SNV30239

SNV30239

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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Days in the limelight

 
For many celebrities, fame is only fleeting- fifteen minutes of being in the limelight, a brief chance to shine. This week I went to see a tree like that....a very nondescript tree for most of the year....the sort that you pass without noticing. But at the moment....it's centre stage and the star of the show.
 
I found the tree at  Belgrave Hall, a house built in the reign of Queen Anne, which has been a museum in Leicester for the last sixty or so years. Step a few yards from a busy suburban street, all terraced houses and noisy cars, and  you're in a different world, a different time.
 





Go through the gates, straight through to the back door to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries



Instead of walking down the path, turn right, dive behind a brick wall...and this is the tree....the handkerchief tree, otherwise known as Davidia involucrate or the ghost tree. You can only see why it's called that for only two weeks of the year. Two weeks when it blossoms...


Isn't it striking?

The tree comes from China and was discovered there by a French priest, Father Armand David in 1868. Thirty one years later, Ernest Wilson, a young English botanist was commissioned to go to China to find the handkerchief tree. When I say he was young, he was only twenty two, didn't speak Chinese, and had never been abroad before. Also, there was only one specimen of the tree known to exist, so the whole project didn't exactly seem viable.

All Ernest had was a  hand-drawn map and a few written notes.....but he set off , surviving being attacked by bandits, nearly drowning,...and oh yes, a potentially deadly disease. Despite all these setbacks, he actually found the exact location of the tree, but...and wait for this...it had been chopped down to build a house! I can't imagine what was going through Ernest's mind by this stage - I think I would have collapsed and wept. But this wonderful young man managed to find some other seeds....and two years later they arrived back in England.
 
What a story...and what a find...because when the tree flowers it really is stunning. Although the white "handkerchieves" aren't the flowers, they're actually the bracts, or protective leaves, outside the flowers. The flowers are quite tiny and purple.
 
 


But like the handkerchief tree, the two acre garden at Belgrave Hall deserve a spot in the limelight too.
For hundreds of years this was a family house, and the gardens have grown organically with lots of places to sit in private, hidden spaces away from the formality of the view from the back door.




This is one of two ancient mulberries which stand guard...





While this statue remains ever watchful.....



I love gates which beckon you through...rather than shut you out....



to quiet spots for contemplation...




And where the gardeners would have been busy


And taking a brief sit down is my guide Valerie Hartley , the gardens officer with the Leicestershire Museum Service who took me on a whistle stop tour of the garden where's she based. I can't think of a lovelier spot to work from  - can you?


All too soon it was time to head back towards the hall...

Turn around and take a last glimpse of the garden



Before time travelling back to the 21st century in the space of a few steps.

I've been coming to this garden since I was a baby, when my mother and her friends would push their prams here after a few miles walk , and sit all the babies on the lawn on a summer's afternoon.

If you'd like to visit ( taking a pram is not obligatory), the garden is open on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons during the summer months from 1pm until 4pm,and admission is free.. You can take a picnic, even play croquet on the lawn or just admire the plants and trees.

Today's track is bang up to date, it's catchy and it's from Laura Mvula...and captures the delicious feeling of escaping from the hurly burly of the city into a "Green garden"...

 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A day of inspired brilliance, books, tea and cake....

Books, tea and cakes are an award winning combination - especially when Persephone Books are involved.
 
There's no mistaking a Persephone book....paperbacks in a sophisticated dove grey with the most delicious endpapers, and a matching bookmark....the designs chosen  to complement the book with the right historical pedigree.
 


They not only look beautiful, they're very tactile, and there's one hundred and two books so far on the Persephone list......they're reprints of neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century writers, who mainly are women. They're thought -provoking, taking the reader back to a Britain very different to today... with domestic but universal themes and relationships shining out from the pages.

Over 40 of us gathered on Saturday afternoon in the teeny, tiny Kibworth bookshop to meet Nicola Beauman, who heads up Persephone Press. Although a writer of biographies plus a history of the women's novels from 1914-39, in an inspired moment of brilliance, Nicola set up her own publishing house in 1999 because there were so many writers she thought deserved to be heard again.


 
 
 
It's one thing to think about doing something like that, and actually going ahead with the idea. But she did. She also endured several hard years to begin with, and then something rather wonderful happened. One of Nicola's books, "Miss Pettigrew lives for a day" by Winifred Watson – was made into a film, after it surprisingly became a bestseller.

That was the turning point for Persephone Books...and the rest is history. There's a rather cultish sense of belonging when readers meet fellow devotees and many do meet up at the regular teas and events that are held. 

The one on Saturday was very jolly...after a frenzy of book buying, followed by Nicola's talk, tea and cakes were served....the tea cosy was knitted specially in grey by Kerry....

 


who managed to waltz her way through the crowded shop offering tea and some tasty treats.



And then there was time for most to have a word with Nicola..., buy some more books, and scurry home to open one of those dove grey books , sit, sigh with pleasure and begin to read ...



Today's track is from a Texas based band with which I'm rather enamoured. Great voices underpin each track, excellent lyrics and the violin enhance each  melody. The band is called the Good Mad and this song is called "In the grey"...just like all those hundred and two Persephone titles...


 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Saturdays


Since schooldays, I've always loved Saturdays. Many of them spent playing in the park with my younger brothers, but it was also the  day when Mama (my mum) would often take me shopping.  It was a time when I could have a small slice of her all to myself. Sometimes, it was just grocery shopping, off in Mama's car...a Morris Minor, all leathery seats smell and the clickety click of the window wipers. Sometimes we would catch the bus to town and buy a new dress or coat, and she would give me the money to pay the driver...and oh didn't I feel grown up.


Growing up as a teenager and a convent schoolgirl in Africa, Saturdays meant freedom. Working in the city on a Saturday job selling books and magazines from 8am until 1.30pm and then walking to the beach for a long afternoon of sun, swimming, watching my friends surfing..and ice cold drinks from the café.

University Saturdays began late ....usually after a very good Friday night out...but always ready to meet the gang for a walk from the campus into town....for a mooch about, for a drink....and then to get ready for Saturday night. The thought of staying in on a Saturday night was unheard of...they meant going to a gig, a disco, a bar or a party..

When I became a mother, Saturdays was all about our gang of three....music lessons and tennis in the morning , a picnic, a village fete on summer afternoons or a winter walk in the park, all muffled up ....and then  for many years , the odd Saturday night out when we could get a babysitter. Out with friends for a meal, or going to friends' houses for supper....

Now, my Saturdays are still so precious. After a busy working week, Saturday mornings means nipping to the farm shop to buy something tasty for the weekend, perhaps a wine tasting here...


going to the allotment , walking the dog, being in the garden.

Sometimes there's the whole family gang of us for a meal, sometimes just Mr Thinking of the days and I sitting quietly with a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta.....but I love my Saturday nights at home.

And now in May , there's time after supper to just admire, appreciate and adore the lighter nights....I walked out into the garden at about eight o' clock last night...the light was extraordinary. Boo and I just stood there admiring the view


the colours in the garden...




and peered over our garden fence



and then we decided to make the most of a lovely evening , with a quick walk across one  of the fields which normally contains sheep ...Boo loved it....so much room to run about in....
to momentarily lose track of us





 
Ah, there you are....
 
 



We walked back through the village and saw the lambs playing



Admired the blossom everywhere


Inhaled  the sweet smell of the grass, and surprised myself by inadvertently taking a photo as we walked along.. I love it...the lushness of the grass in it's all its abstract glory.....







I still love Saturday nights....I really do......


Today's track is from Chicago...a band whose music I appreciate even more every time I hear it. Here's Saturday in the park....with lovely memories of Saturdays gone by.....


 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

book festival days....

 
 
As many of you will know....I love reading. I also adore books....the smell and feel of them, the excitement of having a new book just sitting waiting to be read.
 
So naturally I'm really looking forward to this coming week.....and for the launch of a new venture - the Leicester Book Festival.
 
Now, we already have a Literary festival  in the city which is run by the University of Leicester . But this has been organised by the dynamic Debbie James who runs the Kibworth Bookshop. I've already written about her here....
 

 

There's an eclectic mix of events ....from the launch of a new poetry book by John Gallas, a storytelling  event in Leicester's atmospheric Guildhall featuring folk tales of Leicestershire and Rutland and beyond, to tea and cakes with Persephone Books at the Bookshop in Kibworth .




Julie Summers is appearing in Kibworth too to talk about her book Jambusters..the role of the W.I in
the Second World War. It's a fascinating read  so I shall definitely be there. I've given talks to about seventy W.I 's across the county and country over the years...and my darling Mum is a past president and very loyal member of her local one, so I thought I knew quite a bit about the movement. I do now though after reading the book!

Another must go to event is to see Sarah Gristwood whose book "Blood Sisters" about the women behind the Wars of the Roses is very topical. I've been immersed in the mediaeval world of Richard III since last August both as a history fan and as a reporter with a seat in the front row in the wonderful unfolding story of his discovery in a Leicester car park. To read about his wife Anne Neville in such detail and the other royal women is a joy.



And then at the New Walk Museum a week today, there's Ian Broome and Sam Mills from Legend Press.






A new venture is always an unknown quantity....a risk....but I'm hoping that this one will be a huge success .It should be, with some interesting events at diverse locations such as a mediaeval guildhall, a cricket club, a museum and a bar/café...what's there not to like? 

Which event will you be going to ?

Today's track is from By the Rivers....a Leicester band who've launched their debut album last week. Such a talented band, so creative and musically tight....I think they're destined for big things....
 
So here's to the success of two new local launches....
 
 

book festival days....

 
 
As many of you will know....I love reading. I also adore books....the smell and feel of them, the excitement of having a new book just sitting waiting to be read.
 
So naturally I'm really looking forward to this coming week.....and for the launch of a new venture - the Leicester Book Festival.
 
Now, we already have a Literary festival  in the city which is run by the University of Leicester . But this has been organised by the dynamic Debbie James who runs the Kibworth Bookshop. I've already written about her here....
 

 

There's an eclectic mix of events ....from the launch of a new poetry book by John Gallas, a storytelling  event in Leicester's atmospheric Guildhall featuring folk tales of Leicestershire and Rutland and beyond, to tea and cakes with Persephone Books at the Bookshop in Kibworth .




Julie Summers is appearing in Kibworth too to talk about her book Jambusters..the role of the W.I in
the Second World War. It's a fascinating read  so I shall definitely be there. I've given talks to about seventy W.I 's across the county and country over the years...and my darling Mum is a past president and very loyal member of her local one, so I thought I knew quite a bit about the movement. I do now though after reading the book!

Another must go to event is to see Sarah Gristwood whose book "Blood Sisters" about the women behind the Wars of the Roses is very topical. I've been immersed in the mediaeval world of Richard III since last August both as a history fan and as a reporter with a seat in the front row in the wonderful unfolding story of his discovery in a Leicester car park. To read about his wife Anne Neville in such detail and the other royal women is a joy.



And then at the New Walk Museum a week today, there's Ian Broome and Sam Mills from Legend Press.






A new venture is always an unknown quantity....a risk....but I'm hoping that this one will be a huge success .It should be, with some interesting events at diverse locations such as a mediaeval guildhall, a cricket club, a museum and a bar/café...what's there not to like? 

Which event will you be going to ?

Today's track is from By the Rivers....a Leicester band who've launched their debut album last week. Such a talented band, so creative and musically tight....I think they're destined for big things....
 
So here's to the success of two new local launches....
 
 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

days of simple pleasures

The difference that the last few days have made is wonderful. Sunshine....warmth....oh how I've missed you.

Doing some weeding in the gardening without being rained or hailed on or blown about was such a treat...





On Monday it was so warm, I lay under the ash tree and read a book for an hour.....



Yesterday morning, Boo and I went for one of our favourite walks before I went to work....
it may have been slightly overcast, but to be out in a balmy breeze put a spring into our steps...




There was plenty of time for a romp around the field





Time for Boo to stop and sniff the air






Time for me to stop and stare...at the rural, timeless beauty on my doorstep





And for us both to have a laugh....




A week of lovely weather, and a few hours of simple pleasures that haven't cost a penny but have made a world of difference ....

Today's track is from Bobby McFerrin with "Simple Pleasures"....I've been singing this all week....

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The day I met the Romans

 
It's quite exciting getting a scoop. Following a  tip off, I was in another Leicester car park in mid April. With archaeologists from the University of Leicester..
 
They'd found bones.
 
Oh, talk about deja vu! But no, they weren't searching for another King.
 
John Thomas and his team were in the car park of the old Antiques  Centre on the corner of Oxford Street and Newarke Street....where I've parked my car many a time when spending a wet afternoon hunting down old and vintage treasures. The antiques centre has lain empty for a number of years now....and the whole site is going to be developed , building extra accomodation for  students at De Montfort University.
 
John is on the left...this is in the first trench, only feet from the car park gates. Almost immediately John and his team found at least ten bodies...and he suspected others were hiding.
I was standing in a cemetery ....a Roman cemetery from 300 to 400 AD.
 

 

In the last few weeks John has found another three bodies, so thirteen were in the car park in total. Both men and women, they had different types of burials.including east to west and north to south-oriented graves, many with personal items such as hobnailed shoes. But some of the Roman burial traditions seem strange to us today. One of the bodies found had been decapitated ...and the head put on the body.


 
 
In Roman times, burials were not allowed within the town gates ...and the location , just outside the town walls was a busy southern suburb at the time.

 
The people buried here may have lived approximately one thousand and seven hundred years ago, but as you can see from the next photograph , the history that divides us is so close....a mere  four or five feet deep away.
 
 
 

 
It was a privilege to see the early part of the dig...and to be within hand touching distance of those who lived and died so long ago. John  is used to this now, but I'm not, and it was an eerie feeling.
watching them as they lay open to the elements after so many hundreds of years undisturbed underground.  I said a prayer for them as I left.

 
Do have a listen to my interview with John Thomas here....to hear more about the dig, and the mediaeval finds on the site too.
 
 
And the track for today is from the Cure..."Sleep when I'm dead"....
 
 

The day I met the Romans

 
It's quite exciting getting a scoop. Following a  tip off, I was in another Leicester car park in mid April. With archaeologists from the University of Leicester..
 
They'd found bones.
 
Oh, talk about deja vu! But no, they weren't searching for another King.
 
John Thomas and his team were in the car park of the old Antiques  Centre on the corner of Oxford Street and Newarke Street....where I've parked my car many a time when spending a wet afternoon hunting down old and vintage treasures. The antiques centre has lain empty for a number of years now....and the whole site is going to be developed , building extra accomodation for  students at De Montfort University.
 
John is on the left...this is in the first trench, only feet from the car park gates. Almost immediately John and his team found at least ten bodies...and he suspected others were hiding.
I was standing in a cemetery ....a Roman cemetery from 300 to 400 AD.
 

 

In the last few weeks John has found another three bodies, so thirteen were in the car park in total. Both men and women, they had different types of burials.including east to west and north to south-oriented graves, many with personal items such as hobnailed shoes. But some of the Roman burial traditions seem strange to us today. One of the bodies found had been decapitated ...and the head put on the body.


 
 
In Roman times, burials were not allowed within the town gates ...and the location , just outside the town walls was a busy southern suburb at the time.

 
The people buried here may have lived approximately one thousand and seven hundred years ago, but as you can see from the next photograph , the history that divides us is so close....a mere  four or five feet deep away.
 
 
 

 
It was a privilege to see the early part of the dig...and to be within hand touching distance of those who lived and died so long ago. John  is used to this now, but I'm not, and it was an eerie feeling.
watching them as they lay open to the elements after so many hundreds of years undisturbed underground.  I said a prayer for them as I left.

 
Do have a listen to my interview with John Thomas here....to hear more about the dig, and the mediaeval finds on the site too.
 
 
And the track for today is from the Cure..."Sleep when I'm dead"....