For many years while I was working, I was involved with an educational charity, which is still going strong, called Global Footsteps.
Through exchanges, travel, conferences and volunteering, young adults from many countries developed their understanding of global issues and became immersed in other cultures. At an individual level, this broadened their minds and some long-lasting friendships developed.
On a wider level some really good projects were carried out. A much-needed health centre was built in Kenya. Classrooms were made secure and weatherproof. Boreholes were dug and water tanks supplied in villages and schools where previously water had to be collected daily from the river or lake.
These days I can’t travel that far so I support others who can. There is a wonderful charity called Hands Around the World and a friend of mine does amazing work with them. I also sponsor a child through Compassion UK, a charity that another friend of mine is deeply involved in.
So, I know there are still lots of good things happening and lots of good people trying to improve the environment and enhance other people’s lives.
However, reading the daily news is heart-breaking and fills me with despair, especially the traumatic plight of refugees worldwide. I can tolerate most things, but cruelty to children is just a step too far. And, the US policy of taking children away from their parents is just intolerable. The long-term consequences of the emotional and psychological damage this will cause to the children and their parents are dreadful to contemplate. Imagine if you had your children forcibly removed from you just because you were homeless and hopeless!
I know there has always been a refugee problem, even Shakespeare wrote about it when he collaborated on the play about Sir Thomas More. His character appealed to Englishmen to be compassionate to refugees, who were called strangers…
‘Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation.’
Today we do see it, daily, on our TV screens.
According to the Refugee Council there are over 65 million people around the globe who have had to flee their homes. Can you even imagine how awful that would be? It is like the entire population of the UK being displaced. Millions of these people then have to flee their country and become the refugees we read about daily. BUT IT COULD JUST AS EASILY BE US.
So as ‘Refugee Week’ ends I want to do my tiny bit to raise awareness of the top twenty facts as revealed by the Refugee Council and based on asylum statistics.
Hopefully they make interesting reading…
1. Last year, 362,376 people arrived in Europe via sea. Just under half were women and children.
2. While the pictures we may see on TV perhaps make us think that most refugees are coming to Europe it simply isn’t the case. The UN’s Refugee Agency estimates that nearly nine in ten of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries.
3. Most refugees just move from one poor country to another. Uganda hosts a staggering 1 million refugees from South Sudan. In two weeks alone, Uganda offered refuge to more people than Britain did all year.
4. Britain is not Europe’s top recipient of asylum applications. In 2016, Germany, Italy and France all received at least twice as many asylum applications as the UK. In Germany alone, 722,265 asylum applications were made.
5. Given the world is facing the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, comparatively few people make it to Britain in their search for safety. Asylum applications in the UK actually decreased by 25% to 27,316 in the year ending June 2017.
It’s hardly surprising, given the barriers people face in reaching safe places to rebuild their lives. Britain offers no asylum visa. In fact, there are very few, legal ways for refugees to safely escape their country and claim asylum in another country. The truth is, when war breaks out, countries like Britain often close down refugees’ legal escape routes. Refugees don’t place their lives in smugglers’ hands because they want to. They do it because they often have no
6. The lack of safe and legal routes for refugees to reach safety and claim asylum has deadly results. Already this year 2,410 men, women and children have lost their lives during their desperate attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Every death was a tragedy. Even those who make it have encountered many dangers in their journey, not just in their countries of origin. We hear horrific stories of kidnap, rape, imprisonment and torture in countries refugees are travelling through, including Libya.
People who are seeking asylum make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain. Today’s statistics show that 588,000 people arrived in Britain in the last year– but just 27,316 of them were seeking refuge here. Of course, not all people seeking asylum will be granted permission to stay in Britain.
9. World events often correlate directly with asylum applications; last year people were most likely to seek refuge here from the Middle East, desperate to escape on-going conflict and the murderous advance of ISIS. The top 3 countries of origin of people applying for asylum in Britain in the twelve months to June 2017 were: Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.
10. The British asylum system is extremely tough. Just 34% of initial decisions made in the year to June 2017 have been grants of protection (asylum or humanitarian protection). However, many refugees had to rely on the courts rather than the Government to provide them with the protection they need. The proportion of asylum appeals allowed over that time was 36%.
11. 594 children granted asylum whilst they were still under 18. A further 240 had to wait until they were over 18 to receive the news that they are safely protected here for five years. The top country of origin during that period was Afghanistan, followed by Eritrea. More unaccompanied children applied having fled Sudan than any other country, in the last quarter.
Unfortunately, being granted protection as a refugee means that those children will never be able to live with their parents. Shockingly, the UK deliberately prevents unaccompanied children from bringing their parents and siblings to live with them in safety.
12. In the twelve months up to June 2017, 48 children were locked up in immigration detention, despite a Government promise in 2010 to end the practice. 83% of the children who left detention were released, rendering their detention not only harmful but futile.
13. The UK Government has the power to detain people who are here seeking refuge. Today’s statistics show that in the last 12 months, 27,819 people were imprisoned in immigration detention centres; among them many people seeking asylum. 52% were released back into the community rendering their detention pointless. Some nationalities are nearly always released from detention; over 90% of Iranians detained were released during this time period begging the question why they are detained in the first place.
14. In contrast to most European countries the UK has no limit on the length of time someone can be detained. At the end of June, 271 people had been locked up for longer than 6 months, purely for immigration reasons.
15. The number of Syrians who have sought asylum in Britain since the conflict began in 2011 stands at just 10,858. That’s just 0.21% of Syria’s refugees. Like most of the world’s refugees, very few Syrians come to Britain in their search for safety.
16. The number of Syrian refugees resettled in Britain stands at 8,283 since the conflict began. In September 2015, the then Prime Minister David Cameron promised to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. That’s just 4,000 a year. There are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees.
17. In the year to June 2017, just 916 non-Syrian refugees were resettled in Britain via the Gateway Protection Programme run in conjunction with the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Sadly, just 1% of the world’s refugees will ever be resettled which means many refugees face a long, uncertain wait to hear if they will ever be able to rebuild their lives in safety.
18. Shockingly, at the end of June 2017 10,033 people who had made asylum applications had been waiting for longer than six months for an initial decision. The number of people having to wait this long has risen by over 50% in the last year.
19. At the end of June, 38,954 asylum seekers and their dependants were being supported by the Government. This figure has risen since 2012 but is still below the figure for end of 2003 when there were 80,123 asylum seekers being supported. This does not mean asylum seekers live in luxury; far from it; people have no say in where they live and are often left to survive on around £5 a day
20. In the last three months, the UK has agreed to provide protection (refugee status or humanitarian protection) to 2,005 applicants and their dependants. Unfortunately, a large proportion of them will face homelessness and destitution as they struggle to secure an income and a rental property before they are evicted from Home Office provision
This last fact brings me back to my opening question. Are we in the UK becoming less caring?
I believe as a country we are, and I believe the government is unwittingly helping to make it so. ‘Austerity’ measures brought in by the government have impacted negatively on every aspect of ordinary people’s lives, and on society as a whole. Whether it be the changes to funding or the regulations imposed on local councils, the support structures are beyond breaking point. It is obvious to all that roads are falling apart and our rail services are inferior to most of Europe. Hospitals and schools are struggling to cope and social services can no longer provide the level of support needed by vulnerable people. Housing policy is not providing enough affordable homes so homelessness is on the rise. The police are losing the battle against ‘small-time’ criminals who make neighbourhoods feel less safe and secure than they were in the past. And charities are being surreptitiously turned into businesses to paper over the cracks.
My aim is to write a mainly positive blog, but this week I find little to feel positive about.
My adult step daughter is deaf and has learning difficulties which make her very vulnerable. She has lived in sheltered accommodation since 2001. Here she has been safe and received the support she needs to lead her life as independently as possible. But now that austerity measures have crippled the county’s care sector, her package has been removed. Consequently, she, and the other girls she lives with, have been given notice to leave their supported accommodation, which we thought was a home for life.
Having searched for alternative accommodation, we now see the extent of the problem. There just isn’t any suitable and affordable one-bedroom accommodation to be had. I have no idea how this will end but it is causing us deep anxiety and sleepless nights. I know there are countless people worse off than us, but, it is hard to be positive today.
I’ve just returned from a visit to my daughter who lives in Catalonia, Spain. She works in Barcelona, which is a beautiful city, but she is moving into a new apartment a bit further along the Mediterranean coast at Calafell.
Calafell is in the Tarragona region on the Costa Daurada or Golden Coast, to the south west of Barcelona. It has miles of spotless golden sandy beaches, which the local council workers clean and smooth down every morning. The warm Mediterranean Sea here is reasonably calm and shallow, which makes it a perfect holiday destination for families. When I went it was May half term in the UK but not in Spain, so everywhere was quiet and very relaxing.
It is a fascinating town, which is great to explore on foot, and easy to get to by high-speed train from the airports of Barcelona or Reus. The railway station is in the newer part of town where all the amenities you could want are situated. There is a hospital, schools, supermarkets, museums, football club, sports stadium, and gorgeous parks with ancient olive trees and cooling fountains. There are even co-operative offices within the library which you can rent by the hour or for longer periods. These are great for entrepreneurs, writers and small-business people like my daughter who don’t need their own permanent offices.
A short walk up a very steep hill took me to the heart of the town. Many of the ancient stone buildings have been renovated and turned into cafes, restaurants or artisan shops. But the rich character of the old town is still visible. It is all set around a public square, Plaça de Catalunya, which was established towards the end of the 18th century. There is a church which was built in the 19th century by the people of the town when the bishop could no longer make the steep climb to the old chapel for his visits.
The original chapel was in the castle, which is situated at the very highest point of the old town. Here the buildings are medieval or older. Indeed, parts of the Castle of the Santa Creu of Calafell date back over a thousand years. From the top there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area with its medieval buildings, Roman ruins and vineyards as far as the eye can see. For this is the heart of the Catalonian Cava region. My daughter recommended the Freixenet which is produced locally.
The local officials in Calafell are clearly very proud of their heritage and culture. There are informative posters and signs in several languages close to any site of historical significance.
One such poster explained that
“22 million years ago the hill where the castle is now situated was a coral island surrounded by vast, fine sandy beaches. Now completely fossilised, one can still see the remains of coral (grey coloured rock) and molluscs (yellow coloured rock) in the fossilised sand.”
And I could! It also explained that
“The melting of the polar ice caps caused the sea level to rise to its current level and the Cobertera stream formed a fertile valley that has been agriculturally exploited since the time of the Iberians. During the Roman and Medieval periods and well into the 20th century, cultivation spread throughout the basin and even the surrounding hills were deforested and margins built on them for the cultivation of vineyards.”
Being fascinated by the history of any place I visit, I spent many hours wandering in the old town of Calafell. However, I was with two of my young grandchildren, so the sandy beach was the place to be every afternoon. It is amazing what children will find to play with in the absence of their usual toys. Pebbles, shells and the sand itself kept them busy for hours. Chasing waves was a delight, especially as they had my daughter’s tiny dachshund dog to compete with. And washed up bits of wood triggered off magical games. It was a joy just to watch them.
In the evenings, when the children were in bed with their parents taking a well-earned rest, it was time for my daughter and I to explore some more. Alongside the beach there is a beautiful paved promenade dotted with palm trees. Along here there is a 5-star hotel with a gorgeous beach bar and lots of privately owned apartments with swimming pools. But nearer the town there is a little group of remaining fishermen’s houses including Casa Barral.
Carlos Barral (1928-1989) was a writer and publisher and a bit of a character from what we read. He used to gather other writers around him for literary conversation. These gatherings would consist of lots of drinking and smoking and loud noise which drove his poor wife to distraction. When she could stand it no longer she banished them to a nearby bar called L’Espineta.
Since 1999 Casa Barral has been owned by the town and converted into a museum to preserve the seafaring customs and lifestyle of this small community. It also reflects the literary importance of Barral, who was a very influential figure in 20th century Literature. One of the writers who gathered regularly at L’Espineta was Gabriel García Márques (1927-2014).
I have read two of his books; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I have to say I found them hard to understand. However, I can appreciate his genius. Being American Spanish from Colombia, he is considered to be one of the best writers in the Spanish Language. His style has been called ‘Magical Realism’ and most of his stories explore the theme of solitude.
The bar, L’Espineta, that they met in has remained exactly as it was, owned by the Barral family, until very recently when it was sold. The new owners have kept every detail intact even down to the pictures on the walls.
There was a reopening party on the night I arrived and I went every night while I was in Calafell. It truly is a strange experience sitting on the chairs García Márques would have sat on and drinking from the glasses he would have used in the bar he knew so well. I felt submerged in his world of Magical Realism.
The final detail that sticks in my mind about Calafell is the incredibly ornate Cementerio. I am used to decorative statues and ornaments on graves in our local cemetery, but they are not nearly as ornate as those in Spain. I discovered that there is actually a European Cemeteries Route in Spain which celebrates the historic and artistic heritage of the most distinctive examples. And, Catalonia is the region with the largest number of significant cemeteries.
While I don’t think I will be going on the Cemeteries Route, I am almost certain that I will go back to Calafell if I can conquer my terrible travel anxiety. I had such a lovely time but it takes me a week to recover from the stress of the journey!
Enjoy my photos of Calafell~
Old town and Castle
Park, Beach and swimming pool
I am so disappointed to discover that the weekly photo challenge has ended. I found it a really helpful lead-in to expressing myself in word and picture.
When I started my Blog I had no idea how I would find people who would be interested in reading it. But, through Haiku Heights and WPC I found my voice – and my audience.
My initial intention was to write about my thoughts and experiences so that one day, if my children or grandchildren were curious about my life and me as a person, they would have an original source to go to for information and insights. It was a delight to find that the world is full of people who are as interested in other people’s lives, activities and thoughts as I am.
It is a sad fact that when young, children do not see their parents as people in their own right, with feelings, needs and hopes. Parents are at best a support network to be available when required – when hungry or in need of shelter, money or clean clothes. At all other times parents are expected to be silent and preferably invisible.
This can lead to feelings of isolation and insignificance, especially when the parent is coping alone and does not have a network of family and friends to turn to.
When my parents were young they lived within walking distance of most of their living relatives. They could turn to each other for advice, help, or just a supportive chat. But times have changed for most of us. Extended families who once would have lived in the same streets, villages and towns became scattered and lost touch. As older relatives and friends died, our own children grew up and moved away following their dreams across oceans and continents. The casual, comforting chat became logistically impossible.
When communication is reduced to a few lines in a text or email, it is hard to express what one is really feeling. When contact is via social media like Instagram or Facebook it is unlikely that anything deep or authentic will be revealed because it may be widely shared. WhatsApp and Facetime have helped, but even those channels of communication seem strained. The person you are talking to sometimes seems more concerned about their image in the little box than in what you have to say.
I hope that I can find a new outlet for my posts in the blogosphere. I will continue to write my blog, but that weekly challenge did give me the push I needed to post regularly and share my world.
The photo I have posted to illustrate my feelings was taken some years ago in Burnham on Sea. It is a boat stuck in the mud at low tide. When the tide was in the boat was essential to the fisherman, providing a job, a purpose, an income, food and pleasure. Without the tide it is just a hulk. Sometimes I feel like that boat ~ until the grandchildren turn up ~ they are the tide that keeps me afloat these days.
The WPC theme of lines gives me a chance to post an unlikely group of photos this week. The beautiful lines of the graceful giraffes as they stretch for their leaves, railway lines near my home, truck lines in the iron ore mine at Clearwell Caves, lines of books in the chained library at Hereford cathedral (above), and the lines of poppies weeping from the window there.
I have had a really interesting and enjoyable week getting out and about with some of my favourite people, to some truly fascinating places. I have learned a great deal and conquered a long-standing fear.
I will write individual posts about each place eventually but for now if anything grabs your interest do click on the links to delve deeper.
It started with a trip to my happy place, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, which is in Burford.
Burford is a lovely little Cotswold town which has almost everything you could want. Honey coloured cottages, grand town houses, a fast-flowing river, independent shops, great pubs and a very upmarket garden centre attract many visitors. But I love the Wildlife Park. I have been visiting the place almost since it opened in 1970, firstly with my children, then my grandchildren. It really merits a blog post all to itself but that will have to wait. Because…
As soon as I got home, I went on a very informative tree walk in my local woods, led by the council Tree Preservation officer. I went on the walk because I have been concerned about the ‘conservation’ work going on, which seems to consist mostly of chopping down trees, to my dismay. However, after the officer explained the importance of allowing light in through the canopy in order to encourage growth lower down, and on the floor of the woodland, I understood why it was necessary. And, walking there every day with my dog, I have seen just how much plant life has emerged since the opening up of the canopy.
My next adventure was on Wednesday. I had volunteered to go on my grandson’s school trip to Clearwell caves. Now, most people who read my blog will know that I am claustrophobic. Stupidly, I didn’t think the caves would actually be hundreds of feet deep and extremely dark. There are also many tunnels that can be explored because the caves were mined for centuries for the iron and ochre embedded in the stone. It soon became very obvious that we were meant to go a fair way down these tunnels with our small groups of young children.
It is amazing what we can do when we have to, and for me there is nothing more important than children, so I made a conscious decision to focus on my little group and make their trip worthwhile. And it worked! We saw and learned so much history and geology. While working to hide my fear from the children, I seemed to overcome it.
At the end of the week I had a rare day out with my husband and some very special friends. The weather was atrocious but it was our last chance to see the Weeping Window of poppies at Hereford Cathedral. I had seen the poppies in the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation in the moat at the Tower of London in 2014. It was installed to commemorate one hundred years since the First World War (1914-1918) began. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies represented a military fatality during that awful war. Most of the poppies in that installation were sold to individuals to remember a family member who had fought or died in during those dreadful years. The proceeds went to 6 charities. But, a section of the installation called Wave and Weeping Window was retained and went on tour around the country. During the last month it has been near to us at Hereford Cathedral.
Hereford Cathedral is a most fascinating place. It is set in a beautiful area with lovely tranquil gardens and is a huge and imposing stone building. Inside, the Cathedral holds some truly rare treasures. There are exquisite icons, tapestries and stained-glass windows, some by Tom Denny whom I have written about before. There are shrines and tombs that have been the focus of pilgrimages for 800 years and more. The Magna Carta of 1217, the Hereford Gospels from the 8th century, and the Mappa Mundi from the 1300s are all here. This is the largest medieval map known to exist. However, For me, the most fascinating thing in Hereford Cathedral is the 17th century Chained Library. Although there are a few others in the UK this is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact. Can you imagine a time when books were so rare and precious that they had to be chained to a bookcase in order to keep them from being stolen? Here they have 229 medieval manuscripts and they each have a chain attached at one end of the front cover. The other end is slotted on to a rod running along the bottom of each bookshelf. It is very ingenious because you can take a book down to read but you can’t remove it from the bookcase. The strangest thing is that the books are all facing the ‘wrong’ way ~ that is with the spine at the back so that the reader does not get the chains tangled when the book is taken down. Unfortunately, it means that one can’t see the title of the book so there is an elaborate numbered and alphabetical list on the end of each bookcase to show what books are where.
In the Cathedral square there is a lovely statue of Edward Elgar (1857-1934) the composer with his bike. He would have approved of the weeping window I’m sure. I tried to attach a recording of Nimrod, from his Enigma Variations as it is so beautiful and appropriate. It is often played at remembrance services. Unfortunately I could not get the attachment to play!
I hope you enjoy my eclectic mix of photos…
From the Wildlife Park
From Benhall Woods
From Clearwell Caves
From Hereford Cathedral
From the Chained Library
This week marks the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and there will be celebrations held around the country as well as open days at many air force bases throughout the year. I am very excited to be going to arguably the biggest and best airshow, at RAF Fairford in July.
I clearly remember the celebrations which were held for the 50th anniversary of the RAF when I was invited to a very grand ball at RAF base which shall be nameless. The evening was wonderful with a fabulous meal, terrific music and great company. As the sun set everyone gathered outside for the grand finale. There was to be a huge firework display ending with an illuminated framework displaying the RAF banner and title with 50th Anniversary underneath. There were some very important guests there and of course everyone wanted to make a good impression. However, once the smoke cleared and the display was fully alight there were gasps all round as the entire thing was upside down. I have no idea how many heads rolled for the incompetence and the embarrassment of the station commander, but I expect there were a few!
I and my friends from college were often invited to social functions at the air force training school on the base as we were at an all-female teacher training college, and all of the trainee pilots and navigators in those days were young men. We were treated very well with transport, refreshments and dancing laid on and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The men were very respectful and of course rules were strictly applied. It may have been the swinging sixties but It seems like a different world from today. Our college was run by a very strict order of nuns who watched over us girls like prison guards. We were only allowed visitors at certain times and they were never allowed past the common room. We were signed out by the nun who was on duty and she made sure we were all signed back in again before 11pm. Similar rules applied at the RAF base too where the commanding officers were even more terrifying than the Mother Superior.
I seem to remember that training took place on small red and white Vickers Varsity planes. If you are interested in seeing how training planes have changed over the years there is information here.
I was recently at our local small airfield and was amazed to see several beautiful new helicopters. I am used to seeing Chinooks, air ambulances and the police helicopters flying around locally, but these were visibly striking. Like giant bees they were a deep yellow and black with an all-round glass cockpit. Fortunately, when the crew popped into the local pub for coffee and burgers, they explained that these were the brand new H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter training helicopters on route to the flying school. A total of 32 of these helicopters are due to go into service this week to mark the RAF’s centenary. They will provide 28000 flight hours for 266 students each year. There are different types of training for different specialisms, basic, advanced and maritime, and according to the experts and the manufacturers, Airbus,
The innovations are superb, the flight dynamics are excellent, the Helionix instrumentation is incredibly intuitive and the platform will be an excellent lead in to Apache, Chinook, Merlin, Puma and Wildcat
Along with lots of other fascinated onlookers, I managed to take a few photos with my phone through the wire fencing, but they were not brilliant. So, I got permission from the helpful media people at Airbus, who built these beautiful helicopters, to use some of their photos. I hope you like them as much as I do. Many thanks to Alvaro Beteta.
One of my favourite places in the Cotswolds is the wildlife park at Burford. It is a very special place to me as the birth and development of the zoo and gardens has run parallel to that of my family.
I dread to think how much money I have spent here over the years, on entry fees, snacks in the café, whippy ice creams, train rides, and the dreaded gift shop! But I believe every penny was well spent for the pleasure it has brought to me and my family. Not only that, but the money funds lots of conservation work here and abroad.
The wildlife park was opened by John Heyworth during the Easter holidays in 1970, which is just after my first child was born. It is set in the grounds of a beautiful house, Bradwell Grove, which was his childhood home. In 1970 it cost five shillings (25p) for entry in pre-decimal currency. These days it costs me £10 as I am officially ancient. However, as I go so often, I buy a season ticket for £50, which means I can go whenever I like.
Normally the park is open every day except Christmas day. But this year the winter has been so atrocious that the park has been closed on several days due to snow or waterlogged grounds.
Originally there were lots of animals to see including wallabies, tapirs, llamas, hornbills and flamingos. Soon a reptile house was developed. Then, rhinos and zebras arrived in 1972 when my second child was born. And, the very popular little railway was opened in 1975 when my third child arrived. That was followed by insects which I have never been very keen on, and butterflies in glass houses. Following on from the birth of my fourth and final child, leopards, tigers and bats arrived at the park.
By the time my grandchildren arrived there were lions, giraffes, owls, different types of monkeys, wolves, camels, meerkats and adorable penguins. One of the great attractions these days is the petting area where children can play with goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs and rabbits. There is also a super adventure playground, which, being an over-anxious granny, I try to steer clear of.
Sadly, John Heyworth died some years ago. He must have been a fascinating man with a great love for animals and plants. Apparently as a child he kept many pets, including rabbits, grass snakes, slow worms and a toad that he found in the garden. Over the years, as a schoolboy, he added terrapins, tortoises and newts to his menagerie of birds, ducks and slowworms.
This reminds me of my dear friend and roommate at college, Pat, who kept her own menagerie of assorted hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs in our tiny room. She also had a tiny Shetland pony who lived nearby and travelled with us everywhere in the back of a mini with the seats removed! When we moved to a marginally bigger flat after college, she added snakes, which she kept in the bath!
Nowadays I look after my gorgeous 3-year-old granddaughter, Thea, every Tuesday, and we make a beeline for the wildlife park. Thea’s favourite animal is the white rhino. This year she was thrilled to meet Belle the little baby rhino. Belle was born with a leg problem which meant she had to be hand reared and fed from birth. Thea is very family oriented so she loves to see the mummy and daddy animals with their babies. I have to say there is something very appealing about seeing large wild animals like rhino, giraffe and zebra breast feeding their small offspring.
I believe our wildlife park visits have nurtured a great love and respect for animals in all of my children and grandchildren. Here are some of our photos taken over the years and as recently as this week.
“I knew who I was this morning, but I have changed a few times since then.”
Alice in wonderland!
The question posed for WPC this week is, what would I rather be doing today?
Well, the weather here has turned very chilly again with a covering of yet more snow in my garden. So, without a doubt I’d rather be on a well heated train travelling to an exciting destination through beautiful scenery on a great rail journey.
When I was a child in the late 1940s, our main way of getting about was by steam train from the old Felling station. Like most working-class people in those days we didn’t have a car. My dad would cycle to work and we walked to school or the local shops. Visiting grandparents entailed a ride on the big yellow tram, but for a special shopping trip to the city of Newcastle we first had to catch the train. And, in good weather we would go for a day trip to the golden sands of South Shields, again by train. That is how my great love for trains started.
I’m sure the city commuters who pay extortionate prices for their daily rail journey to work would have a different view to me. But all of my train journeys, with the exception of one best forgotten, have been great fun-filled experiences.
As an adult I have travelled on many spectacular railways to some far-flung places and I still find them truly exciting.
Many years ago, I flew to Zurich in Switzerland en-route to the Bodensee in Germany and was delighted to find that I could buy a train ticket at airport arrivals then go down several levels by escalator and arrive at the railway station platforms without even leaving the airport. All through the beautiful countryside I felt like a character from my favourite childhood storybook, Heidi.
In Poland, I was amazed to see my first double decker train when I spent a wonderful study tour travelling from Torunn to Gniezno, Malbork and Gdansk.
And just last year I had my first experience of the luxurious Renfe avehigh speed trains as I travelled at about 200 mph between Barcelona and Madrid to visit my scattered children.
I find with long train journeys that you get a much more realistic view of, not only the scenery, but the local way of life and culture. So, it was fascinating to travel on a sleeper train across Russia in the early 1990’s, a time of massive political change, observing the difference between the magnificence in the centre of Moscow and the dilapidation of the countryside. I was constantly amazed to see beautifully decorated ancient churches alongside bleak housing, decaying factories, and neglected farmland. Inside the train was a surreal experience as each carriage had a hostess who kept a samovar boiling all day so that travellers could have a cup of tea. Throughout the 36-hour journey our hostess stayed in her nightie and dressing gown with her rollers firmly fixed in her hair.
Later in the 1990’s I travelled across Kenya from Nairobi to the end of the line at Kisumu. This was a totally different experience as the train passed by the slums of Kibera. I found the level of poverty there deeply distressing yet after a short time the natural world replaced the horror with exquisite scenery.
Arguably one of the best holidays I have ever taken was a Great Rail Tour through the Fjords across the roof of Norway. This holiday took in some great cities such as Oslo and Bergen, but the highlight was a trip on what is reputed to be the most beautiful train journey in the world, Flamsbana. Flam is a small picturesque village in southwest Norway, situated in the deepest fjord in the world. Along the route there are majestic cascading waterfalls that take your breath away with their beauty.
Locally we have a heritage steam railway run by enthusiasts at Toddington. They have just extended the line to Broadway so this makes a lovely day out.
Although I don’t get much opportunity to travel far these days I can still indulge my passion for railway journeys by watching them on TV.
Recently there have been eight series of “Great British Railway Journeys” and five series of European “Continental Rail Journeys”, all presented by Michael Portillo following Bradshaws 1913 edition of the Continental Railway Guide. He has also made two series in the United States for BBC2, as well as one in India. I have put a link to one of the programmes here but I’m not sure if it will work.
Michael Portillo (pictured below) used to be a politician but now I think he has the best job in the world. He travels the world by train meeting interesting people, seeing amazing sights, and he gets paid for it!
So, on reflection, I’d rather be Michael Portillo.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases: it will never pass into nothingness… by John Keats
Since I downsized from the house my children grew up in, I have let go of lots of possessions. There is simply no room for them in my new home, which is small verging on tiny.
At first, I found this ‘letting go’ hard, because every item tells a story. There was my late parents’ furniture and knick-knacks, as well as the paraphernalia that my adult children left behind when they move on with their lives. But now I realise that the experience has actually been a positive one. For, now that I am officially ‘old’, my mind is focussed on what I really value enough to keep. And also, I’m aware that my children will have to dispose of it all when I’m gone! So, these days I embrace William Morris’s golden rule:
“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
My photos today are of several things that have pride of place in my home and are, in my opinion, truly beautiful. They make me happy whenever I look at them and each one has its story.
There is a pot by the local artist Molly Abbott, that is definitely not practical but is so beautiful and vibrant in colour and form.
Next there is a beautiful piece by Daffyd Rouse. It was given to me some years ago by my daughter in law. She is a nurse now and was working for Headway at the time. Headway is a charity that supports people with traumatic and acquired brain injuries. One of her clients was Daffyd, a very creative and talented man. Sadly, Daffyd had a motorbike accident in 2005, which took away his independence and left him with serious head injuries unable to pursue his love for art, prose and pottery. He generously decided to sell his vast collection of work to raise money for charity which is how I became the proud owner of this pot. Sadly Daffyd died aged just 65 in June 2014, but the beauty of his artwork will ensure that his story will never be forgotten.
And, last but not least, is the gift I received today for Mothering Sunday.
This could be a melancholy time if three of your children live abroad as mine do. However, I feel very lucky that in my case it often means that I get three mother’s days ~ the Spanish one and the American one as well as the UK one.
I don’t know how she does it, but my eldest daughter always manages to send a gift from the USA that arrives bang on time. So today I was very excited when the postman knocked! Once I had opened the parcel I was thrilled to find an exquisite piece of ceramic art created by Claire Prenton.
Claire used to live in the Cotswolds, which is where she and my daughter became friends, when they worked together. Co-incidentally they both emigrated to the USA, Lisa to California via Vermont and Claire to Cincinnati via Seattle! They both share a deep love and respect for nature and animals ~ although they do differ in that Claire adores her cats, while Lisa can’t live without a dog.
Claire makes the most exquisite and delicate porcelain pieces, which she embellishes with features from the natural world. Insects, birds, flowers, leaves and twigs, corals, pearls and shells feature in the ornamentation. You can see them here in her gallery. Last year Lisa sent me a beautifully decorated cup and this year she sent a plate from the same collection. Claire tells me that her exquisite cup is tough enough for me to have my daily coffee in! But, of course I love it so much that I will never use it in case I damage it. I would rather just look at it and appreciate its beauty.
Lisa also sent me a beautiful card with an icon of the Madonna on. I have loved and collected these for years so that was very thoughtful. She also included a page from the colouring book which she has designed and created by hand,
Truly I feel blessed to be surrounded by such beauty and such love.
There is nothing quite so exciting as waking up to a fresh snowfall. The beauty of the spider’s web is out of this world. This week our landscape has been transformed by the heaviest snowfall the UK has seen in years. It makes for very exciting dog walks and hair-raising drives! When I was teaching I used to love a ‘snow day’. But now that I am a little too old for sledging, sitting at the window watching the younger generation having such fun just makes me wistful. Then my mind drifts….
It snowed overnight and the roads are a fright,
So the schools are all closed ~ on a Friday!
Mums and dads can’t drive, their cars slip and slide
So its family fun on a school day.
Dogs in bright jackets are leaping for joy
Taken out for a walk, on a school day.
Babies and toddlers peep out of their prams
They’re going to the park, on a school day.
Tiny tots muffled in mittens and hats,
Squeal in delight, on a school day.
Giggling girls, hugging their friends,
Slide down the hill, on a school day.
Teen terrors in hoodies become little boys
Throwing snowballs at girls, on a school day.
Steep slopes draw the daring on sledges and boards,
They hurtle downhill, on a school day.
I sit at the window and, like falling snow,
My thoughts pile up into drifts.
My smiles turn to tears at the sights and sounds
Of my school days, as the frozen scene shifts.
Of ink wells and blotters, of wafers and milk,
Of chalk boards and outside loos;
Of walking to school by the RiverTyne,
Of castles, and coalmines and ships.
And then there are people, who wave as they pass,
Loved aunties and cousins and friends
A younger brother no longer in touch
A mother and father I mourned.
There are icicles hanging near a frozen stream,
The snow covered branches are bending
The field is a snow frosted wonderland
Its beauty my broken heart mending.
I wrote this poem the last time there was heavy snow on a Friday, in 2013. Here are some of the photos I took then from my window or on my rambles/trudges through the Cotswolds.
I chose this title from the song by the Beatles because I do find myself very drawn to taking meandering pathways through the countryside these days. Paul McCartney sounds incredibly melancholy, as he sings it, and I know there was a lot of sadness in his life when he wrote it.
The long and winding road is a great metaphor for life actually. In fact, I am reading a memoir with this title by Alan Johnson, who was a member of Parliament in the UK. He wrote in his first book, The Boy, about his harrowing childhood but in The Long and Winding Road he writes about his meteoric rise in the labour party to become Home Secretary in 2009. With his ‘upbringing’, it is astonishing that he enjoyed such success in politics, which nowadays seems to be dominated by Old Etonians. Like most people, the road through my life has been been very varied. There have been some very rocky bits where I stumbled and fell with a bump. There have been icy cold patches when I felt abandoned and alone. There have been muddy bits where I got bogged down in troubles and cares. There have been dark stretches where I was afraid. There have been forks in the road where I sometimes made what turned out to be the wrong choice. And, just once, the road was blocked altogether and I was unable to carry on. But mostly, the road has just been long and gently winding, so even though I couldn’t see where I was going, I knew I had to keep moving forward.
These days I look on long and winding roads purely for pleasure.
I dream of walking along a coast road, like those in Cornwall or Dorset, with the sun on my back. Or rambling through the villages and farmland along the Cotswold Way when the rapeseed is in its golden glory. But a jaunt through parkland and woods with my dog and the grandchildren will do just as well. In fact, now that I’m retired and my children are happy, independent adults, I don’t mind where the long and winding road takes me.
The photo is of my daughter with her dog walking through the woods near her home in California. I expect, like all of us, she is just a face in the crowd to passers by when she strays from her corner of the world. But of course, to me, it matters not where she is; we will always be connected by our great loves ~ of dogs, of being in nature ~ and of each other.
Enjoy some long and winding road photos.
It was half term in the UK this week so I’ve been on grandparent duty. This truly is one of the best things about reaching retirement. I get to spend time with the children, doing what I want, and behaving as if I were a child again myself. And this includes drinking hot chocolate covered in cream and marshmallows. It was very sweet and utterly delicious!
Mainly what I want to do these days is walk by the sea, but sadly that is not an option when you live in the Cotswolds. So, the next best thing is to wander among the fields and streams, or the woods and hills, near my home. I am convinced that there has never been invented a toy or electronic gadget that can rival the outdoors for entertainment value. Of course, it helps if the weather is good, but even in a cold, wet February, there is fun to be had indoors and out.
I feel quite sorry for parents these days as their lives are ridiculously busy and they don’t often have the chance to just be with their children. I expect it was ever thus, but happily I choose to forget the hard times I had, and just remember the fun my children had.
As W H Davies pointed out in his wonderful poem
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare? –
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait til her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
So here are more pictures from my fun week with children for you to enjoy.
I went to the funeral of a dear man this week who was my next-door neighbour for many years, and, as these occasions are wont to do, it made me rethink the value and purpose of our lives and what we leave behind.
Listening to the heartfelt words of his children and grandchildren I was reminded of the saying, “people may not remember what you did or said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
Not one of them mentioned a gift he had bought them or how much pocket money they had received if any. They didn’t mention his house or his décor, his car or his clothes. They didn’t mention his looks or his job. What they all mentioned was that he was kind; always there for them, would do anything for them, and that they had fun with him.
He was an ‘ordinary’ man, one of 9 children in the 1940s, when large families were more common. He was a happy rascal as a little boy, playing truant from school to hunt for rabbits in the countryside. He met his wife to be when he was 15 and she was 14. They married at 19 and have been happy together ever since.
He grew up at a time when it was possible to get a job for life in a large, local company. He worked hard, enjoyed the job, was on friendly terms with all his fellow workers, and stayed there for 40 years.
Apart from his family, the love of his life was his garden. We always used to look after and water each other’s gardens whenever either of us was away. His garden was a delight but his passion was such that he eventually took on 2 allotments as well. There he grew all the fruit and vegetables you can imagine, for eating, and to brew his home-made beer, wine and cordial.
Gardening was so important to him that this lovely poem was recited at his funeral.
The Glory of the Garden by Rudyard Kipling
Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.
For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You will find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all ;
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dungpits and the tanks:
The rollers, carts and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.
And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.
And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.
Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: – “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick.
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hand and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!
And it reaffirmed in me the knowledge that wealth, position and possessions, ultimately mean nothing to the people who truly love you. They remember your smile, your kindness, and how you made them feel.
Although the funeral made me sad and thoughtful, this poem comforted me. For, like the glory of the garden, this dear man’s goodness will live on, in his widow, his children and grandchildren. His life had inestimable value to them and to all who knew him.
In memory of my neighbour I will give you a photographic guided tour of the Rococo Gardens in Painswick which at the moment is aglow with snowdrops and hellebores.
This weekend I visited relatives who live in Willen, very close to the North Lake. Willen is one of the dozen or so ancient villages that were absorbed when the new town of Milton Keynes was built 50 years ago. I remember driving through the area with my father when the town was being built. I was fascinated by the ‘grid system’ of the roads, horrified by the number of roundabouts and underpasses, and amazed by the number of tree-lined cycle paths. Driving through the city again this weekend, I was amused by the street names, delighted by the beauty of the trees and parks, and relieved to see that some of the old villages have still retained their individual identity and historic buildings.
There are two lakes in Willen, North and South and both are beautiful in very different ways. South Lake, and the park it is set in, is a hive of activity. On the lake there are facilities for water sports like canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, and paddle sports, as well as an area for fishing. In the park there are areas for golfing, cycling, football, table tennis, aerial adventures, jogging and gymnastics; as well as a wonderful children’s adventure playground.
In total contrast, North Lake is set in the most serene park I have ever visited. It is a designated and protected wildlife and nature reserve and there are waders and waterfowl galore. There is also a Peace Pagoda, the first ever built in Western Europe. It was built by monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myoholi as a symbol of world peace and is meant to promote unity among all the peoples of the world regardless of race, creed, or border. It opened in September 1980. In front of the pagoda stand two creatures from Japanese legend. Shishi, the paired lion-dogs are said to have magical powers that repel evil.
Near the pagoda is the Buddhist Temple as well as Japanese and Zen gardens. There is such an air of serenity around the pagoda and the Temple. It draws me to it.
Near the temple is a medicine wheel of stones, which looks a bit like the ancient stone circle at Avebury. It is said that a ley line passes through this area and close by is a single ‘needle’ stone that catches the rising midsummer sun. There certainly are a lot of mystical and spiritual influences in the area of Willen and Milton Keynes. If you are interested you can read more at this link.
There is so much to see on and around the lake. I was very impressed by all the artwork. There is a fascinating Labyrinth and a beautiful pure white memorial statue named ‘Souls in Love’. The sight of this statue aligned with a pure white swan and the white peace pagoda gleaming in the setting sun was totally stunning. Of course my photos, taken with my phone, don’t do it justice; but I hope you enjoy them anyway.
While I was at the lakeside I saw waders and waterfowl galore, as well as the most spectacular murmuration of starlings as dusk fell. A group of ‘twitchers’ with very impressive cameras was gathered at the edge of the lake to watch the amazing aerial display. There must have been thousands of birds flying so close together that they seem to move as one. I watched them swoop and soar as they selected just the right spot to roost for the night. As they got closer and the sky got darker, the sound of their wings was deafening, then silence fell as they all settled. The whole spectacle was breathtaking, a beautiful ballet. Do watch this video if you have never witnessed a murmuration or check out these fabulous photos from the Guardian.
All in all a very enjoyable weekend.
It is truly amazing what a transformation takes place when a mural is added to a boring wall.
On the rare occasions when I travel, I put my little dog, Toffee, into kennels. The facilities for the dogs are great and no expense was spared when they were built. The owner of the kennel used to be a RSPCA inspector so his standards were always high. The kennels were sited near our small local airport. As the airport got busier and the planes got bigger, it became necessary to extend the runway. As the kennels were right in the way the owner was made a very generous offer to move.
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for him to build a state of the art facility. He travelled the country researching the best kennels and what they offered. he then had his new kennels built to the highest standards. Each kennel has its own little exercise area. There is underfloor heating. The walls and floors are finished in hospital quality anti bacterial finishes that can be easily washed down. There are open fields behind with country walks, and enclosed exercise areas for play. There is even an agility course and grooming salon!
Altogether, this makes for a beautiful environment for the lucky pets who spend any time there. The staff are also first rate. They treat every visiting dog as if it were their own and give lots of love, care and attention as well as exercise.
However, the outside walls, which faced the carpark, were a bit boring to say the least. But on a recent visit, I was delighted to see murals by a local artist had been painted on the outside walls.
One was based on the film 101 Dalmations. The other reminds me of the stage musical, Cats.
I absolutely love them. I took my puppy-loving granddaughter along to see them and she loved them too. They have even continued the theme along the fences with puppies here and there. It is adorable. Enjoy my photos of this very special place.
Following last week’s exciting trip to Spain, I had a marvellously luxurious weekend at the local Tewkesbury Park Hotel to celebrate a family birthday. All of this travel and excitement is experimental for me as I have been a bit housebound over the last few years for various reasons.
While some of our group played golf and some had spa treatments or relaxed, I went for a stroll around the grounds with my camera. Being set high on a hill there are amazing views, towards the Malvern Hills, Brecon Beacons, River Severn and Tewkesbury itself.Global Footsteps.
There is also a fascinating history in the hotel site too. I am one of those people who has to find out as much as I can about everywhere I go, so I started to delve. I was thrilled to discover that recorded history goes back to when the park was enclosed between 1185 and 1187. The park covered 200 acres then and was stocked with deer. By the late 14th century there was a large medieval timber and stone manor house on the site, which was called Tewkesbury Lodge. By 1540 records taken after the dissolution of the Monasteries showed that the deer park covered 80 acres with the rest being agricultural. There are no records of deer at the park after that.
The original manor house was at times owned by the crown or by the abbey as well as private individuals including the Clare family who used it as a hunting lodge.
But, one of the most fascinating owners for me was Edward, Baron Le Despenser, who died in his 30’s in 1375. He has a beautiful monument known as ‘The Kneeling Knight’, in Tewkesbury Abbey, which I have often admired. It seems unusual for a knight to be depicted kneeling above a chapel.
At some point the medieval house was demolished, and the present building was built in the 18th century by the Wall family. The last private owner was Violet Sargeaunt who lived there from 1933 until her death in 1973. Finally, a superb golf course was developed, which opened in 1976 and the hotel prospered alongside it.
I walked down to the heart-wrenching field that lies at the foot of the hotel’s driveway. It is called Bloody Meadow and it recalls The Battle of Tewkesbury which brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York (white rose symbol) and the house of Lancaster (red rose symbol). The Yorkist King Edward 1V was victorious, while Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry V1 and last Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed, aged just 17. His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with a Latin inscription which translates as,
“Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth, Anno Domine 1471, May fourth. Alas the savagery of men. Thou art the soul light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”
Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a spectacular carving which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sunne in splendour’. It is admirable on the one hand that both winner and loser are remembered in the Abbey, but I find it rather gloating that the massive ‘sunne in splendour’ dominates the roofspace and ‘lords it’ forever over the poor defeated young prince.
At the entrance to the ‘Bloody Meadow’, a commemorative plaque on the fence reads,
The field has been called the bloody meadow for more than 500 years, and tradition says that it is the meadow where so many were taken and slain. This is possibly where Edward, Prince of Wales, met his death. Other Lancastrians killed in the field almost certainly in the rout, include the Earl of Devonshire, The Marquis of Dorset and Sir William Rous.
The field is long and constricted, a death trap for men who are edging backwards whilst trying to avoid lethal blows. How many fell is not recorded. Only important people were named. Those who escaped the Bloody Meadow were faced with crossing the Mill Avon, and many drowned.
I took photos here but felt incredibly sad for the common soldiers who were buried in this meadow in anonymous pits while the nobles were interred in the Abbey and its graveyard.
When I left the hotel, I stopped at the roundabout on the outskirts of Tewkesbury to marvel at the commemorative sculptures officially called the Arrivall. I like to call them Victor and Vanquished. This is a high vantage point from where the army of King Edward 1V could have seen the Duke of Somerset leading King Henry V1’s ill-fated army.
I have written about this sculpture before but on this day, being Remembrance Sunday, it was embellished with a ‘Lest we forget flag’, which somehow just reinforced the ongoing inevitability, futility, and tragedy of war for me.
Victor represents the Yorkist army under Edward IV and is located on the roundabout itself. This part of the sculpture shows a horse and rider, the rider has a traditional lance with a pennant on top.
Vanquished, that represents the defeated Lancastrian army. This army was led by the Duke of Somerset, supporting Henry VI. Vanquished is a riderless horse, with its head bowed and a lance leaning on its back.history of this fascinating area.
My photos will give you a peek into the variety of exciting places I’ve been to recently. It has been a most unusual time.
Over the course of 7 days I got in or on 2 planes, 4 underground trains, 4 taxis and countless lifts. Anyone who knows me well or has read my post about my attempted trip to the USA, will know that I find travelling challenging to say the least!
But, this time I was heading to Spain for my grandson’s christening. And, with a trusted friend for company, I made it.
We breakfasted in London, spent 3 nights in a gorgeous apartment in the beautiful town of Tres Cantos, attended the Christening in the ancient town of Manzanares el Real, and celebrated with a wonderful family lunch in Madrid.
We managed to do a bit of sight-seeing in each of these very different places, then returned to London and reality.
Tres Cantos is a beautiful ‘new town’, which has been really well planned. The wonderful weather and seemingly perpetual blue sky helps of course. But everywhere was spotless with parks, fountains, and lots of pedestrianised areas. It has the advantage of being close enough to Madrid for commuting too.
Central Madrid, or the small area that we saw, is exquisite. The impressive white buildings gleam in the sunshine and the roads seemed incredibly wide. Here too we found beautiful tree-lined pavements with water features, fountains and statues. Since we were in the city, coincidentally, during the demonstrations in support of a unified Spain, there were Spanish flags flying from many buildings. We were told that one of the flags is the biggest in the world!
We were very impressed to see a huge banner across the front of the Palacio de Communicaciones, which has got to be the most impressive ‘Post Office’ in the world. The banner reads, “Refugees Welcome”.
A little further on and we saw the National Museum of Prado. For almost 200 years this world-famous art gallery has given visitors the opportunity to see the best of the best in painting and sculpture. I would love to go back to spend whole days in there.
So, we relaxed in Tres Cantos, were blown away by the culture of the city of Madrid and its people; but what of Manzanares el Real? Well, 20 plus years ago I visited Yellowstone National Park in America and literally could not believe my eyes. The geology of that place seemed totally other-worldly with its extraordinary geysers, hot springs, mudpots, steam vents, and bubbling rivers. The wildlife too was totally alien to me. I saw bears, bison, moose, elk, antelope, marmots, chipmunks, and even a mountain lion! So I didn’t expect this relatively small and ancient town to surprise me as much as it did. It is truly unusual and spectacularly scenic. I believe the name means ‘Royal Apple Orchard’, and it gives its name to the River Manzanares which flows from the Sierra de Guadarrama, on through Madrid. The ‘royal’ bit comes from the fabulous restored castle which we visited.
The town is set at the foot of a spectacular mountain range called La Pedriza. The whole area is dotted with huge granite boulders which are unusually rounded and smoothed. They are everywhere to the extent that the houses in the area that I visited are just plonked on, in, or around the boulders. This makes for very unusual gardens, and brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘man-cave’, as there really are caves in some of the gardens! The whole area is a dream for rock climbers and nature lovers. There are also spectacular views of the huge Santillana reservoir, which attracts large colonies of water birds as well as birds of prey. Higher up among the boulders; I was informed by my son who runs there daily with his dogs; there are red deer, wild cats, wild boar and wolves.
And he wonders why I worry!
Photos from Madrid
We hear awful things about gun crime in the USA, which is really worrying. In the UK we don’t have gun crime on the same scale because we do not have the right to own or carry guns thankfully.
However, knife crime is a serious problem here with even quite young teenagers taking knives out with them for ‘protection’. The consequences for many young people and their families are tragic.
The government, police forces and traders have been working together to tackle the issue in many ways. One of the ideas was an amnesty on knives that were handed in or placed in ‘surrender boxes’. These are secure boxes that are placed in police stations and YMCAs amongst other places.
Recently I went to see what has happened to all the knives that have been handed in so far, and I was staggered. Artist Alfie Bradley has created a 26-foot sculpture in the shape of an angel out of the 100,000 or so that were surrendered nationwide. It took him 2 years to create his memorial, which can be seen at Oswestry’s British Ironwork Centre.
The many coloured handles form the surface of the body of the angel, while the blades form the wings. I can’t describe just how moving this sculpture is, as many of the knives have actually been used in crimes. It has an expression of such tragedy on its face that it reflects the awful pain felt by those who suffer the consequences of knife crime.
The Knife Angel will be travelling around the country eventually to be displayed in other towns, but for now it is a thought-provoking entrance to the amazing artwork on show at the British Ironwork Centre.
I can recommend spending a day at the British Ironwork Centre. It is in a beautiful, unspoilt area of the country and the displays of art and craftwork are spectacular.
Here are photos of some of the other pieces of iron art on display. All are truly beautiful, but the gorilla is very interesting because it is entirely made of spoons donated by children from many countries after an appeal by the magician Yuri Geller.
I have always been fascinated by stone because in one form or another it has been around since the world began, and, in one form or another, will still be around when we are all gone!
As a youngster I lived for a few years in the Lake District, where slate has been mined for centuries, and still is. There were wonderful shades of green and blue-grey, which you can still get today. The colours depend on what minerals and organic materials were in the shale when it was laid down. There was even a silvery grey called Coniston Old Man! Geologists reckon it was laid down over the course of 500 million years, from sedimentary rock under low heat and pressure. This natural slate can withstand the most extreme environments and conditions, which makes it ideal as a building material.
But, when slate is turned on its side, it can be easily split with a hammer and chisel into separate layers of differing thicknesses. It is these qualities of timelessness, strength and layering that were in my mind this week.
I imagine that inside of each one of us there are layers of love being laid down. Daily life is the mud between the layers and the surface may be riven by life’s ups and downs. But, hopefully we will all have layers of love laid down for our parents, siblings, children and extended family, whether natural or adoptive, who form the bedrock of our emotional lives.
There will be other layers formed by people we hardly knew but who made a deep impression on our hearts. I’m thinking of my grandmother who died when I was just 5 but whom I loved with all my heart because she made me feel safe and loved when I was tiny. They say children won’t remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. That was certainly true in her case.
Special friends will lay down other layers, which will still be there even when the friends have passed away. I’m thinking here of my dear friend, Pat, who died in a cycling accident some years ago. I have such fond memories of her as we had such fun together at college and for years after.
But there will be other people we meet during the course of our lives whom we respect and admire so strongly that a love develops that transcends normal feelings and is often inexplicable to others. And this is the point of my post.
When I retired from decades working in education, I was drained in every way; physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. My well had definitely run dry! I knew that I needed to be in a peaceful place where I could restore my energy and regain my ‘joie de vivre’. So, I went to work as a housekeeper at St Peter’s Grange, which at the time was a retreat and conference centre run by the Benedictine monks from Prinknash Abbey
This was a labour of love and I learned a great deal about life from the Benedictine monks I shared the chores with. Fr Alphedge especially was an inspiration. He was always so happy, building up the fire, sweeping the floor, even scrubbing out enormous pots and pans. His philosophy was to treat every moment as a sacrament, and every task as a gift to God, not a chore. He did each menial job with reverence while radiating joy, peace and stillness for almost 40 years.
Fr Alphedge left this life last month, and I found myself grieving and reflecting on all I had learned from him during those beautiful moments of quiet contemplation that we shared, over the soapy suds, dusty cobwebs and sooty ashes.
And it boils down to love. I learned to love myself again, to love life, to love the people I come into contact with, and to love the work in-hand. This is not a shallow kind of love. As Fr Alphedge would be the first to admit, some people – monks included – can do irritating things that temporarily annoy one. But, deep inside, love is laid down like the mudstone that changes over time to riven slate. The people we meet are like the crystals of quartz embedded in it and the formative experiences we have are like the minerals and organic matter that give the slate its colour.
Many years ago, my parents picked up a large slab of slate in the Lake District and carved letters from their names into it, which they painted gold. It reads ‘Terstels’ from Terry and Stella, and is still on the front of the house where they lived until they died. I pass it every day and it reminds me that although they are gone, my love for them is still as strong as ever. I guess it is the first layer of love I laid down.
I think we each have a limitless capacity for love- it costs nothing, takes up no space, and it is very precious.
Another monk, a Salesian this time, who was rather irreverently known as Bro. Joe, taught me not to hide love but to spread it, share it, give it freely, and let others know that they are loved. This poem was printed on his funeral order of service and I think it is very good advice!
If with pleasure you are viewing
Any work that I am doing,
If you like me, or you love me, tell me now.
Don’t withhold your approbation
Till the Father makes oration
And I lie with snowy lilies o’er my brow.
For no matter how you shout it,
I won’t care so much about it,
I won’t see how many tear drops you have shed.
If you think some praise is due me.
Now’s the time to slip it to me,
For I cannot read my tombstone when I’m dead.
More than fame and more than money
Is the comment warm and sunny,
Is the hearty warm approval of a friend.
For it gives to life a savour
And it makes me stronger, braver,
And it gives to me the spirit to the end.
If I earn your praise bestow it,
If you like me, let me know it,
Let the words of true encouragement be said.
Do not wait till life is over
And I’m underneath the clover,
For I cannot read my tombstone when I’m dead.
I need to thank Michelle at Honister Slate Mine for the great photos
I lead quite a pedestrian life these days, but I am very grateful that I am still reasonably fit, and can still enjoy regular walks. Today I am especially grateful, as this autumn is glorious in the Cotswolds. The sun is shining through the trees in the woods where I take my little dog for her walks, and the ground is covered with golden leaves.
Another walk that I never tire of, and take as often as I can, is the circular walk beside the river Avon in Stratford. As a teenager I used to walk to school along the old bridge built in 1822 for horse trams. It is now a pedestrian bridge, which leads to Bancroft gardens and the town. But if you turn left, instead of crossing the tramway bridge, you can take a beautiful walk alongside the river. Here you will get the most spectacular views of the Shakespeare Theatre, and Holy Trinity Church, which is the burial place of William Shakespeare. The path goes on past the ferry, weirs and the old mill, but there is a bridge which you can cross to get into the oldest part of the town.
Whenever I have visitors, I take them to the Old Town to see some of the most beautiful places in Stratford. I start at the British Legion memorial garden which is always peaceful and very moving. There are several plaques on the wall about both World Wars. There is also one of the most beautiful garden seats I have ever seen. It is wrought in iron and has a design of soldiers marching amongst poppies.
From there I walk past the Jacobean home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall. The main part of this beautiful house was built in 1613!
I then turn left into Church Street and walk on to Chapel Lane where there are some of the oldest buildings in the town, which were built for the Guild of the Holy Cross. This guild virtually controlled the town in the middle ages. First you see a row of almshouses for the poor and needy parishioners.
As a teenager I used to collect shopping for a wonderful old French lady who lived in one of the almshouses. Inside, the rooms had solid oak floors which creaked, and low timbered ceilings. I believe they were renovated in the 1980s and brought up to date inside, but the outside is thankfully unchanged.
Next door to the almshouses is the Guild Hall where you can visit Shakespeare’s actual schoolroom. Then there is the Guild Chapel, with a history dating back to 1269!
Opposite the Guild Chapel is the site of New Place with its gorgeous gardens. When Shakespeare bought New Place it was the second biggest house in Stratford. It was his family’s home from 1597 until he died there in 1616. Sadly, the house was demolished in the 18th century, but visitors can really connect with Shakespeare in the garden through imaginative artworks reflecting the plays. It is believed that Shakespeare wrote the Tempest here and this summer there was wonderful artwork on that theme.
On the other side of the road, on the High Street, is the oldest pub in the town. The Garrick Inn, like many buildings in the old town, is a timber framed and dates back to the 1400’s. It revels in its colourful history of plagues, fires, priest holes, and ghosts!
Next door to the pub is Harvard House, where John Harvard was born in 1607. He 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 preserved thanks to the work of Marie Corelli, the writer. She lived in Stratford at the height of her fame and was passionate about preserving the old buildings in the town. She bought Harvard House in a dilapidated state and was determined to save it. In 1905, Marie met an American couple, Mr and Mrs Morris, who agreed to help pay for the restoration as a sign of friendship between UK and USA. Between them, they donated the house to Harvard University, and, at the grand re-opening in October 1909, the American ambassador, Whitelaw Reid, declared it ‘free to all visiting sons of Harvard, and a rendezvous for all visiting Americans’.
I would probably go on to Shakespeare’s birthplace from here. It really is worth going into the Birthplace Trust just to find out what Stratford was like in his day.
From there I would go back towards the theatre and the Bancroft Gardens and return to my car via the Tramway, picking up a whippy ice-cream on the way.
I have written other posts about Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the Theatre and Holy Trinity Church, which you can read by clicking the links. But for now, you can enjoy some of the photos from my last circular walk!