Thursday 30 October 2014

Lives Behind the Stones - The Finale

As many of you know, for the past year I have been coordinating a project to catalogue our local cemetery. I’m delighted, relieved, pleased to say that the year is almost over. This weekend I’m holding a presentation to celebrate our achievements and, as I jot them down in preparation for my speech, I’m proud to say that the outcomes far outstrip the aims. In fact, had anyone suggested at the outset that we would get this much work done, I would have been quite ‘negative’ with them.

We now have information boards at the cemetery. These include plans of all the plots. There are row markers and small plaques for every unmarked grave…

And more than that, we now have a website with all the basic information that anyone might need to know about the cemetery…

And much more than that, the website contains a record for every burial with data about that person and search facilities. It is now a fully functioning genealogical website…

And even more than that, the website contains many researched stories about the lives led by a number of the people buried there. This is why we called the project The Lives Behind the Stones. We’ve managed to gather a fair cross-section showing contributions made to the local community, to the city, in some cases to the country. There are contributions to commerce, celebrations of scientific developments and, sadly, many moving stories of refugees and evacuees who sought shelter here in Leicester.

I’m sorry you can’t all come to the presentation but, if you’ve not looked at the website recently, you might like to see the finished product and discover what I’ve been up to all year.  You'll find it here.

Thanks to my team and to all the volunteers who have worked so hard and, of course, many thanks to the Heritage Lottery people who have funded the work and supported us during the year. 

Friday 24 October 2014

The Dreaded Sunday Clock Fiasco

The family know to keep out of my way,
It’s the end of October again.
If you ask me the time, I won’t know what to say.
Greenwich Meantime has messed with my brain.

The Sunday fiasco begins with a groan.
Is it eight o’clock, seven or nine?
My alarm clock apparently changed on its own.
I’m just grateful my watch is still mine.

It feels like it’s lunchtime but no one is sure.
Am I early or am I too late?
I’ve decided a real early night is the cure
Cause my body clock’s in such a state.

This is not just my way of saying that the clocks go back this Sunday. It truly is how I feel. I obviously have a very sensitive body clock. It’s a good job I don’t have to do regular commutes to the US!

Is it just me?

Sunday 19 October 2014

How do all our memories fit in?

I've been doing a bit of yoga recently, trying to clear my head, put some good thoughts there and remove some of the worries. This has got me thinking about our thoughts and our memories. What makes memories linger in our brain? I'm not talking about bad memories here, not today. I'm just talking about the good ones, the kind that can be replayed over and over in your head, the kind that can take you to a better place when you're feeling fed up.

What amazes me is that there seems to be no limit to how many memories any one brain can hold. The popular image of a memory is that of a filing cabinet, where each memory is stored away in some kind of sensible order. That's how I like to think about mine anyway and it will come as no surprise to my blog friends that a lot of my memories appear to be filed away under the heading of 'pop songs'. It's not only music that can bring memories to life, though. Smells, tastes, even colours can be evocative of times past.

I remember from my GCE Biology (yes, they were called GCEs in those days before GCSEs had been invented!) ...I remember that memories are stored in the hippocampus but that doesn't help me to understand how it works because the hippocampus is a very small part of the brain. How do all the memories fit in? I also remember learning that the average brain weighs about 3 lbs and 80% of that is made up of water. Mum helped me to revise Biology and we did it so well that a lot of this stuff is still stored in my memory. Why is it not overflowing?

What's more, our memories can be 'jogged'. Go to a reunion or meet up with an old friend and a whole file full of memories can be reopened. You start thinking about things you did all those years ago, things that you'd almost forgotten about, but now the memory has been 'jogged', they're as vivid as if they happened yesterday.

Of course, the bad news is that our memories can start to lose their 'search facility' as we get older. That old chestnut of walking into a room and forgetting why you're there happens to most of us and it's apparently because by the time we reach 50 the connections between neurons in our brains are starting to show their age.

I'm not sure how scientifically effective it is but I'm doing my best to keep my brain active in the hope that it will maintain its full search facility functions for as long as possible. I play Bridge at least once a week and I play word games and do crosswords every day, although the Guardian cryptic crossword is much tougher these days than it used to be - humour me! It is tougher, isn't it?!

What do you do to keep your brain active?

Monday 13 October 2014

Me and Richard III

We've Been Visiting Schools

For the last few weeks Richard III has been escorting me into local schools. I've been mainly talking to Year 4 and 5 classes (ages 9 to 11). My publisher, Lynn Moore from The Reading Shop has been coming with me too. We have an excellent partnership. I talk about The Children's Book of Richard III and she sells it.

Every school is different. Some have the children waiting in rows with pre-prepared questions. Others just slot me into their busy schedule.

Every class of children is different too. They each want to know about different aspects of the book. Today's children were really fascinated by the Princes in the Tower. Last week the children were more interested in the fact that Richard's body had been found beneath a Leicester City car park. The week before, I was quizzed about how I'd written the book and how it had been produced.

The children's questions are fascinating and funny in equal measure. Last week I was asked if I remember when Richard III was alive! The teacher assured me she would do some more work on maths awareness. This week I was asked if I personally believed Richard III to be a good or a bad King. Good question. I sat on the fence, as I have done in the book, but then admitted that, because I'd spent so much time writing about him, I had become really fond of him and was prepared to believe that all the bad press had come from Henry VII and the Tudors.

This was me this afternoon at a small village school just outside Leicester:

I'm pleased to say that the children do have one thing in common, they all want to buy a book.

If you'd like to buy a copy then please visit The Reading Shop website or if you're in the Leicester area then why not pop into the shop and support a local children's independent bookshop. It's on The Parade in Oadby.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Expressions of Exasperation...

...the kind that exasperate me

We all use them, those clichés that help us to 'let off steam' but what do they actually mean? Here are just a few examples.

Good Grief! How can grief ever be good? It makes no sense to me.

Good Lord! There are, no doubt, many Lords who are, indeed, good, but why do we have to shout out about their goodness when we're exasperated?

Gordon Bennet! Most people are aware that he was once a politician and I can understand why people might want to exclaim a politician's name when they feel exasperated but we could at least use a more up-to-date example. I can think of a few politicians from recent times who deserve this accolade but I won't name names.

Stone the crows! I like this one. It's not because I would ever stone a crow. They may be large, raucous birds but I wouldn't ever hurt one. It's because I imagine myself doffing a flat cap whilst saying it and adding, 'Cor blimey, Guvnor!'

Modern ones are every bit as exasperating as the older, well-worn examples above:

OMG or as Daughter tweeted the other day, OMGeeeeee. I suspect it was tweeted with a degree of irony, but even so!

What expressions of exasperation exasperate you?