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

Embed this content in your HTML


Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog

    0 0
  • 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.

    0 0


    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0
  • 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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.



    0 0

    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.

    Image result

    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.

    Related image
    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.

    Image result for The Idler by Samuel Johnson
    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)

    0 0

    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.

    0 0
  • 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.

    0 0
  • 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.

    0 0
  • 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.

    0 0
  • 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?

    0 0

    I have decided to do the Jane Austen Literacy  Walk for charity on the 17th June. Disadvantaged children in a school in Ghana will receive e books and access to an extensive digital library. Technology can revolutionise education in schools like this. If you  can sponsor me that would be amazing.

    We are walking from Jane's cottage in Chawton to the Swan Hotel in Alton High Street and back.

    The cottage in Chawton where Jane, her mother and sister, Cassandra, lived from 1809 to 1816, the year of her death.

    The Swan Hotel in Alton High Street. Jane Austen walked from Chawton to The Swan to collect her post.


    Thank you so much for taking an interest. Tony

    0 0

    THE WHO LIVE AT LEEDS album cover.

    Recently I took part in a Facebook challenge. Michael Billington, a friend who lives in Manchester, challenged me to post ten album covers of music that have and do mean something to me. The challenge got me thinking about how different music has had an effect on my life. The album covers were to be posted over ten days. Quite a challenge. Ten albums out of a lifetime of listening to and enjoying all sorts of music. A challenge that needed a lot of thought and of course, remembering. Some self-analysis of my feelings, reactions and attitudes was an integral part of the process too.

    I chose THE WHO LIVE AT LEEDS for my first album choice. This is what I wrote on Facebook to go with a picture of the album cover.

    Michael Billington sent me this message:
    "Ive been asked to post Ten great albums that really made an impact and are still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain. I'm supposed to nominate somebody each day but I may not do that. If I do, then there is no obligation ."

    Anybody who reads this, have a go if you want to.

    The first album cover I am going to post is ,The Who's "Live at Leeds."The cover is utilitarian and industrial in concept. In June 1970 , just after this album came out in May of that year, I went to a party in Southampton. This album was played continuously. I thought it the most exciting music I had ever heard and Roger Daltrey sang about, ,"My Generation."

    So the album came out in 1970. That is forty-eight years ago. To me it still sounds fresh and full of incredible energy when I listen to it. I listen to it now and it lifts my spirits and creates a positive sense of myself making me want to be myself and sod the rest. Roger Daltrey would approve my expletive. 

    But really, to be honest, can an album, singing about being young in 1970 have any relevance now? The album has its place in History. Teenagers nowadays studying social history and modern history can analyse the album and its lyrics, its place in time and learn about an aspect of their parents and grandparents past. Reading the track titles of the albums original incarnation, Young Man Blues, Substitute, Summertime Blues, Shakin All Over, My Generation and Magic Bus, these titles are about being young and alive and engaging with the world then. All the tracks are about young people taking charge of their lives with their own thoughts and beliefs and emotional responses and breaking away from their parents’ generation. 

    In the late 1960s and early 1970’s this was a very big deal. The parents of teenagers in the 1960s had been through a terrible war and if we think austerity is bad now think about then. They had had no opportunity to question and rebel against their own parents’ generation, or if they did it was done in a mild mannered sort of way, something that every generation does naturally to some extent or other. A war meant that all thoughts about true, revolutionary self-discovery and shaping their own new world had to be put behind them. They were trying to save the world they had. They did as they were told, conformed, became part of the military machine and had to forget themselves. This made that generation what they were because of no fault of their own. It was not until the 1950s and 1960s that young people could really start to question and to challenge society. The track on the album, MY GENERATION, encapsulate this clearly.

    People try to put us d-down(Talkin’ ‘bout my generation)

    Just because we get around(talkin bout my generation)

    Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ‘bout my generation)

    I hope I die before I get old (talkin’ ‘bout my generation)

    This is my generation 
    This is my generation
    This is my generation, baby

    Why don’t you all f-fade away(talkin bout my generation)

    And don't try to dig what we all s-s-say(talkin bout my generation)
    I'm not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation(talkin bout my generation)

    I’m just talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-g-generation(talkin’ ‘bout my generation)

     This is my generation
    This is my generation, baby
    My, my, my generation
    My, my, my generation”

    The words are an anguished shout at their parents generation that they want to be different. They are saying to their parents’ generation, “why don’t you all fade away.” The song repeats the words, “This is my generation,” again and again, pounding home the feeling  that the young of the time wanted to make their own decisions, make their own rules.

    ME IN 1970.

    So, great as a bit of social,emotional and human developmental history but why do I still like it?

    In my Facebook comment I said it was exciting. It still is. Excitement is excitement in any generation. The album helps me remember back to 1970 like nothing else can. Photographs, letters, holiday postcards from that time take you back but music makes you actually experience the moment. You can be you then. You might think, so what? What does remembering do for you? I think it shines a light on the journey through life you have been on. It reminds you of who you once were. You might even reflect on whether you are happy with what you have done and become.

    As for my children, by listening to THE WHO LIVE AT LEEDS they can experience a bit of the past. They can learn something of the past. Maybe it might dawn on them why their Dad is the way he is.  They might even see certain things which are universal about growing up which is also relevant to them. Great art and great music have multiple lives often being reinvented for every generation.  Maybe this is why we like old stuff and go to museums. Ha! Ha!

    0 0

    The Thames Path is a national walking route that was first proposed in 1946 but was not completed until 1996. It is about 186 miles long, beginning at the Thames Barrier in the London Borough of Greenwich and ending at the source of the Thames at Kemble in Gloucestershire.

    Transport for London promote The Thames Path Walk on their website along with other London walks, The Capital Ring Walk and the longer, London Loop. Transport for London promote these walks as a way to get fit and healthy. Their website says that 42% of Londoners are failing to meet the minimum levels of physical activity.

    The website provides guides for each of the eight sections of the Thames Path. You can download the guides and print them off. They provide clear maps of the routes and show public transport and highlight the features of each section providing historical and geographical information about key places.

    John Lodge first proposed the Thames Path walk to myself and Tony Brown earlier this year and we began, the three of us, by walking from Woolwich Ferry, just east of The Thames Barrier, to Greenwich. We had a great time, taking in views of the modern high rise developments at Canary Wharf and London Docklands. We circuited the perimeter of the iconic tent like structure of the O2 Building on the Greenwich Peninsula. We experienced a new London that is in stark contrast to The City, Lambeth and Westminster. Docklands is like Fritz Lang’s, Metropolis, compared to the historic sites and buildings that make up the center of the capital. The first stretch of The Thames Path ended at The Trafalgar Pub in Greenwich. It has a life size statue of Admiral Lord Nelson standing imperiously at the door.

    The domed entrance to the foot tunnel under the Thames at Greenwich.

    John was not able to join Tony and myself on this second section of The Thames Path. From the DSLR light railway at Greenwich Station a short walk took us past the Gipsy Moth Pub and the  Cutty Sark sailing ship that was built in 1869. It was the last of the great tea clippers that sped their way from India with its precious cargo of tea. It retired when steam ships became viable. We passed the web like glass dome of the Thames Foot Tunnel designed and built by civil engineer, Sir Alexander Binnie for the London County Council and opened in 1902. By the side of the Thames  the first sign post for the Thames Path with its black background emblazoned with bold white lettering pointed our direction.

    A Thames Clipper with new blocks of flats on the opposite side of the river.

    It was a bright, hot day with a blue skys above. The skyscrapers of Canary Wharf with their glittering glass sides massed before us on the opposite side of the river. We walked west beside the Thames, on past the serried ranks of new blocks of flats with balconies overlooking the river and its passing traffic. Barges, speed boat rides, police launches and occasionally a Thames Clipper, the river,”bus,” service passed us.

    Walking along the south bank of The Thames we first came to Deptford. One of the main things about doing a walk like this are the new things you see and learn, often surprising. Sometimes what you come across illustrates, in physical reality, what you know from some history book and had never really given a thought to. Deptford was the location of the Tudor docks and shipyards. Henry VIII started them and they continued in some form from then to the 1970s. Francis Drake docked at Deptford after his voyage in The Golden Hinde around the world and Deptford was where Elizabeth Ist , in 1581, came to visit him and knight him onboard his ship. Here, in 1593, Christopher Marlowe , the great Tudor playwright came to a grizzly end, stabbed in the face by Ingram Frizzer, an associate of the spy master Walsingham. in a drunken brawl. Shakespeare become known as a playwright from 1592, so he was a contemporary.

    Tony and I, at this part of the river, had to take a short detour from the river bank to walk inland around a vast derelict area fenced off from the public. High Victorian brick walls bordered part of the space. We walked up to the padlocked gates to the site and Tony called to one of the security guard on duty. We asked him what this site was and what was happening here. The gentleman was very chatty. He told us that this was the actual site of Henry VIII’s Shipyard. All the more recent structures had been demolished. The archaeologists from The Museum of London were excavating the site. Because of the expanse of the site they planned to excavate the site for  another eighteen months . Eventually, when all the research and excavations have been completed it is going to become an area of new housing and flats. The guard told us that they were going to be expensive. What housing is not expensive in London? Deptford historically has always been working class and for centuries was home to people who worked in the docks. Now, like in many areas of London, the local people are going to be priced out. The properties will no doubt become investment purchases for rich people.

    Peter the Great.

    Beside the river in Deptford we came across an unusual grouping of statues. They are almost cartoonish in their conception. The central character is very tall and thin dressed in 17th century frills and ruffs. A throne is next to him. A short rotund individual stands to his left wearing an oversize tricorn hat. We walked up to it and discovered that this tall thin statue was Peter The Great, Tsar Peter Ist of Russia. In 1697 he stayed with John Evelyn in his house in Deptford. The site of the house with a plaque commemorating it is in a park nearby. Peter the Great spent four months in Britain studying new technologies and shipbuilding techniques in the nearby Tudor docks.

    Tony and I walked along talking about a myriad of things. I don’t know whether we actually ever stopped talking. That is a great experience on its own. Our shared past, our present lives and our plans for future adventures and our families were all discussed.

    We walked on through Pepys Park. Samuel Pepys was an administrator for the Navy during The English Restoration period. He reformed the Royal Navy. According to his famous diary he had a few female acquaintances that he visited who lived along the river between the city and Greenwich.

    Greenland Dock came next. It is the  largest docks on the Surrey side of the river. It was built between 1695 and 1699 and was only closed in 1970 and left to  become derelict. Now it has been converted into a boating marina. This was where whaling ships docked in the 18th century and where the timber trade with the Baltic was located. Ships bringing wool from Australia docked here. Container shipping made it redundant.

    Greenland Dock.

    Tony and I walked on. We were amazed at how much regeneration and new buildings there are along the Thames. The bascule bridge that crosses the entrance to Surrey Water and Surrey Quays, crosses a  canal leading to two these large basins for docking small ships. All of it is now surrounded by modern expensive flats and housing.

    Surrey Docks Farm, is a city farm popular with school groups. It has a blacksmiths, a dairy and a herb garden. The farm has goats, pigs, horses, cows and sheep. In recent years it was moved from another site nearby. The animals were herded along the side of the river to this new site. Bronze statues of animals line the river here in commemoration of the exodus. There is a poignant information board, next to the farm, explaining how the area was badly bombed during the blitz. It recounts stories of heroism by local people.

    Wartime heroics during the Blitz.

    Just as we reached Rotherhithe we came across the tall chimney and brick building of a Victorian pump house. The pump house was used to pump water out of the foot tunnel built across the river at this point by the engineer Marc Brunel, the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It was the first tunnel built under the Thames. The pump house is now a museum to Brunel.

    As we walked on it was time for a break and some liquid refreshment. We came across The Mayflower Pub. This is on the site of Cumberland Wharf where The Mayflower embarked from in 1620.

    Tony enjoying a beer in The Mayflower Pub, Rotherhithe.

     The Mayflower called in at Southampton to load up with provisions then sailed on to Plymouth before setting off across the Atlantic. Captain Christopher Jones and many of the crew came from Rotherhithe and are buried in the cemetery of St Mary The Virgin opposite The Mayflower Pub. The last will and testament of the crew, written and signed before embarkation, is displayed inside the pub. There is also displayed the original list of the people who sailed on the Mayflower. Tony and I sat outside at the back of the pub drinking Mayflower Bitter and eating fish and chips. We had a great view over the river.

    The Mayflower Pub next to Cumberland Wharf where the Mayflower left from.

    From Rotherhithe we walked on to Bermondsey. We walked over the footbridge which crosses the entrance to St Saviour’s Dock. This is a narrow inlet which stretches back beyond view along a curving waterway surrounded by tall Victorian warehouses, still with their block and tackle cranes for lifting goods in place. These Victorian warehouses are now desirable London Dockland apartments. It was here that bodies of pirates were hung in the 18thand 19th centuries and where, in Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Bill Sykes fell from the roof top of one of these warehouses to his death in the mud below. This area was known as Jacob’s Island, a notorious slum area in Victorian times.

    St Saviours Dock. Bill Sykes fell to his death here in  Charles Dicken's ,"Oliver Twist."

    Still in Bermondsey we reached an elegant Victorian public house called The Angel Pub, which stands next to the river. It is surrounded by council housing. A large green area in front of the houses revealed the stone remains of walls and foundations. This was a 14th century fortified manor house belonging to King Edward III. From the information board and diagrams next to it we could see that this area was originally marshland and the river encroached all around the manor house which was built on deposits of gravel to provide firm foundations.

    The remains of Edward III's fortified manor house.

     In front of the remains of the manor were three bronze statues. They represent Dr Salter, his wife Ada and their daughter Joyce. Dr Alfred Salter, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, dedicated his life to the people of Bermondsey helping to develop new treatments and pioneering work to help TB sufferers. His wife Ada was a socialist and became the mayor of Bermondsey and the first woman mayor in London. Because the Slater family lived amongst the poor  their daughter Joyce caught scarlet fever and died at the age of 8. This drove the Salters on even more to help the people of Bermondsey. It was a very moving tableau and Tony and I both felt inspired by the Salters story.

    Dr Alfred Salter sitting near The Angel Pub, Bermondsey.

    Onwards we strode to the Shad Thames which is a road of Victorian warehouses still with the iron bridges and walkways positioned at different levels connecting warehouses on one side of the street to the other.. We were now at Tower Bridge and got a clear view of The City and its Gherkin Building, The Nat West Tower, the Sky Garden building and the Cheese Grater.A Dutch three mast square rigger was anchored by Tower Bridge and looked magnificent with its flags flying. We stood and looked at the houseboats located here. One barge has a cycle stand for bicycles on its deck. Two other barges are planted out with trees and shrubs making the community of house boats look like a small ,"water village.”

    House boats, gardens on barges, bicycles,a square rigger and Tower Bridge.

    We walked on along Bankside and through Southwark taking in the reconstructed Globe Theatre and also The Tate Modern. The sun shining off City Hall and the Mayors Office was blinding. Queues were lining up to go aboard the second world war battleship, HMS Belfast. When we reached The OXO building we looked over at the gravelly beech below at the side of the Thames. The tide was out at this point. We could see lots of London Brick, some chalk, pieces of bone, butchery must have been prevalent in this part of London, pieces of pottery sticking out of the mud and black stones that could only have been coal. The Thames is a,” Mudlarks,” paradise. Here and all along the side of the Thames you can see the remains of piers, blackened wooden posts sticking up like broken teeth and parts of old slipways and piers.

    City Hall.

    We reached Waterloo Station and said our goodbyes. I was for the Raynes Park train and Tony was going to Hampton. I am looking forward to the next time. We will start at Waterloo Bridge and walk towards Lambeth, Vauxhall and Battersea.


    0 0

    The face of Jane Austen on the new statue in St Nicholas churchyard, Chawton.
    To Cassandra Austen Thursday 6thJune 1811.

    “I had just left off writing and put on my things for walking to Alton, when Anna  and her friend Harriot called in their way thither, so we went together. Their business was to provide mourning, against the King’s death, and my mother has had a bombasin bought for her.-I am not sorry to be back again , for the young ladies had a great deal to do- and without much method in doing it.-“

    To Cassandra Austen Sunday 24thJanuary 1813

    “ When my parcel is finished I shall walk with it to Alton. I believe Miss Benn will go with me.”

    To Cassandra Austen Tuesday 9thFebruary 1813

    “ My cold has been an off and on cold almost ever since you went away , but never very bad; I increase it by walking out and cure it by staying within. On Saturday I went to Alton, and the high wind made it worse- but by keeping house ever since, it is almost gone.”

    To Cassandra Austen Monday 9thSeptember 1816

    “Our day at Alton was very pleasant.”

    I would like to reiterate that last sentiment. Yesterday, Sunday 17th June 2018, “our walk, to Alton was very pleasant.”

    Caroline Jane Knight, the fifth great niece of Jane Austen and myself. I think I said, "lets make a face." But, we smiled instead.

    Caroline Jane Knight is Jane Austen’s fifth great niece, descending from Jane’s brother Edward who took the name of Knight. Caroline launched the Jane Austen Foundation on April 16th 2014 in the Holywell Room of Oxford University. Her initial idea was to ask fans, writers, actors, producers and anybody who has profited from Jane Austen to donate money to support literacy programs in the country of donation and in the developing world. I first knew about this particular fund raising walk when Caroline posted  information about it on ,”Jane Austen and Her Regency World Facebook,” site. I have been writing about various aspects of Jane Austen for many years on my blog and other blogs. Having been a school teacher for over forty years, I know that good resources are necessary for teachers and pupils to develop  learning. My interest in Austen and my interest in education combined in this charity walk. Caroline set me up with a donation page and I advertised the page on my Facebook and on other sites. I had a great response from family and friends. Perhaps I was a little proactive in trawling through my e-mail list and firing off begging e-mails to all and sundry, but hey! what are e-mail addresses for? I hope everyone will still talk to me.

    Some of the cards I was kindly given on the day.

    The money donated will be used, in conjunction with an organisation called, Worldreader, to supply e-readers and a digital library for, Suhum MA Experimantal C School in Ghana. The project manager and class 3 teacher in the school is Michael Sem, and he will be seeing the implementation of this new technology.

     Ruth Sorby, from Worldreader, the organisation that Caroline has allied The Jane Austen Foundation to,  took part in the walk. We discussed the profound impact the readers will have on the children and teachers at the  Suhum school. Technology such as e-readers and digital libraries are some resources teachers can use from a whole range of teaching strategies. Where there are no books and there is not the teacher experience to use this technology, what is being provided will create an enormous leap in learning for these teachers and children. It is a very good cause to get involved in.

    Ruth Sorby, from Worldreader and myself.

    On the Sunday morning of the walk I arrived early because I had heard  a new statue  has been placed  in the graveyard of St Nicholas Church in Chawton. I wanted to see it and get a photograph. The rain had stopped and the cool clean air felt refreshing as I strode along the road from ,”The Greyfriar,” car park, next to Jane's cottage. It is a leafy walk along the old Gosport Road with some beautiful thatched and clay tiled cottages on the right, many with climbing roses and gardens brimming with hollihocks and geraniums. Beautiful examples of  English country gardens. Cars were pulling up in this stretch of road as I strode along and white flannelled individuals emerged to make their way to the cricket pitch nearby for a cricket match that day. I passed the flint walled primary school. Caroline was to later tell me that she herself had attended Chawton Primary School as a child. I admitted to her that I had always liked the thought of being a teacher there. Alas too late in life for me now. I arrived at St Nicholas close to the great house in Chawton where Caroline’s ancestors had lived. The statue of Jane stood on a pristine white stone plinth. It is dark bronze and shows Jane as a young woman. She is in motion with a twisting movement and a certain vitality in her body. A lady of action.  I took some pictures and hurried back down the Gosport Road  to see who else had arrived ready for the walk. Caroline and her father, Jeremy, were just pulling up in a car. They emerged both dressed in 18th century attire. Jeremy looking very smart in top hat and tails and Caroline in an elegant light blue silk gown, She wore an ostrich feather in her hair. I smiled and made myself known to them. Within minutes other people arrived, some in 18th century attire and some in their everyday attire. I was not the only one therefore. I wore  a polo shirt, trainers and walking trousers. Many knew each other already from contacts in the Jane Austen World but everybody was so welcoming and I think , during the morning, I had conversations with almost all the people on the walk. I was greeted warmly and in a very friendly fashion. Who was I this strange interloper?

    Everybody gathering outside Jane's cottage in Chawton.

    As we walked along I had a chat with Caroline and asked her how the Jane Austen Foundation came about. She told me about her youth and how she and  her family having to move out of Chawton Great House was a shock to her. She rejected her background and spent a few years trying to discover herself. She told me that for a while she lived in a flat over a jewelers shop in Wimbledon Village High Street. I know the jewelers. I live near Raynes Park at the bottom of the hill from Wimbledon Village.  Some time in the past we may have passed each other in the street. During this time she kept her illustrious ancestry a secret not telling anybody of her background. Caroline moved to Australia and became a successful business woman. Having met her, she has not only a great sense of humour and a warm effusive personality but she has a certain steeliness and determination about her. She has an aim for the Jane Austen Foundation and I can sense she will achieve it. 

    The Foundation came about when her father, Jeremy, suggested she attend an Austen celebration for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 2013. Caroline saw the power for good Jane’s legacy could achieve and she formulated an idea for the Foundation.

    We are ready to start walking.

    Walking to Alton along the Old Gosport Road from the cottage in Chawton was a relaxed affair. The distance to Alton is a mere two miles and we followed the route Jane and her family, neighbours and friends would have walked. Just the thought of walking in Jane’s footsteps has a certain frisson, a certain excitement about it. I spoke to a gentleman who introduced himself as ,”Lord Cheltenham,” but he was very sociable and amiable not withstanding. Sophie Andrews, the creator and editor of ,”Laughing With Lizzie,” and her friend, both elegantly dressed in Georgian attire, were understanding at my requests to pose for pictures.

    This elegant young lady could almost be Jane herself visiting friends.

     Joana Starnes, author and editor of, “All Roads Lead To Pemberley,” put up with me imparting my meager Austen knowledge until I discovered her identity and realized that Joana is, by far, more knowledgeable about Austen than myself. 

    A very nice American lady and her friend,part of our walking group,were discussing terms we use here in England, the use of ,"sorry,""mate,"" bloody hell," and so forth when a van drove past with the name,"Pratt," emblazoned on it and I blurted out, 
    "there's another one." Yes, I did explain the meaning of, prat.

    And on we walked.

    Onwards we walked, and the rain stayed off. Jeremy Knight was active as we walked along approaching people who were walking past and suggesting they put money into his collection tin ,”for a very good cause.” He was so keen to empty the pockets of passersby, one gentleman, top hatted and wearing white breeches and tails, who I was walking along with at the time complained to me that Jeremy was too alert, too proactive and wasn’t giving him a chance. I started pointing out possible targets in the hope he would get to them before Jeremy. It was all a very pleasant and light hearted of course.

    In top hat and tails.

    Caroline had coerced a friend to film the walk. At one time during our march I spotted this gentleman, squatting next to a gate post, his gaze looking down between his legs at his camera resting on the ground. I presumed some terrible accident had occurred and intent on capturing every nuance of the day I approached to take a photograph of him in this twisted and bent position. Thoughts of getting an ambulance could come after, then suddenly I realized what he was doing was filming me photographing him from a low angle.

    I will get the picture first.

    Our destination in Alton was The Swan Inn. The Swan is an 18th century coaching inn and it was the place that coaches carrying mail around the country stopped at in Alton to deliver the mail to the local people. It was also where mail was collected from local people to be distributed around the country. Walking to The Swan was one of many reasons Jane Austen walked to Alton. She collected her mail and posted her own letters here.  Alton was also where she would shop and buy dress material and visit friends. When the Austens decided to leave Southampton, living in Alton was the first place they considered moving to before the cottage, provided by Jane’s brother Edward, was decided upon. Jane ‘s mother was tempted by an acceptable rent for a property in Alton.

    Outside The Swan Inn in Alton. 
    Jane writing from Southampton to Cassandra, on the 2nd October 1808, referred to her mother’s preferences. 
    “ In general however she thinks much more of Alton,and; really expects to move there. Mrs Lyell’s 130 Guineas rent have made a great impression……….I depended upon Henry’s liking the Alton plan and; expect to hear of something perfectly unexceptionable there, through him.”

    The cottage in Chawton must have been free of rent, as it was owned by Edward.That was the deciding factor I am sure.

    While walking to Alton I  asked  Caroline what she thought about all the things that go on in the name of Jane Austen. I told her that I think Jane Austen is a great author and I  love reading her books. However, to me she is one author among many that I enjoy reading. For instance I think Virginia Woolf, who was so inventive and groundbreaking in her novels, is just as good a novelist.  Caroline thought I was making the mistake of thinking there was one Jane Austen. She said there are two, the author and family member and then there is the Jane Austen that has been created by film and TV. I think I agree with her. 

    We entered the Swan Inn. The manager was very accommodating with so many people all of a sudden descending on his establishment. The ladies dressed in their wonderful costumes stood at the bar. Pump handles advertising, Old Speckled Hen, and ,Shepherd Neame, India Pale Ale, suggested  occupations as barmaids. Caroline insisted on buying us all a drink, mineral waters, tea or coffee, before we set off back to Chawton. 

    Then, we were on our way back, retracing our steps. The weather remained kind to us and the journey back was just as amicable with much amiable company. One young lady dressed in a white gown emblazoned with lemons and golden tendrils of hair draping her lovely face like coiled springs related to me about her occupation as a ,”re-enactor,” and although today she was dressed as a Georgian lady her main occupation was as a Greek Goddess. Yes, I could see that, without a doubt. We talked museum education . Working with children in museums and galleries has always been an interest of mine.

    Sophie Andrews, "Laughing With Lizzie," on the staircase in The Swan Inn.

    With another finely dressed lady I discussed pensions and life after work.  This was something that is important in both our lives. She had a handsome dog with her that was dressed in the coat of an admiral of the Royal Navy with epaulettes and gold braid. On the way back from Alton the dog had changed its attire to that of a hussar.

    Wearing his hussar outfit.

    I spoke to Alison Larkin on the way to the Great House. She told me who she was and about her audio books, “The Complete Novels of Jane Austen .” One of the things that Alison personified and I noticed throughout the day was the enthusiasm and passion there is for Jane Austen among all these Janeites.  There is a love for her that is tangible

    Alison Larkin, keen to advertise her audio readers.
    Once back at Chawton we walked on to the Great House for the  final photo shoots, first at the Statue of Jane in St Nicholas’s churchyard. 

    At the statue of Jane in the churchyard.

    Also at the graves of Cassandra Austen, Jane’s mother and Cassandra Elizabeth Austen, Jane’s sister. 

    Contemplating the graves of Cassandra Austen, mother and Cassandra Elizabeth Austen, sister.

     A final photo shoot in the hall.

    As we exited the Great House onto the front steps Caroline announced that ,”today we have made, £2000.” A few whoops and hand clapping went on and smiles all round. Caroline’s parting shot to me as I drove past her and Alison Larkin on my way home was ,“Wear a top hat next year!” I replied, “I’ll think about it.”


     Jeremy and Caroline Knight


    The Jane Austen Literary Foundation:

    " Jane and Me: My Austen Heritage," by Caroline Jane Knight

    Alison Larkin

    Sophie Andrews

    Joana Starnes

    Worldreader (Ruth Sorby)

    0 0

    Image result for school teachers teaching

     A teacher getting the children to self assess their work against the lesson aims and objectives.

    “Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.” Benjamin Disraeli(1804- 1881)

    On the 14thJune 2017 a fire broke out at The Grenfell Tower in North Kensington. It killed 72 people.

    Benjamin Disraeli was acutely aware of the divides in society in the 19th century. He mentions lack of intercourse, lack of sympathy and what is more, ignorance of each other. The response of the Tory Council of Kensington and Chelsea to the fire at Grenfell was appalling. The councilors did not know their own constituents. The leaders of the wealthiest London Borough had no relationship with the poor people of their borough. The head of housing at Westminster and Chelsea had never set foot in Grenfell Tower. The local community around Grenfell responded to the disaster immediately. The councilors had no concept of the disaster. Their response was woefully inadequate. They didn’t know the people they were dealing with. This was a culture they didn’t and couldn’t connect with.

    We have a divided Britain, rich and poor, socially advantaged and socially deprived and as Disraeli knew, with Grenfell, one group did not understand the other and in the case of Grenfell they had never communicated. We have people who feel entitled to get top jobs. We have people who are perceived to benefit from an elite educational experience, because of their background. We have people who are destined for the low wage gig economy and who are perceived to have had a poor education all because of their social upbringing and geographical place of birth. It is even more subtle than that. Those who get good educations through the comprehensive system and go to one of the many universities, not Oxford or Cambridge and who are able and talented still do not get the opportunity to rise past a,” glass ceiling.” because of their starting point in life. There is really very little social movement in this country.

    A revolution in education is needed. I believe the way education is fractured and divided in this country is the root cause of our societies divisions, our lack of “intercourse and no sympathy,” our feelings of entitlement or lack of entitlement. In this country we have the so called elite public schools, Eton, Harrow, Westminster, Winchester and a few others, private prep schools, a few Grammar Schools, Comprehensives run by local councils, now being coerced more and more into academy chains, state junior and infant schools that may be part of an academy but still are often run by local education authorities. On top of all this we have an OFSTED system of inspection that promotes the ideals of the government, teacher assessments, pay linked to assessments and a national curriculum that is imposed and requires given methods of teaching.

    Image result for a lesson inspection
    Classroom inspection criteria.

    The public schools dominate entrance into Oxford and Cambridge universities. If you go to one of those two universities, you are guaranteed life at the top of society. You become leaders of industry, government ministers and the decision makers. The lesser public schools provide entrance into the rest of the top universities in Britain. Lawyers, managing directors, accountants, surgeons and Grammar schools compete on equal terms with the lesser public schools. Grammar schools are the most damaging. They are a conscious act of dividing society and deciding who gets what in life. With the public schools it is down to birth and the wealth of your family. With Grammar Schools the government purposely, through the blunt instrument of an 11+ style exam, splits one group of children from the rest. Comprehensives provide pupils with entrance into all the other universities, colleges, apprenticeship schemes and vocational courses. The poorest achievers at this level are just lost to society and the low wage economy if they actually get a job. None of these outcomes relate directly to ability and achievement. They relate to being rich and poor and their environment. The school system we have just entrenches this.

    We need a truly comprehensive system in this country. This patchwork of systems, public, private and grammar needs to be got rid of and we need a comprehensive system for everybody. A comprehensive school should be part of the local community. It can be a place where everybody from whatever background and ability should be educated together. We would see ourselves as one people. The lack of social cohesion and the gulf in our society would be able to fade and heal.

    Confidence and a sense of self are so important to our development as human beings. If that sense is destroyed or boosted the moment, we are born the consequences are dire. Thinking that others are better or less than us destroys us as an individual and destroys society as a whole. I was on a bus recently travelling from Wimbledon to Raynes Park. Some boys from Kings College Wimbledon, an expensive private day school, got on and sat near me. One of them looked out of the window and saw some Raynes Park High School boys. I heard him say. “I am so glad I never had to go to Raynes Park.” The others agreed with him. How destructive is that?

    A comprehensive school can allow each child to achieve their potential. Child centered education is achievable. Teachers differentiate work and assess each child in their class in each lesson. This feeds back to future planning and the next lesson. If every child in the country went to a comprehensive the whole education system could focus on all our children together as equals and provide a high standard of education for the whole population and not be distracted and demeaned by other systems. It should be community based so that members of the community have a say in its education policies. It should provide a broad education for the community even providing lifelong learning.


    Image result for classroom displays
     A classroom display with children's work, information and some open and closed questions displayed.

    What should a good classroom and a good lesson  look like?

    Teaching should be left to the teachers. That is an idea that has been said often but what does it mean? Many years ago when teacher observations started we were assured that teaching colleagues could observe each other and be supportive of each other. This sounded like a very positive and useful thing to do. We tried it. I loved it. After observing one or more of my colleagues’ lessons and they had observed some of my lessons, we would sit down with a coffee and a note book and talk about what went on in the lessons. We gave each other creative ideas. We helped with an individual child that one of us might be struggling with in their behaviour or their learning. We talked strategies. It was a great way to develop as a teacher. This was called, being,” a critical friend.” Both of us were equal partners in the process, equally helping each other. The head would come in and observe once a term.  It was still a friendly supportive process with good advice given.Somebody coming out of University as a newly qualified teacher has reached a certain standard of competence and hopefully they have it in their personality, their imaginations, their creativity and their work ethic to become great teachers as they gain experience over the years. It takes time, maybe even years to develop as a good teacher. A new teacher can develop naturally with the ,"critical frend," supportive and creative approach  Then the government, in 1992, set up an inspection process called OFSTED. This is where it  went wrong. The supportive atmosphere and creative process of support within the school changed. The support and teacher development within a school now has a sense of desperation about it. OFSTED had its criteria and its assessment grades. You can fail, be satisfactory, good or outstanding. The criteria were imposed on teachers and a heavy gut feeling, the weight of authority came down. We had to meet the criteria to pass. 

    The criteria are wonderful. I absolutely agree with every one of them. Here are a few of the sixteen criteria and they often have sub criteria attached:

     a positive purposeful atmosphere,

    thorough planning,

    use of key vocabulary,

    a range of classroom resources,

     a productive use of your classroom assistant,

    well thought out stimulating displays including examples of children’s work,

    a good use of closed and open questioning,

    children should be involved at all times in the learning process,

     teacher modelling and demonstration,

    reference to other subjects and how learning can overlap,

     referring to the aims of the lesson,

    pupil self and peer assessment,

     and finally it must be shown that every child has progressed during the lesson.

     I would not argue with any of this. The list describes a good classroom and good teaching practice. I always tried to achieve these things. But think,  an OFSTED inspector or the head comes in and they have a tick chart with the criteria on them and they are ticking them off as they sit there for thirty minutes of your lesson. Developing good teaching strategies does not happen at once. The pressure from the top imposing these criteria  crushes teachers.The approach is wrong. It is domineering.It creates fear. Your next pay rise and keeping your  job relies on your lesson observations  and the progress your children make. The “critical friend,”  was a supportive, organic,and creative way to help develop as a teacher.  It was enjoyable and made you feel worthwhile and valued because praise was a large part of that process. We looked for the good things in each other’s lessons as well as what needed developing.  Self-reflection is also a big part of what we do as teachers. We look back at the lesson and work out what went right, what might have gone wrong, who needs our help and what sort of help they need?  I know which approach makes good, energised teachers and which exhausts and crushes.

    Related image

    So what about discipline?

    People worry about discipline. It is easily achieved. When you first get a new job in a school, discipline strategies and the school and classroom rules are given to you to implement. As an experienced teacher you will have developed the right approach  which you can apply to any school.  A set of rules might go something like this;

    1.     Move around the class with good reason.

    2.    Keep your hands and feet to yourself.

    3.    Work to the best of your ability.

    4.    Listen to the teacher.

    There will be a list of consequences too, ranging from time out near the teacher, missing breaktime, being reported to the head and the ultimate, bringing parents in and finally,exclusion.Some classrooms  have a chart to record behaviour.

    Teachers, when they first start with a class should go over the rules so that the class is aware of what is expected.There are two approaches to this. A good approach which works and bad a approach which fails.  It could go horribly wrong or it could go right. The teacher who is constantly looking for misdemeanors and handing out consequences  has failed and good discipline in their class will be an uphill challenge . The discipline strategies have become the driving force in trying to get discipline. The teacher who is positive, smiles at the children, praises, encourages and engages with every child will be the winner. This positive approach reduces discipline problems to the minimum and this works for every child no matter what their reputation and past behaviour record is. It might take a bit more of an effort with some but you get there.Using the discipline rules should only be a reminder to the child.

    Poor choices.
    Many people give excuses for sending their children to private schools saying things like, "well they have smaller classes,"" the discipline is better,""my son or daughter would not get on in a state school and they won’t learn as well." All that is rubbish. It is about their own imaginings.  Discipline can go wrong in private schools too. Children fail to learn in  private schools too. I think those parents are scared of the social mix and who their children will be rubbing shoulders with. Of course it is better for their children to be friends with a lawyer’s son or daughter than a bricklayers or postman’s children isn’t it? Do we want an equal society or not? Do we?

    Comprehensives and local education authority junior schools with their great teachers and with the provision of good resources and facilities, that is the only way to develop a strong, healthy well educated and equal society.

    0 0

    Mr Darcy (Fitzwilliam). 
    Centre forward. 
    Star striker, goalscorer supreme and team super star. 
    Just imagine the crowd chanting. "Darcy ! Darcy ! Darcy!

    Jane Austen Today: JANE AUSTEN'S WORLD CUP TEAM!!!!!!!!!: I wrote this eight years ago when England were playing in the The World Cup in South Africa. I put together a Jane Austen Team to beat the USA. I would choose the same team today. It was a bit of fun!!

    0 0

    This particular person is one of the most famous writers the world has known.

    OK I am not the famous writer but I am standing in a tunnel this writer had dug.It passes under the road situated at the front of the last house this writer lived in, to a small plot of land on the opposite side. There a Swiss Cottage was constructed. The top room of the Swiss Cottage was used for writing in. There were views out towards the sea and an estuary nearby. I think the act of entering the tunnel and emerging the other side was an emotional and psychological act, passing from their domestic home life and coming out into the world in which they wrote.They had a telescope set up on the top floor to view the shipping and life on the estuary.

    The Swiss Cottage, not in its original location but now in the garden of a museum in a nearby town.

    This cathedral features in this writer's last novel . A dark, sinister, mysterious tale as far as it goes. The writer was writing it on the morning of their death and so it remains unfinished.

    This house , which features in one of this writers most famous novels , was the home to an unfortunate female character. When you read the novel, in many ways you want to sympathise and empathise with her but she is somewhat repellent and has become the stuff of nightmares!!!

    This letter box has been refurbished but it is the original. It is located in a wall on the left of the entrance to this writers house. It was one of the first of its kind and the writer in question asked for it to be installed. This famous writer and their family all used this letter box to post  letters.

    In at least three of this writers novels, characters walk along this high street.

    This house was the last house this writer lived in. They died here. The location has Shakespearean connections.

    WHO DO YOU THINK THE WRITER WAS? If you can get the names of the novels alluded to and the locations portrayed in the photographs , you are amazing!!!!

    0 0

    Ellen and Gabriel, the founders and organisers of the Tooting Folk and Blues Festival.

    The Tooting Folk and Blues festival, on Saturday the 4th August between 12pm and 7 pm, held for the last four years on that piece of Tooting Common situated by the corner of Dr Johnson Avenue and Tooting Bec Road opposite the Streatham estate, went some way to relieve the wilting qualities of our never ending heatwave this summer with some great music, numerous food outlets and, three beer tents. The crowd was enlivened.
    A definition of anthropology in the Oxford dictionary states that anthropology is “ the study of human societies and cultures and their development.” Anthropology covers subjects such as evolution, behaviour, adapting to environments, communication and socialisation. The Tooting Folk and Blues Festival had it all.

    This is my fourth attendance at the festival organized by my friend Gabriel Mesh, his daughter Ellen and his wonderful wife Isobel. I wrote a blog post about the first Tooting Festival held on  Saturday the 8th August 2015 and looking back at what I wrote then I predicted that the festival was such a special community event for the people of Tooting and South London that it would definitely continue annually. I have felt inspired to write once again about this, the fourth festival.

    The crowd gathers and some of the food outlets in the distance.

     I arrived at the south end of the  arena within which the festival takes place. The municipal toilets  and wash rooms were open and a whole array of blue portable toilets lined the shrubbery on my left. The natural arena lay before me, an open area of grass bordered by trees and bushes creating a large ovoid shaped expanse. The edges of this space were, for the festival, lined by numerous food outlets. “The Parsons Nose,” made delicious burgers in buns and hot dogs. Delicious aromas came from the, “Home Cooked Thai Flavours,” stall. “The Mansfield Farm,” van sold real dairy ice creams. Two young lads, “Made in Chelsea,” types, enticed customers with espresso martinis created magically from a shiny chrome contraption at the back of their pale blue Morris Minor. Sambrooks Brewery sold craft beers from two stalls. I can recommend the ,”Wandle,” beer. I had a few pints of the Wandle, a lovely light tasting beer made with maris otter pale malt, fuggles, goldings and Boadicea hops, so the sign next to the large barrel of “Wandle,” positioned under the cool shade of the Sambrooks awning informed me. The beer takes its name from the local river Wandle. “Field and Flower,” provided food made from natural organic sources. Other outlets included, “ Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” “Burritos,” “Sticky Beaky,” slow cooked fast foods, “Slush Candy Floss Sweets, “and, a blast from the past, a “Mr Whippy,” ice cream van was situated near the entrance to the festival. From the anthropological point of view there was on this one site a variety of foods from different cultures and parts of the world. A rich cosmopolitan range of incredible flavours and smells assaulting the noses, taste buds and imaginations of us all. If evolution is nothing else, it comes about by the coming together of disparate parts to create new wholes.

    Wood fired pizza. Delicious!!!!!!

     This year Gabriel and Ellen had a stall to sell the CDs that many of the bands have made. New this year, they also sold a Tooting Folk and Blues T shirt.

    Families and  friends gather in one great mass of people.

    From a societal viewpoint this festival had all the elements of a rich, creative and evolving society. Families and friends spread out  square blankets claiming their territory. The demographics of the festival had a diverse number of groups of friends, people in their twenties gathered together, families with mums, dads and children and individuals such as older men and women.One elderly lady wearing a long blue dress threw down her walking stick and danced to a reggae beat. Many people sought shelter amongst the trees, a primeval response, protecting themselves from the hot rays of the sun. The ,”hunter gatherers,” amongst us queued with hard earned money to buy the delicious offerings at the food stalls. “Carers,” sat with children and the elderly in protective groups on their blankets. Some groups interacted with other groups talking and laughing. The various groupings, each within their demarcated areas, were located within the mass of the festival crowd. A whole society existed here on this piece of grass on Tooting Common. There were those there to protect us, the police. A first aid tent was there to help those with physical problems. An information tent  provided information about the things we needed to know. Family and friendship groups dealt with the emotional and social side of life. The food outlets provided food. Trees created shelter and finally the wonderful bands provided art, imagination and creativity combining language, sound, sights and movement.  It seemed to me this large group of people  had enough  talents, imaginations, cross cultural experiences   and age ranges to populate a new world . What sort of new world?

    Stunflower, a mix of reggae, folk rock and punk.

    The food stalls were one area where different cultural experiences came together creating synergies that produced new evolving culinary delights. The music and the bands were the other culturally diverse and creative element. The Vooduu People, an electric soul band from Brixton, sang a song called, Dynamite. “ Chemistry, whatever they want to call it, me and you’ve got it.” A great line describing succinctly the cultural symbiosis going on at the Tooting Festival. Stunflower, sang one number that combined reggae, electric blues and  punk sounding elements.

    The ,"Sherriff of Tooting," Gabriel Mesh and The Gas. Folk Rock with an emphasise on the, rock.

    Gabriel Mesh with The Gas, were our Tooting Sherriff and his deputies. Gabriel was, “keeping his eyes wide open.” Tommy McCardle provided some forceful driving rock numbers that had a gentility and emotional side. His memories of San Francisco and other life experiences showed how the singer songwriters are the diarists and poets of our time. 

    Tommy Mccardle. Rock with an emotional sensitivity.

    Robin Bibi provided  nuanced and powerful acoustic guitar playing and encouraged us to,” Let The Good Times Roll.” His voice carried emphasise and meaning as he lived the songs he sang. 

    Robin Bibi, performing rock with wonderful nuanced guitar playing and meaningful presentation.

    Jack Harris with his dry laconic style of humour entertained us to his different take on life but his honest singing and guitar playing, dredging the depths of his emotions  really engaged his audience and created a powerful response to a great set. 

    Jack Harris, with the hat, giving a performance of depth and meaning, rocking it with his accompanist.

    Other wonderful performances were provide by the ,”Robin Booth band,” and also the great ,”Conrad Vingoe.” “Whom by Fire,” were a mainstay of the Festival once again. They are regulars at the “Breathing Room,” nights at the Antelope in Tooting Broadway. The Nunhead Folk Circle, another Breathing Room regular, performed a great set belying the Hawaiian shirts and straw hats. They performed some great folk rock numbers.

    Food and drink in abundance.

    The whole festival was an incredibly successful social, emotional, creative and musical experience. Gabriel, Ellen  and Isobel,  put so much hard work , passion and love into producing it for us once again. The festival is going from strength to strength.

    0 0

    Arriving from the Northern Line at Kings Cross with St Pancras in the background.
    On Saturday 1stSeptember at 9.30am, I emerged from the Northern Line  into the concourse between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations. The sun was shining and it was warm. I had the tickets for Alan Parry and myself to Wakefield Kirkgate printed off from my laptop, in my pocket.Alan was coming up from Byfleet and should arrive at Kings Cross just after 10am. We were travelling to Pontefract to stay with Alan and Cath Mace for the night. Alan had invited us up for a night touring Pontefract's many pubs.

     I had a wander around Kings Cross Station concourse looking for a coffee shop. Next to platform 9  is the Harry Potter supermarket trolley, suitcases and bird cage, apparently disappearing into a brick wall onto ,"Platform 9 and three quarters," from where the, Hogwarts Express, in the novels, travelled north. There was a crowd of Harry Potter enthusiasts gathering near this spot. Many were dressed as characters from the stories.  There were film cameras and photographers hanging around. Some of the fans dressed as Potter characters were being interviewed.  There were a number of security guards. I asked one what was going on. September 1st is the day the pupils of Hogwarts returned to school in 
     Rowling's novels. The fans were celebrating the event. 

    Potter fans gathering at Kings Cross.

     Alan arrived and we both stood in the crowd who were obviously waiting for something to happen. Alan asked another security guard about the event. He told us that some of the stars from the latest Potter film, The Crimes of Grindwald, were going to make an appearance. Jude Law and Eddie Redmain appeared at the entrance of the Harry Potter shop. They posed with the trolley and had pictures taken with some of the fans and smiled for the cameras. 

    Fans filming Eddie Redmain and Jude Law at ,"platform 9 and three quarters."

    Witnessing an event like that makes you wonder how people get so involved and become so passionate about a fantasy like Harry Potter.  Some people need that sort of thing to get through life I suppose. 

    It was time for Alan and myself to board our train north from platform 5 going to Doncaster and Wakefield.We boarded the,” Shakespeare Express."

    Alan getting ready to board The Shakespeare Express.

    We pulled out of Kings Cross and began our journey north. We passed the The Emirates stadium  on our right. The train sped along smoothly at 125 miles per hour.It felt like gliding over a sheet of ice. The sun shone. The buffet carriage was next to our carriage so we got coffee and tea during the journey. Two ladies sitting opposite us offered us biscuits. We arrived in Wakefield Kirkgate at 1.38pm. Nobody was about. Wakefield seemed empty.

    Wakefield Kirkgate.

     We asked a man sweeping the platform when the train from Wakefield to Pontefract was expected. He thought the train to ,”Ponty,” might be cancelled because of the unofficial strikes that were going on.   We decided to get a taxi to Alan Maces house. It was a journey of about eight miles. The taxi driver was a sociable sort, "F," ing and ,"blinding," amiably as he drove us along telling us about his great invention for keeping the sun off his SATNAV screen. It appeared to be a piece of card cut out of a Wheetabix box, but it obviously worked for him. 

    Alan and Cath's house in Pontefract.

    Alan and Cath live in a detached house on a new estate on the edge of Pontefract, in Cavendish Avenue. Very ,”Surrey.”  Alan, after showing us our rooms, placed a bottle of Black Sheep Ale  on his coffee table, in front of us, to get  the afternoon off to a liquid start.

    From Alan's house we walked into Pontefract centre. Along the way we passed through an area of cultural diversity. We walked past Tokies pizza restaurant and the Pearl Dragon Chinese takeaway.

     A large open piece of land that was covered in grass had all sorts of ridges and rectangular raised bits pushing up from underneath the surface. 

    The site of St Johns Priory, Pontefract.

    An information board explained how this was the site of an old priory dating from between 1090 and 1536. It had been called St Johns.

     Looking out over the countryside later from Pontefract Castle, which is on a hill, we saw in the distance the  water towers of the old coal fired power station at Ferrybridge. Near it and much smaller, glinted the shining steel chimneys of the new Ferrybridge Renewable Energy, Multi Fuel power station.  Those in authority, are thinking of demolishing the old cooling towers. The towers are part of the scenery and have been part of the lives of people in Wakefield and Pontefract for generations. What can be done with disused cooling towers? They look like works of art.

    Ferrybridge Power Station in the distance.

    As we walked along we came across Alan’s favourite shop, "A.B. J. Wood." They are a DIY and hardware emporium.  There were pieces of architectural salvage at the back of the premises, a red telephone box, railings, fencing,stone cherubs and old rusty railings. A large  polythene bag full of soil pipe parts dangled over the front entrance. Alan reckoned Mr Wood sold everything. I like shops like that. 

    A.B.J. WOOD hardware shop, Pontefract.

    A Shell garage across the road had a line of cars at each pump perfectly in line, like the starting grid of a formula 1 race.

    Ready for the chequered flag.

    Pontefract is old and we came across examples of its ancient past at every turn. Set in amongst a grove of lofty beech and horse chestnuts stood the ruins of All Saints church. It dates from the 14th century but it was destroyed and left a ruin during the siege of the castle further up the hill during the English Civil War. In 1837 a new church was built inside the ruins of the old church. It looks strange, a church  within an old ruin. 

    All Saints Church, Pontefract.

    On a street corner with Victorian terraced houses and a few ramshackle shops surrounding it is a worn grassy area witha rectangle of stones, no more than ten feet wide and fifteen feet in length . This was the stone foundations of Kirkebi Anglo Saxon Church built in about 700AD and mentioned in the Domesday Book. Here  King Eadred accepted the allegiance of the Northumbrians and Archbishop Wolfston of York. The church was no larger than a cupboard. They were either very small people or they got very friendly in there.

    Kirkebi Anglo Saxon Church.

    Further up the hill is Pontefract Castle. It has a dark history. It was one of the great northern castles and it was thought whoever controlled the castle controlled the north. It became a magnet for trouble. Built in 1070 by Ilbert de Lacy it was described in the Domesday Book of 1086. Henry 1stconfiscated it from John de Lacy because he failed to support the King. Roger, John’s son and heir, later paid Richard 1st 3000 marks for it back but the King still kept the castle.  Later King John, returned the castle to the de Lacys and they lived there until the early 14th century.In 1311 it was taken over by the House of Lancaster. The Earl of Lancaster was beheaded there because of treason and became a local martyr  and revered by the population. John of Gaunt took it over but he was banished by Richard II. Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunts son, who had been banished with his father from the country returned when Richard was away, probably waging some war or other, took back his estates and became Henry IV. In 1536 Thomas Darcy gave it over to the Pilgrimage of Grace, a northern Catholic uprising against Henry VIII. He was beheaded for his troubles. In 1541 Catherine Howard, Henrys fifth wife, was accused of adultery with Thomas Culpeper. The act of adultery taking place in the castle. She was beheaded. Mary Queen of Scots stayed there. It became a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War and was besieged three times. At the end of the Civil War the castle was demolished. The local population was thankful. They were fed up with all the trouble the castle had brought them. 

    Some of the ruins of Pontefract Castle.

    "Ponty," is a picturesque town with Georgian, Tudor and Medieval buildings. It has blue plaques everywhere. One plaque remembers Peter and Fred Asquith who founded ASDA supermarkets.It is also home to the Tangerine Confectionary Company. They make Sherbet Fountains, Black Jacks, Fruit Salad, Liquorice All Sorts and Refreshers. The ancient, "Buttercross," is a  Medieval Market. 

    The Buttercross.

    Pontefract has a covered market off the High Street. It was being closed up for the night when we got there but we were able to have a  walk around it. The first shop we came across in the market sold Yorkshire cheeses. Liquorice Cheese, sounded good.

    Pontefract indoor market.

    On the other side of town is ,Haribos, who make Pontefract Cakes. Alan and Cath placed three bags of Pontefract Cakes on our respective beds, as welcoming gifts. 

    HARIBOs where they make and sell Pontefract Cakes.

    The three of us spent the evening touring the pubs in Pontefract. For a small country town it has a lot of pubs and we went into a few of them. We started in the The Broken Bridge which is the local Wetherspoons. We ate there. I had a good steak and chips.A few of the other pubs included, Horse Vaults, The Malt Shovel, The Ponty Tavern, The Red Lion, Liquorice Bush, and the Golden Ball.

    We had a drink in here.

     In one pub I asked the barman about slag heaps. When I first travelled north , in the 1960s, when I was 13 years old, I remember seeing slag heaps everywhere. I have travelled north often over the years and slag heaps seem to have disappeared. The barman told me to look out of the back of the pub and pointed out a low hill that appeared to fit into the landscape. He told that was a slag heap. Its top had been removed and it was grassed over. 

    The remains of a slag heap.
    On the Sunday, the day Alan and I were to return to London, Alan made us breakfast of baked beans, mushrooms, eggs, sausages and bacon. He did an amazing job. Alan and Cath’s two dogs, Monty and Rory, two  black Labradors,  sat patiently and slavered at the sight of the food. Cath suggested, that as we had time before our 12.50 train from Wakefield to Kings Cross,we might visit the National Trust Park at Nostell Priory, an 18th century country mansion built in 1733 for the Winn family. 

    Nostell Priory.

    The house designed by James Paine with a wing and stables designed by John Adam is set within 3000 acres of beautiful parkland. The Winn family financed all this, first through the textile industry, then coal mining and also mining iron ore for the Industrial Revolution An extensive lake surrounded by trees and paths has large patches of lily  pads  and at this time of year is blooming with yellow flowers. The sun shining on the lake amid the shadows cast by the trees presented a lovely sight.

    A walk in the park with Monty and Rory.

    We walked around the estate while Monty and Rory ran for their yellow ball. We all got lots of throwing practice. We arrived at the impressive obelisk lodge gate at the far extremity of the estate. A herd of heifers gathered at the gates to the lodge house. The expansive grass areas all around were splattered with thousands of ,”cow pats.” Some of those ,”cow pats,” were big, very big. The heifers are well fed.

    The Obelisk Lodge.
    You have got to admire the Winn family who owned the estate. They were nothing if not persistent. One generation ran out of money in building the house. The next generation took on the project. Expenses had to be cut. Eventually they achieved what the family had set out to do at the park. 

    Us three and the dogs.
    There was no time before our train to see inside the house. It has collections of Chippendale furniture, and  Brueghel and Hogarth paintings We had a cup of coffee in the stable block and then it was time to drive to Wakefield Kirkgate Station. Alan and I said our goodbyes and thanked Alan and Cath for a fantastic time and then the two of us were off back to London.

    0 0

    The entrance to the OCEANIA exhibition at the Royal Academy.
    Monday the 1st October. Marilyn and I bought tickets to see the OCEANIA exhibition to commemorate the exploration of the South Seas by Captain James Cook in the ship, Endeavour, two hundred and fifty years ago. The exhibition is about the cultures and artefacts of the people of the Pacific Island groups.

     James Cook arrived at Matavai Bay, on Tahiti, on the 13th April 1769. He discovered a new world.Walking around this exhibition the evidence shows that these pacific Island people had formed a rich and complex way of life and sets of beliefs completely unconnected to European belief systems. The starting point is, we are all human beings and share a common humanity. What do human beings do to engage with the world and make sense of life?

    A beautiful insect like fishing canoe.
    In the 18th century Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe. With a lack of direct experience on the part of Defoe and relying on Christian and Europe colonial beliefs and systems he created a character who is the embodiment of colonial dominance. The 1950s novel,” Lord of The Flies,” by William Golding doesn’t do much better with his bunch of schoolboys who only show aggressive destructive traits. When separated from an adult world they create their own destructive social system. In the 18th century Europeans couldn’t imagine other rich and meaningful ways of living. We find it hard enough to empathise and interact to any great depth nowadays with other cultures. There is an enormous amount of distrust and misunderstanding. The world is full of problems. This exhibition holds a mirror up to help us reflect what we are as much as it shows the richness and value of the systems of living found in Oceania in the 18th century.

    The ornate prow of a war canoe.
    The Oceania exhibition is divided into themes, voyaging, settlement and encounters with others. Within these three themes there are navigation, the establishment of communities, that includes politics, Gods and religion, the role of ancestors and the construction of hierarchies. The Polynesian development of a sophisticated culture of giving gifts which aided the creating and maintaining of relations was an important aspect of their inter island relationships. The catastrophic contact with Europeans is explored. Finally, the role of memory and  how the past, including ancestors, were important to life among the islanders.

    Some stick charts in the background.

    One of the most amazing artefacts that depicted the life of the islanders was a stick chart. When James Cook arrived on Tahiti he befriended an islander called Tupaia. Tupaia was an expert navigator and also a priest. Cook was the supreme European navigator,self taught in mathematics, cartography and surveying, who created precise, exact, charts and used sextants which enabled him to navigate by the sun and the stars. Tupaia was just as gifted though he had none of the European navigational instruments. He knew the trade winds and the ocean currents and studied wave patterns. Tupaia constructed stick charts before he took a voyage. A stick chart was a series of sticks in the pattern waves from the prevailing currents and winds made when they reached an island. The island mass would divert the waves in different directions and Tupaia was able to set sail for specific island by knowing the wave patterns created. The Polynesians observed things very closely.

    A fishing canoe.
    The islanders constructed different types of canoe. Some were for inter-island expeditions,  others for war canoes, fishing and some canoes were designed to travel up and down rivers.  They made them very precisely and covered them in ornaments. One of the prows designed for the front of a war canoe shows a figure, arms outstretched and a long white haunting face staring straight forward. A ,"spirit," coming to get you.

    The aggressive prow of a war canoe.
    One item that I thought was amazing was a large ceremonial headdress created for a religious festival. It is made of wood, shells, feathers and fish skin and woven with strips of bark and human hair. A triangular head piece, designed to sit on the wearers head, was patterned with flower like roundels made of feathers. From this elaborately patterned head piece long rays, made of sticks and feathers. emanate. It looks like the head and brain of the wearer is sending out  rays of thought and imagination into the space around.

    A ceremonial headdress.

    Throughout the exhibition  the idea that the islanders view of life and the world was a personal experience is evident. Each person saw themselves individually attached to the world and they each observed and interacted with the world. 

    Tatooed faces. Tatooing expressed their personality, status and maturity. The various islanders had no written languages.

    In another display two, tall wooden figures of a man and woman stand next to each other. Their sexual organs are prominent. The idea of sexual intercourse and procreation is seen as a vital part of existence. Sexuality had none of the taboos Western cultures and particularly Christianity places on sex.  There was a natural respect for each other. 

    A couple displaying their sexual prowess.
    When James Cook and his sailors arrived, the Polynesian women were very friendly towards them and sexual intercourse with the sailors was a common occurrence. The island women saw it as a part of life, creating new life and to have sex with the sailors was an honour for them and a way of interacting with the Europeans on a  personal level. The sailors of course were just fulfilling their lusts. A long feeding trough, that we might liken to a banqueting table, had pictures drawn along the side telling the story of a woman who had heard about a man in a neighbouring village who had a very long penis. She sent her husband on a quest to befriend this man with the long penis so she could get to know him. All along the side of the feeding trough are men depicted with erect penises trying to show that their penis was the longest. They obviously had a sense of humour about sex.

    A feeding trough very like a canoe.
    A tall drum was displayed in one glass case. Polynesian drums have deep base notes and were used in celebrations and religious ceremonies. The sounds the drums made, set the mood and a rhythm for the event. When Europeans started to arrive, often Christian missionaries arrived too, to bring Christianity to the islanders. The islanders were always open to new ideas and were willing to listen to the missionaries. However, the missionaries insisted they get rid of their tribal practices including their musical instruments and they insisted they sell their drums and other artifacts. 

     This is a detailed drawing made by,Tupaia, the great navigator and friend of James Cook.

    The essence of Christianity is love and one of the greatest commandments that Jesus gave was to love your neighbor as yourself.  I am sure, the islanders already had love of their neighbour as part of their way of life. The missionaries could so easily have focused on this part of their message and helped the islanders include other aspects of loving your neighbour into their way of life. In return Europeans could have learned from the Polynesians about respecting and having a deep connection with the physical world and the spiritual elements of  water, sea, earth, plants and animals. We might have a different attitude to the natural world nowadays. The missionaries wanted to destroy what they found not learn from it and add to it.

    A ceremonial head.

    The Polynesians had a gift culture which was part of connecting with other islanders and other peoples. Gifts were a way to forge and develop new relationships. The Europeans were good at taking the gifts and having sex with their women in a greedy avaricious way. European goods were exchanged and the islanders integrated European items into their culture too. The Europeans  brought diseases, including syphilis, and bacterial infections. These were diseases the islanders had not experienced before. The Polynesians were decimated in numbers and many islands were depopulated.

    A suit of armour made from bark, wood and fish skins. It could protect against wooden clubs. The helmet is made from fish skin.

    It is interesting to find that the islanders who formed cultures separate from European influence regarded war as an important aspect. For a civilisation bound up with good will and friendship, war must have been a last resort. It is interesting to think that islands, many hundreds of miles apart, isolated from each other apart and only able to contact to each other by their navigational abilities would want to go to war. At what point could war occur? Each set of islanders, Samoans, Marquesans, Tongans, Hawaiians, Tahitians, Maoris, Marshallese and others, had their own fishing grounds. They explored and settled on new islands that had nobody on them. They traded goods between each other. Maybe disputes over land rights, fishing grounds and trading alliances, if they could not be settled amicably, lead to war?

    Shields and clubs.
    There is the question of cannibalism.  They dismembered enemies taken in war and displayed the parts in various villages and chieftain’s houses. It is interesting to consider what belief system could lead to cannibalism. It gives an insight into how they regarded a human adversary. On his final voyage to the Pacific aboard the Resolution, James Cook was killed and dismembered. Parts of him were probably eaten. Although parts of his body were eventually returned to the British sailors on Resolution after some bargaining.

    More shields and clubs.

    The exhibition starts with a video of Kathy Jetnil Kijner, a poet and activist from the Marshall Islands saying her poem, TELL THEM. The thoughts and ideas and statements Kathy speaks in the poem are relevant at the end of the exhibition too. In the poem she relates how she gives friends, living in the States, a basket with gifts from the Marshall Islands. She describes her people, using imagery and memories about her people, many of which can be traced in the artifacts in the exhibition, to tell people how things are now. In her poem she tells about the pollution on the beaches and in the sea. She speaks about rising sea levels and drowned villages.

    Modern artwork representing the Polynesian islanders viewpoint.

     She finishes the poem with:

    and after all this

    tell them about the water

    how we have seen it rising

    flooding across our cemeteries

    gushing over the sea walls

    and crashing against our homes

    tell them what it’s like

    to see the entire ocean__level___with the land

    tell them

    we are afraid

    tell them we don’t know

    of the politics

    or the science

    but tell them we see

    what is in our own backyard

    tell them that some of us

    are old fishermen who believe that God

    made us a promise

    some of us

    are more sceptical of God

    but most importantly tell them

    we don’t want to leave

    we’ve never wanted to leave

    and that we

    are nothing without our islands.

     A ceremonial character.

    0 0

    Hotel Goodtimes in the Karol Bagh area of New Delhi where we stayed.

    Marilyn and I have just returned from ten days in northern India. We toured the,” Golden Triangle,” from Delhi to Jaipur, on to Karauli, Agra and finally back to Delhi. We travelled with a company called, Intrepid. Emily, one of our daughters, has toured with Intrepid in South East Asia and also Cuba. They create tours that provide cultural and social experiences. Marilyn and I both felt that we saw and experienced so much in a short period of time. Our tour gave us a real insight into India.

    On the evening of the first day, we met our group in a meeting room of the, Hotel Good Times, situated in the Karol Bagh  area of New Delhi,. Sabyasachi Pathak was our leader for the trip. We called him Sab throughout our ten days. He always had a great smile on his face and was alert to our needs and ready to answer all our questions whatever they might be. He asked us to introduce ourselves and to speak a little about why we wanted to visit India. Chris, who comes from Bristol went first. She talked about India being on her bucket list. Richard, from Australia, went next said something similar and so did Elli from Michigan. I mentioned being inspired by seeing lots of documentaries featuring India. Marilyn said she had always wanted to visit India since she was a child. Rattana, from Thailand, had always wanted to go to India too. And so we went round introducing ourselves. Sab told us a bit about himself and how he had got involved with Intrepid. he has an MBA in tourism management and is a qualified Himalayan guide and mountaineer. A great example of the young educated Indians driving India forward. Sab went through our itinerary for the next eight days.  By connecting with different cultures we begin to see different points of view.  The world becomes a better place.

    That first evening Sab took us to a local restaurant where we did some more socialising. We were a    diverse group with different backgrounds and experiences but what was evidently the same for all of us was that we were positive and friendly.  By the end of the night we were all laughing and  joking together and getting on like a, “house on fire.” It couldn’t have been a better start. We all went off to our rooms for the night enthused for the coming adventures.

    The streets of Old Delhi.The wiring is a sight to see.


    Our first day consisted of an urban walk in the old part of Delhi. This part of Delhi has fading glory. Old buildings, cracked pavements, leaking gutters and crumbling walls, line every street. Masses of cables, like tangled spaghetti along the side of each road, are looped between staggering telegraph poles straining under the weight. Road side vendors, colourfully dressed, squat beside piles of coconuts, some cook food in large steal cauldrons over gas burners. There were varied arrays of fruit, and spices, vegetables and pulses and also stalls selling clothes. One lady was steam ironing shirts by the road side using a hefty ornate iron that was heated with coals inside its capacious bulk. It must have been very heavy to wield. There were shops selling wedding clothes, The wedding market is big business. There were wedding card shops that designed and created personalized cards.All our senses were assaulted. There were the smells, the colourful sights and the incessant sound of car and motor bike horns. Traffic talks to each other in India. 


    Motor rickshaw drivers were calling out for business as we walked by. Cows, sacred to the Hindus, wandered between the multitude of people. Dented and rusted cars and hundreds of small motorbikes charged here and there, aiming for any space they can see between other moving vehicles. There seemed to be no rules on the road. Pollution is very high in Delhi. We could smell and taste the air. I imagined this seething mass of humanity as a vibrant, living ,"soup," from which anything could emanate. There was something very creative going on. Commerce, begging, crafts, food, all manner of  existence. It seemed a very hopeful place. Seeing the lame, the maimed and the blind beggars was disconcerting though. Seeing families camped by the roadside and some encamped on the grass islands at roundabouts, sometimes babies crawling, partially clothed, along the pavement, grey with the dust off the road was upsetting. 

    Children on the street. Heartbreaking.

    I talked to Sab about this. The government were offering these people accommodation, food and shelter but very often they were persuaded by local mafias to not take the government offers. The gangs and the local mafias used them for drug running. I asked, “what is the solution?” Sab replied, “education.” I agree to a certain extent. However just being offered education is not enough. Familes and communities have to be enthused by the idea of education and what it can do for individuals. There has to be a belief in education among those it is offered to. I also wondered seeing these children and babies crawling on the pavements and in the gutters, some drugged to keep them docile, and families with merely a  tarpaulin for a roof and a few bundles of clothes, why proactive work could not be done. India is becoming and has become a technological powerhouse. It is a wealthy nation. At other times on our trip we saw plenty of examples of the modern India which is growing fast.  We came across this dirt and grime and similar ways of life in the other cities we visited too, Agra and Jaipur.

    The Jama Masjid Mosque in Old Delhi.

    Sab organized  tours of Delhi for us. We visited the Jama Masjid mosque built between 1644 and   1658 built by Sha Jahan, the fifth Mughul Emperor. It is an enormous red sandstone complex of buildings dominating the old part of Delhi. Although the last of Sha Jahan’s great architectural masterpieces it was the first of the buildings by that powerful Mughul ruler that we were to experience on our trip.   We could see in the distance the vast area occupied by Delhi’s Red Fort. We looked down on the surrounding market area seething with life, vibrant colours and noise.

    The streets surrounding the Jama Masjid Mosque.

     On that first day we also visited a Sikh Temple.  We had to remove our shoes and cover our heads as we became part of the congregation.One of the temple guards allowed us to pose with him for photographs. Sikh temples provide food for their congregation and for anybody who wishes to eat. The families on the street therefore have a ready access to free food in this way. We were invited into the temple kitchens and helped prepare the food. Richard and I stirred the enormous cauldrons with a sort of vegetable stew in them. Marilyn, Chris, Elli and Rattana sat cross  legged and made nann bread. The usual cooks looked on. I wonder what they thought? 

    Stirring the pot.
    On our drive around    Delhi we stopped to photograph the enormous India Gate and the government buildings including the   parliament house and the old Viceroys residence. That evening we had a meal on the roof top of a heritage hotel in the Baragh district. It had been the city home of a Marahaja and contained family portraits and much of the interior had retained its wall hangings, furniture and personal items.

    A heritage hotel and restaurant in Delhi. 

     Many of these heritage hotels are still owned by the Maharajas and have become income sources   for them.  Sab organized a brightly dressed dance group from an outlying village to entertain us with their dancing accompanied  by rhythmic drumming and a hand pumped organ. We were encouraged to   join in the dancing which turned into a sort of conga. So our first days in India had begun.

    The Maharaja and his wife?


    From Delhi we travelled a few hundred kilometers to Jaipur. On the five-hour road trip we had the opportunity to see the countryside and small villages and roadside sellers. The area we travelled into was, Rajastan, an area of India that Sab informed us had never been taken over by the British. The rulers of Rajastan befriended the British and became close allies. We saw camels pulling carts, conical stacks of maize  stalks dotting the landscape, fields bordered by sparsely scattered trees, roadside stalls selling a multitude of colourful fruits and vegetables and cows roaming free by the roadside. Once our driver pointed     out a plume of smoke in a nearby field. A crowd seemed to be gathered around it. He said that a cremation was taking place.

    A local cremation.
    In the early morning, hundreds of school children, wearing distinctive uniforms and carrying books, stretched long distances, wending their way from outlying settlements to schools in the  larger villages. The idea of education is obviously accepted and a very important acquisition in these outlying areas. Sab told me that the government provided free education along with uniforms and books for these children. 

    A girl in her school uniform walking to school.
    We witnessed an accident. Two young men had come off a motorbike. Neither were wearing crash helmets. One young man lay there, his head bleeding. We couldn’t help but see it. Many people and a police car were gathered around them. Elli was worried. I told her that Indian doctors are excellent and Sab said that an ambulance was on its way. This was the only accident, on a relatively quiet country road, we witnessed the whole time we were in India. The mayhem of Delhi and Jaipur traffic produced no accidents. Unbelievable.

    We reached Jaipur, the pink city, a bustling ancient city full of life but on a smaller scale to Delhi. We drove by the bright pink coloured ancient city walls and turned down a side street to our hotel, The Arya Niswas. It was an oasis of calm amidst the rubbish strewn pavements , cracked paving stones and street stalls nearby.

    Time for tea in Jaipur.

     A well manicured lawn fronted the hotel surrounded by tall gently waving trees, set out with  comfortable tables and chairs to drink tea or a beer. Early on our first morning, Rattana, Marilyn and myself went for a walk. Rattana was very keen to look around. She wanted her early morning exercise.We obtained a map of the city from the hotel desk and decided to walk into the old town. Our hotel was located at the north east corner of an area of narrow alleyways and ornately designed  shops. Monkeys  scrambled up the telegraph poles and lithely sped along roof tops. Cows scavenged amongst piles of debris and here and there a pig snuffled through the piles of rubbish. 

    Cow in a Jaipur side street.
    The shops were opening up and we     passed workshops and spice emporiums, shops selling beautiful, brightly coloured lengths of cloth, stalls selling water chestnuts and a multitude of pulses and also coconut stalls. We decided, that to be able to get  back to our hotel we would employ a simple strategy ," keep turning right." After walking down the main street for a while taking in the smells and sights and sounds we turned right down a narrow street that    stretched into the distance, 

    Fruit and vegetables.
    There were shops selling marble statues of Ganesh, Hanuman and Rama and Sita and we also saw a life size carving of Mahatma Ghandi. Every now and then we came across small    shrines and temples with people wearing orange garlands round their knecks and with bright red bindi marks on their foreheads. The bindi mark represents the third eye often meant to ward off bad luck. They were saying their morning prayers, perhaps on their way to their place of work.

    Praying at a street shrine in the early morning
     Everywhere we went, whether in Delhi or Jaipur or the other places we were to visit we saw devout Indians of whatever cast  or religion attending their temples, shrines and mosques. Walking on we reached the end of this long     street which took us to the edge of the old town. We turned right and I thought I began to recognize buildings and landmarks. Indeed we were on the right track and arrived safely back at our hotel.


    Our time in Jaipur was once again an intense experience. We visited The Amber Fort, which comprises a Mughul palace as well as a fort, just outside of Jaipur. On the way we saw the magical Jal Mahal, a palace set in the middle of a large lake. 

    The Jal Mahal palace near Jaipur.
     We were jostled in the streets on our way passing through masses of people celebrating a local festival singing and dancing as they went. Elephants carrying passengers added to the traffic congestion. 

    Celebrating in the streets on the way to The Amber Fort.

    The Amber Fort is a vast city , palace and fort constructed from yellow and pink sandstones. Another enormous fort faces it from an adjacent hilltop nearby and a wall follows the contours of the surrounding hills,  like The Great Wall of China. It encircles both complexes. The Emperor Akbar made it his capital city. It has ornate halls and rooms decorated with beautiful finely detailed designs. 

    Marilyn and I with The Amber Fort in the background.

    The palaces within these fortresses contain amazing technology. Hollow red sandstone columns had cool running water flowing through them. Vast water tanks hidden on palace roofs were manually filled from nearby rivers and as the water flowed down through channels fountains sprung up in water gardens. Many of the windows in these palaces were made from intricate and finely carved stone lattice work. This enabled cooling breezes to waft through the rooms, giving them the name of, wind palaces. 

    Walking in a grand hall at The Amber Fort.

    Later on in Agra,the palace within the Red Fort had a bedroom designed for Sha Jahan that contained a double wall with a stone lattice cut into the interior wall. Beautiful maidens would walk through this hidden passage in the morning wearing bangles which they jangled as they walked. This was to waken Sha Jahan. Rich carpets were hung from the walls. The ceilings were covered in intricate coloured geometric patterns. Perfumed air was wafted through the room by sets of bellows and some of Shah Jahans 300 wives and many concubines would be chosen to bathe him in a lotus shaped pool and administer to his every need. Dancing girls would perform before him. It seemed to me that these Palaces were trying create a heaven on earth. However only one person could ever benefit from this and that was the ruler, King or Emperor whose Palace it was. Every other human in the place was there to fulfil his every need. The morality of this concept is thought provoking. It became apparent in the architecture, design and layout of all these different palaces that the Mughul Emperors were treated almost as gods.

    The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur. It was built by the Rajput King Sawai Jai Singh II and completed in 1734.[


    In Jaipur we chose different ways to spend our time. Marilyn, Elli and Rattana went shopping in the bazars, pestered and enticed into shops to look at the wares the shop keepers demanded they see. They also visited the city palace. Chris, Richard and myself visited the Jantar Mantar, a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a series of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments. The largest of the sundials can tell the time accurately to two minutes. There are instruments which can also make calculations about the star signs. This was the purpose of the great sundials. Accurate times of birth would provide accurate star sign readings for the elites. An enthusiastic guide showed us around and explained each instrument in detail and showed us how it worked. The mental calculations he made were fast and accurate..Chris was keen to know about her zodiac sign and we found the construction for Taurus. Our guide explained how the machine worked. To be accurate not only the time of birth but geographical location needs to be known. John Harrison, in Britain in the 1730s was producing his accurate portable clocks that mariners used to work out longitude and navigate the world.

    The cinema in Jaipur.

    While we were in Jaipur Sab got us tickets to see a Bollywood Movie. The cinema was a like a palace. The interior was all swirls and curves. The film we saw wasn’t a musical, all singing and dancing, the epitome of what we think a Bollywood movie is. It was a social commentary along the lines of,”Cathy Come Home,” but not as austere and brutal. It had a very happy ending. The plot goes: a poor young man has had an arranged marriage.. A sewing machine he has borrowed from a neighbor is taken back by the neighbour. The young man has been using the sewing machine to earn a living. Jealousy intervenes. He keeps   messing and up and he does not impress his bride. You get the impression she  really doesn’t want anything to do with him. Eventually through various ups and downs he obtains a government financed sewing machine to set himself up in business. He then joins a brand clothing manufacturing company. Things are looking good. However, he clashes with the managing director, a woman. He loses his job.  His  wife decides to take things into her own hands. She reclaims his sewing machine and helps him create new clothing designs. The local community pull together to help him produce a range of clothing and he gets accepted for a fashion design competition. Against all the odds and in competition against the company that sacked him, he wins. The future is rosy. You get the drift? It was an aspirational film to give people hope and to create heroes and heroines. We didn’t have the benefit of subtitles  but we could follow the main ideas in the film. By the way, audiences tend to clap and cheer in India.

    Bhanwar Villas at Karauli.


    Between Jaipur and Agra is a long drive. Sab arranged to break our journey at a small town called Karauli. Our accommodation was in a magnificent heritage hotel called Bhanwar Villas. It is a 1930s art deco mansion built by the local Maharaja who still owns it. He and his wife arrived while we were there but we didn’t get to speak to them. Marilyn and I were given a small apartment at the back of the property passing through two courtyards with beautiful flower beds, shrubs and fountains. Our room had a sitting room annex and a spacious shower and bathroom. The double bed was so vast Marilyn and I lost each other that night. Just above our bed, hanging over our heads, was a small shrine to Rama and Sita.  

    Karauli from the roof of the city palace.

     Sab organized motor rickshaws to take us into town to visit the city palace, which is owned by the same family who owned our hotel. Again it was intricate and beautiful and contained many technological surprises. It had the stone lattices which created cool breezes but it also had a 14th century ,”air conditioning,” machine. Cold water flowed down a wide stone chute and warm breezes flowed over the falling water creating cool air in the rooms.Part of our stay in Karauli was a village walk. From the city palace we started walking through the tightly packed streets towards our hotel. It was dark and all the lights came on in the town and then they went out, but after a while they came back on again and then they went off again. Powercuts and shortages   often happen. Young men started to proposition us and I positioned myself behind Marilyn for obvious   reasons. Richard and I followed behind the group as Sab lead at the front. Once when the lights went out Richard was convinced he felt a hand trying to get his wallet from his pocket. People kept badgering us, mostly in a friendly way. A cow we walked past decided to lick my backside. We looked into darkened workshops and every type of skill and creativity was going on, pottery, weaving, jewelry making, stone carving and food cooking. Marilyn thought it must have been how Medieval London was.

    Having a go at block printing fabrics in Agra.


    In Jaipur and Agra we visited various workshops. In Jaipur we visited a workshop that cut and polished   gem stones. In the local mountains a whole variety of precious and semi-precious gems are mined, diamonds, rubies, amethyst,amber and agate. The workshop we visited also had a high class shop selling beautifully designed necklaces, earrings and rings. Later in Agra we visited a workshop that used wood blocks and natural local plant dies to create incredible fabrics. Also, in Agra, we visited a shop that sold local   teas and spices.  

    Designing a carpet on graph paper.

    At a carpet making factory, we saw the carpets from the design stage, drawn on large   sheets of graph paper, to the dyeing of long shanks of wool, to the painstaking weaving of a carpet on a loom. Each tiny thread was tied by hand. A single carpet can take three or four months to complete. The final stage was washing the carpet and trimming it with scissors to make sure every thread was an even  length. Many of these products we saw being made are sold in shops and stores here in Britain. Often    designers from some of the international companies will provide designs to be made up. The whole process starts with the villagers and reaches high class stores around the world and everybody gets fair pay. The Indian Government are sponsoring and encouraging these sorts of local craft based industries. It is a way of bringing wealth to the villages.

    Fatehpar Sikri.


     Later, when we visited the Fatehpur Sikri, a town founded by the Mughal Emperor Akbar and used as his capital near Agra, we also had an enthusiastic guide who reminded me of the guide at the Jantar Mantar. This gentleman was sharp witted and able to answer all our questions. We were able to discuss concepts and ideas with him. I don’t know what made me, but I asked him if he had ever been to Britain. He looked at me and just said, “ I am a poor man from a local village. I have no education. All my education I have received is in training to be a guide here.” I felt humbled and silenced. This intelligent, quick witted man was, in his words ,”uneducated.” It reminded me of something Elli spoke to me about. She said that we were lucky to have been born into a western country. I agreed. Life is down to chance in many ways. I think India makes you realise that. But something the people of India have got that we have lost to a great extent is the extended family. There is great community spirit in India and there is a lot of love amongst people. We, in Britain,  have become nuclear and often isolated. Those who love us are not always readily at hand.   Gaining wealth is  not everything it’s cracked up to be. An important aspect of Fatepar Sikri is that Akbar, the Emperor, invented his own religion. He decided to combine, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Zoroastrian concepts and beliefs into one religion. It only lasted his lifetime but within the walls of his palace are symbols carved on the walls and roofs combing imagery from all the religions. I couldn't help thinking what an amazing idea he had.

    The Taj Mahal.

    At last, in Agra,we visited one of the highlights of our whole tour, The Taj Mahal situated beside the Yamuna River. The Taj was built by Sha Jahan, the fifth Mughul Emperor in 1632 for his most beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Out of his three hundred wives and many concubines she was his favourite because she had born him seven children including four sons.

    We took a bicycle rickshaw along the long approach to the Taj Mahal. I must admit I was almost expecting that when I saw the Taj I would be underwhelmed. Everybody knows what the Taj Mahal looks like.   We have all seen it a thousand times in so many formats. I thought it held no surprises. However when we entered the gardens surrounding the Taj Mahal and I caught site of the mausoleum for the first time, it   took my breath away. It is perfect in symmetry and its shape is elegant and simple. The white marble it   is constructed from almost glows. I felt transfixed by the sight of it.

     Sha Jahan was later imprisoned in the Red Fort himself, just down river from the Taj, when one of his sons Aurangzeb usurped him and killed off his older brothers to take the throne. Aurangzeb spared his father from death.  Sha Jahan was able to view  the Taj Mahal from the  palace windows from within the Red Fort. He longed to be buried next to his favourite wife which eventually came about.

    The entrance to the precinct around the Taj Mahal.

    We as tourists felt humbled when we were put into a fast track queue to go inside. Many Indians queued for hours in a long snaking line. When we came out Marilyn and I were surprised to be approached,  first of by two teenage sisters. They wanted their photograph with us. Their brother took the picture.     Then a family approached us and wanted their photographs taken with us. I was bemused. After that a mother and little girl approached. The mother wanted her daughters photograph taken with me. We sat on stone steps and this little tot just beamed at me. The mother asked where I came from. I told her I came from London. As we walked away I overheard her saying to her daughter. “Remember. He comes from London.” What was going on? I asked Sab later about this. He said that many people visited the Taj from all  over India, many coming from small villages. They have never seen a white person from Europe in the flesh before. They are amazed to see us. I felt very strange about that. We obviously made their day.


    On our drive from Agra, as we returned to Delhi from the south, we travelled along a new motorway just like we have in Britain and Europe. We passed the Budhh International formual 1 circuit , a triumph of modern architecture and then we began passing one high rise after the other. Some of them headquarters of multinational companies. Others were modern apartment blocks for the young Indians working in the new high tech industries. This is the new modern India. The contrast with what we had experienced was immense.

    In the home of a lovely lady in Delhi who showed us how to cook.


    Delhi has many types of urban adventures to offer. In our first two days in Delhi we went on an urban     cooking experience. We visited a family in Old Delhi. The six of us were warmly welcomed into the family's home by the grandmother who hugged each one of us as we entered and placed a bindi mark on our foreheads. We dressed in traditional clothing and the lady of the house invited us into her kitchen    and demonstrated the preparation and cooking of various dishes. We were invited to sit at the family     table and were presented with dish after dish of delicious food. After I had eaten two lots of everything my stomach couldn’t take anymore. The food kept coming. It was difficult to politely say, “enough.” We took photographs of the food preparation and asked lots of questions about ingredients and preparation techniques. Since we have returned home we have been e-mailed all the recipes. Marilyn and I will be    trying out our new culinary skills sometime.

    The mosque in the centre of Lodi Park.

    At the end of our time in India Marilyn and we added two  extra days onto our trip. We asked Sab to give us suggestions for urban tours. We spent a day with a young man called Ahmid who took us to Lodi Park, a beautiful city park with an ancient mosque and tomb situated in the centre of the city. In the 1930s,  Lady Willington, the wife of the then British Viceroy, had two villages demolished and  the park created on the site to remind her of England. We visited the Qutub Minar, India’s tallest minaret set within the  ruins of one of the seven Delhis that have been built  over the centuries. It comprised the remains of     mosques and various town buildings. Ahmid also took us to the 14century Agrasen Ki Baoli, an area of   temples, including an enormous water reservoir that supplied water to old  Delhi. The highlight of the    day was visiting the house where Mahatma Ghandi lived towards the end of his life.

    Ghandi's sleeping and working couch.

     We walked in         Ghandis footsteps to the spot where he prayed daily and where people would gather to pray with him. It was here that a Hindu nationalist shot and killed him. We spent time in the Ghandi museum discovering information about his life, and his philosophy, and his views about men and women. We saw his sandals and the stick he used when on the salt march. There were many photographs and memorabilia of Ghandi throughout his life here. Ahmin then got our driver to take us to the large park in Delhi where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated . We walked barefoot and payed our respects. These urban adventures took us to the heart of Delhi and India.

    The site of Ghandi's assassination.

    The day before we were to leave we had nothing organized, Marilyn and I decided to walk through the area near our hotel. It is a bustling shopping area with many side streets . Much of Delhi is built on a grid system. We once more made our way through the noise and vibrancy of an energetic Delhi. One street   comprised of shops that sold past exam papers. Great piles of yellow books of exam papers for every      sort of subject. There were private educational establishments all up and down this street.  Another        street focused on jewelry and another on clothing. Each commodity had its own street or part of a street. We decided to have a cup of tea and found a cafe up some stairs over some shops situated on a  busy junction. The café was modern and had an industrial design to it. Artistic graffiti adorned the walls and loud techno music with a heavy beat blared out over speakers. In amongst the traditional  India you often find the modern, young India mixed in. It is often a surprise to stumble across it. Sab told me that he loved loud techno music. This type of music seems to be very popular amongst young educated Indians.

    On our last day we wandered the busy streets not far from our hotel.


    On our last day we had to get an early morning taxi to the airport. The taxi arrived in plenty of time and was waiting for us outside the hotel. We said goodbye to the hotel staff and off we drove. It was early and the streets were relatively quiet. As we approached the modern Indira Ghandi airport, it has been open eight years, I noticed a solitary old lady crouching on a nearby grass verge in the middle of the road. I asked the driver what she was doing there. He said she is weeding the verge. I asked, “Is that her job?” He said it was. I asked what she would get paid for doing the weeding. He said, “Oh about 7000 rupees a month.” That is equivalent to nearly £70. “Can she live on that?” I asked. “Oh yes. She only has to buy food.” I wondered where she lived. The taxi driver pointed out a well-manicured hedge running along the side of this pristine modern road with the vast modern airport complex looming ahead of us and suggested we look through the hedge. There I caught a glimpse of tents and shacks. Apparently there is no cost to living there. This is the India of today.

    Intrepid Travel:

    0 0

     To Commemorate Jane Austens Birthday 243 years ago on 16th December 1775

    Jane Austen ( Her statue in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Chawton.)

    Jane Austen has quite some legacy and it is ever increasing in diversity and scope.  Hollywood films, BBC TV adaptations, stage plays and what I term, "spin off novels," that mostly reinvent Fitzwillian Darcy. There are, indeed, zombie versions of Pride and Prejudice. So many academics appear to be making a nice living from Jane Austen. Numerous societies have been set up. The original, Jane Austen Society, was founded in 1940 by Dorothy Darnell with the express purpose of raising funds to save Chawton Cottage, Austen’s last home.  Jane Austen societies are so well known they have become acronyms, JAS, JASA, JASBRA, JASNA. I think the most recent must be JASI, the Jane Austen Society of India. Japan and Pakistan have societies too. These are just the ones I know about.The various societies hold annual general meetings and produce online magazines. There are also Jane Austen Festivals around the world. The most important of all being the Jane Austen Bath Festival. Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s  5th great niece, has begun, The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, to promote reading and writing in third world countries and in disadvantaged communities around the world. 

    Jane Austen’s books were written from her own perspective within the society she grew up in. Her father belonged to that educated strata of society that was both talented and productive but was not a landowner. He was a clergyman. To be a clergyman in the 18th century was not so much a religious calling more an occupation that an Oxford educated boy, who had very little inherited wealth and no inherited rank, could go into. It was a strata of society in the 18th century that was uniquely situated to enable a person to associate with many parts of society, aristocratic and poor. Jane had friends who were landowners and members of the lesser aristocracy but she also knew and associated with the poor in Chawton where she lived at the end of her life.  

    Sometimes the titles of Jane Austen’s novels describe the human aspects that the novel is going to discuss, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. Emma, is about an individual’s journey in human relationships, consisting more of failures than successes. Mansfield Park is a demonstration of how somebody honest, truthful, timid and perceptive can triumph. Jane Austen’s unfinished novels each explore different aspects of the world in which she lived. “The Watsons,” explores the social and psychological machinations of the, “ball.” “Sanditon,” is about the development of a new type of settlement during the 18th century, the seaside resort.  We still learn from Jane Austen through her novels.

    Related image

    Belfast during The Troubles.
    This understanding of human relationships and the stresses and strains, traditions and attitudes that play as forces on these relationships are the message about writing that we should take from Jane Austen. The winner of this year’s Man Booker prize for literature, Anna Burns, wrote a novel called, “Milkman." It is set in Northern Ireland during, “The Troubles.” She describes her novel as ,” psycho political with rules of tribal identification.” A young 18 year old girl negotiates the difficult world of her community with its unspoken rules that if broken could get you killed and the male chauvinist patriarchal society that she exists in. If we think that the world of Jane Austen is hierarchical and patriarchal it has nothing on  Northern Ireland during, “The Troubles.”

    St Ives, Cornwall.
    The world of the novelist is becoming less class ridden. Jane Austen wrote from a social position, as a lower middle class woman in the 18th century. She was reluctant to even have her name as, the author, on the first editions of her novels. Writers such as Natasha Carthew , a working class country writer from Cornwall,  writes about single mothers living on a council estate in Cornwall.We find the experiences and relationships in these novels applicable to our own lives. Writing should encompass all viewpoints and come out of all sorts of existences. Jane Austen produced writing, that was a commentary on the way people related to each other in her time. There was an honesty about what she wrote. I think she would relate completely with writers such as Anna Burns and Natasha Carthew writing today.

    Setting out on the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation Walk.

    Caroline Knight’s, Jane Austen Literacy Foundation is non profit making. Her aim is to make money to provide e-readers and e libraries to developing communities, such as Ghana. E-readers are a technology that can provide an extensive library of non fiction and fiction for children who have hardly any access to books and teachers are provided with training. This is something that can increase  educational experiences and opportunities tenfold for these children. The foundation also provides volunteer literacy mentors. The role of a mentor is to support children with their writing. Through encouragement and making suggestions to help the children develop their writing skills, the young writers can grow in confidence and develop ,”a voice,”which can be heard by whoever reads them. Both these things, providing the e-readers and supporting children with their writing, are two ways that enable children to observe, reflect and communicate and this makes a difference and helps them develop as human beings. Jane Austen made a difference through words and writing. Caroline is continuing Jane Austen’s legacy in a meaningful way.

    If all the Jane Austen societies around the world used the name of Jane Austen to help develop writers and readers from all parts of society, then they would be doing something really powerful and exceedingly useful. Authors, such as Anna Burns and Natasha Carthew  and also Jane Austen Literacy Foundation founder,Caroline Knight,  are the real Jane Austen legacy.


    “The Troubles,”refers to a violent thirty-year conflict framed by a civil rights march in Londonderry on 5 October 1968 and the Good Friday Agreement on 10thApril 1998.  At the heart of the conflict lay the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.


    Emma, by Jane Austen, first published 1811, Published in Penguin Classics 1996

    Milkman, by Anna Burns, published by Faber and Faber 2018

    Only the Ocean, by Natasha Carthew, published by Bloomsbury 2017

    The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation: