Friday, 19 January 2018

The Singer Building

When I was a child Singer sewing machines were a big part of my life. My Grandma and Great Aunt, who I've talked about here, both used Singers in their dressmaking workshop. My earliest memory is of them being powered by treadle. I grew up to the sound of those machines, almost like a lullaby, the thrum of the needle as it raced across yards of cloth.

But then they had them converted to electricity some time in the 1960s and I never quite felt the same about the machines after that, although I'm sure it made work much easier for Grandma and Great Aunt.

Cut to last month, and I'm wandering through the City of Leicester gathering items to include in my MA assignment about being a flâneur, as I mentioned in my previous post. I'm standing near the top of High Street looking up at the magnificent Singer Building. It was built in 1902 as a showroom for the Singer Sewing Machine Co and although its official name is The Singer Building, it's often referred to as The Empire Building because it has the most amazing carvings of animals each sitting above a Union Jack, just beneath the first floor windows:
  • a kangaroo for Australia
  • a camel for Egypt
  • a mountain lion for Canada
  • a tiger for India
  • an elephant for Burma 
  • and an ostrich for Africa
I managed to get photographs of the elephant, ostrich and tiger:

I was standing, admiring this artwork, with my back to High Cross Shopping Centre. Some building work is being done to the High Cross shop fronts and so a hoarding has been erected. As I turned round the art style chosen for the hoarding was so dramatically different that I took a photograph of that too:

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Wandering Leicester - Sea Breeze headache remedy

My next MA assignment has to be handed in very soon. We have to write either 3500 words of story or 11 pages of poetry with a theme of 'place'. I decided to be a flâneur and wander the streets of Leicester. I then decided to make life more difficult for myself and write the whole thing in verse. I've used a mixture of free and formal verse which is hard work but fun.

My problem is that I've collected so many fascinating lesser-known snippets of information about Leicester that most of them won't make it onto those precious 11 pages. There are some that are so fascinating, I'd like to share them with you over the next few weeks. I don't have time to write them up in verse, I'm afraid but they're still worth a view.

This week I'm posting up two photos of the remains of a chemist shop on Leicester's High Street. The building is on the corner of Cart's Lane and High Street. It's now a men's clothing shop. You wouldn't even know that evidence of a chemist was there if you didn't look up and scrutinise it's façade.

I took the above wide shot and then scanned in closer to see two perfectly preserved mosaics:

The top one shows a man using a pestle and mortar to mix up a remedy and the lower mosaic is an advert for Sea Breeze, a headache remedy made by the owner of the chemist in the 1880s. His name was T. E. Butler.

So if you've ever walked up Leicester's High Street and not noticed these mosaics, you might like to take a moment to glance up next time you go. They're on the left as you walk away from the Clock Tower.

p.s. I know that as a woman I should call myself a flâneuse but I have decided, just as serious women actors no longer refer to themselves as actresses, so too will I use the masculine form.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Family beware

My Facebook friends will already know that I had a great Christmas by the photo that has collected masses of likes and comments. Of all the photographs that have me in them, this one is officially my favourite. I've posted it below in case you didn't see it on FB.

For over thirty years I've shopped, cooked and entertained all the family over the Bank Holiday period - but not this year! Daughter booked us into a lovely hotel near where she lives. We had a four poster bed and wonderful views of the countryside AND she booked the three of us in for Christmas Day lunch. I know sometimes these kind of lunches can be a bit 'mass-catered' but this was most certainly not. It was delicious. She joined us for Boxing Day breakfast too - perfect.

So from now on - family beware - I'm hanging up my mass-catering apron and tearing up my detailed shopping list and lengthy to-do list. I'm replacing them with a luxurious, feet-up-on-a-stool, gently-dozing type of pamper. Well if I can't do it at my age then when can I?

Happy New Year and here's hoping for a healthy 2018. 
(Yes, we do appear to have caught that coughing/sore throat lurgy! Sigh!)

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

A Multi-cultural Week

Tonight I lit all of the Chanukah candles. Adding one each night makes the eighth night feel special, a climax of light. No matter how old I get I will never tire of looking a these nine candles burning (eight Chanukah candles plus the lighter candle).

I'm not going to tell the story of Chanukah again, or go on about miracles and about the magic of a tiny candle flame and how it has the power to light up a whole room. I've said all that before. I just wanted to share with you my multi-cultural week. So here is my fully lit Chanukiah:

The other morning I popped to Marks & Spencers for a few bits and who should be helping out at one of the checkout tills, but Father Christmas himself, in person! I nipped to the front of the queue and asked if he minded me taking a photograph. Well, it seemed only polite to ask even though I'm sure he's quite used to paparazzi media attention. He enthusiastically agreed and flung his arm around my shoulder. Strange, I thought, and then I realised that I was meant to take a selfie. After an embarrassing fumble to work out how my phone takes selfies, I did it. 

Before you glance down any further, 
I must warn you that I was not looking my best that morning! 

This evening, after my Chanukah candles had burned down, I went out for dinner to the Leicester Dialogue Society. This was a true multi-faith event. The Dialogue Society is run by a group of local Turkish Muslims. Their aim is to get people from all faiths to talk to each other - to have a dialogue together. There were talks given by representatives of a range of faiths including the Christian Church, the Islamic Foundation, the Jewish Synagogue, the Secular Society... and then we ate. 

The Dialogue Society call this type of shared meal Abraham's Dining Table. I think I'm right in saying that it's a Turkish Muslim tradition derived from both the Torah and the Koran where it says that Abraham always welcomed people to his dinner table... and we were certainly made welcome with lots of delicious food, all freshly prepared by the group. 

This evening's dinner has given me food for thought. It would solve the problems of the world if we only talked and listened to each other. 

Quote from this evening's meal: 
We have one mouth and two ears - let's use them in the correct proportion 

(In other words we must listen to what others say rather than always try to have our own say.)

Friday, 8 December 2017

A book, a talk and one of my poems

Gosh! What happened to November? This year is going too fast. I don't want my time at Uni to end. I'm enjoying my MA Course too much. I'm working on my assignment and starting to plan my dissertation now but thankfully I've another nine months before I hand my dissertation in so I can still wallow in all the library books, seminars and lectures. Did I mention that as an MA student I'm allowed to borrow 40 books!? I did? Oh, I'm becoming a book bore!

As well as my course I've been working on a history book recording the story of the Leicester Progressive Jewish Community. That book, I'm delighted (and relieved) to say is now published. We had a launch last week and so far it has been well received. Mind you, in my launch party speech I did give a dire warning that if anyone spots a mistake they were not to tell me. My old history professor always insists that all books have at least a few typos in them and even the odd historical if it's good enough for him it's certainly good enough for me.

Last Sunday I gave a talk at the local Secular Society about Richard III and how the book was created. I used a power point to illustrate, showing them all the fun we had promoting the book, e.g. Dr Richard Buckley, head of the archaeological dig, with his colleague dressed in full Wars of the Roses armour. I even did my Witch of Daneshill act with silly hat, the lot. It seemed to go down well but the next day a friend told me that he had been to a number of their talks and they were usually very serious affairs. Oh well, it is the season to be jolly...allegedly.

The other week, in one of our poetry seminars, we were looking at iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets. The next day I was in the GP's waiting room and was inspired by events that occurred to write this:
You think the door's an automatic one.
It's not and what is more it weighs a ton.
You take the blow full force right in your face
but people see and so you have to brace
yourself pretending that you've not been hurt,
leap off the floor and brush away the dirt
and as you walk you hold your head up high,
ignore their giggles and the urge to cry.

Finally, I'd like to send special wishes and prayers to our blog friend, Carol Hedges, who is in hospital after an operation for breast cancer. Get well very soon, Carol. We all miss you xxx

Friday, 20 October 2017

Meet the Author

"Did you really write this book?"
I love it when children ask me that, not because it makes me feel good about myself (well, OK, maybe that's a little bit of the reason) but mainly because it means that they're learning to appreciate books. They're realising that books don't just appear as if by magic and that writing can be fun, extremely satisfying and done by ordinary people like myself.

This week I went along to Leicester Cathedral for a Meet the Author session. For those who are not familiar with Leicester Cathedral, it's where Richard III has been finally laid to rest. Directly opposite the Cathedral is the Richard III Visitors' Centre. This is Leicester's half term holiday week. (I know! The rest of country are about to have theirs but Leicester's holidays have been different for many years.) Anyway, during this half term week the area has seen a steady stream of visitors, young, old and all ages in-between.

On Wednesday, I spent a most enjoyable morning chatting with visitors, signing books and helping the Cathedral staff cut out coloured paper shapes so that visiting children could make a Tudor Rose. The children made some amazing Tudor Roses and I had some fascinating discussions with parents, grandparents and, in one case, great-grandparents whose great granddaughter knew the route round the Visitors Centre and Cathedral so well she was leading them.
"Is it lunchtime yet?" asked a weary great granddad.

A big thanks to Andy Heafford from the Leicester Cathedral for organising the morning and I have a momento of the occasion, a lovely photograph taken by a member of staff showing me signing a book for the Richard III Visitors' Centre.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

A 'Beyond Busy' Week

Sometimes weeks are beyond busy. Those kinds of weeks slay me and have me grabbing a duvet day before I can face any more. Today is that duvet day. I’m sneezing and coughing and the activities of the week are rolling round in my head so I thought it might help to share them with you now.

On Monday it was the first day of my second year at University studying for my MA in Creative Writing. The first year was very much theory based. This year is all about work-shopping our writing. I hit the ground running. We had to post up a poem onto Blackboard, the dedicated website, by Thursday teatime. No problem, you might think but…

Leicester is celebrating an Everybody’s Reading Festival this week so I was part of a poetry-reading group with the Soundswrite Poetry Group one evening and I was on a panel of writers at The Leicester Writers’ Club talking about using social media to reach readers on another evening. Still no problem, you might be thinking but…

This week we are celebrating the Jewish Festival of Succot. It’s a bit like a harvest festival. Outdoor booths or huts, called Succahs, are built with rough frames and lots of greenery and branches covering them. You’re meant to eat out there. It’s been rather a wet week but at least I managed some Kiddush wine and honey cake in the one at the Synagogue.

I then settled down to finish my poem and post it up but remember this has been a week that I describe above as ‘beyond busy’ so you won’t be surprised to hear that Blackboard denied me access, refused to accept my password, told me I was illegal. I know that I’m not illegal and I told the technical support desk as much over the phone.

It’s all sorted now and I’m tucked up on the settee, reading a book called ‘You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’ by Lee Gutkind. It’s all about creative non-fiction and it’s going to help me with my dissertation about which you will definitely be hearing more during the year and that’s a promise.