Sunday, 11 February 2018

A School Topic on Richard III

Yesterday I got a message via The Children's Book of Richard III's Facebook page from a teacher. She wanted to buy one of my books. I was delighted to hear from her. She's a local teacher and her class is doing a topic on Richard III. I have offered to visit her school. I told her that I don't charge for school visits. All I ask is for the school and/or its pupils to buy a few books from me to cover my costs.

So far, so good. Now here's the down side:

The teacher told me in her message that a well known online book-selling website says there are no books available, only second-hand ones. They are wrong. There are books available. This is not the first time this has happened. So I shall endeavour to circumnavigate that well known site and let you all know that we have books available at The Reading Shop. If you click on the link you can buy a book and it will be sent to you by the very same person who would have packed and posted it to you had you gone to that other site.

This blog post is also a reminder that I am still available to give talks in schools 
in return for a few book purchases. This is me in action:

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Leicester Castle

On this day, 3rd February in 1399, John of Gaunt died in Leicester Castle.

Leicester Castle has a fascinating history but so has John of Gaunt. I could write pages about both but I shall limit myself to something a tad more snappy - five facts about John of Gaunt and five facts about Leicester Castle:

Five Facts about John of Gaunt

Part of a portrait from c.1593
probably modelled on his tomb effigy.
1.  Leicester Castle was his favourite residence and the place where he died.

2.  He was the son of Edward III, brother of the Black Prince, Uncle to Richard II and Father of Henry IV.

3.  Born in 1340, he was an attractive man and well known as a womaniser.

4.  He was not popular with the people and during the Peasants Revolt of 1381 they set fire to his London Savoy Palace residence.

5.  Just before his death his son, Henry Bolingbroke, was banished from the country and the trauma may have contributed to his death.

Five Facts about Leicester Castle

1.  It was first built as a motte and bailey castle in 1068.

2.  The Great Hall, built some time in the1100s, had an impressive timber-beamed structure and was used until recently as Leicester's Crown Court.

3.  England's Parliament met in the Great Hall in 1349, 1414 and 1425.

4.  Gun holes, punched into the castle's walls during the Civil War when Parliamentarian Leicester was under siege, can still be seen today.

5.  John of Gaunt's cellar, a popular feature of the castle, is most likely the remains of an old stone kitchen.

Entrance archway

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