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.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Richard III for Kids at ArtBeat

Every year for two weeks in June the whole of the Clarendon Park area of Leicester is taken over by the ArtBeat Festival. The festival includes all kinds of art based activities. This year I've been asked to organise a session called Richard III for Kids.

I have, over the last year and a half, visited many schools to promote my Children's Book of Richard III. Each visit involved me standing up in front of the children and talking about my book but this presentation is going to be very different. Dr Richard Buckley, Director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, will be taking part. He is going to explain how they discovered Richard III's body and he has told me about some fascinating props that he intends to bring with him.

Traditional costume from Wikipedia
I am also very excited to report that we are creating a whole new dimension to the Richard III story. Richard's final day and the Battle of Bosworth will be depicted in the Indian dance style of Bharat Natyan.

Last week I met up with Nimisha Parmar for a first rehearsal. It is going to be amazing. Nimisha uses Mudras (hand gestures) in her story telling and she will be dressed in the traditional costume of Bharat Natyan.

Richard has a grand open-armed gesture. Lord Stanley has folded arms and drumming fingers. Henry Tudor's journey across the sea is depicted by a swaying body and waving arms. The marching, the flag waving, the fighting; all have distinct gestures. As I watched Nimisha's rehearsal my mouth fell open in admiration. The next rehearsal is going to include a drummer. I can't wait.

My contribution will be to tell of how a King's body came to be under an office car park in Leicester but I think I'd better 'up my game', create some exciting props, or I shall be well and truly overshadowed by my co-presenters.

You can find out more about the ArtBeat Festival on their Facebook page and this is the link to the information about our presentation. If you're in the area on June 24th, I look forward to seeing you at Avenue Road School from 4.30 until 6 pm. (I will, no doubt, mention this again nearer the day.)

Thursday, 14 April 2016

A Magnificent Magnolia

A magnificent magnolia flower

A lovely gift from a lovely friend

Fresh white petals brightening up a dark corner

A sign that summer is not far away

Friday, 8 April 2016

A doggy dilemma and how first impressions can be misleading…

…especially if you’re a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Sunny was found tied to a fence in a car park, (How could anyone do that to any living thing?) and is now at an RSPCA Animal Centre waiting for a new home, one where he will be loved. There’s only one problem. When visitors walk by looking for their dream dog, Sunny enthusiastically tells them:

“I’d love to go for a walk and play on the grass.”
“Please, take me home with you.”
“My suitcase is packed and ready.”

Unfortunately the visitors don’t understand Dog-lish and to them his conversation sounds like a series of angry barks.

If only those visitors could take him for a walk and play with him on the grass, they would soon see that far from being an angry barking dog, he really is a little softie…

So you see how first impressions can be misleading.

(The above photograph was taken by Daughter who volunteers at the RSPCA.)

It’s not only dogs who have trouble with first impressions. We often make judgements on other people based on a brief introduction, even though we all know that being shy or nervous can affect the way a person is perceived. How do we overcome this problem? It is especially important when going for a job interview where it can affect someone’s future career. I don’t know the answer but I know that I have often assumed that someone is unfriendly until I get to know them and then I invariably realise how very wrong my first impressions were.

I am now wondering how I come across to people on a first introduction. (They possibly can’t see beyond the fact that I talk too much!)

Have you ever made a glaring mistake based on first impressions and how do you think you might be perceived on a first meeting?

If you’re interested in giving Sunny a loving home then here is another adorable photograph of him together with his contact details.
Sunny at the RSPCA's Southridge Animal Centre.