Tuesday 11 June 2024

Iron, Bluebells, and the Keymatic Washing Machine.

After months of  poring over legal contracts, dealing with bureaucrats, and various other little trials, I feel we're out of the woods for now and can get on with some normal life.  Which has included seeing the spring and early summer unfold in some real woods. It's been a real pleasure and I'm sure the bluebell season lasted longer than usual this year too.    

Mid April there were hundreds of thousands of bluebells in the ancient Abbey Wood in Southeast London.  No, make that millions, I'm sure the numbers must have reached that -  I've never seen so many!  They just went on and on.   The large and wonderful wood is hardly mentioned in most guides to London, and is actually a little known treasure even to Londoners, too.    It is in the far southeast of the city and I learned that William Morris used to walk through it to the station when he needed to catch a train to London from his home in nearby Bexleyheath (now in the care of the National Trust) 

 My pictures probably give an idea of the blueness of the flowers, but doesn't capture the effect of all the other, less obvious spring flowers that were also covering the ground. Areas of glimmering anemones, starry yellow celandines,  fragile stitchworts and deep purple violets made it look in parts like a huge embroidered carpet. 

In early May, we had a few days in the countryside, and on our first day took a modest footpath that led into a rather grand private estate.  After passing the immaculate tennis courts and vineyard, we found ourselves on a most beautiful grass-fringed stream winding through woodland and meadows .  What with the birdsong and butterflies and the sun shining through, it felt like the Garden of Eden, and there were still sheets of bluebells ! 

 We were in East Sussex, not far from London, but our location was so remote that Google couldn't direct us the house where we stayed.  When we found it, access was via a steep, winding, very narrow lane,  a bit terrifying at first, but worth it.  Below is the view from the window seat in our cottage., framing the view of an an old weatherboarded water mill where the owner of the land lives.  

This mill was, surprisingly, built in the 17th century to power a furnace.  The area where we stayed was near the Ashdown Forest, where for 100 years the local celebrities have been  Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin.  But the real people living in the area spent centuries smelting iron in tiny hamlets and farmsteads with names like "Hugget's Furnace" - many of the names still surviving on local maps today refer to ironworking. 

I found it very interesting, because I am a fan of the "Mantelmass Chronicles" by veteran writer Barbara Willard, which are set in Ashdown Forest too.   "Mantlemass" is a  multi -novel family saga about generations of an ironworking family from the 15th century onwards.  Here's the cover of my copy of "The Iron Lily" a pivotal book in the series, which tells how Lilias, orphaned in 1557 by the plague, is forced out of her home but eventually makes a good life as a master in a man's world.  

The books were published in the 1970s, which was just before the kind of books offered to young people started to change drastically.   Willard was born in 1909, so would have missed what we now call "YA"  fiction, which rarely aims to convey an authentic sense of living in England of the past, family continuity or being present in the natural world.  Those type of books are generally marketed for adults now. I am sure teens can find them if they want, and I hope some do.  

So re-reading "The Iron Lily" recently, I thought that some enterprising publisher might re-package these books for adults. I don't know if Netflix is into making family sagas, but these stories are too good to sit forgotten on a shelf.  I found a book review blog called Semicolon here, which has reviewed the series recently.  I wonder if you think they'd appeal to you? 

We have also been to Suffolk again since my last post, where I mentioned my friend's pond which is shaped like an eye.  (it looks crazy when you view it from above on Google).  On our more recent trip to Suffolk the sun came out occasionally so we managed to snatch this shot of the eye looking a bit less tearful.  It hadn't been quite so wet, and flooding had receded, so you can start to see the shape with the little island forming the iris in the middle and the spoil heap from the digging creating an "eyebrow". 

  Whenever it has seemed summery, we've tried to get out on our bikes. We went recently to  South Kensington to see the final days of the "Secret Life of the Home" at the Science Museum.   

It's an imaginatively displayed collection of vintage household objects, designed nearly 30 years ago by Tim Hunkin, whose offbeat interest in how machines work made his  Secret Life of Machines ITV series so watchable in the 1980s.  He brought the same quirkiness to the gallery, with entertaining films, recordings and ads to cast light upon things on display.   

My favourite objects included a fiendishly complicated 1950s burglar alarm involving a 78 rpm record automatically calling the local police station via a rotary dial phone in a voice considerably posher than King Charles' voice today.  But best of all for me was the Hoover "Keymatic" washing machine (below). 

I found the launch ad on Youtube, which explains that it is fully automatic, as though this is a great novelty.   Was it really the first fully automatic washing machine in Britain? I wonder.   

Anyway I like the Keymatic because it reminds me of the house my grandmother,  her two sisters and their friend shared in South West London. Almost nothing ever changed in that house, and I loved it.  My auntie told me the family had bought the very best when they moved in during the 1920s, so there was rarely any reason for getting anything new.  Made sense to me.   

So imagine my surprise when one day in 1963 I skipped into the scullery to find a gleaming new Hoover Keymatic installed under the wooden draining rack.    Their 1930s washing machine had given up so they'd bought the very latest and best model available to carry on the good work. Easy to use, with an intriguing beaky appearance and attractive peacock blue top, it worked like a dream and really did end the trials of washday for them.   It immediately became a well-liked member of the household, and sloshed away reliably for the rest of their lives.  I can't look at it without thinking of them.  So I liked seeing that long-ago familiar shape in the gallery. 

All the exhibits will now be housed in the museum's huge new storage facility out in Wroughton, Wiltshire.  They promise public tours but I am sad to have closed the gallery at all.  Hunkin's approach was engaging and unique, and I so hope it won't be replaced by something too earnest. 

 Last weekend we went to see another new gallery at another museum,  So glad I live in a city with lots of free museums!     This is in East London, at Bethnal Green, and it is part of the Victoria and Albert museum of applied and decorative arts.  The building used to be known as the V&A Museum of Childhood and has now been extensively refurbished and re- branded to become the  Young V&A .... supposedly ... 


... well I guess they forgot to tell the person who did the mosaic sign on the front wall..... 

The old Museum of Childhood was another one I'd always liked. It was very Victorian and barely changed for decades, full of huge mahogany and glass cases containing all kinds of truly gorgeous toys and curious objects. It was one of our own kids' favourite outings, too.   But - you know what ? Despite all that, we were thrilled at the new museum.  It is now an even better place to take your kids!  

 It occupies a building from the 1850s with two tall, very large aisles flanking a long central space and roofed with arches of glass and iron.  It still has lots of splendid toys, but now they play their part in stimulating childrens' imaginations, and are carefully curated to help them consider design. It's also incredibly entertaining,  

I tried the gallery on the left hand side first. It  visitors with a series of questions which can be answered with reference to different toys and images.   "Where do you want to go?"  could include anywhere, but they give you some ideas:  evening in the desert,  a wintry haunted  house,  a mad planet where the stars are made out of soup - and  Hokusai's famous "Wave" print, which was my choice of where to go. Not being tossed around on that fierce sea, but skimming somehow above it, directly headed to Mount Fuji in Japan. 

This print is the first in Hokusai's set of "36 Views of Mount Fuji". But, incredibly, despite the title, I only recently noticed that Mount Fuji was right in the middle of the picture.   Hokusai had a sense of humour, and I think he knew most people would be too busy looking at the big wave to notice the famous mountain in the distance looking rather like a white-capped wave itself.  

"Who would you like to meet?" is the next question.  I decided I'd like to meet this interesting couple (below) dating from the Middle Ages.   They are wodewoses, mythical figures or spirits of nature, who were popular figures across Europe.    They seem to be bringing mythical figures out of the woods - and  I would like to meet those too.  As you see,  the wodewoses are covered with long shaggy hair, although Mrs. Woodwose has fashionable "ripped jeans" look about her knees, and her babies will not get a mouthful of fur when they feed.  They really are a fine pair. 

And how (in answer to the next question) would I choose to travel?  

 There's only one answer to this. The Pink Fantasy Flyer was in the old museum, and I loved it then and still do!    

I cannot detail it all, but can only recommend this collection, whatever your age may be.  

Currently the special exhibition is on Japanese folk tales and manga, aiming show how manga and the films of the Ghibli studios draw heavily on Japanese folk ideas and customs, particularly the Yokai who are wildly imaginative magic creatures.  Many of the Japanese objects in the show are made with astounding skill. I loved this tiny 19th century netsuke carving, which seems to be loosely based on on the traditional story of the "Wonderful Tea Kettle. " in which a magical animal lives in a tea kettle and terrifies the priest and everyone at the temple. (I don't think the original story includes this bare footed lady).  It's beautifully done -  and yet it is barely more than an inch long. 

There was also an equally skilled modern artwork in which a tree has been created out of a cardboard carrier bag. 

You must peep inside and see that small things matter, says the artist

After the show, we had a cup of tea at the Gallery Cafe in Old Ford Road nearby, a place we generally go to when we're in Bethnal Green.  We like the friendly unpretentious atmosphere, and there's a garden and outside seating too.  It belongs to a charitable organisation called St. Margarets which does lots of good works locally , so you can feel that your meal is in a good cause,  as well as being nice. 

And, after a grey and overcast day, the sun actually came out in the early evening for our cycle back home!  I keep thinking as we pedalled along that it would be nice to have a bit more sun, but on the other hand,   looking at the 40+ degree temperatures in southern Europe, I'll settle for grey drizzle any day. 

Monday 18 March 2024

St. Paddy, Rain and A Gap in the Hedge.

Happy St Paddy's Day of yesterday! This is the cake I made for a party of some of the other Irish around here.  We talked of Irish things, like which is the best island to visit off West Cork, and  which is your favourite RTE fails collection on Youtube (this is mine)   Little K suggested sprinkling gold around the leprechaun and giving him a bottle by his side, a suggestion which suited him very well.   Her dad talked of a road sign he had spotted on a road trip across the country to Dublin, which flashed past his car window on a dark and rainy road.  It said :  "DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE EXCEPT - "  

I can't help wondering what the final word was - do you?  

This story reminded me somehow of Lewis Carroll's song for Humpty Dumpty, which also ends in mid phrase, and is equally puzzling.  Carroll had some Irish connections and, even though his ancestors were almost entirely from the North of England, his work sometimes seems more Irish than not to me.  

But for me the late Spike Milligan has the most typically Irish approach to comedy; it's quirky, unexpected and iconoclastic, as well as just plain mad.  

Spike  had always fancied having the words "I told you I was ill" carved on his tombstone. But he died in Winchelsea, in East Sussex, just south of London, where jokes on tombstones were frowned upon. And this is what happened. 

I know I've been quiet for a while. In fact, my last post was just before Christmas, and around that time I had a mysterious and crippling bout of pain which seems to have been arthritis.  I've known I had arthritis for decades; it came on when I was quite young. But it had never hurt much. Then an awful pain came like a bolt from the blue and I even had to eat my meals standing up because it hurt my hip so much to sit down, although thankfully I could lie down to sleep. The only thing that helped was exercise, but it certainly was painful and needed some strong painkillers. 

The pain gradually went off and now I'm able to sleep without pain medication again. And I hope it doesn't come back.

Like many other parts of the world, England has had a wet and warm spring.  When we went to Suffolk a couple of weeks ago,  quite a bit of the landscape was under water. We still had a good time - we nearly always do - and I took this photo on a typical bike ride as evening came on. And yes, that's a very large puddle, not a lake. 

We also visited one of our favourite Suffolk ponds, which has been created in the shape of a huge eye that stares out into the heavens. It is usually a wonderful sight, and normally you see the outline and the iris quite clearly as you peep across through the hedge.  But this time the rainwater had blurred the  eye, and its tears had flowed out so far that you'd hardly have known it was an eye at all.  We will be back to see it again in dryer weather! 

Still, our trip coincided with more sun than they'd had all month, and so we also took the chance to visit Holton Pits.  This was until recently an abandoned quarry which was all set to be snapped up for light industrial warehouses. But then the local community decided to take a hand.  Read their story here.    I contributed to their appeal, so of course I went to look at the place.  I was delighted with it and its twenty acres will be a place to return to as the seasons change.   Overgrown quarries can be almost magical sometimes, and this one was no exception.  Even at midday in bright sun, this corner seemed full of suggestions and shadows. 

And as usual there were strange old cottages to see as we cycled along the narrow lanes and through rather deserted old towns.  I wonder what it's like in that room above the archway, don't you? Perhaps you have to crawl through on your hands and knees...?

And it was grand coming across Framlingham Castle, such a surprising thing to see through a gap in the hedge when cycling down a quiet lane. 

And now it's nearly Easter. I can't believe a quarter of the year is gone already.    What have you done in 2024 so far? 

Saturday 16 December 2023

Happy Blooming Christmas!

Looks like we may be spending a few days in Spain over Christmas. I've always wanted to see what they do at Christmastime there.  I'm told it involves a lot of pretty lights and singing of traditional songs in the village square, which sounds fine to me!    And the weather is very likely be better than the unrelenting grey gloom of London in the last few weeks.

I'm not  complaining about London's weather now, though, because we do need some rain and cold to make the plants grow later.  And we had a long and beautiful autumn with more colour than usual. Still, looking at the grey scene outside my window it's hard to believe that less than a month ago this was Regents Park as we cycled through...


We were on our way to the new and improved National Portrait Gallery, always one of my favourite art museums. It closed for three years for a major revamp, and only reopened this year.  I always felt it was fine as it was before, but I was blown away by how much better it seems now. 

They've kept the iconic and important pictures of course, such as the vast picture of King George V and his family below.  I looked at this for a long time. How lonely they all appeared in that grand echoing room, not really relating to each other, and clearly on display.  What a strange way to live.  I wonder what they would think about the people they are staring out at,  snapping them on their phones in a very different world from the one they knew.  

I'm not sorry for the Royals, but I don't envy them either. For some people a life of rigid routine with your time mapped out years in advance, may be fine. You could always enjoy the dressing up and being made to feel important, and I am sure that being extremely rich also isn't too much of a hardship!  But the lack of a private life, the relentless demands of other people, the sheer sense of confinement, would send some people crazy.  I think I'd be one of them. 

It seemed that many of the generals and admirals I'd seen in the past were missing - not to mention once-famous and now-unknown aristocrats.  Even I, as a history buff, had always hurried past the likes of Sir William Pulteney Pulteney, (below) portayed for his participation in so many colonial wars,  where he made so many bad decisions, yet still heaped with honours.  

I was also quite pleased not to have to stare at portraits of quite so many forgotten Mayfair socialites as before!

Instead, the rooms now offer context for the pictures on show.  People long ago were as diverse as today, although in different ways - and the artworks on display now help show how duchesses, paupers, acrobats, artists, artisans, tradesmen and common folk of all ages were shown and saw themselves in art.  

 There were more women and minorities than there were, too.  One of my favourite rooms contained only women's self portraits.   Far too many and far too much variety to show here but the one below stuck in my mind.   The photographer, Dorothy Wilding, looks so happy in her work, doesn't she? Not really bothered about what she looks like but what she feels like. All the best photography is like that, I think.   I think I'd have liked to meet Dorothy Wilding. 

And in contrast to the Royal Family in their dim, old palace,  this vast, bright painting of the film star Rita Hayworth seems to light up the room. 

There was a very good display on miniature paintings, showing how jawdroppingly skilled miniature painters were.  The part of the image shown below is less than two inches across,  and many were even smaller, having been painted with single-hair paintbrushes.  

I was also struck by an extremely lifelike sculpture of Tim Berners-Lee who thought up the idea of the World Wide Web.  It's quite incredibly realistic except that it is only about 1/2 human size.  At least, I think it is, unless he is a person of severely restricted growth.  It's a most compelling and engaging statue, and is placed just before a huge screen on which appear various portraits in the collection, offering a nice variety of backdrops for him.  

(Incidentally, I wonder why Tim Berners-Lee has not been knighted.  If a peerage was good enough for  Michelle Mone  and  some of the other controversial figures who have been ennobled recently, surely inventing the World Wide Web is worthy of some recognition? )

Below you see Lord Byron's screen, created in decoupage for him by his boxing tutor, of all people. I never knew Byron had a boxing tutor but he was apparently fascinated by prizefighting and prizefighters, and one side of the screen contains only pictures of these. The other side of the screen reflects Byron's other great passion - the theatre - and his favourite actor, Edmund Keen.  That is the side in my photograph. The engravings of famous actors are interspersed with reviews and comments cut out of newspapers. 

Byron was apparently short of money and sold the screen a few years later, which seems a bit ungrateful to his boxing tutor who had clearly spent so much time on making it as a gift.   But thankfully it was purchased by a publishers which treasured it for well over a century.  

There are several places to eat in the museum, but I it was getting dark so we just grabbed something at the simple little snack bar outside situated in what  I think used to be a ticket kiosk.  David Hockney helpfully shows the way. 

So now Christmas is rushing upon us!   We helped the twins decorate their tree last weekend  - the old tree has now grown out of its pot and needs planting out, so they got a nice new potted tree that's about one third of the old one's size.   The decorating had hardly started when it became clear that there was no way all the decorations would go on the new tree.    Some of the more robust ornaments had to be taken off and put on the old tree, still in its pot outside. They are now cheering up the front garden!

When fully decorated the new little tree looked very cheerful in the corner, and we all watched the traditional Christmas animation "Father Christmas" by Raymond Briggs, and ate mince pies.   It's an amusing, gentle little movie which combines two books "Father Christmas" and "Father Christmas Goes on Holiday" which describes how the old fella delivers his presents worldwide, and spends his time enjoying himself off season.  His catchphrase is the slang word "blooming" which was widely used in Briggs' childhood (and mine) but isn't heard so much now.  It is a mild way of saying "goddam"  - a bit like "darned" I suppose, because he is a kindly and highly respectable old gent at heart. 


I hope your Christmas preparations are progressing well, and if I don't post again in the next few days please let me wish you a "Happy Blooming Christmas!" too! 

Thursday 23 November 2023

La Villette Park, Paris - WHAAAAAT?

I saw this strange looking creature the day before I left Paris. It is a 17th century tenor cornett shaped like a serpent and with a dragon's head.  It is just one of thousands of exhibits in Paris's musical museum, which must surely be one of the best in the world... 

...yes, in the world.  But I had never heard of it before I went to Paris.  It was only when I idly decided to visit La Villette that I discovered that the city of Paris has been assembling a huge  musical centre called the Cité de la Musique in the park for about thirty years.   Not only the museum but the Paris Conservatoire music school, lots of venues for music in different genres, the huge Zénith de Paris auditorium and the striking, futuristic Philharmonie concert hall are together offering almost every type of music imaginable.    

 By any standards it is amazing, so you can imagine my surprise that not one single person I've ever discussed Paris with has ever mentioned it.  Maybe I'm not speaking to enough musical people - or enough Parisians, since La Villette park was thronged with people and they all seemed very happy.    

So, I'll tell you a bit, so at least you will know to go there if you're ever in Paris!  Above is the Philharmonie concert hall - extremely striking, though not, I'll admit, very beautiful, at least not to me. Alien, blocky and slightly reptilian are the words that spring to mind, because it is clad in steel scales and looks sort of organic.  The design of the scales is inspired by an interlocking pattern in the style of M.C.Escher which reflect the light in many different ways, and its odd shape offers hundreds of different photo opportunities depending on where you stand.  If you're interested in the revolutionary and super-adaptable construction of the Philharmonie, take a look at the builder's website.   The acoustics of the main hall are said to be among the world's finest. 

As for the musical museum, no description can do it justice.    I couldn't absorb it all, but I do remember certain things in particular, like this golden harpsichord with lid decorated in pastoral scenes,...

...and several of the musical curiosities,  like the dragon headed cornett in the first picture, and a  "Bible" organ, or regal, which stood rather incongruously with the 18th century instruments.   The regal was a sort of portable organ, popular from about 1500 onwards and probably a bit out of fashion by the time this one was made.  It has a distinctive buzzing sound and the bellows of the Bible regal, pumped by a helper, are thought to resemble a large family Bible.   I can't find a film of this instrument in action, but here's a clip of a self-pumping regal in case you're interested in hearing one.  

I also liked the museum's explanation about the origins of various types of music, and was fascinated by its display of French revolutionary songs, of which the most famous is of course the national anthem of France, the Marseillaise. 

What a song that is.  I've always thought it's different from other national anthems.  Passionate and blood-curdling, with a wonderful tune, it was written to stir emotion, and does it incredibly well. Watch this blurry clip of a fine performance by Mireille Mathieu. I'm not French but there are certain politicians I wouldn't like to be near with a pitchfork in my hand, and Mirielle's version of the Marseillaise in my ears... and I'm only half joking.    

It seems that the Marseillaise was controversial from the start. It was banned by the French authorities for quite a lot of the 19th century as being too inflammatory, and only became the national anthem in 1879, after the final Emperor of France had been kicked out and the terrible Siege of Paris had happened.  Today, it still stirs unease and controversy, particularly its references to "impure blood" which have been taken up by French racists. Despite all this,  I still greatly prefer the Marseillaise to our own national anthem.     Britain's "God Save the King" has a plodding, secondhand tune and is all about wishing good luck to your betters in the hope some benefit will rub off onto you. It does its job as a national anthem, of course, but I am glad that the other part of me is Irish, as I definitely prefer the Irish national anthem. Amhrán na bhFiann sounds pleasant, almost friendly,  even though it is about Ireland's hard won fight for freedom.   

National anthems carry such a weight on them, don't they?   What do you think about your national anthem?

Anyway, to get back to the park.....we spent a day and a half there, and as well as seeing the museum we looked around the other musical venues, an exhibition hall, and many shops, cafes and bars in a huge 19th century iron and glass structure which  was Paris's main abattoir back in the day.

The Paris canal runs through the park, and is packed with popular little electric pleasure boats which glide silently to and fro.   

As you see above, the weather was grey during much of our visit, but when evening fell, and the lights shone out, the park became more peaceful and relaxed - so long as you could dodge the bikes shooting along the cycle tracks.  

The atmosphere was noticeably multi racial, and very good humoured.   As we wandered around we saw local people gathering to play their own music and do their own dances in the pathways and on the grass -  a large group of Africans singing with drums and trumpets, then another group of drummers, of several different races. then some Indonesians practising their own elegant style to the sound of a boom box standing by their picnic cloth.   We explored a wood full of mirrors (a strange and fascinating place) found a carousel and little fairground, and had fun tracking down bits of a giant sculpture of a deconstructed bike.  A giant saddle here, a huge mudguard there, sticking out of the grass and surrounded by picnicking familes and couples lazing about.   

We also puzzled over some remarkable playgrounds for the children. Perhaps I should know what the one below is, but I didn't. The kids had been playing some kind of organised game on it, and you can just see the referee's chair in the middle. 

On one of the days, a group of stunt cars paid a visit, and drove around very slowly for no apparent reason except to draw crowds - very exciting! (Just in case you're wondering, the car shown below was stationary)

 We didn't see the equestrian centre or science museum, and learned that Géode, the IMAX cinema, was closed indefinitely.  But we did find allotments full of veggies and rare breed sheep grazing beneath the trees.  

And there were so many interesting little touches.  A display of expressive musical sculptures about how it feels to make music (They weren't easy to photograph, but I hope you can get the idea.)   

I looked up La Villette in some Paris tourist literature.   It was referred to as "off the beaten track."   If I had still been travel writing for a living, I'd be wondering why the park isn't promoted more, so it stops being "off the beaten track."    It's not that far out of the centre, and there's excellent public transport to its surrounding areas.  Admittedly, the neighbourhoods around it seem run down but felt safe enough with pleasant little local shops and cafes and a nice Sunday market intermingled with the fast food joints and scruffy barbers.  And there were signs that some parts were going up in the world, attracting artists and other creative people -  as well they should, with all that music around.  The street art was eye popping, and I was pleased to see several wall paintings celebrating the remarkable Josephine Baker, who lived in Paris for many years and I am sure would have loved the park in every way. 

And if these brick pillars interspersed with Lego aren't the work of creatives, I don't know what is.  

We've been back in London for ages now, but do plan to return to La Villette, to finish touring the music museum and,  I hope, attend a concert or two.   I won't stay in the same Airbnb that we used, which I am sorry to say was ghastly, but there are cheap chain hotels nearby which have everything you need.  

*Oh, and if you would like to hear what a cornett sounds like, please go here on Youtube. For the first 33 seconds of this clip, Alexander Kerschhofer plays the basic sound of a treble cornett.  After 33 seconds you start to hear how a cornett sounds when playing in a group, which it was intended to do.  I have always liked strange old musical instruments and really look forward to hearing and seeing some more before too long. 

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Happy Halloween! And, at last, Paris

We don't get many kids knocking on the door around here at Halloween, because, I learned the other day, they all go down the road to St. Johns Wood.   It's about a mile from us, and many of the people who live there are American, and they put amounts of time and money into their decorations in a way that hasn't seemed to catch on here.  But the main thing, apparently, is that they're far more generous with their sweets.   Naturally the local kids have noticed.  We haven't had anyone at our door this evening! 

I remembered about St Johns Wood and Halloween when T and I cycled along one of its larger roads and suddenly realised that the place looked like a magazine article on how to decorate for Halloween. Serious amounts of money had been spent, I think.  Some of the gardens were expensive and elaborate, almost works of art in their way.  The one below was very interesting, with skeletons climbing out of the basement and a rather nasty little demon on the left, clutching a pumpkin, among many other things.  

Other displays were rather simple: just strings of eyeballs in the hedge.... 

Or nicely carved pumpkins, specially the cheeky one on the left. 

There was something jolly about these dancing  skeletons.

And I really liked these three little ghosts.  I had a book when I was a kid with a poem in it about "three little ghosties, sitting on posties, eating hot buttered toasties, " and I thought of that as I imagined these three rushing off to the kitchen to get their toast.  

Other displays had slightly unnerving details - are those skeleton rats running up the stairs? They look a bit small to be cats, anyway, although I'm no expert.   

One or two were downright scary.  I wouldn't have fancied passing this at night. ...

Or enjoyed negotiating these fellas waiting right outside the front door. 

But it was clear that this little skeleton meant no harm at all and was clearly enjoying the whole Halloween experience. 

 I hope the sweets lived up to the decorations!  

Our trip to Paris seems a long time ago - well, five or six weeks now, but I promised to write about it, and so the rest of this post will be about Paris. 

The reason we went was that my American cousin, Charlane, was visiting Provence at the end of the summer.    We couldn't get to Provence to join them, but she took the train to Paris a couple of days before they were due to fly back. 

It was so great to see her.  We get on very well, and since this was her first real visit to Paris it meant that we got the chance to see some of the traditional sights and do some traditional "Paris" things of the type we generally skip ...like walking along the banks of the Seine....

It is such a beautiful river, shining many colours in the sun.  We also visited Notre Dame, which is now well on the way to recovery after its devastating fire  of  2019.

Huge crowds were milling around outside, viewing the large and interesting information boards which offered the latest news and information about the restoration.   Charlane had watched what she thought was a very good National Geographic show about the fire and the restoration plans, and although it was slightly disappointing not to be able to see much behind the hoardings in real life, we did learn about how to get the latest news online on this very good site (in English as well as French) which is run by the Friends of Notre Dame.  If you take a look, you may agree that they're making good progress on this massive task. 

I am glad to say we got the chance to revisit the Cluny Museum, where I had not been for years.    This is Paris's Museum of the Middle Ages,  and one of its more recent major acquisitions is a group of ancient stone heads of what was once known as a "gallery of kings" from the facade of Notre Dame. Dating from the 13th century, they were supposed to be representations of the heads of past Kings of France, who were, of course, appointed by God.  Naturally,  the activists of the French Revolution were not keen on past kings of France, and even less keen on the idea of them being divinely appointed,  so during the uprising they hacked all the heads off and threw them away.  For many years it was thought that they had been destroyed or used for building-stone.  

Imagine everyone's surprise when twenty-two of the heads and lots of other fragments were dug up in a garden about three kilometres away from Notre Dame, in 1977.    Nobody had a clue how they had got there. 

 And it was also a bit late to return them to Notre-Dame. By the time it was restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, it had been decided the statues were not, after all, kings of France, but the Kings of Judah.   So there was no objection to making some new king statues for Notre-Dame.  Some very good new ones were made, and no room was left for the old ones. So they ended up here in Cluny where they have a bright, spacious gallery to themselves.  As I wandered round looking and wondering about them, I wished for once that stones really could talk.  

We could not be in Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, even though we didn't have quite enough time to go up it. 

It was impressive though, with the traffic passing beneath it and the city spread around. Just to add to the glamour,  a photographer and stylist were creating wedding photos of a beautiful bride and her groom on the terrace overlooking the tower.    I didn't get too close, not wanting to impinge on their pictures of the big day but it was a nice spot to see a bridal pair. 

The Cluny Museum, by the way, is one of Paris's most interesting museums, at least in my opinion.  It's in a large Gothic building in the rue du Sommerard,  and is particularly famous for its  tapestries, particularly the Lady and the Unicorn which I had seen a couple of times and was very happy to see again.   I found the tapestries very hard to photograph - the "Unicorn" room was dimly lit and crowded - and although it was great to be able to go up close and see all the detail, my photos were terrible. So I can't show you my own pictures, but if you'd like to know more, just go here, to the museum's own website. 

I also greatly appreciated another chance to see the carved wood misericords in the Cluny.   Misericords are carvings under church seats, and usually show mischievous carvings of weird or rustic everyday scenes.  Although they seem very odd things to find in a church, they are in many important old churches in France. They're also often found in important English churches too, probably because England was under Normandy's rule for quite a while after 1066, and picked up many French ideas.  

Misericord carvings are normally hidden from view on the underside of hinged seats where monks or choirs would sit during particularly long services.    Here's just one of the Cluny carvings - a poor woman wheeling her fat, drunken husband home in a wheelbarrow.  It must have been a common sight, and the fed-up looking housewife is only too believable.  Items like these bring home the reality of life in the past, and I really love them.  I'm also very glad I didn't live then. 

And of course we found and admired some of the lovely bread and cake shops which you can still find in Paris. 

One thing we didn't do was fine dining, but Charlane had had some good meals with her friends in Provence, and  by the time she went back to America,  we'd done so much in such a short time that we didn't really miss the meals we could have had.    

An hour or so before we parted from her, T. had his wallet pickpocketed on the metro.   There were constant announcements on the trains to beware of pickpockets, but being big city dwellers we were not much worried. However this particular scam was unusual and clever, and T. drew some conclusions which he will put into effect the next time he visits Paris. First, (a) only bring the cards you definitely need - nothing more irritating than coming by train and then getting your driving license pinched.  (b) All money cards and valuables to be kept in a money-belt or neck bag.  (c) Rucksacks to be slung over one shoulder and clasped at the front of your body at all times. 

To this might be added (d) don't sit down on public transport.     A shame, but apparently as Paris also has a plague of bedbugs, as well as pickpockets, and the critturs supposedly like to hang out in upholstered seats in public places.   Luckily we only found out about the bedbug plague after getting back to England, and we didn't encounter any bedbugs during our stay at all. If we had, I daresay we would have paid a visit to the famous Victorian pest-control shop of Julien Aurouze on rue des Halles.   This photo was taken on a previous trip to Paris, but the shop is quite famous and it is still there.  I hate killing animals, even vermin, but if it becomes really necessary, then this is the place to go.

I must say I'm glad they stopped selling food at Les Halles market, since it was clearly so necessary to have vermin control so handy.

We still had 3 days of our trip left after Charlane's departure, and after a horrible evening trying to stop bank cards and find our way into a Fort-Knox-like Airbnb seemingly run by a robot,  things greatly cheered up the next day.   I'll try to tell you some of that next time I post, although at this rate, with any luck,  I will have returned to Paris for another trip by then!

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