardener for the roadside verges is needed, the local people have a committee which oversees these developments. People pay fees to their central committee each year to help finance these ventures.Tony, and some of his friends I met, are leaders in their own community.

    The harbour in Torrevieja.

    Torrevieja is south of Alicante in the Provence of Valencia. Valencia has some rugged mountain ranges, the ancient Iberian range extending from the north west to the south east, and the younger Betica formation from the south to Cap de la Nao. This young limestone has given rise to high rocks like the Penon de Ifach crag. Where these mountain ranges reach the sea they give rise to dramatic cliffs. As we drove towards Torrevieja, on our downwrads journey, we could see these mountain formations all around us. It is easy to see the attraction for hill and mountain walking in Spain. The scenery looked spectacular.

    Mick, a retired Irish policeman friend of Tony’s, who lived nearby Tony in Torrevieja, helped us load the back of the van with Tony’s furniture, the items  he wanted to bring back to England. An ornate bed head, sofas, washing machine, various family heirlooms, including a, “bog oak,” cupboard and a grandfather clock case, and some bedside cupboards, were all hoisted onboard with ample heaving, huffing and puffing. “This way!” “That way!” “Up a bit, no, lower, lower,” and so forth. After some maneuvering we got it all loaded and tied and strapped down.

    Tony's old back yard with a barbecue.

    The journey back through Spain took us past Sax and Villena, both with impressive castles standing out in the landscape. We drove on past Calamocha, Muel, Nueno and Anguis, the Pyrenees looming up once more in the distance. We drove into Zaragoza because I took the wrong branch on the A23 but it proved quiet on a Sunday and the roads were virtually empty. It was interesting to see all the modern factories and high rise estates on the outskirts of Zaragoza and we were soon back on the E07 which again joined up with the A23 taking us north. Zaragoza, has a famous history. Apart from its Roman origins it was besieged during the Napoleonic Wars. This trip, if it did nothing else, gave me a whole list of places, that we merely drove past and through this time but which one day I want to go back and visit properly.

    Castles in Spain.

     “Elizabeth,”was becoming a problem on the way back. She was forever trying to get us to take turnings, drive in directions and along routes we didn’t want to drive. Nearing the Pyrenees once again we eventually gave into her. We thought. “Lets see where she takes us.” In many ways it was the right thing to do. Instead of taking us the main route through the Pyrenees which we had followed on the way south, the N134 via Urdos and Bource, we took “Elizabeth’s,” route the D934, which at times we discovered, became a narrow country road. The D934 took us past, dams, waterfalls, hydroelectric plants and under overhanging rocks. At one stage while driving, the rocky cliff on my right overhung the road but Tony assured me we had at least a meter clearance. He was right because we got past without any scrapes. My hardest bit of driving was coming down steep mountain roads that,” hair pinned,” continuously for kilometers. The drop to one side was always precipitous. Fast moving mountain streams raced beneath us. There were many more boulders strewn about than we had encountered on the way south. Many were so big, one landing on us would have crushed us flat in an instant. The scenery was breathtaking. It was amazing to see the snow high up on the mountains around us. Our route took us once again, between 2000 and 3000 feet but the temperature didn’t drop below 20 degrees. We passed ski lifts and ski lodges this time which we had not encountered before. The ski slopes were devoid of snow at this time of the year.

    Boulders loosened from the mountain higher up, bigger than houses.

    We eventually reached Pau again and stayed the night in the same motel we had stayed in on our way south to Spain. The receptionist and our waitress for the evening spoke to us in French and Tony used his language skills with expertise and panache.  As we sat eating our evening meal, the French elections were on the television. Macron had won and although Marine le Pen had lost the presidential election she had got close. She demonstrated strongly the rise of nationalism and the hard right that is resurgent in Europe at the moment. We watched the weather forecast for France, thirty degrees or more all along the route north we were to take. As we left the restaurant for our rooms I spoke to the receptionist and was surprised to find her answering me in perfect English, with an English accent. I was taken aback. She was English. I asked her how long she had lived in Pau. She replied for at least twelve years. She was young. She must have lived there since she was a child. I didn’t pursue our conversation any further and just smiled and said goodnight. We made sure we had plenty of water before setting off in the morning.

    Driving back through France.

    We drove back up through France, crossing the great rivers once again, The Garonne, The Dordogne, The Charente, The Loire , The Seine and The Somme, back towards Dieppe. Just south of Chartres at Barjouville, we stopped at a new,” Leclerk ,”supermarket complex and had lunch.

    Tony and I messing about with mirrors in the Leclerk supermarket south of Chartres.

     From here we drove on across the flat countryside reaching to the horizon and saw once again, but from the south this time, the great slender spires of  Notre Dame de Chartres, built between 1194 and 1220, pointing to the clear blue sky above it. It looked magnificent in the distance as it got steadily closer. I can imagine all those  generations of workers in the fields, the farmers, their wives and their children from the 13th century onwards looking up from their work and seeing this gothic magnificence in the distance and they would have regarded it with awe and reverence and wonder. We had time, this time, to drive into Chartres. We didn’t stop but drove around the old town with its quaint buildings, avenues of trees and small parks. We drove close to the cathedral to get a passing look and then we were out of the city and on our way to Dieppe.

    Dieppe in the evening for a beer in a bar.

    We arrived in Dieppe early so we drove down the steep hill into the town and had a drink in a bar overlooking the harbour full of yachts and fishing boats. We recalled the Dieppe Raid of August 1940 which was a disaster for the allies. The lessons from Dieppe were applied to the  D Day landings in June 1944.The ferry crossing back to England was better than the crossing over. We both managed to get a little sleep this time using the couchettes. In the morning we drove back to Willows Caravan Park and with some scheming, heaving and adjusting we got the furniture from the van into the caravan. Later we drove back to the AVIS car hire company at Heathrow and Tony signed what he needed to sign and handed over the keys. Tony drove me home to West Barnes Lane and our adventure was over.

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    St Martins in the Fields.

    St Martins in the Fields ( it was once!!) , that beautiful example of religious architecture in Trafalgar Square, provides free music recitals at lunchtime every Friday. I have , on occasion , got the train up to Waterloo from Motspur Park and attended some of these concerts. They are amazing and inspiring. I always come away with a feeling of elation and wonder.Today, Marilyn was teaching, the weather was warm and I had nothing else to do so I got on the train up to Waterloo.

    I have a new camera. A present to myself reaching 65. I thought I would put it through its paces on my way to St Martins in The Fields. Here are some pictures of London taken today.
    "London, fresh out of the oven."

    And , once more, back at Waterloo for my train to south London.

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    Laurie, Andrew, Nigel and myself. We start.(Ignore The Danger of Death sign)
    Homo Sapiens emerged from Africa, so the most recent theories speculate, about 200, 000 years ago. They were a group that took over from and replaced other hominids such as the Neanderthals. There they were and here we are, Nigel, Andrew, Laurie and myself, large brained, standing erect on two feet, arms, hands, ears and eyes, four prime examples of Homo Sapiens that set out on a walk the other day from Crystal Palace train station and headed by foot across south London to Wandsworth. We and our bodies were doing what all hominids should do and that is move ourselves and in so doing we were relating to and experiencing our world.

    Laurie trying to remember how to walk. Practicing on Crystal Palace Station platform.

    The four of us were walking section four, of The Capital Ring Walk, Crystal Palace to Streatham Common, about 4 miles and also continuing by walking section five, Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park, about five miles. I know all these places. I’ve driven through them and past them and taken the train through their various train stations up to Waterloo and out to south London destinations. Walking through them, at a pace not much more than two or three miles an hour, is a different experience altogether. The Capital Ring Walk is one of a series of seven different walks you can find described on the Transport for London website. Each walk comes with maps and descriptions of sites encountered and the historical background of various places along the way. The purpose written on the Transport for London Website describes the walk.

    The Capital Ring Walk offers you the chance to see some of London's finest scenery. Divided into 15, easy-to-walk sections, it covers 78 miles (126KM) of open space, nature reserves, Sites of Specific Scientific Interest and more.”

    It also suggests it is a healthy thing to do, a way to get fit in an enjoyable way. I would rather get fit in this way, getting out and experiencing the world rather than be numbingly bored on the fitness machines in an enclosed gym.

    Crystal Palace Station. Echos of the the great Crystal Palace itself which was located in the park nearby.

    Andrew lives in North London, Nigel lives in Greenwich and Laurie and I live close to each other in Motspur Park, SW20. We decided on a time, 10am, to meet at the café in Crystal Palace train station foyer. The café at Crystal Palace station is small. The station and railway is run by Southern Rail but a group of young enthusiastic ladies appear to be making a vibrant going concern of the cafe. Home made cakes, freshly made sandwiches and a good selection of coffees and teas are sold. The tables and chairs are crammed into the small homely café. Mirrors and a nice selection of prints are on the wall. We were lucky to get a table to sit at. Andrew had arrived first and grabbed a table and four chairs to himself fighting off all comers until myself and Laurie arrived and finally Nigel. The only drawback was wanting to use the loo. The café did not have a toilet. They had an arrangement with Southern Rail though. A bright young lady behind the counter gave me a pass card to get through the electronic barriers onto the train platform to use the Southern Rail toilet facilities. This meant negotiating not only the ticket barrier  but also a steep flight of steps onto the platform. But nothing is perfect.

    The cafe at Crystal Palace Station, our meeting place.

    We set off from the station, after taking a group selfie making us look like four manic teenagers rather than the four aging hippies we actually are. We set off westwards along Station Road and then turned into Anerley Hill Road  and continued along Belvedere Road. Many of the houses are substantial in size,Victorian and Edwardian villas. We passed number number 22 Beleveder Road with a blue plaque positioned on its front. This plaque commemorated Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (1807-1889) who designed and had made the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park nearby. They have been a delight to children and adults for generations. Andrew made the point that they are not anatomically correct. This is an issue for paleontologists over the centuries. What does a dinosaur look like just from a few fossilized bones? We are much better at interpreting dinosaurs nowadays with sophisticated technology and analytical devises but what Dinosaurs were really like is something scientists will always explore. Andrew is one among many to speculate.

    This is the house where Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1889) lived, designer of concrete dinosaurs. They can be found in Crystal Palace Park.

    We arrived at Norwood Grove, a pleasant park land set around a hill with a large white Victorian mansion surmounting the central hill with extensive views over South London and Surrey. 

    Norwood Grove House.

    The house and park have a rich history, including being the site of a hunting lodge used by Charles II and from the 1840s, the time from which the present house dates, being owned by Arthur Anderson the founder of the P&O, the Pacific and Orient shipping company. Of course it also has a mention in the Domesday Book. The Normans were nothing if not thorough. We stopped and sat on a park bench for a while next to the house taking in the views and discussing the varied planting of shrubs and trees in the park. It’s amazing the knowledge you acquire by the age of your early 60s.

    Phil and Rosa's bench.

     The park and the house are now owned by Croydon Council. It is used as an education facility. While we were there a toddlers play scheme was underway with tots on the verge of falling over and rolling down the hill at any moment to get lost in the shrubbery borders. The playschool assistants appeared vigilant. The bench we sat on commemorated “Phil and Rosa,” who had enjoyed a friendship and many happy hours together, presumably on this spot. I wonder if there will be a park bench commemorating us four one day?

    Caged!! The entrance to Norwood Grove. 

    One particular place we walked through bordered by Biggin Hill Road and Gibson Way was Biggin Wood. It is only a small wood hidden behind 1930s housing. It has a plaque displayed providing information about the flaura and fauna. It appears to be used by local schools for nature study. What fascinated me about this small wood though was that it is a tiny remnant of the Great North Wood from which Norwood, gets its name. The earliest records of the woods go back to 1272. It originally covered about three and half square kilometres and reached Lambeth, Southwark, Croydon and Bromley. Many oak trees were taken from the forest for ship building at Deptford and also charcoal burning was carried out in the forest. By this time, and it might be something to do with the allure of trees, Andrew, Nigel, Laurie and myself were having bladder problems. We were getting, “desperate,” not to put a fine point on it.  We each found our own personal tree and disappeared behind it. Bladders are a bugger at our age. When we all emerged, which seemed simultaneously, we looked at each other and broke out laughing.

    Biggin Wood, a small remaining part of the ancient North Wood.

    We walked on to The Rookery Gardens. Nigel told me how he had brought his children here when they were young, to play. It is situated on a hill with wide views and has well laid out shrubs and bushes creating a beautiful garden. It is on the site of Streatham Spa. Queen Victoria visited Streatham Spa for the waters and stayed in a house on the site of The Rookery Gardens. There were three springs discovered at Streatham Spa in 1659. Walking on we passed the flamboyantly styled Streatham Common Pumping Station in Conyers Road. It was built in 1888 to a Moorish design. Laurie and I stopped to look at this building. We couldn’t decide what it was at first. We thought it was a Mosque.

    Streatham Common Pumping Station.

     It was good to be able to have time to talk to Nigel. I have not been able to see much of him in recent years. He now lives in Greenwich but he used to be a neighbour of mine in Motspur Park.  We talked about education. He is a Professor of Law and I am retired junior school teacher. We had a  discussion about creating practical learning experiences. Nigel told me how he had developed a course using practical situations as a learning experience.  It was good to catch up on each other’s lives and  our respective families.

    I first got to know Andrew, many years ago, when the two us, in company with Laurie, took a fishing  trip out of St Malo harbour in Brittany. The sea was a little choppy that day and I proceeded to be violently seasick for the whole time out there. We were out there for hours.  Andrew and I, as we walked along had a discussion about a TV programme that he had seen recently about a group of retirees who took on the challenge of working on a Tuscany vineyard with the prospect of buying it and running it as a going concern. I thought it was too much hard work and an overly steep learning curve. Andrew was  much more positive than me about it. He obviously is more adventurous than I am and prepared to take a chance on that sort of thing. Am I too cautious?

    As we passed Streatham Common we noticed that a fun fair was being set up. Funfairs are great experiences. I love them. However, I can’t go on the rides these days and candy floss makes me sick. I’m no good at hoopla and I don’t really want to win a giant cuddly toy. The Ghost train is a clanking booing bore. My distance sight is a little blurry and doesn’t allow me to shoot straight on the shooting gallery. Maybe this walk was revealing something to me about myself? There is a very moving war memorial at the junction of Streatham Common North and Streatham High Road. It is set back amongst copper beaches and horse chestnuts on a piece of grassed land separate from the main part of the common called Streatham Memorial Garden. A bronze statue of a young soldier of the first world war is standing, head bowed holding his reversed rifle like a supporting crutch in front of himself. The attitude and pose is contemplative, prayerful and quite moving. I took a picture of Nigel standing in front of the memorial.

    Nigel beside the war memorial at Streatham Common Memorial Garden.

    Tooting Common was next. Tooting Common has a couple of associations. A good friend, Gabriel Mesh and his lovely daughter, Ellen, organize and run the Tooting Blues and Folk Festival on Tooting Common every summer at the beginning of August. The site of the festival , a short walk from Tooting Bec underground station is located near Dr Johnson Road. And here is the second association. In the 18thcentury Mr and Mrs Thrale owned Streatham House. The site was just off Tooting Bec Road and there is a road called Thrale Road in the vicinity. Mr Thrale made his money in the brewing industry. The famous Dr Johnson , creator of the first English Dictionary, got to know and befriended Mr Thrale. Dr Johnson visited the Thrales in Tooting and became much enamoured of Mrs Thrale. They had a platonic relationship by all accounts.  Dr Johnson moved in with the Thrales and lived with them. He attracted other writers, artists and musicians to come to Tooting such as Fanny Burney and her composer father, Charles Burney, Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke and David Garrick. Mrs Thrale became an important literary hostess. Her painting can be found in the National Portrait Gallery just off Trafalgar Square.

                                                                       Tooting Bec Lido. 

     Laurie had been given orders by Pat, to visit Tooting Bec Lido. Pat was brought up in Tooting and often spent her Summer holidays at the Lido. However, we were getting tired and the day had been long so Laurie felt he had done his duty with a few posed photographs next to the Tooting Bec Lido sign.Tooting Bec Lido is one of Britain's oldest open air pools — it opened to the public on Saturday 28 July 1906 as the Tooting Bathing-Lake. Digging the lake had been proposed by the Reverend John Henry Anderson, Rector of Tooting,  as a project to provide work for unemployed local men. It holds one million gallons (4,500 m3) of water.  It is the largest swimming pool by surface area in the United Kingdom being 100 yards (91.44 m) long and 33 yards (30.18 m) wide.

    The scene of vigorous press ups was happening just in front of us. Did we care?

    We walked on to Wandsworth Common and found a park bench to eat our packed lunches. We sat on a bench in a shaded green area surrounded by trees and lovely Victorian houses. Wandsworth Railway station was to our left. As we sat quietly munching away on our sandwiches and contemplating life ,as you do, a young couple with a dog appeared on the opposite side of this piece of greensward. The young lady sat down on a bench with the dog tethered to a long lead. The young man proceeded to do energetic press ups on the ground in front of his admiring lady. We felt exhausted just watching him and, if I am truthful, a little bemused. What was THAT all about?

    Wandsworth Common took us past the playing fields of Emmanuel School. At a distance we could see some of the boys playing a cricket match. The main line to Waterloo from the south goes past Wandsworth Common and Emmanuel School. On the morning of the 12th December 1988, on the line just outside of Clapham Junction station and located at the bottom of the railway embankment  below Emmanuel School a crowded passenger train crashed into the back of another train that had stopped at a red light. Thirty-five people were killed and over four hundred people were injured. Sixth form boys from Emmanuel School scrambled down the embankment to help carry stretchers and help injured people on the train. As you travel on the train up to Waterloo, if you look up on the embankment as you approach Calpham Junction, there is a small memorial garden with a stone monument placed near the top of the embankment commemorating this terrible disaster. I remember it vividly because Marilyn taught in Lambeth at that time and took the train on this line. She didn’t get home until midnight on that day. All transport systems were stopped. I couldn’t get hold of her either so I was worried that she was safe. In fact she had got on the train that left just before the crash.

    From Wandsworth Common we walked towards the prison.

    A terraced cottage in Alma Terrace leading up to Wandsworth Prison.

     The road leading to the prison has some lovely Victorian terraced workmen’s cottages fronted by well-kept gardens with tended rose bushes, hydrangeas and other hardy shrubs. When you get to the end of this road it is quite a shock to be confronted by the high prison walls and austere, foreboding entrance of Wandsworth Prison. Andrew and myself searched the sky to see if we could see any drones. It has become general knowledge that criminal gangs have been getting drugs and other illegal items into prisons by way of remote controlled drones, but of course we saw none. In 1965 Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train robber escaped from Wandsworth and travelled to Brazil. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned here briefly before he was sent to Reading Gaol where he wrote the famous Ballad of Reading Gaol. Rather sadly in 1953 Derek Bentley was executed here. His crime occurred when he was escaping from a robbery over some factory roofs in Croydon. A policeman appeared. Bentley was reported to have shouted to his accomplice, “Let him have it!” His accomplice shot the policeman dead. Bentley was accused of his murder and so executed. But the evidence was hearsay and Bentley had quite severe learning difficulties.

    The entrance to Wandsworth Prison.

    Andrew, Laurie, Nigel and myself walked on. We decided to stop at the Halfway House pub next to Earlsfield Station in Garret Lane. It was my idea. Laurie told me off and has reminded me of my misdemeanor ever since.

    Keen to have a beer.

     Nigel, Andrew and Lauire had walked some of the Capital Ring Walk already, before I interloped on this day. They had made a policy of not going into pubs and drinking. It was my influence that made them buy pints and sit down, in a very convivial atmosphere, to have a drink or two. Well, I don’t think it took much persuading but there you are. And so we ended our walk. We will continue with some more of the Capital Ring sections another time I am sure.

    As you can probably tell, it is good to walk. Very good.



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    Dr Samuel Johnson, outside St Clement Danes, looking along Fleet Street.

    Samuel Johnson was born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire. He was the son of Michael and Sarah Johnson. His father was a bookseller. He didn’t make much money and became bankrupt at one time. Johnson came from a poor background. He also suffered various illnesses . He contracted scrofula as a baby which lead to him having poor hearing and eyesight and left him scarred. In 1717 until 1725 he attended Lichfield Grammar School. He went on to Pembroke College Oxford but was only able to stay for thirteen months. He left in 1729 because his father could not afford to keep him at Oxford. His father died in 1731 . In 1732 Samuel Johnson became an assistant teacher at Market Bosworth School.In 1735 he married a widow , Elizabeth Porter. Johnson called her Tetty. She was twenty years older than he was.  She had three children from her first marriage and had inherited a small fortune. When Johnson met her he was poor and had no prospects. She told her daughter that she thought Johnson the most sensible man she had ever met. Using money that she had been left by her late husband she aided Johnson in setting up his own school, Edial Hall, at Edial near Lichfield. The school failed within months. Perhaps Samuel Johnson’s physical disabilities and his Tourettes deterred parents and pupils. When Johnson's school, failed, Tetty, lost a  large part of her fortune which she had used to  finance  the school.  The school had had only three pupils including David Garrick, who became the greatest actor of his generation. Johnson tried writing and continued to write, Irene, a tragic play he had begun in 1726. Later, in 1749, when living in London,  David Garrick performed in it and Johnson eventually made some money from the production. It was never performed again.

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    David Garrick, actor, playwright and theater manager, who influenced the theater throughout the 18th century.

     On the 2nd March 1737, Samuel Johnson and David Garrick left Lichfield for London. They first stayed with Richard Norris, a friend of Garrick’s in Greenwich. In October 1737, Johnson brought Tetty to London. Johnson financed their lives by writing  articles for The Gentleman’s Magazine published by Edward Cave. Between 1737 and 1739 Johnson befriended Richard Savage a poet. Johnson felt guilty about the poor situation he had brought Tetty  to live in. He stopped living with her for a while and stayed in night cellars and taverns with Richard Savage. Sometimes they roamed the streets at night. Savage died in1743 , ill health and alcoholism ruined his constitution. In 1744 Johnson wrote an innovative biography about his friend, called, “Life of Mr Richard Savage,” which was a success. In 1746. Johnson had resumed living with Tetty when he was approached by a group of publishers to create a dictionary of the English Language setting out also a detailed grammar of English. The dictionary disrupted the lives of Tetty and Johnson. He employed assistants to do the work of physically writing what he dictated. There was incessant noise and clutter everywhere. 

    17 Gough Square, where Samuel Johnson created his famous dictionary.

      In 1748 Johnson found a suitable house at 17 Gough Square, just north of Fleet Street in the City. He was able to convert the top floor into a long room which was ideal for working on the dictionary and keeping the other floors of the house for living purposes. He paid a rent of £30 a year.He stayed there until 1759 and after the dictionary was published in 1755. Johnson was still poor, while writing the dictionary, and had to finance himself through writing for his own publication The Rambler and for , The Idler and The Adventurer. His wife, Elizabeth died in 1752, before the dictionary was published.There were those who said he didn’t love his wife but his outpouring of grief in letters to friends and the prayer he wrote  at her death reveals a different view.  In 1755, in recognition of his work, writing the Dictionary, he was given an MA by Oxford University. In 1759 He published a novel Rasselas, a philosophical novel , a meditation and exploration in story form. It was an exploration about what a good, fruitful,life should be. In 1762, Johnson was granted a pension for life from George III for his work. This provided some , security. Samuel Johnson could now travel, and spend time talking During his time in London, Johnson lived in seventeen known addresses. After Gough Square he also lived in three Inns of court, number 1 Temple Court being one of his addresses and subsequently rented houses in Johnson's Court and Bolt Court.

    The coffee shop, next to Covent Garden, where James Boswell met Samuel Johnson for the first time.

    In 1765 he published an edition of Shakespeare which he had researched carefully to bring it back to its original sources. He also met Henry and Hester Thrale and went to live with them at their estate in Streatham. Mrs Thrale,  through the links with the art and literary world Dr Johnson provided, became an important hostess bringing together many talented people.  In 1765, Dublin University awarded him a doctorate.  He was close friends not only with the Thrales and David Garrick, his past pupil, but with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Francis Burney and her composer father, Charles Burney, James Boswell, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and Thomas Lawrence. 

    The house on The Royal Mile, near Edinburgh Castle, where Dr Johnson and James Boswell stayed.

    Samuel Johnson and James Boswell toured the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebrides together. Johnson inspired those around him and many biographies were written about him. The most famous biography is that of his friend James Boswell , who wrote, “The Life of Samuel Johnson.” They met for the first time in a coffee house next to Covent Garden Market. A blue plaque marks the very spot.

    Towards the end of his life Samuel Johnson became ill, not only suffering gout but he also suffered a stroke which weakened him. He died on the 13th December 1784.

    A sketch showing James Boswell.

    Jane Austen was born on the 16thDecember 1775 so she was nine years old when Dr Johnson died. However throughout her letters and novels she refers to Dr Johnson and his writings. On 8th February 1807, writing to her sister Cassandra from Southampton she states, “ But like my dear Dr Johnson I believe I have dealt more in notions than facts.”

    On Wednesday 3rd November 1813 writing from Godmershm Park to Cassandra once again she is discussing the decision of William, a servant of Henry’s, at 10 Henrietta Street, to leave London. “ He has more Cowper than of Johnson in him, fonder of Tame Hares & Blank verse than the full tide of human existence at Charing Cross.”

    She felt empathy and affection for Dr Johnson it seems.

    It can be said that Dr Johnson pervades Jane Austens novels and that she could not have written the novels she did without  Dr Johnson's philosophy of life which obviously influenced  her lifes views.

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    Rassalas by Samuel Johnson.

    In chapter 39 of Mansfield Park, Fanny has returned to her family home in Portsmouth and is feeling overwhelmed by the chaos.

    “In a review of the two houses, as they appeared before her before the end of the week, Fanny was tempted to apply to them Dr Johnson’s celebrated judgement as to matrimony and celibacy, and say, that though Mansfield Park might have some pains, Portsmouth could have no pleasures.”

    This is a reference to a sentence in Dr Johnson’s book, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia.

    Included in Fanny’s reading material while at Mansfield Park , Edmund notices Lord Macartney, Crabbes’ Tales and Dr Johnsons periodical, the Idler.

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    Collected editions of The Idler.

    Jane Austen was open to new ideas. Her novels show she had a clear understanding of human nature. Her many references to Dr Johnson make it clear she knew his ideas and writing well. She must have read his articles in the Rambler, Idler and Adventurer and she obviously used his philosophical ideas from Rasselas. In Johnsons novel, Rassalas, Imlac and Pekunah observe human nature and take different things from their observations and experiences. They are open minded about what they see. They discuss their thoughts and discoveries.

    Mr Knightly , in Emma embodies many of Dr Johnsons’ ideas about what makes a good person in his patience and understanding and in his efforts to undo error. He is an observer of human nature and life just as Rasselas was. Darcy's maturing love for Elizabeth Bennett is similar to the exploration of human realtionships and development Rassalas experinecd. Many of Austens characters are exceptionally wealthy, not least Mr Darcy, but many are from different parts of society and have varying degrees of wealth or the lack of it. Jane Austen intermingles different types of characters  and their interrelating create the tensions in her novels. 

    “Esteem and influence every man desires, but they are equally pleasing, and equally valuable, by whatever means they are obtained; and whoever has found the art of securing them without the help of money, ought, in reality, to be accounted rich, since he has all that riches can purchase to a wise man.”

    The Rambler (no 202)

    This piece by Samuel Johnson could almost be a discussion about Fitzwilliam Darcy.

     Dr Johnson has something to say about families too. In Rassalas he  writes,
     “ Thus parents and children, for the greatest part, live on to love less and less: and….. where shall we look for tenderness and consolation?” 

    In Janes novels there are tensions between different age groups within families. Mr Woodhouse, Emmas father, is such a nervous demanding parent. Mr Bennett in Pride and Prejudice,  doesn’t seem to want to take much interest in his daughters and appears to suffer his wife. Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion  is a domineering, selfish and demanding parent.

    Claire Tomlin, in her biography of Jane Austen, relates how In January 1789, James Austen produced the first edition of The Loiterer based on Dr Johnson's magazines The Rambler and the Idler. Henry Austen contributed an essay to the Loiterer but most essays were written by James. It is suggested than one article, “Sophia Sentiment,” in the 28thMarch 1789 issue, was written by a 14 year old Jane Austen.

    James Austen's, The Loiterer.

    It is tempting to say; could Jane Austen have written the novels she wrote without the influence of Dr Johnson? Nobody exists in a vacuum and Jane Austen loved ideas and was a great annalist of human nature just like her, “Dear Dr Johnson.”

    Recently I have visited Johnson’s house at 17 Gough Square where his dictionary was written. It is a lovely brick town house of the 18th century, set within a small square, that now includes some modern office buildings. Number 17 is the only remaining 18th century house kept intact within the square because of its association with Dr Johnson. It is now the museum to Dr Johnson.The ornate front entrance is reached by four stone steps supported by iron railings to either side. This is the entrance Dr Johnson, his wife Tetty,  friends and employees once entered. Nowadays visitors enter from the left side of the house into a room that was the dining room. The kitchen was situated in the basement below this room. Cupboards in the wall paneling were used to keep tea and coffee, expensive items at that time. Marilyn and I had to pay a small fee to enter the house. We have membership of The National Trust and there is an arrangement with the museum to enable members to get a discount. A cheerful and welcoming lady at the desk, a volunteer at the house, gave us an overview of Dr Johnson and his life whilst he lived in the house. She was very knowledgeable.

    The front door to 17 Gough Square. "No entry! No entry!"

    One particular story that amused her and when she told us, amused us too, was regarding the front door. Samuel Johnson was always short of money and often got into debt. Something that happened to his father too. It was his father’s debt that prevented Johnson continuing at Oxford University. One night, apparently, debt collectors arrived at 17 Gough Square to confront Samuel Johnson. Johnson, with his servants, barricaded the door with his bed shouting at the debt collectors, “No entry! No entry!” Standing behind the front door  in the entrance hall you can easily imagine the scene. To the right of the door was a small spy hole that Johnson could look through to see who was standing outside. The rooms on this ground floor are painted a dark brown and make the downstairs rooms look drab and dark. There was a purpose for this. The streets were muddy and covered with horse droppings. People entering the downstairs unintentionally brought some of this ordure into the house with them.  Light colours would soon look dirty. Dark colours disguised the dirt.

    The parlour with its dark painted walls. The wig cupboard is to the right.

    The room  on the opposite side of the entrance hall was  the parlour or  reception room. People arriving to visit Dr Johnson were ushered in here first. There is a powder closet to the right of the fireplace. It looks like a large cupboard with double doors. It was used to store wigs. Samuel Johnson used to sit inside the cupboard with his wig on and a servant would then cover his wig with a grey white powder to create the required grey affect that was all the fashion. It occurred to me, if things went wrong, some loud spluttering and choking might emanate from this cupboard during the wig dusting process. Also this room contains portraits of Dr Johnson, painted by his friend Joshua Reynolds and portraits of other acquaintances of Johnson.

    Francis Barber, Dr Johnson's man servant and his heir.

    One portrait shows Francis Barber, a freed Jamaican slave, who became Johnsons manservant soon after Tetty,  died. He was born into slavery. Barber was aged about seven when his owner, Colonel Richard Bathhurst, who may have been his father, brought him to England in 1750 and placed him in a Yorkshire school. Five years later, on his deathbed, Bathurst bequeathed Barber £12 and his freedom. It was Bathurst’s son who introduced Francis, now 12 years old, to Dr Johnson, whose wife had died two weeks earlier. Barber spent his next 30 years in Gough Square, Bolt Court, and Johnson’s Court,  places nearby that Johnson lived in too. In 1773 he was joined by his wife, a white woman called Elizabeth Ball who gave birth to four children, two of whom were apparently white themselves, and in 1784, when Johnson died, Barber inherited the bulk of his estate. Part of the inheritance was  an income of £700 per annum. Friends of Dr Johnson, wrote that Johnson didn,t need to employ Barber,  he never seemed to do much. Johnson  relates that Barber, presumably before he married Elizabeth Ball, was something of a lothario. However Dr Johnson had a great fondness for him and friendship and companionship was a valuable thing to him. He expressed the highest opinion of Barber.

    Hester Thrale and daughter.

    Opinions vary as to Barber’s character. Mrs Thrale and John Hawkins wrote nastily about his being an undeserving servant and a jealous husband, but James Boswell,  had only nice things to say about ‘good Mr Francis’.

    Other portraits in the parlour, include those of James Boswell and Joshua Reynolds.There is a grandfather clock in one corner, a circular table with chairs and a glass cabinet with a tea set that once belonged to Hester Thrale.

    Johnson's grandfather clock.

    On the first floor the stairs come to a wide open space that really is two rooms and a small contained landing. The walls are wooden partitions with doors constructed in them that have been opened wide on hinges and rollers . Once these partion walls are rolled back into place they create separate rooms. Able to create a large space from two rooms and an entrance foyer this area could become multi purpose. A large gathering for a celebration of some sort could be held here.

    The first floor with the partition walls folded back.

     The room to the left,when the walls are in place,  was where Anna Williams (1706-1783) lived. Anna Williams and her father were befriended by Johnson and his wife Tetty in the late 1740s. She was an impoverished poet who suffered cataracts in both eyes. In 1751 Johnson arranged for Samuel Sharp, a senior surgeon at Guys Hospital, to operate on Anna William's eyes. Sharp carried out the operation free of charge. He took pity on her because of her poverty and also because she was pious and an intelligent person. Unfortunately the operation was unsuccessful. She moved to Johnson's house in Gough Square and continued to live with Johnson whenever he had lodgings large enough  to accommodate her.She took charge of the domestic running of the household. She has been described as being ill tempered but Boswell quotes Lady Knight who wrote of Anna,
     “…bad health and blindness are surely sufficient apology for her sometimes being impatient, her natural disposition was good , friendly and humane.”

    A portrait of Tetty.

    Also on this first floor there are many more paintings of Johnson and his friends. The room to the right on this floor is the withdrawing room. On this floor is a stained glass panel hanging in a window showing Dr Johnson with Lichfield Cathedral in the background. There is also the only known portrait of Elizabeth Johnson, his wife, Tetty.

    A stained glass portrait of Dr Johnson, on the first floor, showing Lichfield Cathedral in the background.

    This room is hung with many portraits of friends and acquaintances. Johnson loved people around him. This may have been due to a morbid fear of being on his own. The portraits in this room, cover actors, politicians, clergy, preachers, forgers and even murderers. Giuseppi Berretti, was a literary critic who was a tutor to Hester Thrale’s children. He had been acquitted of murder in 1769. He got the position of tutor to the Thrale children through a character reference provided by Dr Johnson. Johnson would entertain total strangers in his house. He had many people stay and live with him at Gough Square,  friends and distant relations too. These various people did not always get on well together and it was said shouting and arguing could sometimes be heard coming from number 17. After moving from Gough Square to number 1 Inner Temple, he received even more visitors daily. 

    On the next floor, library shelves adorn the walls. There are many editions of Dr Johnson’s and James Boswell’s work. 

    David Garrick's costume chest.

    A large chest against one wall has a small brass plaque on it explaining that this wooden trunk was used by David Garrick, the actor, to store costumes in. It asks the public not to touch it.On a round table positioned in the center of this room are editions of Dr Johnson's two volume dictionary. These copies on display are modern facsimiles so visitors are permitted to leaf through them. I spent some time looking up various words. He gave the Latin and Greek root. His definition of each word provides examples of the word in context. In all, there are 114,000 quotations in the dictionary. Johnson was the first English lexicographer to use citations in this way, a method that greatly influenced the style of future dictionaries. He had scoured books stretching back to the 1500s, often quoting from those that were thought to be 'great works' such as Milton or Shakespeare. Johnson also provided  a description of English grammar. He gives detailed explanations of vowels, consonants, nouns, adjectives, verbs, syntax, prosody, tenses. He wrote succinctly and simply. He didn’t over-elaborate and his explanations of English grammar are fresh and clear and could be used by a teacher in a junior school today.  I  checked terms such as, “preterite,” and ,”potential.”   Terms such as indictive, infinitive, present, past, imperative and conjuctive mood are used generally nowadays when teaching English. We write, talk and read, unconscious of the language process we go through. It is important to know and use these terms though. They create different meanings and emphasis. We need to know the,” mechanics,” of language so we can use language to better effect.

    Dr Johnson's Dictionary.

    Here is a definition in the dictionary for ,”existence.” A topic that Johnson explored throughout his life.


    n.s. [existentia, low Latin.] State of being; actual possession of being.

    Nor is only the existency of this animal considerable, but many things delivered thereof. Brown's Vulgar Errours, b. iii.

    It is impossible any being can be eternal with successive eternal physical changes, or variety of states or manner of existency, naturally and necessarily concomitant unto it. Hale.

    The soul, secur'd in her existence, smiles
    At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.
     Addison's Cato.

    When a being is considered as possible, it is said to have an essence or nature; such were all things before the creation. When it is considered as actual, then it is said to have existence also. Watts's Logick.

    Eventually, Marilyn and I made our way up to the top floor, the attic. This is a long room, stretching the width of the house, where wooden desks were set up for Dr Johnson’s assistants and where the great dictionary was written. It is quite something to stand inside such a special place. Johnson, dictated the dictionary to his assistants and they together formed a method of recording it. Johnson must have had so many references scattered around this room.  First published in 1755, the dictionary took just over eight years to compile, required six helpers, and listed 40,000 words. The comparable French Dictionnarre had taken 55 years to compile and required the dedication of 40 scholars. Johnson’s dictionary was a gargantuan feet.

    The attic of 17 Gough Square. It was here the dictionary was compiled.

    Dr Johnson's empathy for human beings is famous. But it must be remembered that he felt an attachment to animals also. James Boswell writing about his friend in April 1783 states,

    “ I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself would go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble might take a dislike to the poor creature. (Boswell goes on to write) I remember him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back and pulled him by the tail.”

    Hodge, looking back at 17 Gough Square after finishing his oysters.

    In Gough Square, opposite the entrance to number 17, is a small life size statue of Hodge with  oyster shells at his feet. Passersby generally put their loose change in the empty oyster shells for Dr Johnson to buy some more fresh oysters for Hodge. A nice idea.

    Ref: The Life of Samuel Johnson by  James Boswell (First published 1791) Penguin Classics 2008

    The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia  by Samuel Johnson  (

    Jane Austen’s Letters Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye  Third Edition , Oxford University Press 1995

    Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomlin  Penguin 1998

    Mansfield Park by Jane Austen Penguin Classics 1966

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Penguin Classics 2003

    Emma by Jane Austen Penguin Classics 2003

    Dr Johnson’s House Museum :

    Mentoring Jane Austen: Refelctions on ,"My Dear Dr. Johnson." Gloria Goss 
    (Department of English California State University)

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    Hamilton in the distance. 

    Until two weeks ago my views about North America were formed at a distance. I had thoughts along the lines of; a disproportionate presence in our world news coverage, the megaphone inanities of a president intent on getting American coalminers back to work, blockbuster action films of an improbable machismo, Royal visits to Canada, a distant memory of school geography lessons and a visit, some thirty and more years ago, before children, when Marilyn and I made a trip to San Francisco and then New York. Memories of then are rather vague. A few highlights and impressions remain

    I flew to Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Monday the 4th September, an Air Transit flight from Gatwick. It took eight hours. When I arrived I was feeling tired but excited. Clive and Barbara met me and then drove me to their home at Dorset Place, Westdale, a district of Hamilton.

    On the first day, Clive took me for a bicycle ride along the waterfront trail beside Cootes Paradise. We stopped now and then to take in the views and to observe, cormorants and the occasional heron poised on rocks in the water, waiting for fish to appear. A couple of joggers glided past. Other cyclists swept along the path in both directions. I could see the steal works on the other side of the bay, steam emanating from one of its furnaces. Steal is the main industry of Hamilton.

    We did a lot of cycling around Westdale.

    During my stay in Westdale with Clive and Barbara we visited a number of nature reserves and environments , many of national scientific importance. We not only visited Cootes Paradise, but also Crawford Lake, walked along part of the limestone Niagara Escarpment and visited the Royal Botanic Gardens at Hamilton. It appeared to me that Canadians have great respect for their environment and love engaging with it. Clive and Barbara are interested in the flora and fauna around The Great Lakes area of Ontario and often take trips to observe and photograph the various birds that inhabit these areas. In accompaniment with Clive and Barbara I met and came across many other Canadians taking advantage of their natural environment. I formed the opinion that this is an aspect of being Canadian, a strong respect and love for the natural world.

    Cootes Paradise.

    Crawford Lake was interesting for a number of reasons. It’s a conservation area. Woodland art punctuates the pathways. The lake is a rare meromictic lake and there is a reconstructed Iroquoian village  on the site of an original, archaeologically excavated and researched village. A First Nations leader, Chief Top Leaf, was visiting and giving talks on Iroquoian culture while we were there.

    Iroquoian long house at Crawford Lake.

    Westdale is a pleasant leafy suburb of Hamilton. It has wide quiet streets. The houses are of varying architectural design, some of brick, some stone built but most are timber clad. Front lawns, shrubbery beds and a variety of trees front every residence. The weather was warm, most days being in the mid twenty degrees, this contributed to the feeling of a tranquil pleasant place. Westdale village  has a variety of restaurants including The Saigon Restaurant, The Snooty Fox pub, a good second hand book shop, run by a friendly English lady,  a number of coffee shops and a dilapidated cinema that is in the process of being renovated. Locals want it back in use. I should have asked who, and how it is going to be managed. Will it be a local community facility run by a cooperative? I imagine arthouse type movies being shown there. Perhaps even an outlet for local film makers. I am running ahead of things here. Mere speculation. 

    Westdale Cinema being renovated.

    On the outskirts of Westdale is McMaster University set in a campus comprising of buildings built in the late 1920’s when its main campus moved from Toronto to Hamilton and modern buildings constructed right up to the present day. 

    The building where Clive did his teacher training.

    Clive took me on a cycle tour of the campus one lunchtime and hundreds of students were milling about, folders and laptops in hand. He showed me the building where he had done his teacher training courses.


    Clive and I got the train from Hamilton into Toronto one day. We walked the streets looking at various sights. We went into The Royal Ontario Museum with its modernist glass rubics cube of an extension at one side. I came across The Hudson’s Bay Company shop. It’s an upmarket store these days. We walked into a side street being used as a film set.A winter scene on the streets of New York. The temperature was 25 degrees centigrade that day. We had a pub lunch in a bar at the heart of ,TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival with fans walking about trying to see the ,"stars."

    The Toronto Blue Jays in action against the Detroit Tigers.

     Later we had tickets for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Detroit Tigers in the magnificent Rogers Stadium overlooked by the CN Tower. I have never been to a baseball game before. Any sport where watching the statistics on the score board is more exciting than watching the occasional burst of activity on the field has to be up there with having a hangover. Large computer screens told us when to make a ,"NOISE."The game lasted three hours! Cricket is so much more exciting. Toronto, the city, is fantastic though. 

    Clive obtained tickets for the three of us to see a production of HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan at the theater in Stratford one night. Stratford is a very nice town. It was amusing to see the opening scene set in the naval port of Portsmouth, Hampshire. They did try to get their English accents correct.

    Stratford Ontario.

    A visit to the Canadian Warplanes Museum, at Monro Airport near Hamilton, provided an opportunity to see one of only two, still flying, Lancaster bombers from the second world war on display. The day we went  veteran cars were on display too.

    A Lancaster Bomber.

    Barbara, Clive and I drove to Niagara Falls on another day. We took a boat called The Hornblower which powered itself to the base of the Horse Shoe Falls, sailing past the smaller American Falls on the way. That was some experience. We got soaked through even for the fact we were wearing  pink plastic ponchos. I challenged one of the crew. “Do I have to wear pink?” She replied curtly, “Its Canadian Red.”

    Wearing, "Canadian Red."

    After the falls we visited Fort George, a reconstructed British fort built in the early 1800’s on the Niagara River to defend Canada from the Americans. We learned all about the 1812 War against America which the British won and Canada, eventually,became, Canada.

    Barbara and Clive at Niagara Falls.

    Afterwards we drove to Niagara on the Lake, a picturesque town from the time of Fort George, with many English features including a great pub that sold Old Speckled Hen and provided fish and chips that were not bad. It is world famous for holding one of the main arts festivals in North America, The Shaw Festival. There is an imposing life size statue of George Bernard Shaw in the High Street.

    George Bernard Shaw at Niagara on the Lake.
    On the 11th September we flew from Pearson Airport to La Guardia, north of Brooklyn, in New York. Barbara had booked us an Airbnb in Little Italy near Greenwich Village.

    New York, New York.

     Arriving at La Guardia we first got a Metrocard from a machine just outside of the airport terminal. This gave us subway and bus travel for three days. We got the bus to, Jackson Heights, where the subway system begins.  The bus had deposited us right next to the infamous, elevated railway that features in the Film French Connection with Gene Hackman. It is the scene of one of the most exciting road chases in film. We couldn’t have had a better start to New York. 

    Jackson Heights. The French Connection film location.

    We got the M line to Bleecker Street in south Manhatten, not far from the apartment we were to stay at. Little Italy is a run down, poor area, vagrants living on the streets, social housing, black bin liners filled with rubbish piled on the pavements and grimy corner shops. We were getting the full flavour of New York from the very start. We found a great artisan coffee shop just round the corner from the apartment where we had coffee and croissants every morning for breakfast.

    The coffee shop we used in Little Italy, for breakfast.

    On our first afternoon we walked from the apartment in Eldridge Street, through Greenwich Village. Clive had done his research. We found Jones Street where the album cover for, The "Freewheelin’" Bob Dylan album was photographed. Clive and I took turns to pose in a,” Dylanesque,” fashion in the street and took our own photographs. We saw where Dylan had lived in Mc Dougal Street at various periods and saw the,”Wha Club,” where Dylan and other artists had performed.

    Bob Dylan lived here in McDougal Street,Greenwich Village.

    That first afternoon and evening of the 11thwas the time to visit, “Ground Zero.” Commemorative marches and remembrance services had taken place that day. We stood and looked into the abyss of each of the Twin Tower’s footprints where cascades of water tumble down seemingly into a bottomless void. There were thousands of people still around in the evening. Police officers and members of the New York Fire brigade, wearing ceremonial uniforms were  drinking in the bars after the memorial services.

    A New York fireman on duty  at Ground Zero.

    During our three days in New York we each had our own  particular highlights. We sat in a coffee shop near Battery Park just south of Wall Street and discussed this. To be honest, everything I saw and experienced affected me and will remain with me always. One of my highlights was Greenwich Village and Washington Square and The White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas took his last drink.

    The White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village where Dylan Thomas took his last drink.

     On Wall Street, I overheard a woman explaining to a friend about her hysterectomy and successful cancer operation. New Yorkers are very loud. They are also incredibly friendly. A few New Yorkers approached us to offer help when they obviously saw we were looking lost on occasion.

    The little girl in Wall Street facing out the charging bull.

    We accidently ( yes, truly) walked into Trump Tower on 5th Avenue and wondered why the Secret Service agents wore jackets with ,Secret Service, in large letters across their backs. Later that day we walked through the foyer of the Rockefeller Center and were awed by every glittering and polished surface of art deco magnificence. The Trump Tower has nothing on the Rockefeller Center. John D.Rockefeller was a humanitarian. He was a philosopher and philanthropist. Donald Trump is just….. 

    The Rockefeller Center. Much much better than Trump Tower.

    We had a very pleasant walk through Central Park on a warm sunny day. We went from The Dakota Building, where John Lennon once lived to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the other side of the park. 

    The city from Central Park.
    We spent an evening at the Iguana Club on 54th Street, between 8th Avenue and Broadway. We had a meal there and listened to the Grammy Award winning Vince Giorodano’s Nighthawks Orchestra. They played jazz music from the 1930’s. People sitting at various tables got up and danced . They were incredible. I asked one of the waiters how come they were so good? He told me they were people who came to the club two nights a week to take dance lessons. It was like a 1930’s flash mob. The club, master of ceremonies and entrance usher was a lovely, smiling elderly lady dressed for the period who stumbled around with an arthritic hip. The waiters were fast and efficient. They all looked middle aged, Latinos mostly. I sat there in the dark shadow of our table and wondered whether they had pensions and health care.  There are things you read and hear about America. Vince , the bandleader, was a large ebullient man who talked to the audience introducing every number with a wry sense of humour. The whole evening was wonderful. I can’t think of a better superlative to describe it.

    Vince and The Nighthawks giving it their all.

    We walked past the UN building on the east side next to the East River. There is a Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the front of the UN building that she created in her studio in St Ives. It is  based on her ideas about form and line.  She was a friend of Dag Hammarskjöld,  the secretary general of the UN in the 1950s.

    "Form and line," by Barbara Hepworth infront of the UN building.

    One thing I had intended to do in  New York was to find a small restaurant on E44th Street  called ,John’s Restaurant. It is situated near the UN Building so after we walked passed  the UN   we walked along E44th Street and there was John’s Restaurant on the corner of 2ndAvenue. It is a seedy run down place. The reason I was there is because of my mother. In 1941 during the second world war, my mother had a New York pen friend, arranged for her by the nuns at St Anne’s Convent in Southampton. Her pen friend was called , Alda Steffanacci. One of the photographs Alda  sent my mother, taken in 1941, showed herself with her father and mother standing outside of John’s Restaurant on E44th Street.

    Alda, with her mother and father in 1941 outside of John's Restaurant on E44th Street and 2nd Avenue.

      I went in to inquire whether the same family owned the restaurant but over the years it had changed hands a number of times. The waitress very kindly let me take photographs of the inside. Clive also took a photograph of me standing on the very same spot Alda and her family had stood all those years ago.

    The same spot today.

    We did not go skywards to the top of any high buildings while we were in New York, such as The Empire State building, but we got some incredible views of New York from the river and the harbour.  We took the subway from Bowery to Fulton Street and changed to get the subway to Dumbo across the East River on the Brooklyn side. From there we walked back into Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge.  New York rose before us. 

    New York from Brooklyn Bridge.
    Another eye popping experience was riding the cable car across to Roosevelt Island beside the 59th Street Bridge. 

    On the cable car next to 59th Street Bridge.

    We also took the Staten Island Ferry across to Staten Island and got a great view of New York harbour including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island where immigrants were processed at the turn of the last century.

    The Staten Island Ferry with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

    Barbara wanted to see and walk along the High Line, which runs parallel with the piers on the west side of Manhattan where many ships dock. It is close to Greenwich Village. The High Line used to be a railway line above ground that serviced the port and also the meat packing district. It became derelict but has now been turned into an urban garden with pathways. Some of the old railway tracks remain as part of the garden features.

    The High Line, which has been turned into a very pleasant urban walkway and garden.

    While in New York we also visited The New York Public Library and St Patrick’s Cathedral, both on 5th Avenue.

    From the steps pf the New York Public Library.

    We stood in awe inside Grand Central Station. It is like a cathedral. We also stood outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway where the Beatles had their famous first televised performance in America.

    The Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway.

    Time Square is the beating heart of New York. It is brash and bright, the temple to modern consumerism. A symbol of one of the powerful driving forces of our modern culture. Enormous computerised screens flicker with giant sized advertisements. It even has a sloping bank of seats, like a sports stadium, so people can sit and watch the never ending display.My Dad who visited New York on a number of occasions  in the late 1940s, asked me if they still had the continuous tickertape band displaying the latest news, moving around Time Square. I had to disappoint him and tell him that was ancient technology.

    Time Square.
    We flew back to Toronto on the 14thSeptember. On the 15th I had an evening flight back to Gatwick so we spent the day cycling around Westdale, getting a pub lunch at the Snooty Fox and just generally chilling out.

    It is difficult to describe how amazing the time I had with Clive and Barbara was. I shall remember it always. They were wonderful hosts. We filled our time with so many experiences over the twelve days.

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  • 10/25/17--10:00: EDINBURGH TODAY
  • Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

    Last Thursday, 18th October, Marilyn and I got an early morning flight from Gatwick to Edinburgh Airport. We thought we would take a break before the half term began for schools, in England,. It was my second time in Edinburgh. I spent a few days in Edinburgh four years ago. It was Marilyn’s first time there.

    Walking The Royal Mile.

    Over two days we saw most of the sights; Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile; we walked up and down that street a number of times, Holyrood, Calton Hill and Princess Street.  We visited some of the museums; The National Gallery, The Museum of Edinburgh, The Museum of Surgeons  and we walked past the Museum of Scotland and the Museum of The Mound, located in The Bank of Scotland building next to The Nor Loch. We visited Mary Kings Close and drank a beer in, Deacon Brodies, public house. We also walked through a graveyard or two. We visited  Old Calton Cemetery, that has a statue of Abraham Lincoln and contains the mausoleum of David Hume, the 18th century, philosopher , historian and economist. We walked through  Greyfriars Churchyard where the Covenant was signed in1638 by the Scottish Presbyterians who followed Calvinist ideas. A place full of ,”ghosties and ghoulies,” at night.

    Greyfriars Churchyard.

    Edinburgh is beautiful , it has a special feel and a unique personality but  it appears Edinburgh has become a cliché, a pastiche of itself. Busby helmeted pipers wearing full regalia busk on street corners. The Royal Mile has only five types of shop; tartan shops, coffee shops, pubs, whisky shops and gift shops. Princess Street appears to have lost its glory. It comprises mostly chain stores, Primark, H&M, Waterstones, NEXT,  W.H. Smiths and Marks and Spencers. Jenners, a famed Edinburgh department store dating from 1838, still stands on the corner of St David’s Street and Princess Street. Marilyn and I went into Jenners to see its magnificent great hall. We could only imagine the splendours that the whole of Princess Street once had.

    The Elephant House, one of Edinburgh's many coffee shops. It is where J. K. Rowling wrote the opening chapters of Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone.

    Tourism pervades Edinburgh. The streets were full of Americans. You can hear their accents in the air. Some of the young Americans must be students at Edinburgh University. Apart from the chain stores on Princess Street, and the tourist shops on The Royal Mile, there are tours; Harry Potter tours, Ghost tours, 

    Victoria Street. An inspiration for ,"Diagon Alley."

    The Mary King Close Tour, a tour of the underground vaults beneath the approach to South Bridge, a tour of Edinburgh Castle, a tour of Holyrood Palace, a ghost bus tour, and other tours are well advertised, Whisky Tours of the Highlands, Highland tours. The number and variety of tours seem to go on and on. I began to have the feeling that that is all there is to Edinburgh now.

    Edinburgh Castle.

    I am wrong though. The Parliament at Holyrood, requires numerous government officials with people to work in the various government departments. 

    The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood with Salisbury Crags in the background.

    The Bank of Scotland is based in Edinburgh and Edinburgh is an important world financial hub. Financial services are a big part of Edinburgh’s economy. Edinburgh has an important law school and the city itself is the center of Scotland’s legal system. There is a growing technology and software industry.  Edinburgh University is a world renowned university for research. The Royal College of Surgeons is one of the worlds famed medical schools. 

    Edinburgh University.

    The Edinburgh Festival promotes and helps develop national and international artists and musicians. Edinburgh has many museums, many of world importance such as The Museum of Scotland, The Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery as well as many local, and specific theme based museums. These are important to promote Edinburgh, its past, its present and to influence its future. They relate what Edinburgh and Scotland is to the world. 

    The National Gallery.

    Edinburgh City Council has a strong plan in place to promote local business and industries and attract, local, national and foreign investment for the future. Edinburgh is an international centre for sport including international Rugby at Murrayfield and it has been the base for the Commonwealth Games. Alistair Grant, writing in the Edinburgh Evening News , says.

    “An impressive 1637 new businesses were set up in the Capital over the three months to April 2015 – a 5.1 per cent increase on last month – while Edinburgh Airport enjoyed its busiest April on record. And over the 12 months to March 2015, 32 different foreign investment projects brought stacks of extra cash into the city, creating 447 new jobs in the process. Councillor Frank Ross, the city’s economy leader, insisted the figures were “further evidence of Edinburgh’s resilient economy”.

    A tram in Princess Street.

    We stayed at a wonderful four star hotel called ,"Ten Hill Place." Hill Place is a beautiful Georgian Square which is owned by the Royal College of Surgeons nearby in South Bridge Road. "Ten Hill Place," is part of the property portfolio of the college. All profits from the hotel, which comprises the houses along one side of the square, is used to help finance the college.

    The Georgian Square, Hill Place, from our hotel window.

    It is said that Edinburgh has recovered from the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 better than any other city in Britain and is looking towards a vibrant future. Edinburgh does seem to be, on the surface, over reliant on tourism but it is resilient and has an air of optimism for the future. Navigating through BREXIT is another story.

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  • 11/08/17--00:21: NAME THAT WRITER!!!!
  • Some writers' homes and their writing desks I have visited over the years.
    A few are obvious. One you might not think of as being a writer. Two of the writers were very close friends. One picture shows a place connected with a particular writer but it is really connected to two writers, brother and sister. There is a picture of a house connected to a family of writers. Three of the pictures were not taken in Britain. Two of the writers were not British.














    The answers for those who desperately need to know!!!!!!!!!


    1.  Rudyard Kipling's writing desk in his country house, Batemans.
    2. The attic in Gough Square where Samuel Johnson compiled and wrote his dictionary.
    3. Dove Cottage in the Lake District where William and Dorothy Wordsworth lived.
    4. The shed in Laugharne where Dylan Thomas wrote. He lived nearby with his family in the boathouse.
    5. The monastic cell at Valdemosa, where Georg Sands lived with Chopin for a year on Mallorca.
    6. Jane Austen's writing table at Chawton Cottage.
    7. Robert Graves writing desk in his house in Gaia on Mallorca.
    8. Charles Dickens' Swiss Cottage, in Rochester. He was writing Edwin Drood inside on the morning of his death.
    9. The parsonage in Haworth where the Bronte sisters and their brother Branwell lived.
    10. The apartment in Paris where Victor Hugo lived for a while.
    11. Chartwell, the country home of Winston Churchill.
    12. The library at Sissinghurst, the home of Vita Sackville West.
    13. The desk in the garden shed at Rodmell where Virginia Woolf wrote.

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  • 01/12/18--08:06: Netley Abbey and the Gothic
  • This is posted on Vic Sanborn's blog JANE AUSTEN's WORLD

    Netley Abbey and the Gothic by Tony Grant

    Inquiring readers, Tony Grant, a blogger and contributor to this blog for a decade,has submitted this interesting post about Netley Abbey. He ties history, literature, poetry, and painting to Jane Austen’s fascination with the gothic novel, which led to her writing Northanger Abbey in her wonderfully satiric vein. Enjoy!
    My Memories of Netley Abbey
    When I was eight years old, I recall one of my grandmothers telling me about the ghosts that haunted Netley Abbey. Netley Abbey is four miles along Southampton Water from where I grew up. I lived in Woolston, a small industrial area of Southampton next to the Itchen River, which flows into Southampton Water at the cities docks. (See Google satellite map image below and Google map image alongside it.)

    Within walking distance of where I lived are extensive areas of woodland and farms that specialized in market gardening. Netley Abbey itself is set within woodland near the shore of Southampton Water, not far from The Hamble River and within view of the Isle of Wight.
    Google street view entrance Netley
    Google street view: Entrance to Netley Castle
    I remember my grandmother telling me about a White Lady, who has been seen on occasions wafting through the ruins of Netley. She reputedly had been incarcerated within a bricked up space within the Abbey. Quite a horrific thought. She told me also of the dark presence of a black clad monk that sometimes appeared in the ruined entrances to the cloisters within the Abbey’s precinct.
    Abbey Church wall and pillars 1
    Netley Abbey’s ruined walls and pillars: Image Tony Grant
    Another story tells of a builder at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Abbey’s stones and bricks were being recycled as building material, and how part of the arched window at the western end of the abbey church fell on him, fatally injuring him. Stories like this, imagined and real, were useful in keeping Netley Abbey in a substantial state. These stories became vivid images in the mind of a small boy.
    Netley Abbey arches. Image Tony Grant
    My friends and I would walk to Netley or take the green Hants and Dorset bus there. We clambered over the ruins of the Abbey in daylight, imagining what might happen at night, especially in the dim glow of a full moon and with the hooting of owls. Many trees around the Abbey have crows nests high up in their branches and the harsh echo of their shrieking almost always pervades the air around and above the Abbey ruins. I remember our young selves feeling scared and worried but drawn helplessly to this haunted place.
    Early History of the Abbey
    Netley Abbey is the most complete set of Cistercian monastic ruins in England. Peter de Roches, the Bishop of Winchester founded Netley in 1238. Unfortunately, he died soon after and before building work on the Abbey had begun. However, a group of monks from Beaulieu Abbey in The New Forest arrived in Netley a year later, in 1239, and probably lived in wooden huts while the Abbey was under construction. King Henry III (1216-1272) became the patron of Netley. On one of the remaining stone pillar bases inside the church ruins, a clear inscription shows Henry III’s name.
    Plan_of_Netley_Abbey (1)  

    Map of Netley Abbey ca. 1300 – modern times
    The Cistercians were an order founded by Robert Molesme in 1089. He was a Benedictine who felt that the Benedictines had abandoned the life of simplicity the rule of St Benedict stated. He set about rectifying this. The monks set up an Abbey at Citeaux in France that gave them their name, Cistercian. They returned to a life of manual work and prayer and dedicated themselves to the ideal of charity and self-sustenance. This is very much the lifestyle the monks at Netley followed.
    Fifteen monks and thirty lay brothers lived at Netley, along with officials and servants. They provided sustenance and shelter to travelers and extensively farmed the land around Netley. Interestingly, only a few miles away St. Mary the Virgin, Hound Parish Church, at nearby Hamble le Rice on the Hamble River, was founded by Benedictines separately from the Cistercians at Netley. Bishop Giffard of Winchester had established a cell of Benedictine monks at Hamble Le Rice by the 12th century. These monks came from the Abbey of Tiron in France. (Images below by Tony Grant.)
    In 1536 Henry VIII began the suppression of the monasteries in England. The destruction of the monasteries transformed the power and political structures in England. Henry had cut himself off from Rome and had made himself the head of the church in England. He destroyed the monastery system for the wealth they provided and also to suppress political opposition. The monasteries and the church had been a social and political force that in some ways had been more powerful than the monarchy itself. Church property in England had been home to 10,000 monks, nuns, friars and canons. Henry sold the land to landowners. Some of the buildings became churches of the church of England, such as Durham Cathedral. Many were left to ruin ,such as Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley on the border of England and Wales. The monks who resisted were executed. The majority were pensioned off. Some of the funds Henry gathered were used to set up educational establishments, such as Trinity College Cambridge and Christ Church Oxford. One disastrous result from the dissolution of the monasteries was the destruction of entire monastic libraries, including the loss of many ancient music manuscripts.
    The Abbey in the 18th and 19th centuries
    Netley Abbey however, was not destroyed but given to Sir William Paulet as a reward for his loyal services. He’d held a number of high profile jobs, including the Treasurer to the Royal Household. Sir William turned the Abbey into a private mansion and reused many of the Abbeys existing buildings. The cloisters became a courtyard. He demolished the monk’s refectory and built an elaborate turreted entrance. The mansion remained inhabited until 1704 when the then owner started selling it off for building materials. The Tudor adaptations were mostly removed in the later 19th century, although sections of brickwork can be found within today’s remaining structure.
    Netley Abbey. Image Tony Grant
    The Tudors built with brick and these are the few remaining Tudor parts.
    The Abbey’s Role in Gothic Revival Architecture
    NPG 6520,Horatio ('Horace') Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford,by Sir Joshua Reynolds
    Horatio Walpole
    Netley Abbey played an important role in the 18th and 19th century Gothic revival. Horace Walpole, the 4th earl of Orford, visited Netley Abbey on September 18th 1755. His original name was Horatio Walpole, (born Sept. 24, 1717, London—died March 2, 1797). He was the son of England’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Horace Walpole was an English writer, connoisseur, and collector who was famous in his day for his medieval horror tale, The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, which initiated the vogue for Gothic romances. He is remembered today as perhaps the most assiduous letter writer in the English language. Walpole wrote to his friend Richard Bentley. He had been staying with his friend, Chute, at The Vyne near Basingstoke. They had departed on a trip to visit Winchester and Southampton. While in Southampton they visited Netley Abbey. Walpole wrote:
    “Mr Chute persuaded me to take a jaunt to Winchester and Netley Abbey with the latter of which he is very justly enchanted.”
    In his letter, Walpole doesn’t seem to think much about Winchester, “it is a paltry town,” but he enthused about Netley Abbey.
    “The ruins are vast, and retain fragments of beautiful fretted roofs pendent in the air, with all variety of Gothic patterns of windows wrapped round and round with ivy — many trees are sprouted up amongst the walls, and only want to be increased with cypresses! A hill rises above the abbey, encircled with wood: the fort, in which we would build a tower for habitation, remains with two small platforms. This little castle is buried from the abbey in a wood, in the very centre, on the edge of the hill: on each side breaks in the view of the Southampton sea, deep blue, glistering with silver and vessels; on one side terminated by Southampton, on the other by Calshot castle; and the Isle of Wight rising above the opposite hills. In short, they are not the ruins of Netley, but of Paradise.— Oh! the purple abbots, what a spot had they chosen to slumber in! The scene is so beautifully tranquil, yet so lively, that they seem only to have retired into the world.”
    Thomas Gray, English Poet
    Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771)
    Thomas Gray
    Horace Walpole goes on to mention that his friend Thomas Gray had visited Netley previously. Gray had written a letter about his visit to Netley to the Rev. N. Nichols:
     “Monday, 19th November 1764.
    In the bosom of the woods (concealed from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netley Abbey. There may be richer and greater houses of religion, but the abbot is content with his situation. See there, at the top of that hanging meadow under the shade of those old trees that bend into half a circle about it, he is walking slowly (good man!) and bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks, that mask the building and have excluded a view too garish and too luxuriant for a holy eye: only, on either hand, they leave an opening to the blue glittering sea. Did not you observe how, as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned and crossed himself to drive the tempter from him that had thrown distraction in his way. I should tell you, that the ferryman who rowed me, a lusty young fellow, told me that he would not, for all the world, pass a night at the Abbey (there were such things seen near it), though there was a power of money hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, and Stonehenge; but of these things I say no more, they will be published at the University press.”
    Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar, and professor at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is widely known for his, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,”published in 1751.
    Gray’s ,”Elegy written in a country churchyard,” was completed in 1750 and first published in 1751.  The poem was completed when Gray was living near St Giles’ parish church at Stoke Poges. It was sent to his friend Horace Walpole, who popularised the poem among London literary circles. Here is an extract that might evoke the atmosphere of Netley.
    The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
    The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
    The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
    And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
    Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,
    And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
    Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
    And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
    Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r
    The moping owl does to the moon complain
    Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,
    Molest her ancient solitary reign.
    John Constable
    John Constable, RA (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837)
    John Constable
    John Constable, 1776 – 1837, is famous for his landscapes, which are mostly of the Suffolk countryside, where he was born and lived. He made many open-air sketches, using these as a basis for his large exhibition paintings, which were worked up in the studio. His pictures are popular today, but they were not well received in England during his lifetime. His most famous pictures include ,”The Hay Wain,” and a series of paintings, sketches and drawings of Salisbury Cathedral from the water meadows. He painted many pictures in the area of East Bergholt, Suffolk, where he was born and brought up.
    Constable and his wife visited Netley Abbey, Hampshire on their honeymoon in 1816. One of the drawings made on that occasion was the basis for this much later watercolour.
    Netley Abbey by Moonlight c.1833 by John Constable 1776-1837
    Constable Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery
    It resembles the designs Constable painted in 1833 to illustrate an edition of Gray’s ‘Elegy.’
    George Keate
    George Keate, another visitor to Netley Abbey, was born on 30 November 1729 at Trowbridge in Wiltshire, where his father had property. He was educated by the Rev. Richard Wooddeson of Kingston upon Thames, together with Gilbert Wakefield, William Hayley, Francis Maseres, and others.
    On leaving school, Keate was articled as clerk to Robert Palmer, steward to the Duke of Bedford. He entered the Inner Temple in 1751, was called to the bar in 1753, and in 1791 was made bencher of his inn, but never practised the law. In 1850, when his mother died, he inherited his family’s money. For some years he lived abroad, mainly at Geneva, where he knew Voltaire. By 1755 he was in Rome. After settling in England, Keate, began to write. He was in turn poet, naturalist, antiquary, and artist. A founder member of the Society of Artists in 1761, he left it for the Royal Academy in 1768. Keate was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and Fellow of the Royal Society in 1766. In 1764 he wrote this poem about Netley Abbey entitled,
    The Ruins of Netley Abbey. A Poem.” Here is an extract.
    More welcome far the Shades of this wild Wood
    Skirting with cheerful Green the seabeat Sands,
    Where NETLEY, near the Margin of the Flood
    In lone Magnificence a Ruin stands.
    How chang’d alas! from that rever’d Abode
    Which spread in ancient Days so wide a Fame,
    When votive Monks these sacred Pavements trod,
    And swell’d each Echo with JEHOVAH’S Name!
    Now sunk, deserted, and with Weeds o’ergrown,
    Yon aged Walls their better Years bewail;
    Low on the Ground their loftiest Spires are thrown,
    And ev’ry Stone points out a moral Tale.
    Mark how the Ivy with Luxuriance bends
    Its winding Foliage through the cloister’d Space,
    O’er the green Window’s mould’ring Height ascends,
    And seems to clasp it with a fond Embrace.—
    Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding
    In 1826 Copeley Fielding visited Netley Abbey and produced this water colour.
    Copeley Fielding Sept 22nd 1826
    Copeley Fielding Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery
    Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (22 November 1787 – 3 March 1855), commonly called Copley Fielding, was an English painter born in Sowerby, near Halifax, and famous for his watercolour landscapes. At an early age Fielding became a pupil of John Varley. In 1810 he became an associate exhibitor in the Old Water-colour Society, in 1813 a full member, and in 1831 President of that body (later known as the Royal Society of Watercolours), until his death.
    In 1824, Copley Fielding won a gold medal at the Paris Salon alongside Richard Parkes Bonington and John Constable. He also engaged largely in teaching the art. He later moved to Park Crescent in Worthing and died in the town in March 1855.
    Origins of Gothic Novels
    1795 Richard Warner wrote a potboiler entitled Netley Abbey, a Gothic Story in two volumes, featuring skullduggery at the abbey during the middle ages.
    Netley Abbey: A Gothic novel by Richard Warner, 1795
    John Mullins, in an article about ,”The Origins of the Gothic,” published in 2014 for the British Library, writes,
    “Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the ,”Gothic,”to a novel in the subtitle-“A Gothic Story,” – or, “The Castle of Otranto,” published in 1764. Mullins writes that when Walpole used the word Gothic he meant ,”barbarous,” as well as, “deriving from the middle ages.
    Anne Radcliffe, Wikipedia Commons
    In the 1790s novelists rediscovered what Walpole had imagined. Anne Radcliffe wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) She created a brooding aristocratic villain, Montoni, who threatens the resourceful heroine Emily with an unspeakable fate. Radcliffe’s fiction was the natural target for Jane Austen’s satire, Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland imposes her ,”Gothic,” thoughts and ideas on the real world of the Tilneys.”
    Reading novels and novels of the Gothic genre especially are one of Catherine Morland’s greatest pleasures. When meeting her new friend Isabella Thorpe in the Pump Room, Isabella enquires why Catherine is late.
    ”But my dearest Catherine what have you been doing with yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?”
    Catherine had and they began to discuss the plot.
    “… and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
    These ”same kind” included, Castle of Wolfenbebavch, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhineand Horrid Mysteries. Actually the titles alone set a gloomy mysterious dark mood. The enthusiasm of Isabella and Catherine for these novels seem to be echoed by Jane Austen’s tense, breathlessness that emerges from her writing. Is there a tone of cynicism and ridicule too in their listing? Although Austen exaggerates the Gothic genre you can’t help thinking that she must have read all of these novels herself, how else would she know them? Her close mimicking of the genre in Northanger Abbey also points to the realization that she absorbed all the traits of the Gothic genre and was using those effects to her own great delight. I think Jane Austen loved the Gothic genre even as she seems to ridicule it. It was a guilty pleasure to her, perhaps.
    Jane Austen – full circle from Netley and Southampton to Northanger Abbey
    Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)
    Jane Austen, watercolour by her sister Cassandra, National Portrait Gallery
    In 1806, Jane Austen, her mother Cassandra, her sister Cassandra, her friend Martha Lloyd and her brother, Francis’s new bride, Mary Gibson moved into a house in Castle Square Southampton rented from Lord Landsdown. The previous year, 1805, George Austen her father had died in Bath. Her mother, herself and her sister were in straightened circumstances. They had to rely quite heavily on Jane’s brothers for support. Francis was to be away at sea and his new bride, Mary, was already pregnant. She needed the support of the women in the family. Francis was to sail from Portsmouth but being a naval port it was not entirely suitable for his new wife, and his mother and sisters. Southampton, nineteen miles along the coast, was far more genteel.
    The Austens knew Southampton and the surrounding areas well. Jane had visited Southampton on a number of occasions before moving there again in 1806. The family would often take trips into the surrounding areas, going to Beaulieu in the New Forest or take boat trips to the Isle of Wight. They would also go by rowing boat from The Itchen Ferry to Netley. Jane writing to Cassandra from Castle Square on Tuesday 25th October 1808,
    “ We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I intend to take them to Netley today; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noonshine but I am afraid there will be rain.”
    Edward and George, Jane’s brother Edward’s boys, were staying with Jane at Castle Square. Their mother had died and they were receiving letters from their father about what was to happen. Both boys were naturally upset and Jane took their wellbeing into hand. She appears to have been quite successful keeping the boys occupied with a series of adventures. Netley Abbey must have had an effect on Austen. The Abbey had influenced novelists, poets and artists. Horace Walpole, the originator of the Gothic form, had been impressed by it. We can surmise that her visit to Netley Abbey influenced Jane’s reading of the Gothic novels and so influenced her writing of Northanger Abbey. Or perhaps her fondness for reading Gothic novels influenced her visit to Netley Abbey. It was, after all, a well-known beauty spot.
    Northanger Abbey/Persuasion title page, Wikipedia Commons
    Northanger Abbey was ready for publication in 1803 but was not published until December 1817 after Jane’s death in July of that year. From the tone of the letter, we can gather Netley was a well-known place to the Austen family. Prior to 1806, Jane had previously lived or stayed in Southampton: In 1783, when Mrs Crawley moved her school to Southampton from Reading; and also in 1793 at the age of 17 to stay with a cousin, Elizabeth Butler Harris, née Austen. Jane celebrated her 18th birthday at a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton High Street. She may well have been introduced to Netley Abbey on either of those occasions.
    Whether Netley Abbey had an influence on Jane’s writing of Northanger Abbey or not, it was a place that had an influence on those connected with the Gothic movement.
    Here is a description of Catherine Moorland experiencing Northanger Abbey at night.
    “The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals the whole afternoon; and by the time the party broke up, it blew and rained violently. Catherine, as she crossed the hall, listened to the tempest with sensations of aw; and, when she heard it rage round a corner of the ancient building and close with sudden fury a distant door, felt for the firs time that she was really in an Abbey.- Yes, these were characteristic sounds;- they brought to her recollection a countless variety of dreadful situations and horrid scenes, which such buildings had witnessed….”
    Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, first published 1818, (Penguin Classic 2006.)
    Jane Austen’s Letters New Edition) Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye Third Edition 1995 Oxford University Press.
    Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding 1787–1855 biography TATE BRITAIN
    John Constable 1776–1837 biography TATE BRITAIN
    Horace Walpole TO RICHARD BENTLEY, ESQ. Strawberry Hill, September 18, 1755.
    George Keate: Wikipaedia:
    Netley Abbey   English Heritage.
    The Origins of the Gothic,” John Mullins published in 2014 for the British Library.

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  • 03/16/18--08:00: RETIREMENT

  • On top of the world.

    I think I am in the process of retiring. What does that mean? Within context, in novels,

    when a character is going to, retire, for the night, the meaning is that they are going to bed, to sleep,

    “perchance to dream.” An army, retiring, from the field may be defeated and escapes from the

    battlefield. Retirement from a job, means handing in a notice to your employer to end your 
    employment with the presumption that you are going to stop working.  There is also the idea that the
    person retiring has the opportunity to do whatever they want with their life, going on

    long holidays, reading and relaxing at home, writing their life story; the possibilities are endless. But

    what if you have plans and the plans turn out to lack depth and provide little fulfilment or satisfaction?

    When Marilyn is not working, on Thursdays and Fridays, we use our National Trust membership and go out for the day on trips. Once in a while I write a blog post for my blog, London Calling. I run nearly every day for thirty or fourty minutes.   I read novels. I cook the evening meals for Marilyn, Alice, Emily and Abigail. I have a go at baking bread and cakes once in a while. There are walks with friends;The Thames Path and the Capital Circuit. All this is great. I like it.  

     I read recently an interview with the actor Ian MacKellen. He has no plans to stop acting.He is nearly 80 years old. Other famous actors, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith continue working and show no inclination to stop acting or making films. Musicians, artists, writers; they don’t stop what they are doing and retire. They may do less as they age, but they don’t stop. It seems what they do is so much a part of them. To stop is unthinkable. I have friends who don’t talk about retirement even though they are my age. There is more an attitude now that people can continue indefinitely at what they do, if what they do doesn’t retire them first of course.

    Here, in Britain, I can do supply teaching to punctuate my  retirement. It is something I have been doing for about five years since I decided to stop full time teaching at the age of 59. To begin with I wanted to earn extra money, beyond my pension, to help Alice and Emily at University with their living expenses.  I soon discovered that I  enjoyed supply teaching. It doesn’t have the pressures of a full time job. I can work when I want to. I can also choose to not work. Some schools asked me back and I was offered short term regular employment at some schools.

    Until the end of January this year, I was working two days a week, Monday and Tuesday, at Cranmere Junior School, Esher. Katie, the teacher I replaced for three months, was on maternity leave until the end of January. I always had an end in sight. I knew I was going to finish at Cranmere in the last week of January. I decided, in my mind, to stop teaching completely  when the Cranmere job finished.

    Every day at Cranmere needed total concentration and hard work. Teaching has always taken me out of myself, often to the point of exhaustion and created uncomfortable levels of stress at times. But, there is no way I could say I was not fulfilled. That adrenilin rush, that feeling of, giving it your all, using every ounce of energy, is alluring and addictive. I want to have purpose.

    This morning I received a phone call from E-Teach, the teaching agency that finds me supply work. A young lady asked me if I would like to teach today. I turned the offer down saying that I had requested no work until further notice. However, it got me thinking. Do I really want to persevere with this idea of, retirement? Can I make  supply teaching fit my needs and requirements even more now? 

    I have been accepted to do volunteer work at The Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch. I took part in a training day, with Fran, the volunteer coordinator and Eli the curator, along with two other new volunteers. I have been once, since, to observe another volunteer, Peter, lead a tour of the almshouses. He was very good. I am going to The Geffrye Museum this Saturday to observe artefact handling. I know I will enjoy doing this sort of work. It involves talking about interesting things and socializing.  I wonder if it can provide the depth of engagement and the fulfilment teaching a class provides? I have a fear that it could become repetitive.

    Perhaps what I am leading to is, do I want to continue teaching?