Monday, 22 August 2016

Lazy August

So many red flowers in the garden this month. They seem to be reflecting my mood, lazy and languid. Only the bee in the bottom photo is doing any work:

Hope you're having a great August holiday time. September will be the start of a fresh academic year and a new adventure for me, but I'll talk more about that next month...

Friday, 12 August 2016

Leicester's Bell Hotel

On this day, 12th August, in 1848 George Stephenson died. He not only built the first public inter-city railway line, he planned and managed the building of Leicestershire's first railway line too. When he was planning the construction work he met with engineers and financiers at Leicester's Bell Hotel. The Bell is no longer standing but I still have fond memories of the hotel and, although I am sure that I could have written copious words in memory of George Stephenson, I have decided to write a tribute to The Bell Hotel instead.

The Bell Hotel, Humberstone Gate, Leicester

The Bell Hotel was Leicester’s most respectable coaching inn in the days when horse power really meant horse power. Built around 1700, it was well patronised by all the county families and was said to be cutting edge in comfort. The Bell was favoured by the hunting gentry on their way to the Quorn and, as I mentioned above, it was the place where George Stephenson met with engineers and financiers to plan Leicestershire’s first railway, the Leicester to Swannington line. The hotel was an important part of upper class Leicester life.

Time passed and tramlines were laid into the cobbled roadway running past the hotel, adding new sounds to the strike of horses hooves. The Bell was modernised, with electric lighting and a garage for those ‘new fangled motor vehicles’.

Yet more time passed. They tarmacked over the cobbles, over the tramlines and maroon Corporation buses took the place of the horse and carriage. The Bell was still popular, still buzzing with lively dinner dances, parties and weddings, but by 1970 it was starting to look shabby and Leicester, it would seem, needed a shopping mall. The Council ignored the objections, the placards, the protests printed on the Leicester Mercury letters’ page. The bulldozers were sent in to do their damnedest and a red brick shopping centre emerged from the 18th century dust. They used an ancient name. They called it the Haymarket, as if this might placate the objectors. It didn’t.

Now, stone paving slabs have replaced the tarmac roadway. Humberstone Gate has been pedestrianised, with a big screen for special sporting occasions, a roundabout for the kids and an ice rink that appears each Christmas time. It seems strange that a coaching inn once stood on a site where traffic is no longer allowed and it’s sad that all traces of The Bell Hotel have gone, so I thought I’d write this to try and keep its memory alive.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Richard III in stained glass...

...and highly detailed pictures

When I was a child I always took a book to bed with me. I didn't always read the words. Sometimes I just looked at the pictures. There was one book in particular, British Wild Flowers, that was a favourite. I still have the book. It has a green hardback cover and colour plates every few pages.

In those days books were mainly black and white. Colour pages were printed on a different paper and, I suspect, expensive to reproduce. I would turn to one of these colour plates and examine it in minute detail. I don't remember ever putting the book down so it must have been a most effective method of lulling myself to sleep.

This was one of the pages that helped me enjoy many a peaceful night:

On a completely different subject but still talking about detailed pictures, Daughter came to visit this week and we went to Leicester Cathedral to see Richard III's tomb - she couldn't come to Leicester without seeing it, now could she!

Two new stained glass windows have appeared since I last visited the Cathedral. They are designed by Thomas Denny and are on the wall beside the tomb. They depict all aspects of Richard III's life, death and subsequent rediscovery. These photographs don't do them justice. Just like my colour photos from my old nature book, these are the kind of windows that, no matter how many times you look at them, you keep seeing new things.

(Thanks to Hilary Melton-Butcher from Positive Letters ... Inspirational Stories for cropped versions of the following photographs. I was having trouble editing them and she came to my rescue.)

Do you have any favourite pictures or photos that can be looked at an infinite number of times and each time new things jump out at you?

Sunday, 10 July 2016

An Ode to a Satnav

It's holiday time and I've been out and about, driving through London and half way across the country. Thanks to my satnav I didn't get lost once so, with tongue firmly in cheek, this is my...

Ode to a Satnav

We used to use maps to find out where we are.
Now we plug in our satnav instead.
We don't find which way's North by locating a star.
I'm afraid that map reading is dead.

But you can't trust a voice from inside a machine
that says, 'make a U turn' all the time,
then it takes a short cut leading into a stream
and you're up to your big ends in slime.

I would say, 'ditch the satnav. Go back to the map.'
But I know that I won't follow suit,
cause my satnav's called Sean. He's a clever young chap
and, between you and me, rather cute.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

East Meets West - A Richard III Extravaganza

We have created a Richard III extravaganza. Last week we gave our first performance as part of Leicester's ArtBeat Festival and I'm delighted to say that it was very well received.

Nimisha Parmer showed us the story of the Battle of Bosworth using the ancient Indian dance style of Bharat Natyan. Her son, Aayush, accompanied her on the drums.

I took to the floor next, performing a rather tongue-in-cheek interview between a modern day reporter and the Witch of Daneshill. It's all in my book if you'd like to buy one - The Children's Book of Richard III. I went on to explain how a King's body came to be under a car park in Leicester.

Me playing the part of the Witch of Daneshill
Our grand finale was Richard Buckley, head of Archaeology at Leicester University, the man who led the dig that discovered Richard III's body. He gave us a fascinating insight into what the dig was like and then produced a 'King' in full period armour with sword, dagger, halberd, the lot. It was not only the kids who were excited. We were all fascinated by this King-cum-knight in almost shiny armour.

Richard Buckley on the left with a halberd

Richard Buckley demonstrating how a dagger was thrust through Richard III's skull
(as you can see he didn't really do it!)
There are plans for repeat performances so if you missed this one then watch this space for the announcement of our next Richard III extravaganza.

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.