Partners

Partners

I just have to post photos of my grandchildren to illustrate this week’s photo challenge.  The theme is Partners and these two are definitely partners when it comes to getting up to mischief.  But they adore each other!

Following on from the surprising result of our referendum on membership of the European Union this week, I feel sad that our partnership with the other European countries is coming to an end.  So many people gave so much to bring peace and partnership to Europe during the wars, not least the combined services of army, airforce and navy.  In their honour I am posting some photos I took on Remembrance Day at Westminster Abbey in London.

I can’t resist putting in some of my favourite photos.  Of course my little Dachsund, Dayna, is a wonderful companion for me, but her hero is my husband.  When he is at the hospital for dialysis she often sits beside (or on) his slippers waiting for his return. The pair of ponies share a field near me so I guess they qualify as partners.  And of course the garden birds are my constant delight and we have a partnership.  I feed them regularly and they reward me by coming into my garden and sometimes even into the house like this little one!

And last but not least, partners for life ….literally!

My mum and Dad lived in parallel streets as children and went to the same school.  They were friends from the age of 8 and eventually married in 1945.  They were inseparable until my father died in 1993 and she followed him some years later.

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My mum and Dad on their wedding day in 1945

 

Royal Numbers

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On 11th June 2016 our Queen will celebrate her official 90th Birthday and her husband, Prince Philip will be 95!  These are wonderful ages to reach and definitely worth celebrating.

London is already awash with flags and the celebrations start tomorrow.  Nobody covers royal events as well as the Daily Mail so do click to see the fabulous images of London bedecked.

I’m sure there are street parties planned for cities, towns and villages throughout the UK and beyond.  On my travels through the Cotswolds I have seen lots of bunting in the streets and flags flying from shops churches, public buildings of every sort, as well as private homes and gardens.

I went to Willersey yesterday which is a gorgeous little village.  It is quintessentially Cotswolds with its duck pond, village pubs, honey coloured stone houses, and beautiful cottage gardens.  It also has a village shop which has got to have the most helpful owner in the world.  My sister in law was desperate to buy some bread to take back to her caravan for tea so she popped into the only shop in the village.  Sadly, they had sold out of bread but the owner said,

 “wait a minute I’ve just used 2 slices out of my loaf, you can have the rest of that”

He then ran upstairs to his flat above the shop and returned with the remainder of his lovely crusty seed-topped brown bread!  Can you imagine getting that level of care and service in a city or town supermarket?

Willersey was like a model village perfectly dressed for a royal themed party.  There was bunting all over the pubs, and flags flying high in the summer breeze.  Several owners had really gone overboard with the decorations in their gardens as you can see from my photos below.  One in particular had a garden table and benches covered in union flags with more flags and bunting in the trees as well as a huge flag on a flagpole.  It looked beautiful against the poppies and colourful flowers in the border.

Willersey is holding a really royal party all afternoon and evening on Saturday 11th.  I do hope the weather stays fine for them.  There will be royal themed fancy dress and hats, races to the next village, themed picnics, and lots of musical entertainment.  There will also be a royal pageant and a whole village photo for the archives.  The day’s events will be rounded off by a Toast to the Queen and everyone writing a message in a giant card for Her Majesty.

It should be lots of fun.

A Tribute

W L Langsbury Printers front

It is quite normal these days to see small shops close down in High Streets up and down the land.  And, after a few weeks or maybe months, the passing shoppers don’t even notice they have gone or forget what was there before.  But just occasionally, a shop is so well loved by its regular customers that its closure is a genuine shock.

This was the case for me recently when I popped to W L Langsbury, the local printers in Suffolk Road.

I arrived to find a simple notice on the door saying, ‘closed due to bereavement’.  My heart missed a beat on reading this.  I hoped that it was not the lovely old printer who was known to me, and all of his regular customers, as Bill Langsbury and to his family as Lionel.

I used to pop in to Bill if I wanted anything special printed for school in my teaching days, before we had computers and photocopiers in the school office.  Then after retirement, when I became the secretary of our WI.  Many of our older members did not have email but they all needed monthly minutes and agendas as well as occasional newsletters.  I produced a master copy on my computer and then Bill printed out enough for everyone.  He did the job to perfection ~ quickly, efficiently and cheaply.  He took great delight in telling me that there is no VAT on newsletters.

It was always a joy to step inside the door of his shop.  The smell of metal, ink, wood and paper is a heady mixture, like a steam train in a timber yard.  It was for all the world like the living museums at Blist’s Hill or Beamish and yet the jobs got done if not immediately, always by the end of the day!  The machinery looked ancient, in fact one of the printing presses was a 1938 Heidelberg and it still worked perfectly.  On the walls there were pictures of Cheltenham in days gone by and posters from the 1940’s warning that ‘careless talk costs lives’! Almost every inch of wall and floor space in the front shop was used to store boxes of paper of all sizes and colours.  There was also a wonderful selection of notepads which Bill made himself from the paper offcuts.  These he sold for pennies and they were great for shopping lists or jotters.  Some were so old they still had the price in pre-decimal currency.

In the back room of the shop where the serious work was done there was a treasure trove of vintage wooden shelves and drawers full of cast metal numbers and lettering of different sizes and fonts.

High up on the walls was the ‘filing system’, which I am sure only Bill or his brother and workmate Ken could understand.  Beyond, there was a narrow hallway with a staircase leading to where Bill lived, above the shop.

I suppose I find all this a delight because my grandad had a general store in the 1950s after he left the army.  He and my grandma lived above the shop and I loved staying there.

But of course the shop would be nothing without the character of the printer himself.  I was full of admiration for him and the life he had lived over 83 years.  It is the living history that fascinates me.

Bill was born in Shepherd’s Bush, London, in December 1932 when King George V was on the throne. He moved to Ealing with his parents where his brother Ken was born in 1938.  There they lived through the short reign of King Edward V111 who abdicated in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee.    He was a young lad of 7 when the bombs started dropping on London during the Blitz of WW2 in the reign of King George V1.  When a neighbouring house was destroyed by the bombs his parents, Harry and Queenie Langsbury moved the family to Cheltenham for safety.

After a brief stay with in-laws they lived in a cottage behind the King’s Head Pub in the Lower High Street where Queenie worked.  The boys went to church 3 times on a Sundays and went to local schools.  Bill was a keen student and talented artist enjoying cartoon drawing.  So he went on to the art college which is where he learned his printing skills.  By this time our Queen Elizabeth 11 was on the throne.

Leaving college he got a printing job in a pharmaceutical company but he had an entrepreneurial streak.  He managed to save his money, and, with the help of his brother’s paper round money, he bought his own second hand printing press by the time he was 16 and set up business in the family home.

Bill did his National Service in the catering corps with the RAF in the early 1950’s and returned to Cheltenham where his mum had bought the terraced house in what was Andover Road and is now Suffolk Road.

At first Bill, aged just 24, was printing in the front room while the family lived in the rest.  However, Bill got so many orders that he took over the back room too and the family were relegated to upstairs.

Bill’s brother Ken married and moved on to have his own family.  Bill, staying single, lived with his mum until she died aged 93.

Eventually Bill had so much work that his brother Ken came to work with him.  It is wonderful to think that these two brothers got on so well that they worked together for over 40 years.  But you couldn’t not get on with Bill.  He was an eccentric, sweet, kind gentleman.  He loved his work, his shop and his machinery.  He lived a simple life with few mod cons and no visible luxuries, but he was always cheerful.  Printing was his passion.

In 2016 W L Langsbury Printer’s celebrates 60 years in business.  To commemorate this Bill produced a special edition of his letterpress Gloucester bold calendar, containing a selection of proverbs from a collection first published in 1640.

Bill worked a normal day in his printer’s shop on 14th January 2016.  He had a problem with his leg but didn’t bother anyone about it.  This was typical, as according to his brother, Bill had not visited a doctor between 1948 and 2015 and he only went in 1948 because the National Health Service had just started and his father took the boys for a free health check!  He ran a bath and sitting on the edge his kind heart finally and peacefully took its rest.  His brother found him there next morning.

The shop is now closed and the fittings will no doubt go to letterpress collectors or to auction.  I feel sad that this delightful, Dickensian shop with its vintage machinery, which is a feast for the senses, will be open no more.

But mostly I feel sad that Cheltenham has lost a truly irreplaceable character.  I, and many other customers I’m sure will miss him greatly.

Kew dinnertime

Kew dinnertime

My photos for the weekly photo challenge come from my visit to Kew Gardens.  The weather was so glorious that visitors and school groups chose to eat outside in the beautiful surroundings.

Kew Gardens are in Richmond, London and we went there yesterday for a Spring time coach trip with Carers Gloucestershire.  This is a wonderful charity that can be a real lifeline for both carers and the cared-for.  For myself it provided a very rare opportunity to go somewhere beautiful with my husband and enjoy a stress free day.  The volunteers and staff of Carer’s Gloucestershire did everything they could to make the day as relaxing as possible.  I am deeply grateful to them for their organisation, their practical support and the funding that subsidised the trip.

The weather was glorious with blue skies and warm sunshine ~ just perfect for seeing the abundant cherry blossom, exotic magnolia and camellia, fabulous fritillaries, drifts of daffodils in the gardens, and woodlands blanketed in bluebells in this glorious and historic park.

Apart from the beautiful plants and impressive landscapes at Kew, we saw some lovely lakes with swans nesting, ducks flying or ambling about, and grumpy geese arguing with each other.  We also saw Jays, peacocks, and lots of noisy green parakeets, which have taken up residence in the trees and are the cause of lots of damage to fruits and buds we were told.

We loved the historic buildings and mock roman ruins situated near the gateways, which also sport beautiful sculptures.  My favourite was the Unicorn near the Victoria Gate.

There are some truly enormous glass buildings, including the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse, which was closed for restoration while we were there.  I can’t wait to see it when it opens.  But the Palm House, Orangery, and various conservatories were open to view.

Sadly, it was impossible to see everything in just one afternoon.  I walked miles as it was and only managed to see about a quarter of the gardens.  There is a road train which does a tour taking an hour and a half which would have been a good idea, but there is nothing better than just walking around soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful park.

I really hope to be going back!

I have posted just some of my photos below, but if you want to read the fascinating history of Kew Gardens and how Henry V111 was involved in it click on

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/8301243/A-history-of-Kew-Gardens.html

or http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens

The Art of Love

The Art of Love

 

Keats quote on River Avon

As we will be celebrating Valentine’s Day this weekend, I thought I would post about my favourite Romantic poet.  Bless him, Keats died when he was only 25 years old but, in a truly inspired period of just three and a half years, he produced some 150 poems.  He said that love was his religion.  It is said that his best poetry was written in the last nine months of his life, when he was madly in love with Fanny Brawne, his neighbour in Hampstead where he had lived.

To follow the WPC theme for this week, which is “Life Imitates Art”, I have added an extract from one of his poems to a photo I took of the River Avon in Stratford, where I often took shade for whole summers on school holidays.

Keats (1795-1821) died in Rome when he was just twenty-five years old.  He had left his home in London’s Hampstead to seek a better climate, hoping this might cure him.  But he left behind some of the most exquisite and moving poetry ever written.

00000948Before he gave his life to poetry, he had qualified as a surgeon-apothecary at Guy’s Hospital in London.  But he had to give that up as his health was fading.  There is a beautiful bronze statue of him in the garden of the hospital, which was unveiled in 2007 by another wonderful poet, Andrew Motion.  I went to visit it with two of my dearest friends.

Keats famously said, “Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject”.

He remains to this day one of the greatest of British poets.  Who knows what he could have achieved had he not died so young of TB. But what he left us, his beautiful poetry, will survive.  And, contrary to what he thought, he will never be forgotten.  In one of his later letters to Fanny he was obviously feeling despondent, as he wrote,

“If I should die,” said I to myself, “I have left no immortal work behind me-nothing to make my friends proud of my memory-that I have loved the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered”

But of course he is remembered and he was truly loved by Fanny although her family disapproved.  She wore the ring he gave her until the day she died.

He knew that whatever sorrows, difficulties or even tragedies we face in this world, there will always be beauty in nature and art.  He wrote about this in his exquisite heroic poem, Endymion

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: 
Its lovliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep 
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep 
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. 
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing 
A flowery band to bind us to the earth, 
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth 
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, 
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkn’d ways 
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, 
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall 
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon, 
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon 
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils 
With the green world they live in; and clear rills 
That for themselves a cooling covert make 
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake, 
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms: …

There was a film called “Bright Star”, starring Abbie Cornish as Fanny, and Ben Whishaw as John Keats, released in 2009.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t say whether it does him justice.  But if you would like to see a clip the link is here.

Below are some photos I took in London while visiting Keats’ statue, Enjoy x

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day everyone x x x

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Henry Stephens invented Stephens Ink and Wood Stain which was used at the buildings of the Great Exhibition of 1851

 

 

 

 

 

“Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”

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The weather was atrocious when I finally managed to visit the Tower of London with a friend.  After an unseasonably warm October, November has arrived with a splash.  It rained non-stop while we were at the Tower.  Not gentle rain, or refreshing rain, but relentless, heavy, pounding rain, that ran in waves down the sloping entrance, soaking my shoes and the bottom of my trousers.  My daughter has this theory that if it is raining in Barcelona where she lives, it will be dry in London and vice versa.  She happened to ring me just as I was leaving the house clad in wellies and mac.  But as there was a thunderstorm and heavy rain in Barcelona, she said I wouldn’t need them so I changed.  She was wrong.  I got soaked!

Despite the rain, the Tower was packed with visitors and I was impressed by how cheerful and friendly they were.  Most of the people I spoke to in the extremely long queues were from London or nearby counties of Kent and Essex.  Some said they hadn’t been to the Tower since they were children on a school visit.  Others, like me, had made a day trip involving hours on public transport- coaches, trains, buses and the underground.  Travelling, walking, and queuing all in torrential rain.  All had made the effort because they were keen to see the installation officially called, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”, but generally known by the people as ~ The Poppies!

Poppies of course are an emotive symbol, used since the 1920s by the Royal British Legion to raise funds for their charitable work, ‘to the memory of the fallen and the future of the living’.   Although they are controversial, most people in the UK seem to wear them to show respect for those who fought and died in previous conflicts, and solidarity with those serving in the armed forces today.  The tradition was inspired by the poem, In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae. The story goes that when his friend, Alexis Helmer was killed at Ypres in 1915, the Canadian doctor, Major John McCrae, conducted the burial.  In his grief he was moved by the beauty of the wild red poppies growing amongst the horror of the graves.  The sight inspired McCrae to write this famous poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The poppies forming the installation at the Tower, all 888,246 of them, were handmade under the direction of the ceramic artist Paul Cummins to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.  The artist reportedly said that he took his inspiration from the words of an unknown soldier from Derby who wrote that all his friends, indeed everyone he cared about, had been killed in that dreadful war.   He described, “Blood swept lands and seas of red, where angels dare to tread”.   The ceramic poppies, each representing a British or Commonwealth fatality in WW1, were ‘planted’ by volunteers in the moat around the Tower of London; not haphazardly, but artistically arranged by the stage designer, Tom Piper.   Now complete, they spill over battlements, around walls and out of windows, covering the grassy moat with a red river of biblical proportions.  There is a very appropriate poem which reflects not only the poppies but how I feel about the whole experience:

London by William Blake

I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls
.

The Journalist, Jonathan Jones has been criticised in some quarters of the media for his opinion that the poppies at the Tower of London are “fake, trite and inward-looking – a UKIP-style memorial”, theguardian.com, 28 October). I found his comments shocking, but thought provoking.

 My impression was of a river of blood flowing around the tower, but outside of the establishment in every sense of the word.  Inside, the building protects and reflects power, treasures, pomp, ceremony, privilege, and a dark side to our history ~ cruelty, torture, imprisonment and murder.

Significantly, many of the people, probably the majority, who came to see the poppies, stayed outside the Tower.  It costs quite a lot for an ordinary family to go inside!  (Happily almost the whole installation can be seen freely from outside.)  I think this is as it should be.  The ordinary people came, not to see the grandeur of the Tower, but to be a part of something spectacular yet stunning in its simplicity.  They stood good-humoured, all ages and nationalities, helping each other in the pouring rain, humanity at its best, honouring those who died.  It was beautiful.

I did go into the Tower but it felt alien, as if it had nothing to do with the poppies – except for the Beefeaters.  These men have all served at least 22 years in the forces, and must have attained at least the rank of Sergeant Major.  They were larger than life characters who wore their immaculate, gorgeous, yet slightly ridiculous uniforms with evident pride and aplomb.  Their uniforms were drenched.  The rain dripped off them like the tears shed by countless families of the fallen we were there to remember.  Somehow this fitted the mood and made it all real.  Did those young men stand firm and wear their rain-sodden, mud-soaked uniforms with pride on those dreadful battlefields?

There is some talk this week of leaving the poppies in situ for longer.  While I don’t agree with this I think it could be very moving to see them standing through the biting winds, mist, murk and mud of a British November.  They could then represent the poor, the homeless, the jobless and all the disadvantaged in this very unequal world.  If they stayed longer, through the cold, frost and snow of a harsh December, they could represent, the lonely, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly so often at the mercy of exhausted relatives or poorly paid and overworked “carers” in homes and hospitals.   Too many of them look forward to death as an escape from suffering, as so many of those young men must have done during WW1.

The juxtaposition of the simple poppies outside, and the Crown Jewels inside the Tower was revealing.  Considered precious, these ‘priceless’ treasures are displayed in glass cases watched over by security.   With soft lighting and controlled temperatures they are guarded in secure rooms sealed by impenetrable metal doors.  They reminded me of seeing the embalmed body of Lenin in his mausoleum in Red Square!  Would that our young soldiers had been so well cared for on the WW1 battlefields!

Unfortunately we seem to have learned little after a hundred years.  The most incongruous thing I saw during my visit was a sign, which said you could avoid the queues by paying for membership of something or other.  This is exactly what is wrong with our world.  Money can buy advantage in every sphere of life.  Those with money, power and influence can get the best seats in theatres, tables in restaurants, food, education, housing, healthcare, medical treatment, etc. etc.  You name it and you can have it if you have money.

The world is still run by a strange elite, a brotherhood, for they are mostly men, who make and adjust the rules to protect and promote their own interests and to feather their own nests.  The few prosper at the expense of the many who struggle daily to get and keep a home in which to live and raise their family, to feed, clothe and educate them, and try desperately to stay well enough to not need help in their old age.  Only when laws, rules and decisions are made, and actions taken to promote the common good, will the war have been worth it.  We are a long way from that yet.

 There may be no-one living now who actually fought in WW1, but there are countless families who treasure the memory of a relative who did, and this installation has given them an opportunity to remember them and to pass on their history to the next generation.   My own grandfather joined up at the start of the war aged just 14 years 8 months and was sent to France as a bugler in 1917, aged 17.  Thankfully he survived.  But, like many others, he never talked about his wartime experiences.  We found out about them when he died many years later and his comrades spoke at his funeral.  Since then I have researched his war record and it is astonishing what he went through.   To me he was always my lovely granddad who ran a corner shop and let me sit by the fire in the back of the shop eating out of date sweeties and chatting to my much loved granny.  I always respected and loved him, but now I admire him for his strength of character and I am proud to be descended from him.

I will finish by posting some photos taken by myself and friends and by quoting a comment sent in to the Guardian, which I agree with wholeheartedly:

“So perhaps the sea of poppies is not about the war of 1914-18, but about a very different conflict, which is still raging in 2014. I mean, of course, the conflict between those who want us to believe that everything is all right (even if some bad things happen) – that everything that was done in the last 100 years turned out okay in the end, and will continue to do so; and those who know in their hearts and minds that things are not okay – that the events of the past decade, whether about banking, climate change, poverty or war, are signals to us that we need to do things differently. Perhaps a dried-up castle moat full of enormously expensive fake flowers is a very potent symbol after all – just not the one the artist intended.”
Nick Moseley
Chesham, Buckinghamshire

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2817086/How-make-888-246-china-poppies-fired-glaze-Meet-unsung-heroes-glorious-artwork-captivating-Britain-Tower-tribute-WWI-fallen.html#v-3868841266001

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zc5ijfpXwK0

 

 

That’s the way to do it!

Professor Collywobbles 1
Can you guess what links the English Civil Wars (1642–1651) between Oliver Cromwell’s ‘Roundheads’ and King Charles’s ‘Cavaliers’, Samuel Pepys’ Diary, Charles Dickens’ ‘Old Curiosity Shop’, the famous Geordie inventor Robert Stephenson, a pub in London’s Covent Garden, and the Italian clown Joe Grimaldi?
Well, last night at WI we were enlightened and entertained by Professor Collywobbles, who managed to squeeze them all in to his talk on the history of Punch and Judy!
To be honest I was not keen to go. Having never been that keen on this traditional seaside entertainment, I was going to give it a miss. But I am so glad I went.
Now Punch and Judy shows would seem to be as British as fish and chips, but in fact we learned that they hark back to Italy’s commedia dell’arte, a type of improvised comedy based on stock characters. Punch is probably based on the character of Pulcinella, a nasty, aggressive fellow with a long, beaky nose.
We were told that the first reported show was seen on May 9th 1662, and was immortalized by no less than Samuel Pepys in his diary when he wrote about seeing, “an Italian puppet play…the best that ever I saw” in Covent Garden. It was performed by an Italian puppet showman, Pietro Gimonde, known as “Signor Bologna.” But they may well have started even earlier because of Oliver Cromwell. He closed all the theatres during the Civil War apparently, so sketches with puppets or Marionettes were put on at street corners and public places. These anarchic early shows were aimed at adults but children did gather to watch them with their family.
Before long, Punch and Judy shows had sprung up all over London. Judy was at that point known as Joan.
We heard how, by the 19th century, thanks in part to Robert Stephenson, the railways were taking off, and people were travelling to the seaside for days out or holidays. ‘Professors’ saw the opportunity to make money from the crowds and so they began tailoring their shows for children while still retaining some adult jokes. Thus began the tradition of Punch and Judy shows at the seaside.
Professor Collywobbles told us that early Punch plays would have been performed with marionettes, but as the show developed glove puppets were used. They were cheaper to make and easier to carry. Soon mobile booths were designed to carry everything in, and, covered in red and white cloth, these became the stage with the addition of a decorative proscenium arch. The man who operated the puppets was called a ‘professor’ and he often had an assistant who was called a ‘bottler’. The bottler would usually play a musical instrument, warm up the crowds, and collect money in a bottle. Sometimes a live dog, called Toby was used alongside the puppets.
Punch’s screeching voice was, and still is, created with the aid of a swazzle, which sits at the back of the mouth and is pushed to the side when other characters are ‘speaking’. It is quite difficult to understand all the words Punch says so the bottler or other puppet characters often repeat his lines.
I discovered that other countries have long had their own shows with the Pulcinella character. It was very popular in France. In America, George Washington is recorded as buying tickets for a puppet play featuring Punch in Pennsylvania in 1742.
I read that across Europe shows might star Punch himself, or St George and the Dragon, the Spanish Don Cristobal, the German Kasper, the Turkish and Greek shadow puppet star Karagoz, the elaborately costumed French icon Polichinelle, or the pleasant-faced comic, Guignol. Nowadays, In the USA The contemporary fan can see the Sid & Nancy Punk Punch & Judy Show in Brooklyn, or on the West Coast, catch a performance of Punch & Jimmy, which is Punch “with a Gay twist”.
The professor told us that in the UK, the storyline of a Punch and Judy show can be different in every performance, with stock characters ranging from crocodiles to policemen. Changing public taste and social awareness of issues like child abuse however, means that the traditional nature of the show is being adapted. ‘Unsuitable’ characters like the Devil or Pretty Polly, Punch’s mistress, are now less common, while Punch’s unacceptable habit of beating his wife and baby is often left out.
There is an annual gathering of Punch showmen in the grounds of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. In 2012 the TV reported that Punch and Judy professors from all over the world gathered at Covent Garden for “the Big Grin”, a celebration of Punch and Judy’s 350th anniversary. They performed in front of the Punch and Judy Pub. Built in 1787, this pub was thought to be named after the puppet show performances that took place in the nearby piazza for the children of flower-sellers – Covent Garden originally being a flower market.
A typical Punch and Judy show today will probably include traditional characters such as:
Mr Punch ~ a violent, rude and not at all politically correct, character who solves his problems by using a ‘slapstick’ which is where the phrase ‘slapstick comedy’ comes from, plus Judy ~ his long suffering wife and the Baby. There may also be a Policeman, a Crocodile, a Skeleton and a Doctor. Often there are props like sausages.
Joey ~ the clown, based on the real life Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) who was a tragic character and the world’s most famous clown, is a traditional character.
Other characters, which used to be regular but are now only seen occasionally, include Toby the dog, Hector the horse, Pretty Polly ~ Mr Punch’s mistress; the Devil, the Beadle, the Hangman ~ known as Jack Ketch, and Mr. Scaramouch.
Some characters are now only seen in historical re-enactment performances including the Servant or Minstrel, and the Blind Man.
My Collywobbles told us that he rarely uses other characters including Boxers, Chinese Plate Spinners, topical figures, a trick puppet with an extending neck (the “Courtier”) and a monkey.

Mr. Collywobbles certainly taught me to appreciate this art form and inspired me to go off and search the internet for more information. There is a basic plot or storyline in Punch and Judy which was actually printed in 1828. Prior to that the storylines were handed down and developed orally. But, like most good showmen, Mr. Collywobbles adapted his performance brilliantly to the audience, and kept the humour topical.
And as for Charles Dickens? Well he was a great fan of Joe Grimaldi and he loved Punch and Judy shows. In 1849 he wrote,

In my opinion the street Punch is one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive. I regard it as quite harmless in its influence, and as an outrageous joke which no one in existence would think of regarding as an incentive to any kind of action or as a model for any kind of conduct. It is possible, I think, that one secret source of pleasure very generally derived from this performance… is the satisfaction the spectator feels in the circumstance that likenesses of men and women can be so knocked about, without any pain or suffering.

—Charles Dickens, Letter to Mary Tyler, 6 November 1849, from The Letters of Charles Dickens Vol V, 1847–1849
Charles Dickens referred to Punch and Judy shows in several of his books to make a point or draw an analogy. Indeed in the Old Curiosity Shop he introduces a Punch puppeteer and his Bottler in the characters of Short and Codlin. They meet and travel with Little Nell and her grandfather throughout rural England revealing a lot about life on the road.

All in all it was a great evening. True to the WI ethos it was inspiring and educational while being a lot of fun.