Having a 2 week adventure in California with Nathan. Staying with my cousin in Sausalito and had a lazy day exploring the ‘hood…loving my rented Mustang Convertible and drove round the bay to Tiburon today after pancakes with bacon and maple syrup and lashings of good coffee at Fred’s Place. Sat in the sunshine by the bay watching a shiny angry small blackbird with very large feet and a beady eye, stomping on the grass, rooting for bugs and making a strange hissing sound. Lemon trees are laden, agapanthus out and Bluebirds in the garden. Great new coffee shop opened on Tiburon Blvd called Elements…brownies to die for. If I carry on like this I’ll be a stone heavier in a fortnight! California sun is warm and the locals very friendly. They love an English accent!
The last couple of weeks have gone by in a bit of a whirlwind of primary school visits mainly in Hampshire thanks to the fantastic PR job by St Mary Bourne Primary School near Andover. I have been innundated with requests to dragon schools in the area and am loving every minute of it!
Here are a few photos from Anton Junior School today – such a colourful audience as the juniors were all dressed up as book characters.
Richard III and the discovery of his skeleton underneath a carpark in Leicester has sparked the imagination of not only this country but the whole world. I would like to add my fourpenceworth. As an undergraduate of Leicester University c1980, I attended a couple of History Society meetings which sparked a love affair with the shadowy figure of Richard III who had been given a bad press by the Tudors who usurped his throne. Their chief mouthpiece was of course Shakespeare, and his history play remains a hot ticket in the West End today especially when Mark Rylance, or on film Sir Laurence Oliver is playing the much maligned ‘villain’ to the gallery. This play was written to please Queen Elizabeth and paints the short reigning last Plantaganet to be very black indeed. His ‘evilness’ is enhanced by the mystery of the disappearance of the Princes in the tower – his nephews who were a threat to his throne. England at the time had been struggling for 100 years, tossing the crown back and forth between the houses of York and Lancaster, and Richard was Commander of the North and hugely respected and indeed loved as a fair statesman and soldier before and during his brief reign. During the three years I spent in Leicester locals believed that the body of the King had been thrown in the river.
The lecture that inspired me was given by D.T. Williams, a history lecturer from my alma mater and he was speaking about his Leicester University Press publication ‘The Battle of Bosworth’ (1975) and I am fairly sure that it was this lecturer who pointed out that the local council had got Bosworth Field – the site of the battle, in the wrong place. I also saw a play in Leicester around this time, about Richard’s thoughts on the eve of the battle (can’t remember the title – possibly ‘Bosworth’- or the playwright) but I felt very strongly that the last English king to die on the battlefield had always been given a bad press and that someone should put the record straight about him – why should physical appearance (in this case, a hunched back) personify wickedness? Of course people were already rallying to his battle standard and I discovered the existence of The Richard the Third Society which I duly joined and even cross stitched a portrait of him which still hangs with pride at home. My membership has sadly lapsed but my passion hasn’t.
How ironic then, that it was the University of Leicester archaeology department who not only excavated the skeleton but ran the carbon dating and DNA testing which proved beyond doubt that this is indeed the great man himself.
Last nights Channel 4 documentary ‘The King in the Car Park’ was a superb insight into one woman’s (sadly not me) mission to find Richard and give him a decent burial. Not sure that I believe all that stuff about the R painted on the carpark as being the exact location of the skeleton but hey ho it makes a good story. Now the row begins as to where he should be properly laid to rest…Leicester Cathedral; his beloved York Minster or Westminster Abbey? It should be a proper state burial that’s for sure. Watch this space….
Rome is my favourite city in the world….although expensive, a BA flight/hotel was very affordable, and Hotel Oxford is very central being near the Spanish Steps. The sun shone and the temperature was a very pleasant 12 degrees. Didn’t need to use transport – walked everywhere. Last Sunday of the month the Vatican Museums are open but get up early and be prepared to queue…last admission is 1230pm; closing at 2pm. Other than the obvious attraction of the Raphael cartoons and the fabulously restored Sistine Chapel ceiling and Last Judgement (the colours revealed in the recently cleaned frescoes are so fresh Michelangelo might have just put down his brush!) I was fascinated by the Pope’s transport collection – from Sedan chairs to armour plated Mercedes and the recent ‘pope mobiles’.
Seeing a crowd in St Peter’s Square at 1150 we hung around and the crowd, as if at a football match started chanting ‘Benedict’…the little rug came out from the top storey and lo and behold Il Papa appeared and spoke to us all in Italian. St Peters itself is breathtaking….it’s the second largest church building in the world and the size and opulence can’t help but take your breath away. Interestingly only 3 women are buried within. Entry is free, as it is to all Romes churches….they are so unassuming on the outside and usually full of Baroque splendour so breathtaking that you have to sit down! My particular favourite is Santa Maria della Vittoria with Bernini’s jawdropping ‘Ecstacy of Sainte Theresa’ marble sculpture – so fluid in movement that the statues in the other chapels look static by comparison. Best viewed in natural sunlight, which floods through the window in the afternoon.
Although eating out is expensive, lunch can be taken standing up ‘al banco’ (‘at the bar’) – coffee, sandwich/pizza and pastries are half price here than sitting at a table and being waited upon. Evening meals are usually at least 3 courses and a leisurely affair. House red never disappoints – Lazio’s finest grapes.
People watching is of course free….piazzas and fountains are the best places to observe. Touts are annoying but are not persistent if you say a firm ‘no’. Italian language is beautiful to listen to and not too daunting to attempt and the locals appreciate the effort.
I even found a few dragons!
A dry Saturday afternoon in the Cotswolds gateway town of Burford. I love Maggie Whites, The Oxford Shirt Company (Especially in the Sales!) and Huffkins for coffee. Rolo obligingly hopped in and out of the car whilst a girlfriend and I shopped and on the suggestion of a lovely lady at Maggie Whites (where he was invited in!), I took him to romp in the soggy fields of the flooded river at the bottom of the town. One very happy but muddy pup! Oh, and The Cotswold Arms welcomes dogs and the food was home cooked and fresh not the tired post Xmas leftovers some are serving..Rolo’s photos tell the story.
What a marvellous mild winter late afternoon….a crowd of Marlborough residents gathered at the Priory Gardens and the Rector blessed the apple trees and the Bishop did his bit, and our lovely lady Mayoress watered them with cider and Marlborough Community Choir sang Wassail Wassail (and one of our members re-wrote the verses to include all the ancient types of apple tree that have now been replanted in Marlborough in this ‘town within an orchard’ initiative. The children hung toast on the apple trees to encourage the robins….all this to ensure a bumper crop and cider this year. We shouted ‘hat full, cap full, bucket full wassail wassail’ and people banged dustbin lids, stamped their feet and clapped and Rolo jumped into my arms! ….we moved around several locations in the town including the oldest orchard on the side of George Lane, finishing up with warm Apple Juice and cake in St Marys church and the Bishop blessed Rolo because he thought he was such a polite and well behaved little dog!
This time last year I was at Haxey Hood in the thick of the 700 year old traditional rugby scrum over a ladies bonnet…what a year its been! I love all these old English traditions – full of pomp and celebration and I embrace everything about living here. Wassail indeed!
….a wet end to 2012 and the Kennet keeps on rising….took Rolo to investigate and saw the banks by St George’s church at Preshute are just about holding out and the overflow ditches have now joined with the main river, widening the flow by some feet. The torrent is gushing. The chickens in Manton have thankfully been moved to higher ground…their houses are like islands in the lake that was the garden. Enjoyed a New Years Day walk up over the hills and across the muddy fields to Manton. Something about New Year’s Day always makes me yearn to climb a hill and look down on a view….no idea why! Luckily it was a beautiful dry day…a bit of respite for the poor chickens! By the way the last photo shows the gleaming overspilling Kennet from the house – not usually visible from here. Again I am thankful I live on a hill!