Wednesday, 25 November 2015

St Pancras Station is wearing its Christmas glitter but...

...there's good and not so good:

Going to the smoke is easier than when I was a kid, except it’s not smoky anymore, not at London’s St Pancras International Shopping Concourse anyway. One hour and five minutes and I’m there, meeting up with Lovely Daughter.

Descending the escalators to the glittering mirror-ball world of shops at Christmas, I’m caught unawares by the policeman and police dog. “Keep walking! Don’t stop! Let the dog sniff you!” How could I help but have a moment’s falter in my step?

OK, so everyone else was photographing the enormous Christmas tree made up of 2,000 Disney character teddies and it didn’t feel cool joining them but I did it anyway. I love teddies.

And because it was so difficult to get the full effect on camera, here's a close up of one tiny part of this huge, huge tree:

Lulled by the Christmas lights and festive shop displays we were jolted back to reality as two policemen walked past carrying machine guns, not just-in-case-holstered, but in their hands as if they might have to use them at any moment.

The opulent surroundings of Searcys Champagne Bar and Restaurant provided the perfect location for quality time with Daughter. We ate well, chatted loads and almost managed to put the entire world to rights. It was posh fish and chips for me followed by ice cream – delicious!

Meeting Daughter on a one-day return means that the time flashes past. We were soon hugging and waving our goodbyes and it was too quickly over...

...but how great that we can do it. When I was a kid the steam train took hours of slow and dirty chugging. Don’t you just love today’s high-speed world... even if it does have its 'not so good' moments.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

My top 5 musings about driving at night

We have just spent a lovely, hectic, lively, tiring, weekend with the kids and grandkids. It would be a little less tiring if I didn’t have to drive back in the dark but with the nights drawing in there’s no alternative, so as I drove I wondered…

1.  Why does it always start to rain when I’m driving at night turning the windscreen into a myriad of tiny headlight reflections?

2.  What is the point of stopping for a coffee, which is my usual middle of a journey driving routine, when it’s too late to have a coffee?

3.  Who is the owner of that car that always comes straight at me with its full beam full on?

4.  Where has the road ahead gone and is it only me who can’t make out which way the road twists and turns in the dark?

5.  Why do I forget to blink my eyes when I’m driving at night?

Does anybody else experience such night-driving problems?
It’s just me then!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Poetry - Work in Progress

All comments/advice greatly welcomed...

I enrolled on a poetry writing course this term and have done very little but work on my poetry ever since, so much so that my blog has been suffering so I thought I would make you all suffer too. I'm going to share some of the pain with you!

I love free flow writing (see tab above). I often practice it in my many notebooks (I think I may have over twelve notebooks on the go at the moment. I keep meaning to finish one before I start another but I just can't resist the lure of a new one.) My poetry tutor has said that my writing style lends itself to the sonnet form and she suggested I try to rewrite some of the free flow stuff accordingly.


Have you ever tried to write a sonnet? It is not easy. It is fourteen lines of hard slog and the following is most definitely work in progress:

My free flow writing before the sonnet suggestion:

Early mornings, 
that was when she would wander the streets.
She liked it better that way
before the crowds spoilt the symmetry 
of shop fronts and market stalls.
She would pick her way around yesterday's rotting veg, 
slow her step to watch as the first of the traders arrived,
piling up their produce, 
stamping their feet against the dawn frost.
But once the click of heels on cobbles rose to a crescendo she was gone
back home to her warm cushion
and her plate of Whiskas best.

The tutor advised me to change the ending. I fear that I have exchanged one clich├ęd ending for another and I've squeezed it into what I think is a sonnet format and I've done all this without consulting my tutor so I could have got it drastically wrong but here goes:

My first ever attempt at a sonnet:

She always wanders in the early mornings.
It’s better that way. She likes the empty streets
Before the shopkeepers spoil the symmetry
of windows bare, not yet clothed with awnings.
On through the market and traders’ shouted warnings.
Mind your backs! Trollies full of fruit, veg, meat
wheeled into place as traders stamp their feet
to fend off frost with futile friction warming.
Now voices rise and crowds start to appear.
Before the sun can warm her face she’s gone.
Without a sound, none of the traders hear
her fall and fade into the cobbled stone.
They’ve forgotten the body that was once found
of a young girl dead and frozen on the ground.

Well I did warn you that it was my first ever attempt!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Mist Descends - Autumn photographs

What a difference a day makes:

I took some autumnal photographs in the garden yesterday.

It was October 31st and I tried to capture the beauty of the light on the autumn leaves.

I couldn't catch the bird song

or the slight smoky smell in the air

so you will have to imagine those things.

On the left is the sun shining through the Rowan tree.

The birds have now eaten most of the berries. I hope they don't regret gorging. I hope it's not too cold a winter.

On the right is the Virginia Creeper.

It is always far more spectacular than my camera can ever portray

so loads of imagination required here please.

This is a seed head from an echinacae flower.

I suspect the birds have been gorging yet again.

Then came this morning, November 1st, and the garden is telling me that winter has arrived...

...Now, where did I put my gloves?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Archives as a writing resource

Leicester University is an amazing local resource for writers. With one of their research library tickets (free of charge as long as you’re happy to research on site) you can enter the most amazing worlds, research the most obscure areas, discover the most exciting things.

Yesterday I attended a session run by Simon Dixon and Selina Lock from the Leicester University Library Archives. The aim was to encourage writers to use archive materials to inspire their writing. There were many tables of fascinating items for us to look at, handle and hopefully write about. 

A note about the furniture: The chairs in the Archives Department were older than some of the exhibits and they made their presence known... loudly! They came from the original University College, shown in the photograph on the left as it was in the 1920s. It is now the Fielding Johnson Building. The chairs were rickety, creaky and provided a continual source of distraction and amusement which we were happy to overlook in deference to their age!

Following my earlier post about the decommissioned church of St Peters in Belgrave, I now have a mission to read up about leper windows in general and the leper window at St Peters Church in particular. With this in mind I chose to begin the session at the table with local history books. Burton’s History of Leicester published in 1622 told me nothing that I did not already know about the Burton Lazars leper colony and nothing at all about the church at Belgrave.

I temporarily dismissed my mission and threw myself into the session proper. I became absorbed by an account of a highwaywoman, called Jenny Fox, who choked, bound and robbed her victims mercilessly. She was even recorded to have committed the same “handsome frolick” on her husband. She was finally caught in 1655, was sentenced to hanging but poisoned herself and died a terrible death. Cheerful stuff!

There were exhibits from Joe Orton's archives and from Sue Townsend's, but the final table that I chose to work at had a rare copy of the Wicked Bible on display. This book provides such a fascinating story that I will save it for a whole blog post of its own. But an equally fascinating event happened at this table. I found myself sitting next to a woman who, it turned out, is a Friend of St Peters Church. One of her co-members knows quite a bit about the leper window and she is arranging for me and my co-researcher friend to be allowed into the decommissioned church. How’s that for synchronicity?

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Copyright-free images

The British Library have made available over one million images which are copyright free. As a blogger I am always interested in accessing copyright free images. There is no doubt that illustrations add a lot to a page of text, however eloquent the words might be. So I thought I'd give this week's blog post over to sharing the links with you and pasting up a few of my favourites (not that I have had a chance to look at all one million, you understand!)

All the images are from the 17th, 18th and 19th Century so copyright is not a problem. They have been loosely arranged into themes. There is a section of Highlights from which I have selected a Japanese illustration.

From the section entitled book covers I have chosen The Adventures of George Washington Pratt which I was amused to note was on sale for 1/-. (That's 'one shilling' for you post-decimilsation kids which is a mere 5p in today's money.) 

I was surprised to see a whole section on cycling and have chosen the only type of bike that I would feel safe on. (I may have mentioned before that I have absolutely no sense of balance!)

The section on comic art had me bemused. Humour has certainly become more sophisticated, although I suspect I know what the question to this punch line was:

There's a section on ships and one on illustrated lettering but I thought I'd share one more section with you and that is children's book illustration. This is the sort of image that would have fuelled my childhood nightmares:

Ok, who is going to be the first person to provide the first part of the 'ajar' joke?

If you go and look at the images and find some really exciting ones then do let me know and you might also know of other copyright-free sites. It would be good to share.

p.s. I'm continuing to research the history of leper windows (see previous post) and hope to blog some more about that very soon. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

A Church Window...

...and why it made me sad.

A few weeks ago I blogged about Belgrave Hall not far from the centre of Leicester and yet an area with a feel of the countryside about it. Next to Belgrave Hall is a church, St Peter's Church. It is now decommissioned, unused, locked up for most of the year and that made me sad.

I can see why it has been decommissioned. There was once a bustling community living in the area and I understand that a church without a congregation is not really a church. I stood looking at the priest's vestments, all laid out on display, brightly embroidered each with different coloured threads, labelled for the particular festivals for which each would be worn. They should have been washed, pressed and awaiting their turn at a service. They made me sad.

The Chancel in St Peter's Church, Belgrave
The building has been up for sale. It didn't sell. I walked around it after my visit to Belgrave Hall and tried to imagine flats where pews have stood for centuries. Who would live with the grand stained glass window that was once part of the chancel?

The chancel window on the left is not the window that gave this post its title. 

I was far more interested in looking at a small side window. It's known as a leper's window or squint window. The sign in the church indicates that this window was installed in the Middle Ages so that priests could give Communion to the lepers as they travelled to Burton Lazars Leper Colony. Not for them the shelter and relative comfort of the pews or the beauty of the adornments. They had to stand in the churchyard, amongst reminders of their mortality. Who would incorporate this window into their lovely new flat? That thought really made me sad.

Burton Lazars is a village not far from Leicester. Inevitably there is no leper colony remaining, just the earthworks of the hospital which were uncovered in 2001 by the University of Leicester Archaeological Society. The hospital buildings were destroyed some hundred years after the Reformation but it had served the needs of lepers from the middle of the 12th century. It was founded by Roger de Mowbray and was said to be the largest leper colony in Europe. I knew nothing about it until I visited St Peter's Church and saw the window with its inscription. I apologise if the photograph is a little dark. It is in a tucked-away corner. I wonder what life might have been like for those lepers. I am determined to find out more about the lepers from Burton Lazars.

The Leper Window:

Inscription beside the window: Through this window the priest in the Middle Ages would give Communion and hear the confessions of lepers journeying to the leper colony at Burton Lazars, which was founded in 1135 by Roger de Mowbray. The stained glass is circa 19th Century

Research Footnote: I have started researching this at the local Records Office and am now wondering if this really was a window for lepers. 
1.  The Church is unlikely to have been en route to the leper colony. 
2.  Lepers would not have been welcomed where there was a large congregation. 
3.  Confessions cannot appropriately be heard through an open window in a public place. 
I am continuing to research this subject so, as they say, watch this space.