All posts by slightlyrandomthoughts

Reflections on summer ….

Well, the clocks went today. It’s official.  Summer is over. Winter is on its way.  So this seems like an ideal time to reflect on summer 2014.

For us, for a change, it’s been a lovely, long, hot summer in Leeds  with a variety of things happening. The Tour de France set off from Leeds which was a wonderful sight. I think all of West Yorkshire got involved.  It was a perfect opportunity to show off our wonderful countryside to the millions of television viewers. As a child in the 1960s and 1970s, cycling was the only sensible way to get around in the London suburb where I lived. Hours were spent cycling to friends, school, parks and out to the country. I remember cycling as being a pleasurable, leisurely activity. Not quite what the Tour de France represents! I still have the bike that my parents bought me when I was 11 years old. It’s rusting away in our garage not having been used for over 20 years. The sensible thing would be to take it to the local tip but for some reason I still hang on to it …

This year, owing to financial restraints, we took our annual holiday in the form of a couple of long weekends in Birmingham, Liverpool and London taken in July, August and September . It was a good opportunity to look round three of our wonderful cities. They are cities that we are very familiar with but they are cities that we never fail to find interesting.

The main reason for visit Birmingham was to see the new library.  And what a fantastic library it is!  The building is ultra modern with an external façade made up of thousands of metal rings.  Inside there are escalators and a glass lift.  It is light and  modern but not overwhelmingly so.  There are clearly some slight problems but it was buzzing with activity.  From the 9th floor viewing platform you can see right across the City.  The space within the library is very well used and the technology is superb. I loved the idea of having garden space including  a secret garden.   My favourite room was the Shakespeare room.  We also took the opportunity to walk down by the canal, visit the museum and art gallery and generally explore the City on foot.

To be honest, visiting the library was also the main reason for our trip to Liverpool. Are you detecting a theme here? As much as I loved Library of Birmingham, the architecture of Liverpool library was breath-taking. It is a beautiful building, combining the old with the new. When you enter the atrium of the building and look up to the glass skylight, it is an amazing view.  It also has a roof terrace from where you get lovely views of the City. However, as much as I loved the modernity of the building, it was the Picton Reading Room that proved to be my favourite room. I could imagine myself sitting there for hours, reading!

Picton room

 

We took the opportunity to visit The Walker Art Gallery to marvel at the Grayson Perry tapestries that form The Vanity of Small Differences. There are six tapestries (each measuring 2 metres by 4 metres) that take a look at class differences in modern day Britain. They are truly awesome. In essence they are a contemporary look at Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, telling the rise and fall of Tim Rakewell as he makes the journey from working class to upper class. If you get a chance to see them, please do. I had seen Perry’s TV series: All in the Best Possible Taste so it was wonderful to see the end result. There was an opportunity to watch the programmes whilst at the exhibition so those that had not seen them could understand the stories behind the tapestries.

The next stop in our culture fix was the Liverpool Tate to see the Mondrian and his Studios exhibition. I have always liked Mondrian’s work without fully understanding them. The exhibition was fascinating, showing how he developed his very distinctive style of excluding curves from his compositions. Apart from the artwork and a copy of his Paris studio, there were a series of letters that he wrote to Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Fascinating. In an adjoining gallery was an exhibition of work by Nasreen Mohamedi. I have to admit I had never heard of her before but I was impressed with her floating and elliptical forms.

I also took the opportunity to take some photographs from the windows of the Tate. You are not allowed to take photographs inside the gallery but it is permitted to take photos of the views which you would not normally get to see.  We did see something bright and cheerful which we were informed was the Dazzle ship.  We decided this required closer investigation!

 

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Being sports fans, we took the opportunity to do a tour of the famous Anfield Stadium, home to Liverpool FC. Again, it was very fascinating and steeped in history. There is a certain thrill to see the famous Shankly gates with the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” standing out proudly. Our tour guides were so friendly and enthusiastic, true Scousers. We took the opportunity to sit in the Kop – the name coming from the Battle of Spion Kop where so many Liverpudlians lost their lives.  You can’t help but be moved by the memorial to those who died in the Hillsborough tragedy.

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Another awe inspiring art installation can be found at Crosby Beach  in the form of Antony Gormley’s “Another Place”.  One hundred identical naked cast iron statues spread across the beach and out into the sea.  The statues are being continuously eroded by the sea and the effects of weather.  I have now seen them several times but each time I am taken aback by the scale of it.

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Our final weekend away was to London. Although we are Londoners by birth and only moved away 18 years ago, it was great to take the opportunity to be tourists. We do go back to London on occasions but it’s mainly to see family and friends. We rarely get the opportunity to do the tourist trail. I was very keen to visit the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of the poppies in the moat at theTower of London. It was breath-taking and very moving. We then went on the cable car from Becton to Greenwich to visit the Tall Ships Festival and were so impressed that we went back a few days later to see them set sail on their way to Falmouth. I love wandering around Greenwich. We found a lovely old pub for a drink and then just went for a mooch. I am always happy in London when I am near the river Thames! Apart from that we did very touristy activities – a visit to the state rooms at Buckingham Palace; a trip on a water ferry, roamed around the South Bank; looked in at the NFT for a restorative glass of wine; went to the V&A etc.  It was lovely!!  And so nice to be back “home”

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So that is our summer holiday activity. We have always spent some lovely days out in Yorkshire and are now looking forward to some autumnal walks.

And of course, there’s Christmas lurking around the corner …..

 

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Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The ever so wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park has been named UK Museum of the Year. We are lucky to have such a wonderful resource on our doorstep. As the name implies, it is an area of 500 acres which has a very impressive collection of modern art ranging from Henry Moore to Antony Gormley to Ai Weiwei.

The sculptures and works of art are displayed all around the impressive Park. If like us you opt for the wander randomly approach you are always surprised at what you come across. My most recent visit was on a warm summer’s day a few weeks ago. It was a day suited best for slowly exploring the park rather than racing round. The first thing we encountered was some very adorable sheep – real sheep not sculpture! I am not sure how many roam the Park but they are all very used to the public and so are ridiculously tame. They graze happily around the artwork.

There is something very rewarding about see large pieces of artwork in an outdoor setting. It helps you get a sense of the scale of it all. Art and nature meeting ….

Our latest visit was to see the Ai Weiwei exhibition which is in and around St Bartholomew’s – a restored 18th century chapel in the park. Weiwei‘s iron tree was outside the Chapel. It’s very impressive and will change colour over time as the iron rusts and weathers. Inside the Chapel were his 45 chairs. All the chairs were incredibly old. Each chair was different and made you think of all the different people who would have sat in them over the centuries. You are encouraged to sit in them and take time for contemplation. When they were built, these chairs would have been for the privileged classes in China. Now they are available for anyone from any walk of life to sit in. The most remarkable thing about the exhibition is that Weiwei had to organise it all over Skype and email as he is still unable to leave China. There was other of his artworks inside the Chapel including a map of China made from reclaimed wood.

As well as the art, you have the beauty of the Park which covers a considerable area. There are lakeside walks with an array of birdlife to be seen. It really is a lovely location. The grounds and gardens are superb. There is also an impressive 18th century country house – Bretton Hall – which used to be part of Leeds University.

If you get the opportunity, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is well worth a visit.

I took these photos when I was there. I apologise for the quality – I’m a rubbish photographer – but it gives you some idea of the Park.

Iron tree

 

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Tour de France

Well, the Tour de France has left England.  We have had great fun in Leeds with all the preparations in the weeks prior to the Le Grand Depart.  Multi-coloured bicycles appeared in random places.  City statues were suddenly adorned with yellow t-shirts.  Bunting appeared seemingly out of nowhere. More importantly, various roads were repaired – something that has desperately been needed since winter!

The TV coverage showed Yorkshire at its best and its greenest.   We were fortunate to have glorious weather (especially on the Saturday) and the crowds came out in force. The enthusiasm for the race was almost tangible. EVERYONE was talking about it. I was lucky enough to see the riders as they left Leeds city centre on their way to Harewood House for the official start.  They were not racing as they passed by – well they were only going at about 25 mph – so I got a fantastic view of them.  They were so close you felt you could put out a hand and touch them!  I arrived early at my selected viewing point to get a good position.  This did mean that I had over 2 hours to wait before the riders arrived but we were kept amused and the crowd was very good humoured. A couple of promotional “caravans” came along.  Music was being played, souvenirs were thrown out of vehicles as they went past.  In fact, if you weren’t careful, you were in danger of being hit by flying objects as they were vigorously hurled into the crowds! Police, ambulance, sponsors all came past both French and British. Every moving vehicle was greeted with great cheers from the crowd!  The atmosphere was very lively and the anticipation grew as we waited for news that Le Grand Depart had officially started.  Then suddenly they appeared!  It was brilliant and well worth the wait!  I very much doubt I will ever see anything like this again in my lifetime.  

This photo was taken by my husband.

Tour de France

A Rock Festival For Words ….

Over the past few days Leeds has been hosting a literary festival called the Big Bookend.  The Big Bookend describes itself as a Rock Festival for Words.  This was the third year for the Festival.  This year there has been a wide range of authors hosting a diverse range of activities and events for all ages held in a variety of locations throughout the city.  Some of the events were free.  Some charged a modest admission price.  All events have been very well attended.  The wonderful thing about the Big Bookend is that it celebrates the enormous wealth of local and very successful writing talent that we have in Leeds.

 

I went to four events this year, which is not as many as I would have liked! 

 

The first event I attended was a book launch, which is always exciting!  Elizabeth is Missing is the debut novel from 26 year old Emma Healey.  It has as its lead character Maud, who is in her 80s and suffers from dementia.  Although Maud forgets many things she is convinced that her friend Elizabeth is Missing but who will believe her?  It was interesting to hear how Emma wrote this book.  She comes across as being very engaging if slightly unsure of her talent.  This is despite the fact that publishers were fighting over the rights to publish Elizabeth is Missing and the TV rights have been sold already! 

 

On Saturday I went to two events.  They  were very different from each other but both very enjoyable.   Author John Lake talked about (and read excerpts from) his trilogy set in Leeds 6.  I then heard a fascinating talk, “Where is Chapeltown and What Does it Do?” given by Max Farrar, Emeritus Professor at Leeds Metropolitan University. 

 

 However, the highlight for me was an Audience with Alan Bennett on Sunday afternoon at West Yorkshire Playhouse.  We had been to see his play Enjoy at the Playhouse on the Friday evening but to actually hear the great man talk had me tingling with excitement.  As you might have guessed, I am a big Alan Bennett fan.  He is one of those authors whose voice you can hear in your head when you read his books.  He was immensely amusing and very sharp with his observations on life.  He was born and brought up in Leeds and retains his love of the city.  Apparently, he comes up to visit on a very regular basis.  He clearly enjoys the fact that people feel they can approach him and talk to him about his works.  His way with words is wonderful.  One quote I remember from yesterday is “I like it when I arrive at the station and everybody talks like me”.   Clearly a man who has not forgotten his roots …

 

Alan Bennett is such a brilliant raconteur and it was truly a privilege to hear him live.

 

http://www.bigbookend.co.uk/

The Big Lunch

Sunday 1st June was The Big Lunch.  For those not familiar with the concept, The Big Lunch started at The Eden Project in Cornwall.  It is all about bringing communities together.  The aim is to get as many people as possible to have lunch with their neighbours in a spirit of friendship and fun.  In my street, it is the 4th year that we have done this.  We have had glorious weather for three out of the four of them.   However, in 2012 there was torrential rain and we had to take cover under hastily erected gazebos. But Big Lunch still went ahead! 

 

A small steering group meets a few times a year to organise it.  Being someone who likes to be involved in things, I am on the group although my contribution is limited these days.  Having had a Big Lunch for four years, it almost arranges itself.  We always have some musical entertainment and borrow trestle tables from the local school or local church to put down the middle of the street.  Everybody brings food and drink and it is all placed on these tables to share.  Residents bring their own garden furniture or equivalent to set up in the street to sit at.  Games are arranged for the children.  This year we had an animal fancy dress theme for the children.

 

Luckily for us, yesterday was glorious sunshine.  The day starts with closing the road at 11.00 am and stringing bunting up from first floor windows so that it criss-crossed the road.  The bunting was made for our first Big Lunch street party in 2011 and has been used every year since.  It is homemade from old sheets, duvet covers and other sundry pieces of material that were donated by residents.  We set up a working party of people who either cut out the triangles or sowed them together.  We made six sections of 5 metres each.  As you can imagine it took a little while!  However, it is unique and was a great deal of fun to make.

 

The tables were set up at 12.00 am and the first contributions of food arrived shortly afterwards.  We had three different sets of musicians lined up.  The first ones were a local jazz band who commenced playing at 1.00 pm.  A young solo singer/guitarist followed them and the proceedings ended with an African drumming group. 

 

The whole day was a great success.  With everyone leading such busy lives these days, it is too easy to lose touch with your neighbours.  The Big Lunch is a perfect opportunity to reconnect with people and to be introduced to new arrivals in the street.  Obviously not everyone in the street takes part but we had over 100 people this year, which was excellent.  There is a strong community spirit and a reassurance that if anyone in the street ever needs help, we have some lovely neighbours to turn to.

 

I am not sure of the date of next year’s Big Lunch, but I will be there!

http://www.thebiglunch.com/

The Leeds Library

Well, last weekend was our last Bank Holiday weekend until August.  That is such a shame.  I love the luxury of Bank Holiday weekends.  Just having that extra day tagged on to the weekend seems to make all the difference.  Did I make good use of that extra day?  No!  The weekend mainly consisted of housework, gardening, cooking and I managed to fit in some reading.  My daughter unexpectedly came round for dinner on the Sunday and stayed the night, which was lovely.  The high point actually came on Saturday afternoon when I went to a book sale at The Leeds Library and then went on a tour of the Library.

 

The Leeds Library is fascinating.  It is the oldest proprietary subscription library in Britain.  Founded in 1768, it counts Joseph Priestley (the chap who discovered oxygen) as one of its former members.  The Library now occupies a first floor property above shops in a busy street in the centre of the City.  What I did not know before going on the tour was that the Library owns the shops beneath it.  The rent from the buildings provides the library with an income that has helped it to survive where other similar libraries have been forced to close.  The Library adopts a policy of members being able to look at and touch every single book in the library, however old and however rare.  Just the thought of it sends a tingle down my spine!  When you go around the library, it is like stepping back in time.  I could just imagine sitting in one of the comfortable chairs for hours occasionally plucking a book off the shelves to browse through.  They even have a card index system; something I had not seen in a library for a few years, although we were assured there was an on-line catalogue!   Nevertheless, however lovely, it is a subscription library and although the membership fee includes all reservations, loans, participation at book clubs, talks, and a film club, the cost is £120 per adult.  Unlike the public libraries in Leeds, this library is only open 9.00 – 17.00 Monday to Friday and from 9.00 – 13.00 on Saturdays.  As someone who works full time, those opening hours are too restricted for me to get value out of the subscription fee.  Perhaps when I reach retirement it may seem a more attractive option…

 

Fortunately, we are lucky in Leeds to have a high quality, thriving public library service that provides a truly excellent service.  A free library service is a wonderful thing and we should all do everything we can to support it.

http://www.theleedslibrary.org.uk/

 

Books and volunteering

Today I have spent the last hour or so scrolling through the public library catalogue.  Why?  Because I need to select and reserve suitable books to deliver to a gentleman who has had a stroke and is therefore no longer able to visit his local library to select his own books.  It’s part of the Library At Home service offered by my local council run library service.  I have been volunteering for the Library At Home service for about six years.  This does mean that my poor borrower has had to put up with me descending on him once every three weeks for the last few years but he doesn’t seem to mind!  Over this period of time we have established a very good rapport and friendship.  He has become used to my inane chatter.  My awful jokes.  And my occasional off the wall book choices!  I do try and take him a variety of books and inevitably some prove to be better choices than others ….. 

Against all the odds, he does seem to enjoy my visits and I get a great deal of pleasure from visiting him. He is such a lovely man.  I always stop for a chat about the books I have chosen for him and to generally catch up with his news.  He likes to hear about my family, my job and all the dramas that befallen me in the last 3 weeks.   I derive a great pleasure from choosing books for him.  I often read book reviews and think, yes, this is something he would like to read.  Or if I discover an author he enjoys, then I seek out further books written by that author.  A few years ago I used to work for the library service and one of my greatest pleasures was discussing books with the customers and suggesting new authors or genres.  My role as a library volunteer allows me to selfishly continue with this passion.

I am lucky that I have a volunteering role that involves my love of books and reading.

 

 

A bit of culture on a Sunday afternoon …

The collected letters of Jane Morris

I don’t often do anything of a cultural nature on a Sunday but today was different.  I saw a talk advertised and thought to myself, well that sounds interesting.

The talk was about the Letters of Jane Morris and was delivered by the authors of the book shown above.  Now, the depths of my ignorance are great that I had no idea who she was but recognised her face from many of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings.  Time to find out more, I thought to myself, so booked a place on the talk which took place at lunchtime at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford.

The talk was fascinating.  Jane Morris (nee Burden) was bought up in poverty in Oxford.  Her distinctive features brought her to the attention of Rossetti and Burne-Jones who asked her to model for them.  Both these artists were close friends with William Morris, a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement.  An introduction was made and the inevitable happened.  Morris fell in love with Jane and they married even though it was highly probable that Jane was actually in love with Rossetti.  Fortunately for Jane, Morris was a wealthy man.  His money enabled her to be privately educated and to become refined to the extent she could move easily in the highest circles.  She proved to be highly skilled in the art of tapestry and worked alongside her sister, Bessie, to bring to life the sketches made by her husband.

She continued to model for Rossetti and before long they began an affair.  It was fairly common for an artist’s and his muse to become the lovers and this case was no exception.  The affair lasted for many years and, as you can imagine, put a strain on the friendship between Morris and Rossetti.

Personally, I would not say that Jane was a beauty.  She is striking and distinctive but to my mind, not a beauty.   I always think she looks really miserable in the paintings.  After the talk I went to the look at the Rossetti exhibition.   It was an opportunity to compare photographs and sketches of Jane side by side.  I am sure it is the only occasion when I will ever be in a room with some many Rossetti paintings and sketches of the same woman.

In case anyone is interested there are links below to the exhibition in Bradford and to a website that has more of the history of Jane Morris.

http://www.bradfordmuseums.org/whatson/event_detail.php?ID=778

http://preraphaelitesisterhood.com/jane-morris-an-enigmatic-muse/

It is sometimes very rewarding to do something on a whim.  I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon in Bradford.

Winter sunshine

Today is one of those lovely sunny winter’s mornings.  The sun is low in the sky (which makes driving a nightmare!).  It is positively mild and there’s almost an early spring-like feel to the day.  I think that the real difference between winter this year and last year – apart from the absence of snow – has been the appearance of the sun.  Last year winter seemed very dark and miserable and dragged on for ever.   This year in my part of the England, we are really still waiting for winter to happen.  We have had a few very cold days but in general it has been bearable.  I have only had to wear my gloves once so far which is always a sign that it’s not too cold!  Unfortunately it has been incredibly wet and Southern England has really suffered from floods and storms but, fortunately for us, we have not been badly affected.

However, this very strange winter has left my garden slightly confused as to what time of year it is.  I have bulbs pushing their way up at a great rate which is to be expected at this time of year. The snowdrops are through which is always lovely to see and they bring me great pleasure.  But I also have a patio rose that has started to bloom.  This is possibly a foolhardy move by the rose so early in the year.  I fear for its safety should the snow and ice make an appearance but I have to admire its courage.  It’s a unexpected beacon of hope in February.

Richard III

I have recently been studying a Future Learn online course about England in the time of Richard III.  I am a total history addict so this course was perfect for me!  Interest in Richard III has increased since the discovery of his remains under a car park in Leicester.  Which is not actually as random as it sounds since the car park is built over the site of an ancient priory (Greyfriars) where his body was taken after the Battle of Bosworth. The course was led  by staff from the University of Leicester who were part of the team that found the remains.

I had studied Richard III at school over 40 years ago but the course has given me greater understanding of how people lived in medieval England.  The food they ate.  How they lived their lives.  The course gave us links to some wonderful websites including National Archives where we could access the Wills to see what they left and to whom.  The religious aspect of their lives was really interesting – concept of purgatory and the importance of prayer.  It was not actually a bad life for both the rich and the poor.  Apart that is from the Black Death, Wars of the Roses and low life expectancy ……    The Wars of the Roses was a key element of the course.  It through up some interesting facts.  The Battle of Towton lasted for 10 hours.  Can you imagine?  10 hours!  28,000 were killed.  That was about 1% of the population at the time.  Richard III was the last English king to actually die in battle.  Did you know that?  I am sure it was fact I was probably told at some time but had totally forgotten.

But what I found to be one of the most exciting aspects of the course was reliving through video the discovery of his body.  The luck in digging the trenches that found the remains of his body.  The realisation that he did actually have a crooked back and it was not just an invention of Shakespeare. He wasn’t a hunch back but there was definite curvature of the spine.   An examination of his skeleton revealed the extent of the  injuries he sustained in battle.  Then being able to locate and take DNA from two descendants of Richard’s sister to enable positive confirmation that it was indeed the remains of Richard III.   How fantastic is that?

And the story is still not over.  The argument still goes on  over where his final resting place should be –  York or Leicester.

Future Learn is a brilliant concept.  I am now doing a course on Hamlet and have signed up for several more.  Watch this space …..