Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Three Free Things...

…or free free fings if said very quickly.

A few weeks ago I was meeting Daughter at St Pancras (our usual meeting point these days) and I stopped for a minute to watch people using the free pianos. There are three of them spaced out along the concourse and they all seem to be permanently in use.

That day a man was playing a lovely piece of music when a mother with a small child stopped to watch. The child’s mouth was open in amazement. The piano player invited the child to have a go. She touched the keys tentatively. Then he played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The expression on that child’s face was priceless. He may have created the start of a lifelong passion and all from a free piano.

It made me think about what other free facilities we have available to us these days. Yes, there are the parks, flower beds and occasional fountains but you can’t do anything other than look at those. I mean things to interact with. A few days later a walk on the local park with the Grandkids reminded me of two more free things.

Many local parks now have fitness equipment for use by anyone at any time. What a brilliant idea.

You may have noticed from the picture above that, although it was a lovely warm afternoon, the equipment was not actually being used. Never mind. It's there for when people fancy it. Maybe first thing in the morning there are queues for each item.

The third free thing was being so well used at the park that I couldn't take a photo for fear of upsetting people. That is the table tennis table. Yet another brilliant idea and one of these days I shall go down there with a table tennis ball and have a go. Anyone fancy a game?

Sunday, 5 June 2016

My cats can plan and plot

I bet you think that cats can’t plan or plot together. That’s what I thought until last week when the grandkids came to visit.

My cats, Charlie and Mabel, are terrified of visitors, especially children. They disappear down the end of the garden as soon as they hear children's voices so I thought it would be fine when the grandkids asked if they could bring their new dog for a visit.

Just before they were due to arrive I made sure the cats had eaten and were in the garden. They had extra food and water in the greenhouse and would be able to spend the day out there. But things did not go as planned.

As soon as we sat in the conservatory, Charlie arrived at the window. She spent a good half an hour motionless, staring at the dog. It drove the dog crazy. She barked and threw herself at the window, kamikaze style. All the time Charlie sat without even moving a whisker.

When Charlie got tired of the dog-taunting game she strolled away down the garden.
“I bet she’s going to tell Mabel,” I said and the grandkids laughed politely, in a kind of 'grandmas are silly' way. However, less than a minute later Mabel was at the window doing exactly the same as Charlie had done, taunting the poor dog. Mabel is never normally seen by visitors, ever! When she tired of the dog-taunting game, Charlie took over once more.

Now tell me that cats can’t plan and plot together.

Friday, 27 May 2016

It’s good to talk...

...but bad to be indecisive

It all began when a few of us felt that we needed something to keep our brains active. We thought it might be a good idea to organise a monthly discussion group but we didn’t know if it would work, if there would be any interest in it or even if we were up to the job. After much indecision we agreed that the only way to find out was to try.

That was over a year ago. The group has gone from strength to strength. We meet in the local Synagogue Hall. Everyone we know is invited to join us and I’m delighted to say that people are turning up regularly. The group is called Thinking Allowed (with apologies to Radio 4's Laurie Taylor) because it seems to accurately describe what we do. We have covered a wide range of topics, from the effects of superstition on our actions to the role of music in our lives to the influence of the Internet. This month’s topic was, inevitably, the EU referendum. I thought people would groan and stay away but no. The discussion was as animated and enthusiastic as ever. (For those who are interested, we held our very own secret ballot at the end of the discussion and the result was overwhelmingly in favour of staying in.) 

These discussions don’t run themselves. We meet a few weeks before each session to plan arguments for and against our topic, create a list of bullet points so that the chairperson - we take it in turns in the chair - can move the discussion on if necessary. (Sometimes we have a more in-depth discussion at these planning meetings than at the real thing but that’s another story.) Then there’s the hall to arrange, the advertising of each month's meeting, the cake, biscuits, tea, coffee, milk etc to buy. One day I suspect we will run out of topics, energy and drive for all this but for now it’s a regular feature in our diaries and I, for one, am glad we took the plunge. 
Have you been unsure about organising something and then been pleased that you did? Or are you still indecisive? And if you are then might I politely suggest you give it a try. What have you got to lose?

Friday, 20 May 2016

Painting Wells

It never crossed my mind that there was a reason why Wells is called Wells. I now know. It is because there are a lot of wells there, too many to paint. I say that, because I have just returned from a week's water colour painting in Wells. It was an organised holiday based at The Swan Hotel overlooking the amazing Wells Cathedral.

I was looking forward to a restful week, dabbing paintbrush into pallet and contemplating beautiful views. Wrong! It was a full-on, 9.30 to 5 pm, packed programme. It was enjoyable, inspirational, instructional but relaxing? No way!

I am no expert at art and so I won't be sharing any of my 'masterpieces' with you but I will share a photo from the hotel of Wells Cathedral and some info about the holiday in case you fancy having a go too...

The holiday was organised by Alpha Painting Holidays. We were very well taken care of by Jill from Alpha, who brought us teas, coffees, packed lunches and anything else that we might need.

The tutor was the very talented Rob Dudley.  He was equally attentive to our painting needs - in other words he was extremely patient with the likes of me, a virtual non-painter, and was encouraging and positive in spite of my many abortive efforts.

The only disappointment was the catering arrangements at the hotel. They couldn't serve us supper until 8 pm and, after a full day of fresh air and concentration, I was ready for bed even before they got around to serving up the soup course.

OK, OK, I'll include one of my efforts... but NOT my water colour attempts. Here is a bit of a pencil sketch of a gatehouse by the Cathedral gardens. 

Well I did warn you! Best to stick with my writing, methinks!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

My Night on the Streets

Midnight 1963 Leicester city centre. I was thirteen years old. Mum thought I was staying at my friend’s house. Her mum thought she was staying at mine. We were queuing for tickets to see the Beatles. I had their faces plastered all over my bedroom walls. I knew every word of every song they had ever recorded. I knew their favourite food, hobbies, star signs… but to actually see them! Groovy!

2 am and the pavement was packed. We were all singing, working our way through all the tracks of all their albums. We were amongst other expert Beatles lovers here. We couldn’t risk a single wrong word.

4 am and strangers had become friends, exchanging cubes of chocolate for sips of tepid thermos flask tea. For a while spontaneous chanting turned us into four distinct camps.
“Paul! Paul! Paul!” I yelled.
“George! George! George!” yelled my friend.
It was Ringo who won… easily… ear-splittingly.

Now it was dawn. 5 am and the crowd was getting restless. Police were struggling to keep us from sprawling across the road. My friend and I stood close to the wall, holding tightly to each other, determined to keep our hard-earned places. Not far in front of us, a large shop front window was bending like cellophane with each wave of pushing, but still we didn’t budge.

6 am and more police arrived, some on horses. The cellophane window collapsed with a thunderous roar. There was a stunned silence followed by cheers but now the pushing subsided. We became compliant. The road had been closed and we were moved off the pavement by the police, away from the shattered window, channelled into three queues, each queue separated from the next by two sets of crash barriers.

At exactly 8 am the booking office doors opened. The closer my feet shuffled to the door, the more my stomach churned with excitement. It was only after I emerged from the booking office, a ticket safely in my bag, that I realised how cold and tired I was, but it had been worth it. Front row of the balcony. Unbelievable!

As for the performance… I didn’t hear a single note sung or word spoken but I saw them. I saw the Beatles in real life. Paul looked at me. I know he did. He swished his mop of long Beatle hair as he mouthed, ‘She loves you, yeah yeah yeah’. He was singing it to me. I was in love.

I lost my voice that night, something to do with the screaming I suspect. I couldn’t talk for days but I wouldn’t have missed it, not for all the ‘yeah yeahs’ in the world.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Lost life stories

Every life has a story to tell. We can’t all talk of major achievements, life-saving inventions or headline-making discoveries, but we all have our own unique story. Several years ago, when I set out to research the ‘lives behind the stones’ in the local Jewish cemetery, I was not looking for the big names. I wanted to know about the lives of the ordinary people, people like myself.

Regular visitors to this blog will remember me talking about this Heritage Lottery funded project that I coordinated in 2014/15. We created a website with information about Leicester's Jewish cemetery and a complete database of the graves providing a genealogical search facility. The website is testament to my team’s commitment and hard work and I am proud of what we created.
(Apologies if you’ve had trouble recently accessing the Jewish Gilroes project website. It has been undergoing routine maintenance but I have been reassured that it's fully functioning once more.)

I do regret that we only had time to research nineteen stories. We were not even able to recount entire life stories, but mere snapshots of those nineteen lives. So much has not been told and there are about a thousand graves in the cemetery, so there are more than 900 lives yet, if ever, to reveal their stories. Maybe some were refugees from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s or descendants of refugees. Others may have come later in the 20th century from Germany. They would possibly have been evacuated to Leicester during the Blitz. They must have experienced so much that I will never know about because now their lives have been lost behind the brief descriptions on their headstones.

On the left is the headstone for the very first burial in the cemetery. It marks the grave of a young girl called Nina Rosina Berger who died aged 13. We could find very little about her short life but there was information to be uncovered regarding her family. A small group of us put together our findings and this is the story that I was able to write up for the website. Nina Rosina Berger.

Looking to the more distant past, apart from a few exceptions, only the lives of Kings and Queens, their Chancellors and Priests were recorded. I want to know what the ordinary people did. I want to know about their daily lives, worries, joys, habits. If only they had been literate, with their own blogs and Twitter accounts, think how much more we would know about life in days gone by… or would we be bogged down with their daily recounting of what they had for breakfast and what the weather was like?

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

From football to matzo balls

Tuesday 3rd May - Leicester have won the League! We are the Champions. I may not be an avid football fan but I'm feeling pretty proud of Leicester this morning.

What I know about football could be written on the side of a matzo ball (matzo balls are small dumplings for soup) but I have noticed that there's a lot of excitement around Leicester's King Power Stadium over the last few weeks. It would seem that at the beginning of this season Leicester were no hopers, and now they are almost winners of the League. I don't exactly know which League this refers to but I do know that a lot of people are very excited about it.

This Friday Leicester will be turning blue as a show of support. There will be blue banners, blue balloons, blue cakes in shops and blue jerseys everywhere. There will even be a blue strip tease posted up by Walkers Crisps. They will be removing packets of crisps from an apparently naked Gary Lineker in their Countdown to Kit Off.

As I understand it, this Sunday's game could be the clincher. Televisions will be tuned in to Sky Sport. The streets of Leicester will be silent. I may take advantage of the situation and go shopping.

We are in the middle of the eight days of the Jewish Passover. I've blogged about the story that must be retold each year, the story of slaves escaping Egypt, of freedom and the ending of oppression here. Those first two nights, when we have the Seder meal and retell that story, are special. Not only do we get to share a meal with family and friends, we also share our well-rehearsed traditions and songs. It's the kind of communal activity that I love.

But what of the rest of the week? Eating matzo in place of bread is tough. Every year I'm reminded of how much wheat-based food I usually consume. As well as bread, there's pasta, pizza, scones, fruit loaf, the list appears to be endless. Just as too much matzo has its unpleasant effects on the body, so too must all that wheat. Maybe this year, after the Passover, I'll stick to my promise to myself and cut down on the wheat. It can only do me good.

Happy Passover. Happy football viewing and good luck to Leicester City.