Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Mood Music

My birthday is in mid January and usually I celebrate it in the late Spring.  January is a month when some sad things have happened for me in years gone by,  but this year I decided to take a different attitude to this miserable month and celebrate in January after all.   My family have asked not to be shown in my blog, or I'd post some pictures, so you will have to take my word for it that it was really fun! K. made me this orange and polenta cake, as the recipe had caught her eye, and I can tell you it was DELICIOUS!  

In fact, January has delivered some good days this month.  On Sunday we went to help with one of V's performances, involving over an hour in the car with the twins and one of their friends. London is a terrible place to drive, but this was a complicated cross-city journey after the show that involved dropping the friend home somewhere out-of-the-way.  So after a very exciting show, we loaded the kids into our car.  They both suffer from car sickness so had to be dosed up with anti sickness pills first.  Luckily, Friend didn't get car sick.  

Actually she was Girl Twin's best friend until she moved away, so the two of them were having a great time and slightly leaving Boy Twin out, which irritated him,  and so he started teasing them, which irritated them too.   Added to this, Google had problems with the complicated route and began issuing crazy commands along the lines of "Turn left and then turn right and then turn left and turn left and turn left...."   So as the noise level rose in the back and I tried to find our way and T tried not to swear in front of the little ones. I finally grabbed a couple of old CDs which have been sitting in the car for years, and put them on.  Silence fell as these elderly CDs worked their magic and we all settled down to listen to the likes of "Boom Ooo Yatatatafrom Morecambe and Wise,  In case you don't know them, they were a traditional variety comedy act who were exceptionally popular on TV, and their Christmas Special was a centrepiece of the  UK's Christmases until 1977.   As soon as the track began, the kids stopped quarrelling, started listening and eventually began to sing along. At the end, they wanted it over again to sing along to it again.   

After we'd heard that a few times we went on to Bernard Cribbins'  "Right, Said Fred."   This dates from 1962 and Youtube has a well choreographed film to go with the song. It's good but I like to listen to the audio on its own, to figure out exactly what the piece of furniture is that Charlie  is trying to move, with its legs and handles and candles. It's different every time I hear the song. 

None of the kids like the modern "Alvin and the Chipmunks" movie, but our CD tracks included a much gentler, older Chipmunk "Christmas Song" with Ros Bagdasarian (stage name David Seville). He was the first one to spot the true potential of speeded up tape recordings in the mid 1950s. The kids thought this song was very cute, and so it is.   

About half the songs were American, and next up was the slightly more challenging  "The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House"  with Alma Cogan - challenging because it ends in mid bar as, presumably, the train roars in and obliterates Alma. (In fact, Girl Twin did just check afterwards if she had survived, although she didn't seem that worried.)  

And of course we had to hear "The Runaway Train" whose words mystified them, since they are American, not British words for things to do with a railway. Still they got the general idea.

Nonsense songs seem to have been particularly popular between the 1920s and 1950s, and "Crazy Words, Crazy Tune" is irresistible if you like to sing along with nonsense.  The Johnny Marvin version on our CD was just right for this.  

And of course everyone knows "I Taut I Taw A Puddy Cat"

I was sorry to find we were missing the CD which had Frankie Howerd's "Three Little Fishes" - which is so peculiar that it usually grabs the interest of even the most worldly wise child.  If you don't know it, here it is..... 

And "The Laughing Policeman" from the 1920s always seems to go down well, but we didn't have the CD with that one either.  I have known this song all my life, but have no memory of first hearing it.  I like to imagine it was on some elderly relative's antique gramophone, perhaps even the version recorded in 1922,  before it became so famous.  No reason to suppose that idea is true, but this Youtube film shows such a lovely gramophone, that I thought I would put it on anyway.  I always feel a pang when even the very best of these old gramophones starts to go flat as it reaches the end of its 78 rpm record.  

There don't seem to be many simple humorous songs around now, (other than Yellow Submarine, which is fifty years old, so not exactly new....although this is possibly my favourite animated film of all time so please let me give you a clip... 

But funny music hasn't disappeared - it's just different and often includes film and other visuals, which is only to be expected.   Here's Big Shaq (comedian and rapper Michael Dapaah) in "Man's Not Hot" forced to help his mum w
hile he's supposed to be living a hot glamorous life.  So he's not hot.  Which is why he wears that huge roadman coat all the time...

And  Psy's "Gangnam Style" which was a global sensation in 2012. Now that's really impossible to classify, I'd say, and he's never managed to repeat his success.  But that's what makes a real classic, I suppose.

Anyhow, to get back to our trip in the car, I always thought "The Teddy Bears Picnic" sounded a bit creepy in our CD's 90 year old recording by Henry Hall (below). Its extremely slow pace and low pitched accompaniment suggest to me that something awful might be about to happen, specially since it is "safer to stay at home."  But the kids didn't seem to mind all that. It seemed to calm them down after their very exciting day and there was no quarrelling at all for the rest of the trip.  So hurrah for vintage funny songs! 


By the way, T, who used to work for the BBC, had a bit of broadcasting folklore about this version of "Teddy Bear's Picnic".   It was the test disc for the 78 RPM players that the BBC used (and possibly still does use, since its older archive recordings have been recorded on shellac discs. )   The crucial bit is the xylophone, which apparently sounds all wrong if the machine isn't perfectly adjusted.  So now you know. 

Do you have any special funny songs? 

Monday, 9 January 2023

Glimpses of 8760 Hours

Happy New Year! I hope you have a good one, and that your festive season was wonderful.   Ours wasn't such a great success in that there was a lot of illness, with one person after another getting sick. In fact,  we never managed to get everyone together to exchange presents at all!  And 2022 had more than its share of political nonsenses, but apart from that it was quite a nice year for us.   

So I was sitting here looking through photos and thought I'd pick out a shot from each of the twelve past months with a glimpse of a few of the 8760 hours of my 2022 life.  First, a general shot of something that can be done at any time of year, which is to stroll along the canal towpath and look at all the boats, so many of them colourful and creative in different ways..  

And my first monthly photo is from JANUARY 2022.  We went to a show of 1960s fashion at the London Fashion and Textile Museum with young S,  who was home on his holidays from university in Scotland.  He has adopted a style of dress from a slightly earlier era than the sixties, but we all enjoyed this brightly coloured show on a dark January afternoon.     London didn't feel fully out of lockdown, and after the show we walked from the museum in Bermondsey all the way to a nearly deserted City, in an atmosphere of rather cosy wintry gloom. We were delighted to find an excellent cake shop near St. Pauls, where we had tea.  A nice memory for the month. 

In FEBRUARY we attended one of V's storytellings in the half ruined chapel of the Asylum Chapel, off the Old Kent Road.   The Asylum, built in the early 19th century, was not designed for lunatics,  but as an almshouses for the Licensed Victuallers Association - that is, people who work in the pub trade.  (You can read more about the Asylum here)  It is still run as social housing, although the aged publicans were moved away to the countryside long ago.     The handsome colonnaded chapel, the centrepiece of the almshouse, was badly bombed in the war and never fully restored. Now, fully watertight with its beautiful stained glass windows repaired, it is used as a quirky events venue, even though it has no heating and minimal electric lighting.   

The event was candle lit, and we had to dress up very warmly, but it was atmospheric as the shadows drew in and the candles flickered.  K was singing with the band, so it was quite a family affair.   I took this picture while everyone was lining up for free hot chocolate, and I hope my photo shows a little bit of the unique atmosphere. 

  St. Patrick's Day is on the 17th of MARCH.   I got Irish citizenship just before Covid, and I am very pleased to have it.   I tried throughout 2022 to get to Ireland, but was foiled each time for various reasons. But at least I baked a Paddy's cake in orange, white and green!  The orange parts were ginger and orange-zest, the green parts were pistachio nuts and tiny green boiled sweets, and the white is whipped cream.   I took it over to share with the Irish contingent and we all liked it very much, I am glad to say.  

I always like APRIL for its flowers, all in bright, simple colours, yellow, white and green mostly. These are photographed against a large cherry tree in full bloom, which I am proud to say I grew from a pip.  The cherries are pretty good,  and in July we usually have a grandstand view of the pigeons walking along the branches and hoovering the ripe cherries up in their beaks.  It's a startling sight and I always wonder why the greedy things don't choke or burst.   Ah well, nature knows best.  The tree is also popular with kids who climb up to collect cherries, and the upshot is that you have to be quick if you want to get any cherries yourself even though the tree produces thousands.  

MAY is my favourite month to spend in the countryside.   Everything is out in full bloom. We spent a week in Herefordshire, which has a smiling, gentle landscape, fairly hilly for cycling but not impossible if you chose the route carefully.  In the steeper areas, we walked along public footpaths.   The grass was full of flowers, the weather was mild and soft.   So peaceful.  

At the end of May we, our daughter K and her family all went to Spain to attend a big party, and spent about a week, returning in early JUNE.  We flew via Wizz Air, a budget airline.  At this time there was a great deal of disruption at airports, with lots of airlines cancelling flights.

Wizz Air wasn't named as the worst for cancellations but has apparently had far more unresolved complaints than any other airline in Britain, and our experience definitely agrees with that.  4 hours before our flight left, at 6 AM, Wizz Air sent a text saying the plane was cancelled, and that was the last we heard from them. All six of us were left to find our own way back to the UK, and there were no flights to be had. 

After a great deal of hassle we found six flights back to the UK the next day, at sky high prices. Between us it cost about £2400  and an extra night in Spain, but at least we all got home. Back in England, we and K each claimed for the statutory compensation for a missed flight. To cut a long story short, Wizz Air gave K and family the statutory 1600 euros compensation (400 euros per person), but told T and me we weren't entitled to any compensation at all even though we had had exactly the same experience as them in every detail!   Over six months Wizz Air evaded the question of WHY.  I thought it was very dodgy, and have applied for dispute resolution.  It will take months, but  I suspect there is more information to come, and if there is, I will let you know. Meanwhile I can truly say that if Wizz Air was the only airline flying to a destination, I'd change the destination rather than use them again! 

I have spared you the photo of us all sitting glumly at the airport for hours and hours. So, for this month's photo, what about this male flamenco dancer? We quite enjoyed our enforced extra night in Spain. Went into town and saw him performing in the town square. I wasn't bowled over by him, to be honest but you couldn't help but see he was  going down a storm with the audience. And the nice thing is that in the surrounding streets, and in the streets, women with buggies and male passers by were singing and dancing along as well.

In JULY we loved going to the village fete at Rendham, Suffolk.  I've missed country fetes so much during lockdown.  I love everything about them, the old-fashioned games like Whack-a-Mole, the teas with fantastic home made cakes, the stalls selling all kinds of bric a brac and books, plants, home made jams, the beer tents, charity stalls, the local brass band, dog obedience contests,  Punch and Judy.... if you've ever been to one, you'll know what I mean. 

Rendham is always a good fete and this year it had a classic car show and entertainments that included the "Red Barrows"  crack local team of formation wheelbarrow pushers. You can see some of them here (in red with white caps)  lined up ready to leap into action & astound everyone with their skills. In the background, a couple of the Saxmundham Bellydancers in their turquoise outfits. And can you spot the celebrity attendee?   You will notice that it's not all 100 percent serious, and all of it is to raise money for Rendham parish church, Rendham Village Hall and the local charity, the Rendham Amenity Fund.  

In AUGUST we went to Shropshire, staying near Shrewsbury. On the way we stopped at Bridgnorth, a pleasant town on a hill whose main park has marvellous views over surrounding countryside and a large ruined castle. It's very well maintained and a really delightful spot to laze around on a sunny afternoon. Even better was this lovely shiny red ice cream van where we had some top class snacks and some of the best home made icecream I have ever tasted.  In fact, I'd say it was almost worth making a detour to Bridgnorth just for that.  I was amused by the blackboard which points out that the cows on the wind powered farm could choose their own milking times.  Is this really possible? 

 In SEPTEMBER I was horrified to find that a lime tree in the garden was covered in one huge web. If you look very closely you can see thousands, probably millions of tiny red insects. We think they're spider-mites, but haven't a clue how to treat them.  I know that greenhouse plants sometimes get them but this tree is enormous and I can find no information at all. (If you have any, please let me know. We have to do something about it and I don't know where to start.) 

In OCTOBER there were huge winds, and one night they were particularly bad, quite alarming in fact as they howled round our poor rickety old house. They brought down many branches from the trees and when I opened the door the following morning, there was this beautiful spray of flowers blown neatly on the top of the front step. The flowers were totally fresh and the colours were really beautiful so I put them in a vase and we enjoyed our  "present from the wind" for about a week!  

Every NOVEMBER we try to attend the annual Koestler Arts exhibition at the South Bank Centre.  This is art produced by people at secure institutions of various types ranging from juvenile offenders to secure mental hospitals and facilities for asylum seekers.  Some of the rehabilitation work and support work carried out in these places unlocks a wealth of creativity, skill and ideas hiding inside some of the people are confined there.  It's impossible to convey the variety of the work. Some is beautiful and nostalgic, some is incredibly skilled, some deals with stress and sadness.   There is no self pity in the scene portrayed below, but it has a kind of horror for me.  I wonder how it must feel to be him.

None of the prisoners are ever identified, but you can leave comments which are apparently eagerly read by the artists. Much of the work is for sale and we bought a fantastic picture from the last show. You can read more about the Koestler Foundation here (and check out the artworks on the site) if you wish. 

Actually I have to put a second picture in, just by contrast. This is a beautiful group embroidery project showing life Under the Sea.  It's a small part of a huge panel but I hope you can see that it is full of colour, well-observed detail and grace.

In DECEMBER we had a snowfall which lasted a few days, very unusual for the time of year.  More often than not, if we have snow it is in January or February. I watched, amused, as 3 young people created a huge snowball from the freshly fallen snow at about 11 PM and rolled it up the road.  They ended up taking selfies of themselves and the snowman.  I thought how nice to be young and carefree enough to just go out and make a huge snowball just because you can.  Just down the road, an eight foot snowman appeared in a garden overnight.  

And so, that's it.    I could have posted a completely different selection and indeed my rather infrequent posts during the year tell the stories of other things I've done.   But I hope you've enjoyed this high speed trip through flashes of my 2022, and I hope that there will be many happy moments in your life too in 2023! 

Friday, 9 December 2022

Getting back to Things I used to Do

I don't know if you have found this, but life still feels a bit different from what it did before the pandemic.  Not just an awareness of crowded spaces, but even socialising, having friends to dinner, going out to concerts and movies ... I do it, but not as much as before. And I've only just got back into thinking about just getting on the bike or the train and exploring bits of London... just to see what is out there. I used to do it all the time.  

Still, it's getting better. We have had three trips into London recently just to see what is going on.  The most recent was to the Museum of London, one of my favourite museums.  Or at least it was, because just last weekend it closed for at least 4 years. It will reopen in around 2026 in an impressive new home in the old wholesale meat market in Smithfield (click the link to read more) so I was taking a farewell look.
It was not a very convenient museum in some ways, but I loved it just as it was, tucked away near the Barbican, in the financial district, in a peculiar, inconvenient but pleasant little 1960s development perched on a little concrete island amidst a wilderness of large roads.  Once you get there, it's spacious, calm and full of life, although you wouldn't know how lively it was if you just stood out in the morning sun admiring that interesting statue and the buildings beyond.     

Inside, the spaces are all kinds of shapes and sizes, with several oddly shaped little windows which look out on its immensely historical site. Because, appropriately for a museum of London its building stands right at London Wall. Look below and you see part of a real Roman gatehouse on the wall the Romans built to enclose London two thousand years ago). I love to see that.

Most of London Wall area was bombed to bits in the Second World War, but efforts were made to keep anything that could be preserved, and the museum feels very much part of that effort.  Below is another window I like. This goes from floor to ceiling and overlooks attractive leafy gardens and buildings in many different styles.

So it's clear that the museum itself had a very good architect, but unfortunately, London's 1950s and 1960s town planners were focused on motor traffic, with pedestrians separated off, supposedly for their own safety. In reality, pedestrians were forced under or above ground with little consideration for their needs.   Since the area was built, there has been a complete reversal.  Now, car traffic is  heavily discouraged in London, and the museum has no car park, but the road layout remains.  So most people have to approach the museum via a selection of grim concrete pedestrian walkways about 30 feet in the air, dark unpleasant outdoor lifts and staircases, tunnels and too-wide streets.   Let me show you Street View to give you an idea....

Open the link.  Can you see the museum's name on the wall ahead?  It seems so near, but let me tell you that getting there isn't so simple. After leaving the polluted tunnel you're in, where traffic noise echoes off the walls, you arrive here, and you'll be crossing that walkway over the road.   You need to find somewhere to tie your bike up, if you have cycled here, then make your way to the dark, unheated entrance here, (or one of the adjoining entrances), and go up four flights of now crumbling concrete stairs, or an escalator which might or might not work. While traffic below pumps its fumes up at you, you cross the walkway, possibly in the wind and rain and finally.... you are in the museum. And it is really nice.  Phew! 

 I don't know what people with limited mobility or small kids do, but I'm guessing grim dark elevators somewhere in the concrete. But they come, somehow, and when they do it's lovely to enjoy the little circular garden and plaza outside, and inside a welcoming, well laid out place full of surprises, all of it telling different stories about London, both now and in the past. 

Here are a few of my favourite things, which I may not see again for ages.  I like them all for different reasons, and I hope you will also find some of them interesting.  

These large, elegant, beautifully polished and curiously figured stone objects would not look out of place in many a modern interior. A sculpture maybe?   They're actually mace heads from 2500 BC, from a tribe living near London, and it is clear from the lovely figured stone and quality of workmanship that they were used only for ceremonial purposes. I marvel that such lovely things could survive in such good condition, and it certainly makes the stone age seem a bit less rough and ready. 

I'm not a great fan of the Romans but the museum's big diorama of the Roman town of Londinium is worth looking at.   Here's an unheeded corner. What do you think those teeny folks on the right are doing working at those rectangular pans?  I think they might be making salt - do you agree? At the top left there's a glimpse of the Thames in an unlikely blue, and the original wooden bridge which crossed it. What a feat it must have been building it.   It's interesting that these houses are nothing like the circular wattle-and-mud huts that the Britons lived in. They are more like the kind of places you still get in Italy and parts of France today, so it seems these were made by immigrants.   

I am also fond of this huge lump of carved stone, carved with stylised flowers and leaves, several feet across, and still bearing signs of having been brightly painted. 

It is a stone roof-boss which once decorated the enormous roof of the medieval Merton Priory, in Surrey, near where I spent some of my childhood.  Merton Priory was pulled down so that King Henry VIII could create the grandest palace in the world with its materials. Since Henry's vision did not include carved ecclesiastical roof-bosses, the stone was put to use as rubble beneath Nonsuch's walls.  

I'd have loved to have seen Nonsuch Palace. As its name suggests, it really did not have any equal in the whole world. Its exterior featured nearly 700 white carved images of gods, goddesses, mythological stories and Roman emperors, many of them also gilded and painted. Imagine it!  There were two giant fairytale towers on either side of the front door, plus courtyards, turrets and oriole windows, magnificent brickwork, panelling and carving, and everything of the very best.  Here is a picture (credit: which shows a historically accurate model of the palace, based on the work of Prof Martin Biddle of Hertford College, Oxford. 

Nonsuch Palace disappeared after King Charles II gave it to his mistress, Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, a mere hundred years after it was built.    I always thought this woman sounded completely awful - (but make your own judgement of course: here's a link).  She tore the entire place down and sold the materials to pay off her gambling debts.  Nothing remains above ground, but the roof boss survived. I love it I think for being such a survivor.  

The peculiar layout of the museum building means that there are many interesting corners. I like this lively diorama model of the Old Turk coffee house in the 18th century.  They weren't just drinking coffee, from the looks of it... and I am pretty sure the figure in the middle with the red waistcoat was Dr Johnson, the greatest literary figure of the time.   

By the way, sorry that some of my photos are not up to my usual standard. In places the lighting was very low and reflections were a problem.   The picture below is part of an  illuminated pleasure garden at night, and the whole display, which is much larger, is accompanied by particularly nice music. Take a better look on the museum's site  which gives a good idea of how charming, exciting and slightly dangerous these pleasure gardens were.  They flourished well into the 19th century and had alfresco dining, bands, menageries, amusement rides and, of course, the chance to drink and meet the opposite sex.  Predictably, when Britain turned ultra-moralistic in the Victorian age, they were put a stop to as being far too immoral!  

The museum's inventive layout includes some glass covered cabinets underfoot.  Here you see the teacher telling her six year olds about how people called archaeologists can find interesting stuff if they dig in the ground.  The kids were open mouthed at the idea of this, and full of questions, and peered intently at all the pottery and trinkets on display.   

The museum's Victorian London section has a replica area of real old shop fronts and fittings fully stocked and assembled.  The picture below is an area based on the showroom of the firm of James Powell, which made high quality decorative items of glass, mosaics and ceramics. I like the mosaic lady sitting there so casually with the enormous tigers. 

Off the Victorian galleries is a small room entirely illuminated with sections from William Booth's Poverty Maps of London, from various dates mostly in the late 19th century.

Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army and a social pioneer.  He talked to London's poor in language they understood, did not patronise or humiliate them, fed and sheltered them if they wanted and needed it, and tried to inspire them to turned their lives around.  Salvation Army members live strict and repressive religious lives themselves, but they do not ask their clients to join them in this, and are  to be found doing good work in the worst of situations, without asking any clients their orientation beliefs or identity.   I spent a long time  looking at these maps and seeing how they had changed over the years.  

There is a good 20th century section. I actually remember the last gasps of the Lyons Corner Houses . In their heyday they were inexpensive restaurants which served decent traditional food in elegant white and gilt surroundings.  You found them in towns all over England, and they were famous for their black and white clad waitresses, known as "Nippies."   You can see a Nippy in the background of this display of cakes (including a sensational wedding cake which looks more like a church).  She is actually on a film, and life sized, and in the darkened gallery there is something spooky and surreal about the way she flits about, smiling, in the darkness.    I only remember Lyons Corner Houses when they were modernising themselves, going self service, and downmarket.  

I also remember some of the old London department stores from when I was young.  This most beautiful lacquered relief panel came from Marshall and Snelgrove, of Oxford Street. It was my great aunt's favourite shop and when I saw this large panel in the museum I got a strange sense of deja vu. I must have visited Marshall and Snelgrove with her, I suppose, because I got a flash of memory of examining the detail of these great big panels a very long time ago, and feeling them as I ran my fingers over them. They probably dated from the 1920s, and I don't know when they were removed. 

Nobody who visited Selfridges before the late 1970s could have missed its magnificent bronze and painted-glass lifts.  I remember using these - it was like walking into a movie set, although they were ever so slightly alarming too because they did seem so very... well... old to be creaking their way up and down.   

These are the exterior doors, with bronze silhouettes of mythical scenes, I suppose. Apparently the customers demanded escalators.  

Luckily Selfridges has kept the fantastic bronze sculptural work of its front entrance, which is of equally splendid quality.  You can see it at the bottom of the page via this link, or in real life if you happen to be in Oxford Street.

Also from the early 20th century is this painting by CWM Nevinson, an artist who died in 1946.  It is my favourite one in the whole museum.  It shows seagulls over the Thames, filled as it was in those days with ships and industry, and with a fanciful depiction of the old Shot Tower on the right.  I love the feeling of life and movement, and the slightly Cubist style of the picture.


The war years are also well represented, with a lot of recordings and films, but I prefer the 1950s and  this lovely Coronation dress.  Look at all the decorations around the hem.  I was keen on royalty as a child and would have considered this to be the ideal dress for myself.  Can you see the toy royal coach at the bottom left? 

And then, the 1980s.  That was about the last time that young people had a hope of getting a reasonable sized home in London, and it wasn't easy.  The following pictures are actually of a model of Ellingfort Road, an area of slum housing in the London Fields area of the borough of Hackney.   Neglected for years, like the rest of Hackney, they were scheduled for redevelopment. They were squatted by young homeless people, who repaired them when they could and created a very active creative community.  After a high profile campaign to keep them, they won the right to remain.    The model, created by young artists James MacKinnon and John Hurley,  was one of their projects,  and I could look at it for hours.  The amount of work that went into it was remarkable, showing every peeling cornice, dumped bit of furniture, dustbin and sheet of corrugated iron.  

Hackney has become one of the coolest areas of London now, although I wouldn't personally describe it as smart.  The houses are still standing, painted, retiled, repaired and definitely in far better shape. My guess is that many are still rented and perhaps some of the original artists are still in residence. 

My final favourite item here is from 2012, the magnificent cauldron-like object at the opening of the London Olympic Games. It was built by Thomas Heatherwick, a highly original designer. He rails against "boringness" in modern architecture, and he is certainly right. I'm going to check out more of his buildings and projects - the ones I've seen are amazing.   

Looking at this cauldron, I remember the feeling of pride and optimism that filled us all when it first opened.  In the present fin de siècle atmosphere with a collapsing government and damaged economy, I remind myself that it was only ten years ago.  The damage that the last few years have done to Britain is not endemic, and despite the recent damage to our institutions and values, most people here want to put things right.     

I will look forward to seeing the new museum building for London. It is clearly going to be fantastic, and I hope they bear in mind to give it some cosy corners too. 

So now, with Christmas approaching at top speed, I won't be going anywhere for a few weeks. I want to find time to go through my pictures of the past few months and pick out a few favourites to post. Here are a few to be getting on with...  

Way back in July the twins had a Teddy Olympics. This is the referee of the Long Jump (teddies being hurled from one side of the room to another). Note the handy cup of coffee to keep her going.

And we went for a little break in Kent with our oldest grandson S. during the very hot spell. Among  other things, we spent a whole day on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway.  Combined with that extraordinary weather and the fact we were staying literally in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral the trip was a magical and slightly surreal experience.   The railway runs passenger services on beautifully engineered 1/3 size steam locomotives, owns several stations and has a fascinating history like something out of a novel.   The line goes through some lovely countryside to Dungeness, a most curious place by the sea originally populated by poor folk who left London to live a peaceful life in converted shacks and railway carriages.  

It is now home to a nuclear power station, and although the atmosphere is still eerie and alienated, it is these days full of artists displaying their work in wooden shacks....   

...and also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, full of Napoleonic military ruins.  People waved at us as we puffed and chuffed by and we thoroughly enjoyed stopping at the museum in one of the stations and discovering one of the best model railways in Britain there. 

My next bike trip may well be to Hoxton. I finally bit the bullet and decided to have my great grandmother's scrapbook is large and so full of different things that even though I photographed every page, I still haven't fully examined it all.   

We decided to use a bookbinders in Hoxton (on the edge of Hackney, see above) partly because it is near Monster Supplies Inc.  This is part of a literacy charity for young people in the area, and is most  remarkable: take a look here. The twins are desperate to visit but it's quite a long and complicated trip by public transport and they're not yet up to cycling it through London traffic, so we will have to see. 
The scrapbook is huge, falling apart, and full of elaborate cards, newspaper cuttings, family letter etc. stuck on heavy sheets of disintegrating paper.  It's going to cost an arm and a leg but if it's not fixed soon, it will be beyond repair. It is nearly time to go and collect it, and if I am to be honest, I am full of trepidation. I can't believe anyone could fix it but I am hoping for the best. 

So, that is what I have been up to and I aim to post again soon, if only to catch up.   Right now, though, I'm off to have my supper and view the next episode of Howard Goodall's Story of Music.  It's a BBC television series from 2012 which I discovered on Youtube.  I'm really ignorant about the history of music, but he explains everything so clearly and finds such amazing music that I'm loving every minute.  

Monday, 19 September 2022

R.I.P Queen Elizabeth II

This will be published on the day of the Queen's funeral.  A queue of up to five miles long has been moving slowly, day and night, of people wanting to pay their last respects to her in London.  My own experience of this special time aren't that unusual, but I thought I'd share them all the same. 

On September 8 we had house-guests, and K, who works in the Houses of Parliament, had taken them to breakfast on the terrace in the House of Commons.   They didn't actually eat on the terrace, as it turned out, because the House was sitting - but anyway, they had a nice breakfast in the cafe and then went into the Strangers Gallery to hear the debate.

The House was discussing energy, and our house-guests were impressed by the braininess of Keir Starmer (or so they told us later.)  They were just wondering what to do next, when Parliament suddenly shut down.  Just like that.  They had to leave immediately.    The  Queen's death had been announced while they were right there.  

Immediately I heard the news, the image above flashed into my mind.  I saw it often in my childhood, spent in British enclaves in different parts of the world.  A copy hung in a light oak frame in my dad's office at work, and her image was there in her blue sash and glittery diadem in the hall of every British school I attended abroad, too. 

Her death shocked me more than I'd expected.   She was 96 years old and had been in poor health for a while, but the thing was, she'd always been there, and suddenly she wasn't.  Her profile had been on the coins I'd used to buy my comics with, her initials on the red pillar box as I stood on tiptoe to post my granny's letters. My parents and also my grandparents had all thought about her and talked about her and she was part of our lives. And now she was gone.  Not only did I miss having her there, I also felt we had lost someone who lived a life of service and always put Britain and its people first.  

Some folk do ask what this "service" consisted of.   It is a fair question, since in some ways it seems that all she did was live in grand palaces, drive around waving at or shaking hands with people, opening concert halls or power stations or factories or schools, attending charity events, or carrying out elaborate ceremonial duties that entailed a great deal of pomp and flummery for everyone to look at.    I knew she was actively interested in Parliament's doings, and read and commented on the state papers supplied to her, although she was not allowed to interfere in Parliament's running of the country. You could certainly say that Britain could have got on perfectly well without any of this. Many countries do. 

But the difference between her job and everyone else's is that she was picked out when young to represent Britain non stop throughout the world for every single moment of her life, and she did this job to the best of her ability on our behalf for seventy years.  The true nature of the service she gave, and what it meant to people,  only dawned on me the following Wednesday.   T and I happened to be in Piccadilly and we decided to go to nearby Green Park to see the area that has been temporarily fenced off to hold tributes left by members of the public.   

We went, expecting something like Diana's tributes, perhaps. But it wasn't the same.  It was even more overwhelming.  Long before you even reached the garden, which is the middle of the park, you could see people had piled up flowers tributes and messages for the Queen all over the place.   Each little pile had plenty to look at - pictures, small toys, letters, cards, and all kinds of beautiful flowers, as you see below. 

These informal tributes became larger and more widespread as you approached the fenced area. Inside that, they all seemed to merge together, and flowers and messages and gifts stretched as far as the eye could see.  It was crazy.


The staff had made real efforts to organise the flowers so it was not just a great heap of chaos, and had created an orderly display of ovals, lines, rectangles, sometimes organised by types of flower, or types of gift. Some of the flowers were even arranged by colours.   

It was impossible for anyone to look at everything - and by now, there must be twice as much as there was then.  But we spent hours wandering about reading individual messages. It was wonderful how personal, sincere and direct they were, and how many different sorts of people had taken the trouble to buy or make them and then come all the way to the centre of London, and leave them.    

It felt to me as if everyone was responding to her as if she was their parent or grandparent, in some way personal to them.  You know how a good parent is supposed to act.  No matter how boring, tiring and limiting it is to work for  your kids, good parents do it. Even when the kids don't appreciate it or are rude or reluctant, the parents carry on.  The kids can be loving, fun and adorable too, and possibly this encourages the good parent to keep on getting up each morning to take them to school,working to give them what they need, showing them how to behave. But it doesn't make any difference to the basic thing that the good parent does, which is to keep sticking up for them through thick and thin. 

And certainly it was a fact that no matter how she felt or what she would rather have done you knew the Queen would get up each day and do her duty, meeting and speaking and shaking hands, treating everyone with respect and courtesy and taking a humble interest in their lives, listening for hours to them while saying almost nothing about herself. 

She travelled thousands of miles, whether she wanted to or not, because it was her job to represent our country all over the world. Who knows if she wanted to act as a figurehead and half-mythical figure for people to look at, talk about and have opinions about? They were not always the opinions she would necessarily have liked, I imagine. And she worked right up to a few days before her death. 

Anyway, rather than run on with the thoughts that went through my mind, I'll leave you with LOTS of pictures of people and their flowers and messages and little personal gifts for the Queen.  The effect of all those tributes was overwhelming, but this is the letter that for some reason has stayed in my mind. A little girl of 8 created it in red white and blue, decorated it carefully and wrote it straight from the heart.  

And I like this photo of some people who had come with a beautiful floral crown one of them had made, they were wondering where to put it down. 

 I hope nobody in the photos minds appearing here. I am sure the Queen would have appreciated their presence there, though. I think if you click the picture they will enlarge. 

I add my own thanks and gratitude to our Queen. 


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