Kew dinnertime

Kew dinnertime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really hope to be going back!

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


The Art of Love

The Art of Love


Keats quote on River Avon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day everyone x x x


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





That’s the way to do it!

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

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

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

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

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

Garden of Remembrance

Prompted by Haiku Heights theme of ‘grass’, I decided to write about the beautiful garden of remembrance I visited in London this week.

Wreathed in fallen leaves

A sea of wooden crosses

And scarlet poppies


Lawned garden of grief

A moving memorial

Heroes remembered

This week I have been in London, and I was fortunate to be passing Westminster Abbey at just the right time to see an amazing spectacle.  Wreaths were being laid to mark all those brave men and women who fought and died in the service of our country.  Several members of the Royal Family were there to honour their sacrifice.  Movingly the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Harry laid crosses of remembrance in front of two wooden crosses from the Graves of Unknown British Soldiers from the First and Second World Wars.  Every conceivable branch of service was represented by wreaths and crosses of all shapes and sizes.  This year there are 388 plots and 100,000 crosses. 

There were poignant photos on some of the displays.  Particularly moving were the crosses to mark those who have died in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I was very impressed by the huge wreaths made up of hundreds of poppies representing our Army, Navy and Air force.  My father and my husband’s father were both in the Navy during WW2.  But, I spent a long time searching for the display to commemorate the Durham Light Infantry which my grandfather, Frederick Charles McCluskey, belonged to for almost 40 years.   He was born in 1899 and he joined up at the age of 14 years 8 months to fight in the first world war.  He was sent to France at the age of 17 as a bugler!  He survived that war and went on to fight in the Second World War.   He was one of the Desert Rats  and fought with the Durham Light Infantry at El Alamein. He wrote an account of that battle, a copy of which I still have.

Grandad never talked about the war but he kept wonderful photo albums of the places he visited during the second world war.  It wasn’t until after he died that we read in the newspapers of some of his exploits when they called him a hero:~

“Tyneside war hero, Major Frederick Charles McCluskey who played a leading role in a legendary desert trek to freedom, has died at the age of 88.
In June 1942, he and 200 men from The Durham Light Infantry‘s 9th Battalion evaded fierce enemy fire to escape after being surrounded by a division of Rommel’s desert army at gazzala, North Africa.
They travelled 350 gruelling miles to safety.  Major McCluskey, who lived in Milvain Avenue, Benwell fought in both world wars.”

I am very proud of him.

Red London Bus ~ Number 24

Number 24 London Bus from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath

Number 24 London Bus from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath

This week’s prompt for haiku Heights is the word ‘Red’.  I considered red roses as it is nearly St Valentine’s Day but then I thought of the iconic red buses in London and I was off!

One of the great things about being over 60 in the UK is that we get a bus pass for free travel on local buses.  This pass can be used anywhere in the country, not just in your own city.  So when I go to London I can travel all over the city on the red buses for absolutely nothing.

My favourite bus, and the one I use most often, is the number 24 from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath.  I usually take a coach to London Victoria then get on the 24 near there.  The bus then takes an hour or so to get to Hampstead where my journey ends.

The route the 24 travels is as good as any tourist bus as it takes in some of the greatest sights of London:

Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Downing Street, Horseguards Parade, Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, St Martin in the Fields, Haymarket and Theatreland, Charing Cross Road, Camden Town with its famous Market, Lock and Canal, and finally Hampstead itself with its famous Heath.

On the way you can see world famous galleries, inns, hospitals, statues, universities, monuments, museums, Cathedrals, and lots of buildings marked with blue badges where famous people once lived or worked.

Another delightful aspect of travelling on London’s Red buses is the cosmopolitan nature of the passengers.  People come from all over the world to live and work in London and I just love to hear the different languages and see the different styles of clothes.   By the time I arrive in Hampstead I feel as if I have had a mini trip around the world.

Culture’s condensed in

Our capital city on

A red London bus

Winchcombe in the Cotswolds

Winchcombe in the Cotswolds

Phone box, post box, brake

Lights and barriers brightened

up Broadway today

Creation ~ haiku

creation illuminated manuscript from St John's bible


Meditation on the word

Sacred creation

This haiku was inspired by the September Challenge on haiku heights ~ today’s word is Creation.

One of the most beautiful creations I have seen in recent years is an exquisite handwritten St John’s Bible.  It is the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition for the artist and calligrapher, Donald Jackson.  Working with a Benedictine community  in Minnesota, USA and with scholars in Wales, UK, he has created over many years “a work for eternity”.  Every word is written by hand and every illustration is a modern meditation on the text.  Do click on the link ~ you will be amazed by the beauty of the work.

I saw the first edition when it was displayed at St Martin in the Fields Church in London and was lucky enough to buy prints and take photographs.  I believe it is on display in USA now and it is well worth seeing.

I could have written lots of haiku on the “Creation” theme ~

Created with care

A harvest in harmony

Floral creation

A harvest time floral creation in Hereford cathedral


Sunlight reveals its beauty

Creation in glass

Creation window at Cirencester Agricultural College

tained Glass window in the chapel at Cirencester Agricultural College

Stained glass depiction of Jesus in Gloucester Cathedral


and the most important one ~ my soon to be born grandchild!

Life is unfolding

In the comfort of the womb

A new creation

Haiku ~ Revelation

Olympic revelation,

Inspiring and excelling,

Heroic athletes.

The Olympic pennant we made at WI to present to an Olympic AthleteCheltenham_coat_of_arms

Benhall Women’s Institute was formed in October 2009 on the outskirts of Cheltenham Spa in the Cotswolds.

Our Olympic Pennant displays 5 cameos representing local features:

  •  Pittville Pump Room ~ a Regency Spa building officially opened in 1830
  •  Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is a prestigious award presented annually at the National Hunt Race meeting at Cheltenham racecourse
  •  The Devil’s Chimney at Leckhampton ~ a rocky pinnacle which is a prominent local landmark on the Cotswold Way
  •  The “Doughnut”, an iconic building in Benhall, home of GCHQ ~ the Government Communications Headquarters and part of our WI logo
  •  The Olympic Torch is at the centre of our pennant.  The slim UK 2012 design is very distinctive.  It will be coming through Cheltenham on its way from lands End to London on Wednesday 23rd May 2012.

The pennant’s background depicts the honey colour of Cotswold stone and is bound with the Olympic colours of blue, black, red, yellow and green.

On the back of the pennant is this message:~

“The members of Benhall WI would like to congratulate you for participating in the 2012 Olympics.  We hope you enjoy your visit to London 2012.  We present this pennant as a souvenir”.

The pennant was designed and created by a group of Benhall WI members

Haiku inspired by September Challenge at Haiku Heights.