Wednesday, 14 September 2016

So much to do...

Days are getting busier. Life is cranking up a notch and here’s why:

I have just registered as a part-time student at Leicester University to study for an MA in Creative Writing. I’ll be a part-time student and so it will take two years to complete. I may use some of my family history research as a basis for wider writing. I have a lot of information about the refugee situation in the early 1900s, about the arrival in England of Yiddish speaking strangers, with a different culture, different beliefs, frightened, bewildered aliens. Prepare to read more about them.

I’m in the middle of researching and writing a book on the history of the Leicester Progressive Synagogue. It is turning out to be more time-consuming than I expected (isn’t everything!) but there are many fascinating stories being unearthed. They’re not yet ready to be told here but I may share a few before publication. The Synagogue building is called Neve Shalom. It was named after a village near Jerusalem where Jewish and Palestinian-Arab families live together in harmony. Neve Shalom means 'Oasis of Peace'. Isn't that a lovely name.

Talking of an oasis of peace, I’ve re-joined the Leicester Writers’ Club and this has inspired me to get back to more of the creative side of writing. They are excellent at critiquing and I only wish I hadn’t stayed away so long. We meet every Thursday evening and it’s going to be a haven for me in what promises to be an extremely hectic year.

Alongside the writing, I am still organising monthly talks, helping to run a weekly luncheon club and swimming at least twice a week. So if I don’t come around here quite as often as I used to, then please forgive me. In the words of that creepy guy from the films, “I’ll be back!”

Sunday, 4 September 2016

My Strictly Poem

It surprised me to see that it is five years since I posted up this poem. It's still relevant, still true to the very last word and so, as Strictly Come Dancing returned to the TV yesterday evening, I'm reposting my Strictly poem. 

Strictly Come Dancing is back on our screens.
I’m as happy as Len with a ten.
From now til December I’ll jive in my dreams
with the Strictly Professional men.

I’ll dress up in sequins, a basque made of lace,
high heels and a teeny tight skirt,
doing chasses and flicks with a smile on my face
and not one single muscle will hurt.

Now, I know that a dream should remain strictly that
but this dream is a much longed-for goal.
It’s to dance a routine with a cane and a hat
in the arms of that cute Brendan Cole.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Conflagration Anniversary

Yes, I do mean the Great Fire of London but I wanted an excuse to use the word conflagration. It rolls around the tongue in a most satisfying way. Today is the 350th anniversary of the fire which famously began in Pudding Lane, London.

When the alarm was first raised, the Lord Mayor of London was told of the news. His response was said to be,

"Pish! A woman might piss it out!"

He was wrong! It burned for four days, aided by the recent drought and tinder dry buildings. London houses in those days were closely packed together and many were made of wood and straw so, unsurprisingly, the fire quickly spread. Somewhere in the region of 13,200 houses were destroyed and about 80,000 people were made homeless.

People came from all around to help fight the fire. Even King Charles II joined the firefighters. What's more, the fire destroyed any last remnants of the plague which had still been killing so many people only a year earlier. The main records of the event are from diarists who had little interest in the poor people. Samuel Pepys talks of such essentials as making sure he had buried his Parmesan cheese to keep it safe from the fire. Little is known about the vast encampments outside the city where the homeless were forced to settle, for anything from months to years, until houses were rebuilt.

It would be interesting to know a bit more about what happened to them but, if this had been a current event, reporters would have zoomed in with their cameras on every painful detail of hardship and deprivation. I have said this before in an earlier blog, but it bears repetition. We expect to be informed about disasters, but there is a difference between reporting the news and being given a ghoulishly voyeuristic view of these events and their effects on the victims.

(steps onto soap box)  
Please, if you're a news reporter, back off from people's tears, broken bones and weeping wounds. They are not news. They are an invasion of privacy.

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.