I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Going underground




It doesn’t look like the kind of place for a great night out, does it?




Our friends Paulene and Nigel had got hold of tickets for a tour of the Deep Level Air Raid Shelter at Clapham Common and wondered if my Hero and I would like to join them.

You bet!

Of course, we knew nothing about the place, didn’t really have any idea of what we’d see or do, but knowing that such opportunities don’t come up very often, I applied my usual “say yes first, wonder why later” principle and on this occasion that was exactly the right answer.




Tickets are not easily come by and Paulene had booked these way back in the early Summer, so we’d had the date in our diaries for a few months, well before we were invited to be Godparents to our newest, smallest friend the morning after.  More about that later…




We met at ground level outside the tube station at Clapham South and were tagged and a register taken.  This was a serious business…safety notices had been emailed out to us, regarding suitable footwear, personal safety (no matches, lighters etc) and the required level of fitness! There are 180 steps down to the deep-level shelter – and of course, the same 180 steps back up again.  Hmm.  Naturally, if there was a fire or other emergency down there, those 180 steps might have to be taken at a canter…

Well, let’s not think about such things, eh?




But as soon as we were taken through an innocuous looking door there was hardly a chance to think sweet thoughts!  Sorry about the poor photo, but we did set off at quite a pace.  You can at least see that the staircase was a gentle spiral, the steps secure and there was a handrail.  We were pleased of that later on!




When we got to the bottom, 35m or so below street level, a small welcome party was waiting for us, ready to guide us through a mile or so of tunnels and give us an idea of what it would have been like to have been one of the 8000 people who could have sheltered from the bombing down here.




We began with a little background to the construction – when, why and where.  There were about twenty of us in the group and half a dozen guides, so plenty of chance to ask questions and take photos.




Although I’d wondered if it would feel claustrophobic down there, it was well lit and actually quite comfortable – though the rumble of the Northern Line trains passing over our heads was a little disconcerting.




We were led through a series of tunnels, divided into areas named after Naval Commanders and shown some of the features of the shelter along the way.




Where fittings had been removed, large wall panels gave a better idea – of the men’s loos, for example!  (I didn’t really want to imagine not only how 8000 people could cope with just four lavatory areas, but how the effluent was dealt with bearing in mind the sewer is above the shelter)  I think the atmosphere down here could have been less than fragrant…




Some of the tunnels were still fitted with the bunk beds as they would have been in 1944.  People arriving at the shelter would have been given a location and a bunk number for the night, but would need to leave the following morning, taking all their belongings with them.




Two parallel tunnels stretched out in a broad curve in both directions and we walked the length of them before going down a few more steps to another level where the same layout was to be found.




The idea of being down here for any length of time wasn’t very attractive, even if the canteen served “off ration” goodies such as cakes and jam tarts to keep up morale.




After the war, the shelters were used to accommodate troops and later, to house some of the newly arrived migrants from Jamaica, from the Empire Windrush.  Later still, European students visiting the Festival of Britain found cheap hostel-style lodging down here, but shortly afterwards it was regarded as unsafe to use for overnight accommodation.




For a while, the shelter was used for archival storage and we were told that one of the other shelters is now used for hydroponic horticulture, growing microherbs for the London restaurant trade.  Access and other essential services make it tricky to find a good use for these clean, dry, temperate spaces I suppose but it’s surprising that some bright spark hasn’t come up with an imaginative idea.




Feeling thankful that we didn’t have to rely on the facilities down here, we found ourselves back at the staircase and began the climb back to the surface.  No, I didn’t count the steps but I can tell you, the pint of Camden Hells enjoyed in the pub along the road hardly touched the sides.

Read more about the shelter here and the tours here.  

Thanks Paulene and Nigel for a great night out! 


Working the grey matter




A beautiful day in Cheltenham, for our first visit to the Literature Festival.  If any of Mary’s group are reading, this is the scene in Imperial Gardens right now – a small village of marquees filled with activity.




The event we were heading for was taking place in Montpellier Gardens, a little further up the Promenade and also filled with a variety of venues for a rich and assorted programme of speakers, discussions and thought provoking debate.


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We were there to hear Daniel Kehlmann and Saša Stanišić, two young German storytellers about whom we knew ( a ) little.  I had first heard Daniel talking about the book which brought him into the spotlight a few years ago – Measuring the World.  His gentle humour, characterisations and originality endeared him to me immediately and as soon as I spotted his name in the programme, I knew I wanted to learn more about his work.  I’ll admit to never having heard about Saša, but if he was writing in a similar vein, then he would add to the pleasure.  I bought two tickets and decided that my hero needed to come too Winking smile


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We prepared by listening again to the World Book Club programme which had sparked my interest and I heaved a sigh of relief that my hero instantly tuned into the same threads which drew me in.  He remembered me looking for Daniel’s books in Waterstones some months ago and decided that he too would like to read Measuring the World.  Perhaps he could get it for his Kindle?  A quick search on Amazon did the trick – bringing up a small message that he’d actually bought the book a couple of years ago Winking smile

It proved a little more difficult to find much about Saša and though the Goethe Institute gave us some background, it wasn’t easy to find out more.  Still, we knew he’d be talking about his new book “Before the Feast” and I managed to find a short excerpt which gave us a bit of an idea where we were heading.




Fortified by a good lunch with friends and a bottle of claret (!) I feared the warm, dark atmosphere in “the Salon” would get the better of me but I needn’t have worried.  The wunderkinder held our attention throughout with a relaxed conversation about their work.  At times, I felt I was learning a little too much about Rosie Goldsmith, who chaired the discussion and (IMHO) spent much too long telling us why she felt qualified to be there.  Well, ok, but my hero hit the nail on the head when he remarked that she seemed to consider herself one of a trio rather than the facilitator of a duet.

But hey, we both left having enjoyed a satisfying discussion, we were equally charmed by both modern Germans and are looking forward to reading their books.  What a great way to spend the afternoon!


Banking for Victory!




The main reason for earmarking this for a day out was Upton House.  I’d read how the house and gardens had been used for a special exhibition to do with WW2 and taken a look at the website.  I decided this was something I’d rather like to see.

First impressions were interesting!




Entering the ticket office and showing our National Trust cards, we smiled and commented to the staff member how clever this was, noting the wartime music playing in the background.  “Hmm”, said he, “it was fun when it began in March, but we are getting a little used to it now”.  I knew what he meant.  Sometimes, these themes get a bit out of hand.




With timed ticket and the map/guide in hand, we set off to the house.  Our entry wasn’t for almost an hour, so we hoped we’d find something of interest.




Get the picture?




Our first stop was in a cinema tent, where we sat and watched a little of the background to the story.  I knew nothing of that, but soon learned that Lord Bearsted and his family owned Upton House, that amongst other things, he was the chairman of Samuel’s Bank in the City and that during the war, he evacuated the bank and all the staff to Upton, so they could continue their work in more peaceful surroundings.




The family had been serious art collectors and part of the story concerned the artworks.  The family (trust?) continue to support the arts and there was an exhibition in the old Squash Courts to view.  I’m not sure it quite worked for us, but I’ll find out a little more and maybe I’ll get a clearer understanding of the artist and her work.




On such a beautiful afternoon, it was great to have time to stroll around the grounds and explore one or two hidden corners.




The views of the surrounding area are stunning and we were drawn to walk towards the haha, initially to look back at the house.




But we were amused/rewarded by the hidden parts of the garden too!




The gardeners have had fun here as well, recreating the “dig for victory” planting, with tomatoes and rhubarb in the borders where flowers would have been.




Closer to the house were borders of peas and beans, and a few places where the harvest had already happened.




Time to go in, then, for an introductory talk in the kitchen and a short film setting the scene.




Being easily distracted, I couldn’t help but read all the notices on the walls – feeling surprised by the tone of this morale-boosting poster and wondering how it would be received today.




My hero pointed out the phrase “Bones make glue for aeroplanes” and remarked how far we’ve come.  I wondered at what point we stopped referring to “salvage”.




There was so much detail.  Someone had such fun putting it all together, I could tell!




I couldn’t help but admire the style in which information was shown.  The cloths hanging as backdrops for small arrangements, all so well thought through.  The staff member who delivered the introduction explained that we were welcome to explore the house on our own and that we should feel free to open drawers, to have a poke around and to discover as much as we could on our visit.  Interesting!




We went into the first room, then; the sitting room, where the bank staff had set up their office.




Here, it became clear what we had been told.  We could sit and have a go on the old typewriters (we did!) we could take a look around and imagine (remember?) how offices used to be.




Before computers and email, when paperwork was colour coded “on buff” (or peach…) and items were pigeonholed.




When there was no such thing as “secure data” and nothing was shredded.




When people smoked in their office and desks had ashtrays.  (yuk)




And when ladies like Miss Hazelrigg ruled their domain with a steely presence.  (“Miss Hazelrigg was a secretary – a cut above – not a run of the mill typist.  She had blonde hair and was beautiful.  She was very smart and imposing”) 




Yes, of course I opened the drawers!




Oh, how times have changed.




Next door, there was a staff common room, with a comfy sofa and chairs where staff would have gathered to listen to the radio   wireless of an evening, read and play board games.




We’d been told about the effect of all of this on the staff, many of whom had left their family in London, amidst the bombing and the hardship.  Here they were, living in comparative splendour in a kind of “holiday camp” atmosphere and for some, it was somewhat of a challenge.




But life still involved a few hardships and similar challenges of wartime to everyone else.




The blackout, rationing and so on still applied.




The ARP warden’s station was at the top of the stairs.




But I’ll bet there were few so lucky as to have a lunchbox filled with such treats.




Whilst here, the staff slept in dormitories and our next stop was in one of the women’s bedrooms where a small sewing machine and a few other bits told the “make do and mend” story.




A pinboard of ephemera would have kept me happy for an hour or two!




Miss Hazelrigg’s bedside table had her clothing coupons and powder compact there to hand.




Around the corner in the bathroom was possibly the single “information overloaded” area in the whole place.




The men had their own dormitories, including a room across the corridor here.




And whilst their bedtime habits appeared to be a little different from the ladies across the way,




their pinboard included some similar cuttings!




Having learned about the banking staff and how they had been accommodated in the house, we moved to the next part of the story; how Lord and Lady Bearsted had played key roles in the war.  As a prominent Jewish family, they had been generous not only to their staff, but to causes dear to their heart.  He had been involved in the setting up of the Kindertransport and she had worked tirelessly for the WRVS and the YMCA.  Good people, both, doing their best for others.  Sad, then, to learn that they never really returned to live full time at Upton House after the war, that Lord Bearsted died in 1948 and his wife a few months later.




The third and final thread to the story was told in the basement.  The tale of the artworks.




We’d been told that the family were great art collectors and that they owned many works of international significance.  We’d seen labels like this hanging from some of the pictures, though I’ll admit to not paying much attention to the paintings and the china collections around the house, finding too much else to capture my attention!




However, when treasures from the National Gallery were moved to a slate quarry in North Wales for safe keeping, Lord Bearsted was able to include 40 of his own paintings to be safely stowed away for the duration of the war.  Here, we learned the story of how they were packaged and transported and together with the house and wider collection, were all given to the nation on his death.




Finally, I was glad to learn a little about the whole concept of the transformation of the house and the story behind the exhibition.  We’d so admired the consistency, the overall design and the vision of whoever was responsible (and clearly, were not alone in our admiration, either)




As we left, you’ll guess which page we squeezed our red dots onto.




The exhibition continues into next year and I’m sure “we’ll meet again”, probably not for the Wartime Christmas, but to take another look at all the details we surely missed.  In the meantime, I hope the National Trust follow on from this success with similar innovative projects.  If they do, we’ll be there!


Dropping in




We find that, with both of us filling our days with a variety of responsibilities, if there’s something we’d both like to do, we need to put in on the calendar well in advance.  We’d earmarked Friday 25th as one of those days, so when I had a call from the office to ask if I could drop in for an hour, I made sure it was “first thing”, so’s not to interfere with our plans.

It was a glorious Autumn day, too.  Just meant to be.  I’d finished in the office by 10 so we got a good start and were heading up the Fosse Way in good time, even though our intended destination didn’t open until 1pm.  We thought it was a great opportunity to drop into a favourite place: Compton Verney, take a look around and maybe have a spot of lunch.  I wondered whether to make use of one of my membership perks and book a table, it being Friday and all, but thought we’d go with the flow and sort something out whilst there.




The great thing about Compton Verney is that there is always something to delight.  On this occasion, it was a small gallery of drawings worked in biro by Albert H Barnett.




The detail in each and the sheer enthusiasm with which they were drawn was immediately appealing and in spite of the difficult lighting, I couldn’t resist taking one or two photographs.  They were drawn on whatever paper he had to hand – the back of envelopes, the lined page from a notebook, whatever and though the spelling was a little creative in places, the charm shone through.




A great reminder for those of us who forget to keep up with their daily drawings!




Much of the permanent collection here is pretty familiar but it’s always good to rediscover and enjoy the small changes which happen in the months between our visits.  On Friday, they were between exhibitions, so we had the place more or less to ourselves and without the temptation to focus on the new and exciting, we could dawdle and play around a little.




After all, who doesn’t like to interact Winking smile   This simple set of blocks for creating a repeat design is so clever and offers endless fun for those who like to fiddle about (and those who like to mess it up!)




Of course, I couldn’t leave without saying hello to my favourite piece.  I’ve written about it here before and since then, seen similar vessels a little closer to its place of origin.  But it remains my favourite and sitting in a newly refurbished gallery, it was looking as stunning as ever.




It was displayed along with a few pieces on loan which I hadn’t seen before, including this beautiful wine vessel.




The staff member on duty shared my enthusiasm and pointed out that the colours matched my jeans, malachite green cardi and blue/green/brown scarf perfectly! 




We chatted a while about the new display arrangements and the spectacular lighting which makes the glass in front of these beautiful items disappear.  Not only that, but I was impressed by the new reference system, using silhouettes of each object rather than numbers. 




The silhouettes were used on other information panels around the gallery and were a really effective point of reference.




The silhouettes were also put to great effect in the family room, where visitors had created all kinds of variations for designs on their favourite vessels in the collection. 




In fact, the commitment to families and younger visitors is impressive here, with themed backpacks available to borrow.  I could be tempted to make use of one myself!




Anyway, with lunchtime fast approaching, we scuttled through the ground floor galleries with only a brief stop to note the look on this Elizabethan chap’s face.  He doesn't look too impressed, does he?  (We can’t remember his name but my hero remembers that he was knighted during one of the Queen’s Royal Progresses and he thinks he came from Norfolk!)




The arrangement of these four beauties amused me, too.

Time for lunch then.  Would we find a free table in the (excellent and frequently very busy) restaurant? 




No problem.  We had no need to worry. We were the only ones there Smile

Join me to read about the “main event” in the next post.


Here, there and places in between


Last week was a bit of a whirl, but it’s about time that I shared what a great time we had in Liverpool.  But you know, the thing is about having a great time?  I forget to take pictures!




My Hero and I had enjoyed meeting Mary’s group at The Pig near Bath last Sunday evening and were glad to have a little longer with them when they joined us at home for tea on Monday afternoon.  They spent Monday night at the newly refurbished Queens Hotel in Cheltenham, where I joined in the fun on Tuesday, for breakfast.




The Queens has changed hands several times over the last few years but it appears that the new owners (Accor group – it’s now a Mercure) have invested heavily and I must say, the public rooms are very attractive and fresh. 




We arrived in Liverpool in the early afternoon and were ready to hit the museums, the galleries and for some, the library.  Mary had themed the tour on “fact and fiction”, because several members of the group were library docents and leaders of book groups.  All had an interest in literature and (I think) Liverpool was completely unknown territory for them, too.  We were staying at the Hilton, right there opposite Albert Dock, so we were perfectly placed to fill our afternoon with as much culture as we could soak up.  Yes, there’s John Lewis right next door as well, so shopping needs could be satisfied Winking smile




We headed over to the Museum of Liverpool, following up on the recce we’d done last Autumn.  I was keen to revisit a couple of the exhibits and to see the temporary exhibition which was showing.




The photographs in the “Poppies” show portraits of women whose lives were affected by war, including the photographer’s mother, who was a child in Hull during WW2 – just like mine.  Her story echoed those told to me by both my parents, growing up in the most severely damaged city in the country outside London.  But there were more recent stories as well, many of them affecting and very moving.




Whilst we were looking around, needless to say, we bumped into a few familiar faces and decided they were just the right people to join us in the karaoke booth!  As we stood delivering a memorable rendition of Yellow Submarine we attracted a little curious interest from outside (I hope they weren’t an audience in the literal sense of the word) but turning my camera on them soon sent them elsewhere!  Though I wonder, did that chap get a good shot of that one-off performance?




Before leaving, we had a quick look around the exhibit on Women’s Suffrage once again, before retreating to the cafe for a spot of tea.  Mary’s group follow a fun-packed schedule, I must say!




Thankfully, Liverpool was looking splendid in the sunshine and I believe, endeared itself to everyone in exactly the same way as it wins my heart every time I’m there.




After dinner at Jamies  and a good night’s sleep, it was time for them to hit the road again and for me to make my way to Lime Street Station.  They were heading for Yorkshire, I was heading home.  I was sorry not to be travelling further with such a delightful group of women (and gentleman!) but delighted that I’d been able to spend some time with them, to catch up with the friends I already knew and make a few new friends too.  Next time we are in Los Angeles (or Chicago!) fun is definitely on the cards.




Having waved them off, I walked through the city centre to Lime Street, where I’d been told by Edward to look out for a fun statue.  I collected my ticket and looked around but didn’t spot anything, so asked a young woman on a trade stand there where it was.

“Look over there, they look like people” – of course Winking smile




Sure enough, there they were, Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock, looking all the world like people.

I love Liverpool!