“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire”

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Beached

For this week’s, WPC theme of ‘danger’, I thought I could post my daughter’s photo of the injured seal that had worn itself out and washed itself up on the beach near Santa Cruz, where she lives.  It was in grave danger until Lisa called Marine Rescue, who turned up quickly and returned to poor creature safely into the ocean.

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There was also a photo of a skunk walking down the garden path between Lisa and her front door!  Skunks are notoriously aggressive, unafraid of humans, carry diseases and smell disgusting.  She was in great danger of being attacked or sprayed as she carried her shopping in from the car.

But then, as I was reading Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice for my Open University course, I suddenly realised just how much danger some persecuted individuals or groups have faced, over the centuries.

In the Merchant of Venice, it is Shylock who is hated for being Jewish.  Shakespeare explores this brilliantly as only he can.  But it reminded me of places I have visited where evidence of the dangers of being Jewish is still clearly visible, or just below the surface.

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Wrought Iron Star of David on the Cemetery gate in Krakow

Last year I visited a little Catalan town called Empuriabrava.  In the old town, I was horrified by the evidence of past abuse of Jews. There was a cemetery dedicated specifically to those who had been coerced into converting to Christianity.
“On 18th February, 1417 more than 100 people were baptised at the font of the Basilica of Santa Maria, surrounded by their godfathers and authorities.
In 1415, there was the first wave of mass conversions to Christianity as a result of the Perpignan ordinations driven by Benedict X111, known as “Papa Luna”. From that moment on, the converted Jews were buried in a delimited space of the Christian cemetery. The cemetery was attached to the Northern wall of the apse of the basilica. This area has been known for centuries as “the cemetery for the converted Jews”. Nowadays part of the old cemetery is occupied by the Cappella del Santissim, built in 1724, and the other part has been restored as a pedestrian walkway. “
It is a beautiful, peaceful town now but I have to say the references and reminders of those dark times were everywhere, and quite menacing.

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wrought iron representing barbed wire on the cemetery wall

At Gettysberg, Maj. Gen. Joshua L Chamberlain said,

“On great fields, something stays.  Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; buts spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision – place of souls”.

I knew exactly what he meant when I travelled to Krakow in Poland.

The city of Krakow is beautiful, compact, well preserved and a joy to walk around.  But my visit to the old Jewish quarter in Kazimierz as well as my visit to Schindler’s Enamel factory in Zablocie, which is now a museum, was a revelation.  It happened that I was there on 14thMarch 2012, 69 years to the day of the “final purge”.  The fact that this holocaust happened within living memory is horrific.  The fact that slaughter of innocents on this scale may be happening in parts of the world today is unbearable.

There were about 225,000 Jews living in Krakow before the war but only about 15,000 managed to survive it with the help of brave Poles who kept them hidden, and the enigmatic German Oskar Schindler who needed the cheap labour force they provided.

In March 1941, all Krakow Jews who previously lived in areas such as Kazimierz were forced to live in the new ghetto of Podgorze. The area comprised 320 buildings which had been home to the poorest Poles.  Almost 17000 Jews were now crammed into these buildings and the area was surrounded by barbed wire and walls.  By the autumn of 1941 the jobless Jews who did not have the correct paperwork were transported to concentration camps or shot where they stood.

On March 13-14th 1943 the final extermination was begun.  The first-hand accounts of the few who survived these events were recorded and can be heard at the Schindler factory which is now a museum.  I heard that the remaining men were separated from the women and children.  They were marched off to be used as forced labour.  Any who could not walk unaided were shot on the spot.  Then German soldiers went through the buildings clearing out the women and children to be loaded onto transport which would take them to the extermination camps.  Children and babies were just thrown out of the windows onto the waiting carts, not all landed safely.  The sick and elderly were just killed where they lay.
Literally thousands of Jews were loaded onto transport to the Plaszow camp where they gradually died from starvation, beating, disease, hard labour or execution.   Thousands of others were taken to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau over the next few months.   The Auschwitz archives record the fate of those transported.  In February 1944 the remaining men arrived, in May the rest of the children and in August the women.  They all died in the gas chambers shortly afterwards.  The final transport of prisoners from Krakow arrived in Auschwitz the day before the camp was liberated by the Soviet army.
For a harrowing first hand eyewitness account of all the deportations including the final purge there is the memoir, The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy by Tadeusz Pankiewicz.

Here are some photos from the displays at the Schindler factory or the Jewish Museum which touched me greatly.  They show families and groups of Jews being taken or led away from the ghetto to the camps.  They had to carry whatever they could and abandon the rest.  The last picture shows the Plaszow Camp between 1943-44 where women are being marched to forced labour.

 

Bluebells with the Brontes

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While taking my little dog, Toffee, for her walks this week, I have been thinking about WPC’s cue for my blog ~ ‘Earth’.

It struck me as I wandered across the park and through the woods near my home, just how marvellous the earth is at recovering from what nature, and we humans, subject it to.

We had a short cold spell when the grass was covered in frost and the earth in the woods was as hard as rock underfoot and twisted ankles were a real danger.  Then as the long and wet winter dragged on, the grass became waterlogged and sodden, and the woods were a quagmire with mud.  But through it all, the snowdrop, crocus and daffodil bulbs survived, and bloomed.  When the weather turned milder a few weeks ago, the blackthorn hedgerows were covered in blossom and the daisies started to appear.  Then, just in time for Easter, the sun came out and transformed everything.

Suddenly the grass over the park is green and dry and covered in bright yellow dandelions alongside the daisies.  In the woods the mud has dried up and carpets of bluebells have miraculously appeared in vast swathes of violet among the weeds, ferns and tree roots.  The smell is wonderful and indescribable.

I can see why they are called the fairy flower, they are just so delicate and beautiful and seemingly appear from nowhere.  They seem to speak of childhood and innocence.

As I wandered with my puppy, a poem started to form in my mind.  Then it struck me that many poets, including Shakespeare, have crafted lovely verse about Bluebells, which I could never match.

So, I will include a couple of my favourites here from the Bronte sisters.

Firstly, a really poignant poem by Anne Bronte who suffered so much sadness in her adult life and died far too young.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.

‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

And one by her sister Emily, who also died tragically young:

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.

I was going to write a learned post about Shakespeare and Bluebells but then I thought I could just add this link about the bard’s garden.

Then I thought I could write about the beauty of bluebells but then I realised that I could never match this one by bookishnature

So I think I will just post photos of bluebells from my walks with Toffee instead!

 

Stepping out

Stepping out

The Cotswold countryside, parks and gardens are a almost swamped by luscious green foliage this year.  The early spring and wet May seem to have benefited the trees and lawns.  It is a joy to walk amongst them.

There are lambs, foals, baby rabbits and ducklings to be seen all around and my garden birds are working overtime to feed their young.  They beaver away all day long in choreographed movements almost like a dance.

I went to a local park with my little granddaughter at the weekend and she was delighted to see six cygnets that have hatched out recently.  The swans nest on an island in the lake but they come over to the grass to feed and walk their little ones.  It is amazing and heart-warming to see how many adults and children turn up in their spare time to see and photograph the new arrivals.

Swans are very protective parents so it is best not to get too close!  As Shakespeare says…

So doth the swan her downy cygnet save,

Keeping them prisoner underneath her wings.

Abstract

Abstract

400 celebration face of stars4

For All Time

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

What an enjoyable weekend I just spent in Stratford on Avon.  I was there to join in the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday and to commemorate his death 400 years ago on 23 April 1616.

The town, where I lived during my teens, was festooned with flags and shields from almost every nation in the world.  There were banners with Shakespeare’s likeness waving high across the streets or pinned to railings.  There was blue and yellow bunting in side streets and blue and yellow market stalls along the waterside leading to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  Shakespeare’s colours of blue and yellow amuse me as in theatre superstition wearing blue and yellow means you will forget your lines! My school uniform at Shottery Manor in Stratford was mainly purple but with blue shirts and blue and yellow striped ties. We wore straw boaters in the summer months with a purple blue and yellow band round them.  In the winter we wore purple felt hats with the same coloured band round them. Wearing the hats at the wrong angle on the head was considered a very serious misdemeanour and a detention would surely follow if spotted.

The RSC put on a special celebration, Shakespeare Live!, in honour of the occasion.  It included Opera, Comedy, Ballet, Hip-hop, Poetry, and of course extracts from the plays.  I thought the whole evening was a resounding success.  It appealed to almost everyone whatever their age or tastes in entertainment.

The well-known, justifiably renowned and much-loved, stars who took part included Judi Dench who took the part of Titania falling in love with Bottom played by comedian Al Murray.  The costumes were brilliant, the set was great, and the acting was superb.  The overall effect was slick, professional and absolutely hilarious.  I loved it.  There is a wicker sculpture of Titania and Bottom outside the theatre in the new Stratford Garden.  The flowers in it are all mentioned in the plays and the effect should be quite impressive when they grow.

Among lots of memorable performances in Shakespeare Live!, the most moving I thought was Sir Ian McKellan’s rendition of a speech handwritten by Shakespeare for the character of Sir Thomas More.  I, like most people listening I imagine, had visions of the horrific ‘Jungle’ at Calais and the wretched scenes of migrants behind the barriers and fences, which have been erected along European borders to keep them out.  Sir Ian McKellen brought tears to my eyes with this speech.  You can hear an earlier rendition of it here

The whole speech is written at the end of this post and here is a link to the very relevant and learned Shakespeare Blog.

On Sunday and Monday I indulged myself by taking a walk along the river Avon and revisiting many of the houses and museums connected with Shakespeare.  The weather was changeable but I managed to get some reasonable photos, especially at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage where the garden is a riot of spring colour with flowers including daffodils, bluebells and tulips.  I also spent some time in the newly restored Swan Theatre with its amazing abstract sculpture, ‘For All Time’ created by Steven Follen.  This representation of a head, shown in photo at the top, is made of 2000 stainless steel stars suspended from the ceiling by fine wires to make the shape of a 3 metre tall human face.  It is surrounded by other stars which closely represent the position of the constellations on the day of Shakespeare’s birth.

There are two additional places to visit in Stratford now, which in previous years were not open to the public.  One is King Edward the Sixth School for Boys, which Shakespeare attended.  His actual schoolroom is open to the public with professional actors dressed in costume teaching Latin and chatting to visitors in character.  It was a surreal experience being inside the actual classroom.  I have been to the school before in the days when Mr Pratt was Headmaster, but it was a joy to visit the most ancient parts of the building, which have been beautifully restored.

The second is Harvard House where John Harvard was born in 1607.  This is a three story Elizabethan house almost opposite New Place, the house which Shakespeare bought in 1607.  It is remarkably authentic in its preservation and restoration, with lots of oak beams and areas of ancient wall paintings.  John Harvard eventually married and emigrated to Massachusetts in America where he was a preacher and teaching elder.  When he died of TB he left 230 books and a very generous legacy to a fund for the founding of a new college.  This was to become Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher education in America.  The house is owned by the American University but looked after by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  It is worth a visit just to see the Bible Box.  This is a beautifully carved oak box for storing the treasured Bible.  After Henry V111 declared that all bibles should be written in English (not Latin) so that they were accessible to ordinary folk who could read, it became fashionable for families to keep a Bible at home.  Wealthier families would store their bible in such a box.

Of course I visited Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare, his wife Anne, and other members of his family are buried.  It is traditional for all the dignitaries and important visitors who attend the bard’s birthday celebrations, to bring flowers to the grave.  At this time of year, when daffodils are still abundant, the sight and smell in the church is quite literally breathtaking.  There was a rather unusual floral tribute with Shakespeare’s dates on it.  It was standing on trestles with a huge candle at each corner.  It had been processed through the town earlier in the day looking rather coffin-like.

I have celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday in Stratford many times, most notably the 400th anniversary  one in 1964, but I have never before attended a commemoration of his death. It was odd as both events occurred on the same date.  But I have to say it was all very tasteful ~ well except for the countless people wearing Shakespeare masks?!

Do enjoy some of my photos below.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The Seven Ages of Man on Stained Glass in the Swan Theatre

Holy Trinity Church

King Edward Sixth School

Around The Town

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery ~ very close to my old school!

http://theshakespeareblog.com/2015/09/shakespeare-sir-thomas-more-and-the-immigrants/

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity. 

“O this learning, what a thing it is!”

In honour of Shakespeare I found appropriate quotes for my grandchildren.  They are my treasures, full of life, fun, personality and potential.  But what are their prospects?

Thankfully, they are too young for school yet.  They are busy enjoying whatever experiences their family can offer.  They are soaking up knowledge, developing skills, growing in understanding, and learning a rich vocabulary, as they play.  They don’t have a target in sight except to have as much fun as they can with people they love and trust.

“O this learning, what a thing it is!”

With all the furore in UK over proposals to turn all schools into academies over the next few years, I do worry for their future.

I am so concerned that I wrote to my MP and we continue to have a very rational debate about the issue.  But it is always on my mind.  That and the educational methods employed these days.

While wallowing in the peace of Kew gardens, I observed the various stages of development of the different trees and wished that one day we could have a Minister for Education who truly understands child development.

As the bard said~

“No profit grows where no pleasure is taken In brief, sir, study what you most affect”

But sadly we often seem to be saddled with pompous people who, as in the present case, have never studied either education or child development.  And, as the bard knew~

“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool”

As Shakespeare knew, it is so much easier to tell teachers what to do, than to train, gain experience, develop your skills, complete further study and work night and day for the good of your pupils~

It is a good divine that follows his own instructions I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”

I believe that each and every person, of whatever age and ability, has the right to an education which equips them with the knowledge, skills and understanding they need, to discover and learn from the past, to experience, explore and enjoy the present fully, and to enrich the future.

For this they need stimulating experiences and active learning to trigger their interest;. They need a variety of ways to express themselves (poetry, art, music, drama). And they need enthusiastic, knowledgeable facilitators/teachers/mentors/carers to work alongside them, enabling their learning.

They do not need arbitrary targets to aim for, endless tick sheets and multiple choice questions to answer, and pointless tests at the end of every learning opportunity.  Having watched my older grandchildren doing homework I can say that these methods kill any potential excitement in learning and discovering.

What was, What is, and What will be!  3 Trees on the same day, all beautiful, all allowed to develop at their own pace.  Would that children were!  Shakespeare knew it, even Solomon knew it!  Pete Seeger, the influential folk singer and activist of the 60s paraphrased Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 in his song released by the Byrds in 1965 ~ Turn, Turn, Turn.  You can hear the song by clicking on ‘when they are ready’ at the end of this post!

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”

 

I believe children need to learn about the past, enjoy the present, and enrich the future and they will ~ given the opportunities ~ when they are ready!

Getting Romantic in Stratford on Avon

To celebrate Valentine’s Day we treated ourselves to a weekend in Stratford on Avon.  The weather was perfect; crisp and cold with a hint of frost in the mornings, and glorious sunshine in the afternoons.  Spring is such a beautiful season in the UK and it has definitely started early this year.

I could never tire of going to Stratford.  I always learn something new about the life and times of William Shakespeare, and new details about the town catch my eye, which are worth a photograph. I find Stratford such a stimulating, yet relaxing place, whatever my state of mind.

During Valentine’s weekend there were smatterings of snowdrops under the trees in the churchyard and along the banks of the River Avon. It seems appropriate that snowdrops were brought to England in the early 16th century, so maybe Shakespeare would have seen some of the first ones.

There were white doves circling the spire of Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried.  They sparkled in the winter sunshine reflecting the snowdrops below.

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At the entrance to the church I photographed the small Sanctuary Door and knocker.  This door is set into the massive 15th century doors.  I have passed through it countless times not realising its importance.  But I learned that anyone who held on to the ring in the knocker of the sanctuary door, would be let in and given protection for 37 days.  This was a custom started in Saxon times to protect poor people from the harsh penalties for crime, and even from lynch mobs.  It was upheld across the land and continued well through Shakespeare’s time until 1623.

There was also a striking streetlamp outside our hotel, which I had not noticed before.  It was donated to the town by the Government of Israel.  There are wonderful decorative statues and lamps all around the town, mostly donated by ambassadors from countries where Shakespeare is revered.

Lamp donated by Israely Govt

 We stayed in the Arden Hotel, which is right opposite the Shakespeare Theatre.  In fact the building was previously owned by the theatre along with many buildings along the Waterside.  Naturally many famous people have passed through its doors over the years and inside there are some wonderful photographic portraits of famous actors in role. Put your cursor over the pictures to find the names and roles.

So my Valentine weekend was a great success, perfect weather in a beautiful season in my heart’s true home.  In the Shakespeare Centre I came across a sketch of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife and mother of his children.  It is the only known likeness of Anne and she was very beautiful.  But she looks so sad.  I suddenly saw her as a real person whom Shakespeare must have loved and missed very much.

Sketch of Ann Hathaway from her lifetime.  The only one in existence

Enjoy some more of my photographs below.

 

Age of Kings

Age of Kings

Age of Kings Tibor Reich Red

Age of Kings Red

This is one of the most vibrant pieces of printed cotton I have ever seen.  It was made by Tibor Reich and I have one of the original panels, which were made for the opening of the Shakespeare Centre at Stratford on Avon in 1964.  The Centre was opened to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.

Tibor Reich was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1916.  His father was a wealthy businessman who had a factory making decorative braids, ribbons and haberdashery for military ceremonial uniforms and folk costumes.  Here, the young Tibor learnt about textiles and colour.   As a child he visited the factory and was spellbound.  He once said, “Here I noticed cerise, kingfisher, very bright emeralds, flame reds and deep oranges…”

Following his parents’ divorce, Tibor went to live with his grandmother and immersed himself in drawing, painting and photography.  Until, in 1933 at the age of 17, Tibor went to Vienna to continue his studies.   Already artistic, his talents blossomed in the creative atmosphere of pre-war Vienna.  He studied textile design and technology as well as architecture and poster design.  But as Nazism spread, Tibor left Vienna for England, where he went to Leeds University to continue his studies in textile technology and woven design.

Tibor brought the vibrancy and colour of his homeland, of Hungarian folk music and peasant costumes, as well as the beauty of nature, to the UK in his work.  And, not long after leaving Leeds, he moved to Warwickshire and set up his own woven textile design business in Cliffords Mill using old hand looms that he repaired and renovated.

Being totally original, he quickly established a good reputation, and worked on the highest profile contracts.  In fact it is true to say he revolutionised textiles in post war Britain with his use of colour, pattern and texture.  By the 1950s Tibor’s textile weaving business was well established and he expanded into printed designs.  His projects included the Royal Yacht Britannia, Concorde, The Festival of Britain and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre as it was then called.  Here he designed and created curtains, wall hangings and carpets each named after a Shakespearean character.

He also produced his own range of pottery called Tigo ware and designed a most unusual house for his family which was very innovative and modern.  I visited him here in the 60s as a teenager, with my mum who was in Stratford art circle and seemed to know everybody!   I was amazed by the huge onion shaped open fire which stood in the centre of the room and went right up through the house to the roof.  I had certainly never seen anything like it.  I visited again last week and took some photos.  I believe the house has been renovated and I didn’t see inside, but the garden with its earthen embankment is established now and the fir trees are huge, providing a very useful privacy screen.  Tibor did not like the idea of fences and walls, preferring natural boundaries.

In 1964 he helped to furnish the brand new Shakespeare Centre, which is in Henley Street adjoining Shakespeare’s birthplace, for its opening to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.  And this is where our paths crossed.

I have written before about the 1964 celebrations, which were undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life.  I worked at the Shakespeare Centre and the sights and sounds produced there I will never forget.  Shakespeare’s plays on a loop, pomanders and dried petals creating the perfumes of the Tudor age, all brought Shakespeare to life.  Added to that was the music of the age and Tibor Reich’s exquisite carpets, curtains, textile panels and wall hangings, some of which are still there today.

The tapestries and wall hangings evoked so brilliantly the scenes from the plays I loved, especially the Age of Kings panel.  This material, showing the kings from Shakespeare’s plays, was produced as stage curtains.  Panels of it were created in several vibrant colours, red, gold, orange, blue etc.  I am lucky enough to have the original red version as a wall hanging.  It was designed by Pamela Kay and made by Tibor Reich in 1964.  I also have a detail from A Tournament and an original of “garrick Jubilee”.

Recently, a new gold curtain was put up in the historic Becket chapel at Holy Trinity Church.  The chapel is dedicated to the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

I went to see it last week.  The golden fabric was commissioned for the chapel by The Friends of Holy Trinity Church and comes from the Tibor archive of 20th century design stored in Stratford and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

If you would like to see Tibor’s textile and pottery work for yourself there is a retrospective exhibition on from 29 January – August at the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER.  www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk

And you can even see a clip of Tibor Reich and see him at work here.

More of his work is on display at the Gordon Russell Design Museum in Broadway until 12 October, and at the V&A Museum in London.  The Tibor Reich family, son Alex and Grandson, Sam hold an archive too which they are currently using to relaunch the Tibor Ltd brand.  They are lucky enough to still live at Tibor House in Avenue Road, Stratford on Avon.  It is a beautiful tree lined road near the open countryside on the way to Warwick.

This year, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  I know that the whole town of Stratford on Avon is busy preparing for the massive celebrations in April.  I can’t wait to be there to join in the festivities and see what Stratford can do to match or better the celebrations of 1964.

 

 

 

William Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations

Shakespeares Tomb3

This weekend rounds up the celebrations in honour of William Shakespeare’s Birth on 23rd April 1564.  I love to be in Stratford on Avon at this time to soak up the atmosphere so I set off this morning full of joy and anticipation.  I was not disappointed.  There were street entertainers, market stalls, a literary festival and scenes of celebration all around.  And, the sun was shining gloriously.  I have written about the special 400th celebration in 1964 previously so you can read about the events that take place in that post.  But today I would just like to share some of my photos with you.

The river Avon is always a joy to walk beside and today the boaters were out in force.

The walk to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare and some of his family are buried was beautiful.  On one side is the river, and on the other, blossom trees and wisteria covered houses.  I took a detour through the pretty little garden in memory of those who died in the two world wars.  It is a most peaceful place in the older part of town.

There is a beautiful bespoke Iron chair in this memorial garden which took my breath away with it’s beauty.  It was made in Scotland for the Royal British legion

Memorial chair for Royal British legion

When I got to the church it was surprisingly quiet as the crowds had left.  I was able to wander freely and take in the amazing aroma of the masses of Spring flowers which had been laid in the Sacristy all around Shakespeare’s grave.

On the way back from the church we passed The Other Place and various workspaces belonging to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and of course the theatre itself.  I took my photo from the gardens behind the theatre as that is where I used to sit on the grass and do my homework when i was a schoolgirl in Stratford many years ago.

After this I wandered through the Bancroft Gardens to enjoy the live music and to see the Gower memorial.  This famous memorial was originally outside the theatre but when the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1926, it was decided to move it to its present position overlooking the canal basin.  It certainly is a superb position.  On the top of the memorial is Shakespeare himself and around the base are main characters from the plays.  There is Falstaff, Lady Macbeth, Prince Hal and Hamlet.

In the Bancroft Gardens there is a fascinating flower bed filled with plants that are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. They deserve a post all on their own so I will just quickly show you the flags that lined the main streets.  Ambassadors and dignitaries come from all over the world to pay their respects during the annual birthday celebrations and their flags stand proud.

It was a wonderful day and I came home very happy.  I am really looking forward to next year, 2016.

William Shakespeare was born on 23rd April 1564 as I said and I was lucky enough to live in Stratford in 1964 when the 400th anniversary was spectacularly celebrated.  He died, also on 23rd April, in 1616. So next year will be the 400th anniversary of his death at the age of 52.  Great plans are afoot for commemorative events worldwide, and and as it falls on a Saturday it should be a great occasion in Stratford.  It will seem strange to commemorate his birth and his death on the same day, but I hope to be there!

Bust of William Shakespeare

Oh What a Year! 1963

Shottery Manor

I sing in a lovely choir every Friday morning and I love it.  The songs we sing are varied but there is always one that catches our mood, gets us laughing, crying or dancing, and lights up our voices.  This week it was the old Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons number, Oh What a Night!  It was released in December 1975, but the words recall “late December back in ‘63”.  I bet you didn’t know that the song was originally going to be about December 1933 and Prohibition?  However thank goodness Valli persuaded them to change it to a song about first love in ’63.  You can play the song as you read my blog by clicking on the icon on the sidebar.

Oh, what a night, late December back in ’63
What a very special time for me
As I remember what a night!

I made a passing comment that I was sweet 16 in 1963 to the amusement of some of the older choir members and horror of the younger ones.  But as so often happens with music it then brought up all sorts of memories.

1963/64 was a very special year for me.    I was in my final year at Stratford Grammar school for Girls learning in the most beautiful setting imaginable.  I was studying English literature at ‘A level’.  My main text was King Lear.  I’ve mentioned before that in those days it was possible to pay 4 shillings in pre-decimal money, which is 20 pence now, and stand at the back of the theatre to watch Shakespeare’s plays.  I took full advantage of this and I was there in 1962 when Paul Schofield played King Lear in what is recognised as the greatest performance of the role of all time.  It left an indelible impression on me which stays with me even now.   The main themes of the play have universal and timeless significance,

  • Appearance versus reality
  • Justice
  • Compassion and reconciliation
  • The natural order

Our English teacher, Miss Southall, was an inspiration too.  All black hair, flowing gown and long legs, which she bared to the sun during summer term.  This meant English classes were held on the lawn in the beautiful walled garden with its Dovecote, in front of the magnificent Shottery Manor which was the setting for the sixth form.  The school was, and still is, just a stone’s throw from Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Shottery.  It oozed history with its old oak floors, wood panelling and not so secret passages which could have been priest holes.  We were convinced that there was a tunnel leading from the Manor into town but no-one ever ventured in far enough to find out because it was pitch dark.

According to school history, the oldest part of the Manor was 14th century when it was owned by Evesham Abbey.  In 1402 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence to John Harewell of Wootten Wawen for a priest to celebrate Mass in the Oratory of the Manor.  This room became our sixth form study.   The house stayed in the Harewell family for centuries but in 1919 the manor was bought by Mr A D Flower on behalf of the trustees of the late Edgar Flower.  The Flower family were very significant to Stratford on Avon.  Edward Flower started Flower’s Brewery there in 1831 and his sons, Charles and Edgar continued the business making rather a lot of money.  Fortunately the Flowers had that wonderful Victorian ethic of using their money to benefit the community, (I wonder what happened to that in Britain?), and they used it to develop the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.  Charles donated the land by the River Avon and in 1875 launched a campaign to build the theatre.  He also donated the money to build the theatre (about £1 million in today’s money), which opened in 1879 with a performance of Much Ado About Nothing.  Charles also gave the cottages opposite so that the rents could be used to maintain the theatre.

The last members of the Flower family to live in the Manor left in 1951 and it was empty for a few years.  But thank goodness Warwickshire County Council bought it and it was turned into the first Girl’s Grammar School in the area.  It opened in 1958 just in time for me to arrive.  I was very lucky to get in at all as I had moved from the north of England where my education record was patchy to say the least.

I started school in a converted Chemical Works by the shipyards on the River Tyne.  I remember there was a huge room which was partitioned off for different age groups.  My delight, and my downfall, was to peep round the partition to see what was going on in other areas.  The grass is always greener etc….

I was not in infants for very long as I was what they called in those days, ‘a sickly child’.  I was underweight (hard to imagine I know!), undernourished, with Rheumatic Fever and a heart condition.  I eventually got back to school in the juniors but was so far behind that the teachers didn’t even try to educate me.  They gave me all the little jobs to do, which was great by me!

On Monday mornings my job was to fill up all the inkwells.  I went to the office to mix up black ink powder and water in a jug with a long spout.  I then went from desk to desk.  Each wooden desk had a hole with a ceramic pot in it.  I poured the ink into the pot until it reached the rim.  We used ‘dip pens’ in the juniors in those days, just a wooden handle with a metal nib on the end which you dipped in the ink then scraped on the edge to take off the excess.  The youngest infants still used chalk and individual slates.   I had to be very careful with the ink as washable ink was unheard of.  This stuff would stain permanently!

As you can imagine this job could take all morning if necessary; however there was also free milk to give out and wafers to sell.  In those days children didn’t bring fancy cool bags or plastic lunch boxes filled with snacks to school.  If they were very lucky they would have a ha’penny (1/2d) to buy some wafers.  These wafers were the sort you get on an ice cream ‘sandwich’.  They came in big boxes and were sold 2 for 1/2d.

Many children were undernourished in those days as it was just after the war and there was still some rationing.  The recently formed NHS did a wonderful job of providing supplements for children.  We got little bottles of orange juice, cod liver oil by the spoonful not capsules, Virol malt extract and I got a tonic too.

I can honestly say I don’t remember learning a thing at primary school except to sing, ‘Flow Gently sweet Afton’ and to make an advent calendar out of matchboxes for Christmas.  It was my inspirational, well-read and self-taught father who taught me what I needed to know: how to read, write, do maths, to identify constellations, wonder, dream, question, listen, love.  He had an open mind and an open heart.  It was he who convinced Miss Williams, the original head teacher of Stratford grammar School for Girls, that I was a suitable candidate for her school.  I am so glad that he did.  Because, since 1963, thanks to that education, I have been able to plough my own furrow.

St John's School, Felling

St John’s School, Felling

Upper Sixth Shottery Manor

Upper Sixth Shottery Manor

My Stratford Blog  http://wp.me/p2gGsd-5c

So what else was on at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1963 that I watched for 4s (shillings)?

The Tempest, Julius Caesar, Comedy of Errors, Edward 1V, Henry V1, Richard 111, and the newly adapted history plays under the title of the Wars of the Roses.

In 1963 the director was Peter Hall with John Barton, designer John Bury, and music was by Guy Woolfenden

And the actors in these plays had names that have graced theatre, television and film for decades:

Paul Schofield, Vanessa Redgrave, Dorothy Tutin, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Dench, Roy Dotrice, Ian Holm (a fabulous Richard 111), David Warner ( a dreamy Henry V1), Janet Suzman, Clifford Rose, Penelope Keith, etc….

And what else was happening at home and abroad in 1963?

Major William Hicks Beach (Conservative) was MP for Cheltenham and Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister in UK until Sir Alec Douglas Hume succeeded him in October.

The Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me and rapidly rose to fame.

Britain had the worst winter since 1946/47 when I was born.  The snow lasted until April.

The Great Train Robbery took place in Buckinghamshire with millions of pounds stolen.

In June 1963 the first woman to travel into Space was a Soviet Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova.  She orbited Earth 48 times, spending 71 hours in Space.  She parachuted to earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet.

Tens of thousands of protestors came from all over the world to join the CND march from Aldermarston to London to protest about the Hydrogen Bomb which threatened world peace.

Thousands of African Americans were arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting against segregation.

Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech during a march on Washington for jobs and freedom

President John F Kennedy made a historic Civil Rights Address in which he promised a Civil Rights Bill

The first Sindy Doll was marketed by Pedigree.

In October the Rolling Stones played at the Odeon in Cheltenham. The Beatles played there on 1st November.

Pope Paul VI succeeds Pope John XXIII as the 262nd Pope.

The second James Bond Film ‘From Russia with Love’ opened in London.

22nd November 1963 was a terrible day.  Not only did authors CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley die, but President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  Lyndon B Johnson was sworn in as president.

The first episode of Dr Who was aired on television in November 1963.  During the 60s the series was in black and white.

Fireworks for Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday

shakespeare1

Tonight there will be the start of the celebrations in honour of William Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday. The celebrations will be spectacular in Stratford on Avon, his birthplace and the home of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Resurrecting an old tradition, there will be a massive firework display over the River Avon behind the theatre. The display starts at 10.40 so it will be a late night for me but I am hoping to get a good view from the bridge in the Bancroft Gardens. I used to walk this way to school every day when I was a teenager so it will bring back lots of memories.

In addition to traditional pyrotechnics, the special birthday display will feature an 8 metre high frame (note this is smaller than the 1830 one!) depicting Shakespeare’s face, which will light up in ‘stars’ made of fireworks. It will be based on the Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare from the First Folio, and reminiscent of Juliet’s lines about Romeo~

Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

If you haven’t read my blog about the 400th Birthday celebrations you can find it at this link~ http://wp.me/p2gGsd-5c

There is also a wonderful Shakespeare blog here ~ http://theshakespeareblog.com/2014/04/fireworks-for-shakespeare/

The Remembering Tree, 2013. Bancroft Gardens, Stratford upon Avon

Well it has been a strange and wonderful weekend with its usual ups and downs.

The weather was so lovely today that I set off for Stratford on Avon, where I spent my teenage years, to see the spectacular Christmas lights and decorations.

I always enjoy the walk from Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare’s final resting place, past the Dirty Duck pub where I spent many a happy evening in the 60’s hobnobbing with the likes of Eric Porter, John Hurt and David Warner, through the park, across the Royal Shakespeare Theatre balcony, along the riverside towards the Bancroft Gardens.  I love to pop into the theatre just to see what is coming up ~ Peter Pan and Wendy starts this week (tickets still available), as does the stupendous Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (totally sold out before opening night)!

I usually drift over to the canal basin to see the houseboats before heading into town.  Today however, I was stopped in my tracks by a spectacular tree which seemed to be covered in one of those blankets made out of colourful knitted squares, which is exactly what it was!

I discovered that it was called the Remembering Tree and people had worked from 4am to 11am to fix all those squares in place in memory of someone they loved.  Money raised by this venture was going to a charity which you can read about here.

As it got dark I headed up Bridge Street to see the colourful lights before reaching my destination ~ Shakespeare’s Birthplace.  This year the house is transformed by a laser light show accompanied by some excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays being enacted from inside the house.  It is truly worth seeing.  I apologise in advance for the poor quality of my photos which is partly due to the crowds, partly to my excitement and partly to my battery failing!

Leaving the light show I was stopped in my tracks by a busker singing the most beautiful songs in a tenor voice which flowed like warm chocolate on a cold and frosty night.  After singing his own songs, he sang requests from the small crowd that gathered.  he then sang Christmas Carols.  His name is Karl Loxley and the crowd were deeply disappointed to find that he had no CDs to sell!  Hopefully he will soon and I will certainly be listening out for him.  Listen to Karl sing Bring Him Home.

So those are all the ups in my day ~ only one down to report ~

I was so excited to arrive in Stratford that I forgot to pay for parking!  Of course Stratford wardens are like Rottweilers and they don’t miss a thing ~ so I got a parking ticket.  Do you know it was worth it because I felt as if I had been to a free concert and I had a lovely day!

April 23rd 1964 ~ 400th Anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare

As it is Shakespeare’s birthday celebrations in Stratford this weekend I thought I would reblog a post I wrote when I first started blogging.

Heavenhappens

William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd 1564 and died on 23rd April 1616.  1964 was the 400th anniversary of his birth and I was living in Stratford on Avon, which was certainly the most exciting place to be at that time for a theatre mad teenager.

The highlight of my acting career had been the part of Mole in Toad of Toad Hall at St Gabriel’s Convent in Carlisle.  Cardinal Heenan was the honoured guest in the audience.  My part was memorable as it involved a tea party at Toad Hall.  We had real cakes and biscuits.   I had never seen those pink and white marshmallows with a biscuit base and coconut all over the top.  I became so engrossed in examining and eating them that I forgot where I was and had to be prompted to continue my lines.  “Oh, you silly ass, Mole”…

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April 23rd 1964 ~ 400th Anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd 1564 and died on 23rd April 1616.  1964 was the 400th anniversary of his birth and I was living in Stratford on Avon, which was certainly the most exciting place to be at that time for a theatre mad teenager.

The highlight of my acting career had been the part of Mole in Toad of Toad Hall at St Gabriel’s Convent in Carlisle.  Cardinal Heenan was the honoured guest in the audience.  My part was memorable as it involved a tea party at Toad Hall.  We had real cakes and biscuits.   I had never seen those pink and white marshmallows with a biscuit base and coconut all over the top.  I became so engrossed in examining and eating them that I forgot where I was and had to be prompted to continue my lines.  “Oh, you silly ass, Mole”, as rat would say.  But I think I got away with it.  The Cardinal singled me out for praise afterwards, impressed by the realism I portrayed!

I moved to Stratford from the north of England in 1960, the same year that Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and became Artistic Director at the theatre.  Sadly the two events were not connected but our paths crossed over the next few years.  At that time he was married to Leslie Caron and they lived on the Warwick Road near St Gregory’s Church.   I was a teenager at the local girls’ grammar school, Shottery Manor, passionate about literature and especially Shakespeare.

In those days you could pay 4 shillings (20p) to stand at the back of the theatre in Stratford and watch the plays.  From 1960 to 64 when I left school I think I saw every production, often going to the matinee and the evening performances.  My all time favourite was King Lear in 1962 which I have never forgotten.  Paul Schofield played Lear and a young and gorgeous Diana Rigg played Cordelia.

In 1964 when I was doing my A Levels I watched the full history cycle; Richard 11, Henry 1V part 1 and 2, Edward 1V and Richard 111.  I became familiar with actors such as Roy Dotrice, Peggy Ashcroft, a very young John Hurt, and my hero David Warner.  All the girls at school had a crush on him as he was so 60’s with his gaunt look and flowing scarf.  We would hang out at the Dirty Duck pub by the river Avon, barefoot and with flowers in our hair, hoping the actors would pop in after the show, which they often did.  I was such a regular at theatre events that I somehow got to know Peter Hall and Leslie Caron.  I was asked to babysit once for the child of actor Tom Bell and his first wife when they were visiting the Halls.  Tom Bell had become very famous for his part in The L Shaped Room in which he played opposite Leslie Caron.  He and his wife were lovely and I was so sad to see that he died some time ago after a long and magnificent career.

1964 also saw the opening of the Shakespeare Centre where visitors could study every aspect of Shakespeare’s work.  I was privileged to work there part time while at school and full time in the summer after I left.  I loved it.  For the centenary year there was a special exhibition with all the sights and sounds and smells of Shakespearean Stratford.  As I remember it the plays were performed on a loop and the visitors could wander in and sit down to listen for as long as they wanted.  To me it was heaven.  I don’t think any exhibition since has bettered that experience for me.

Every year in Stratford there are celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday but 1964 was spectacular.  There were flagpoles put up in the centre of the streets leading from the theatre to the Holy Trinity Church where the bard is buried.  Representatives from 115 countries of the world came to unfurl their flag at 11am.  This was followed by a procession of dignitaries, townspeople and pupils from the two Grammar Schools, King Edward V1 school for boys, which Shakespeare himself had attended, and Shottery Manor, the school for girls.  I was in that procession and will never forget it.  After the church service and laying of wreaths at the tomb in the presence of Prince Philip, there was a festival on the Bancroft Gardens.  Primary school children danced around maypoles and there was all the fun of the fair.  It was a glorious day.

I still consider King Lear to be the greatest play ever written, and William Shakespeare to be the greatest playwright.   It is almost 449 years  since he was born and the celebrations will  take place this weekend in Stratford.  But they could never match those of 1964.

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/shakespeares-400th-anniversary-1

Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary

Photos show a portrait of William Shakespeare, A photograph of my old school Shottery Manor, The parade through the town on 23rd April 1964 and a view of Bridge Street from the roundabout at the top.

July 1964 Click this link to show a class photo of our school leaving day,