Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 25 October 2013

Open All Hours

We are celebrating at Sepia Saturday this week as we have reached our 200th post. Co-incidentally it is also my 200th blogpost on Hanging On My Word. I wasn’t part of the sepia fun at its inception, but now I’m part of the admin team! I decided to share one of my early posts, which is also one of my favourites.
The very detailed pictured provided as a prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday, shows a shop doorway in Sydney, Australia in 1934. This sent me delving into my father’s side of the family, where I knew that at least three of them had been shopkeepers. It’s amazing what a little research for a blogpost will nudge, quite literally, into the frame. I had always been aware of a blurry sepia picture of my great-grandfather Sydney (Dad’s Grandfather on his mother’s side) standing in the doorway of his fishmonger’s shop in Nottingham. My older brother knew a few more details but also provided me with three new pictures I had never seen before. The first of these is the one I like best; the nonchalant pose is not one I’ve ever seen adopted by a 'sepia shopkeeper' before!

Now, I know this isn’t a fishmonger’s, it appears to be a grocer’s, so we have a bit of a mystery. Could it be two windows of the same premises? Behind him, in the shop, can be seen tins of biscuits and other dried goods which would have been his stock-in-trade. 

A second picture appears to confirm this, though he doesn’t look quite so dapper here; waistcoat off and sleeves rolled up. The child beside him is a friend of the family and the other youngster just happened to have run in front of the intended subjects, as small children so annoyingly can when a shot is being posed. No digital cameras then, and films were precious, so once the shutter clicked it would have to do. This picture seems to pre-date the next one as my Great-grandfather looks a little younger, but it’s interesting to note the price of bread is the same as that in the Sepia Saturday prompt. The shop reminds me of the one kept by Arkwright in the TV series ‘Open All Hours’. I wonder if it had a similar lethal till (cash register). I talked to my 90 year old father about the fishmongers on Manvers Street, Nottingham. Dad remembers his Grandfather also sold rabbits, and my Grandmother (one of his fourteen children) as a girl, had the job of skinning them. There was sawdust on the shopfloor to catch the blood .

Here’s the picture of my Great-grandfather which started me on this quest. Now we see him in yet another working outfit, complete with striped apron, from which he would produce a halfpenny when my Dad visited as a child. The window advertises cod and crabs. I’m told this was Jubilee Day 1934, and the bunting can just be seen above the window and door.

My Dad, who was a travelling salesman, also inherited the selling gene from Lydia, his Grandmother on his Father’s side. At some time around the turn of the twentieth century we know that she had what Dad called a ‘Bread Shop’, but I don’t think it was what we would now know as Baker’s. It was more likely a corner shop, typical of many a street in town and village at that time. The shop would provide those commodities needed by people with little income, who   had only to walk to the end of the road where they lived to buy a loaf or a packet of tea.

The last picture is of yet another member of the family. The lady in the doorway is not Lydia, who died in 1910, but her daughter Sarah (born in 1885). This picture was probably taken in the late 1920s or early 30s. She was my Dad’s Aunt ‘Cis' who would later run a sweet shop in Delta Street. Cis would have given up her original skilled job, which according to the 1901 census, was that of a lace-hand in Nottingham’s famous lace industry. I like the way the children in the street have engineered to be in the photograph; it makes it all the more interesting. The little chap is being given a ride on a bike which is far too big for him - he could never reach the pedals. On the other hand it seems too small for his older sibling. There’s another smaller bike on the right, face on to camera. What do we think the youngster on the left is doing? And no, he’s not sending a text!

I asked both my parents about the sweetshops of their childhood. Dad recalled Pontefract Cakes, Marshmallows,Tiger Nuts, Turkish Delight and Barley Sugar sticks. Mum remembered that when she was a little girl in the 1920s, she would visit a shop run by the Misses Mackintosh on Tealby Terrace, Nottingham, where 2oz of sweets would cost one penny and a bar of chocolate would be tuppence. There would be fruit drops, dolly mixtures and liquorice sticks. Mum loved walnut whips (a rare treat) and sherbert fountains. “Do you know, she said, I haven’t had one of those in years. I wonder if you can still get them. I’ll look out for them next time I’m out shopping.” Mum will be 91 in November, with a wonderful memory for the small details of her childhood. "Aniseed balls,” she said, “We used to suck them until they changed colour, and we’d keep sticking our tongues out to each other to check.” She also recalled her friend Tommy who always gave her the little toy from his ‘Lucky Bag’ for her Doll’s House. The simple pleasures of childhood.

To see what other Sepians have chosen as their favourites, take a look at Sepia Saturday 200 and join the celebrations.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Getting to Know Guernica

Most people are familiar with Picasso's painting, but how many know the background to it? The picture above is of course not the original painting which is housed in the Reine Sofia in Madrid, but a full sized ceramic representation which stands in Guernica itself. I first became familiar with the image as a teenager when a reproduction hung in my school. I knew nothing of the terrible scene it depicts but I have learned more over the years and our recent trip to the Basque Country allowed me to get to know Guernica much better. It was day one of our week's tour and we were en route from Santander to San Sebastián.

Guernica was founded by Count Tello in 1366 and its strategic importance lay in the fact that it was at the intersection of several main routes as well as a major river estuary where ships could dock. When the Domain of Biscay was incorporated into the kingdom of Castile, the king and queen would visit to swear an oath under the famous Tree of Gernika, pledging to maintain The Basques' ancient privileges. In time the oak came to symbolise Basque Nationalist Pride and although the original remained in place for four hundred years, and its replacement withstood the 1937 bombings, the current Gernika Tree was planted in 2005 to replace it  when a heatwave finished it off after 146 years.

It was those bombings during the Spanish Civil War, which give Guernica a unique place in modern history. Much has been written about the attack and more can be found here, but what Picasso was depicting was the combined onslaught of Italian and Luftwaffe aircraft for four hours on the afternoon of April 26th 1937. They had been called in by Franco's Nationalist forces and the town was razed to the ground with very few building remaining and the effect on the civilian population was devastating.

We visited the Peace Museum where an extremely enthusiastic and helpful steward ensured that our visit was memorable. For just five euros each we spent an hour admiring the excellent exhibits, including a gallery of paintings to illustrate the Human Rights Charter, and being immersed in the interactive displays. Perhaps the most moving was the audio-visual experience combined with sound effects and eye-witness accounts of survivors of the tragedy. 

George L Steer was The Times war correspondent whose eyewitness accounts of the bombings did much to inspire Picasso's painting. He described German bomb casings and the use of thermolite to create a firestorm in the town.

In a park at the top of the hill stands a vast sculpture by Henry Moore, 'Large Figure in a Shelter', part of his War Helmets collection, along with one by Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, 'Our Father's House'. These were installed to represent Guernica's status as a city of peace and the setting is indeed quiet and tranquil, allowing us to listen to the birdsong and enjoy a few moments of quiet reflection. 

The city is rightly proud of its work to promote peace and the Gothic style Church of Santa Maria, one of the few buildings to survive the bombings, is testimony to those efforts as once again we found the setting quiet and calming. There were no worshippers as this was a mid-week afternoon and  just a few tourists, and pilgrims were visiting. 

In Fueros Square near the town hall, cultural centre and the convention centre, stands the figure of the town's founder Don Tello, sword and scroll in hand, and with Santa Maria in the background.

It wasn't all culture; we were hungry tourists and full of enthusiasm on our first day, so, at the suggestion of the helpful lady in the tourist Information Office, we bought book of a tickets for the Pinchos Route. The idea is that you select one item (pinchos are tapas) at each establishment, but I think our timing was off and the selection wasn't huge at midday. We managed a couple each and called it a day. 

It was in Guernica that we spotted the first of many statues we were to encounter on our tour. This was Jose Maria Iparragirre, guitarist and author of the hymn 'Gernikako Arbola' (1853) about the oak tree which means so much to the Basque people .

Holy Tree do not fall, without your sweet shadow we are lost.

Friday, 18 October 2013

A National Treasure

Next week the Royal National Theatre will celebrate its 50th birthday. The very first production in 1963, under Laurence Olivier, was Hamlet starring Peter O'Toole. The theatre was then housed in The Old Vic, and in 1976, it was officially opened by the Queen, its patron. It was granted the title 'Royal' in 1988, having been built under a special act of Parliament. The National will be hosting a gala event and you can find out more here. I have loved theatre since I was first taken by my mother, at the age of nine to the old Nottingham Playhouse to see Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice', and it was there, and later at the new playhouse, that I saw John Neville perform in many fine productions. He became artistic director but left in 1967 due to arguments over funding with the local authority and the Arts Council. He emigrated with his family to Canada. By co-incidence it's also the 50th birthday of the 'new' Nottingham Playhouse, which opened on December 11th 1963 with a production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, starring John Neville, with Ian McKellen, Michael Crawford and Leo McKern. My love of Shakespeare has not waned in the half century since.

In 1990 I heard that John Neville was returning from Canada to play at the National in Sheridan's restoration comedy 'The School for Scandal'. I booked seats for my family for the matinee performance on 21st April, and we drove to London, from our home in Wiltshire. I had been at school with three of John Neville's children, when he was at Nottingham, and I wrote to tell him of how much pleasure his performances had given me as a child and that I was now re-living the experience with my own children. I was amazed to receive a handwritten card in reply, which of course I still treasure.

The play was wonderful, and was well received by the critics. I kept the newspaper reviews, although one is a rather poor photocopy, but full of details, from which I quote here. Peter Wood the director, insisted on hearing all the consonants as well as the vowels, and this was one of the reasons he was keen to entice Neville back to the UK.

"I thought how wonderful it would be to have John Neville's deservedly famous diction at the centre of this play, leading a cast which can get through three subordinate clauses and reach the end of a sentence."

The National's Director, Richard Eyre, had been Neville's protegé at Nottingham was eager to bring him back after an 18-year absence.

The headline for the piece was 'Unmasking a Masterpiece', for this play had kept audiences laughing since 1777. The 25 year-old Richard Brinsley Sheridan kept rewriting the play until the last minute for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which he managed and part-owned.

The last page of the manuscript bears his heartfelt comment "Finis - thank God", to which a prompter had added his own "Amen".*

According to the article, Wood had assembled one of the strongest casts seen by the National in some time. I've reproduced pages of the programme so that readers can have fun spotting the actors they know. Some will be less familiar to American audiences, although they may notice a young Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey (Hugh Boneville), before he changed his name from Richard. John Neville may also better known in the States for his film rôles of Baron Munchausen and Sherlock Holmes. Canadian readers may also know of his work in Stratford, Ontario between 1986-9 in putting the company back in the black after years of increasing deficit. Nottingham's loss was definitely Canada's gain.

John Neville died in November 2011 and The Times obituary noted that he was appointed OBE in 1965 and a member of the Order of Canada in 2006. He was described as a charismatic figure possessed of great charm and generous of spirit. My home city of Nottingham was lucky to have him and it is a source of regret by many to this day that he was allowed to slip through their fingers.

Many of his contemporaries and actors with whom he worked in those early days have been recognised by being made Dames or Knights of the British Empire; Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Maggie Smith, and Dame Judi Dench, whose first Ophelia was opposite Neville at the Old Vic in 1957. Dame Judi paid tribute to Neville in a recent newspaper article, where this rôle was discussed, and she confessed that she was not very good initially and lost the part to another actress for its American tour. In the intervening six months she honed her craft and was given the part back when the other actress moved on.

It was John Neville who told me "You've got to decide why you want to be an actress. Don't tell anyone the reason, but keep it at the forefront of your mind." I've done that ever since and I've never told anyone what it is.** 

The late, great Richard Burton called him 'My beloved John Neville' when describing their alternating Shakespeare rôles in his diaries.

Not until February this year did Nottingham Playhouse finally recognise the achievement of John Neville by opening a studio in his name and awarding The Neville Prize for a new play. Had he remained in Britain John Neville would surely have become a true National Treasure, and it's a pity he didn't live to see the celebrations of both Nottingham Playhouse and The Royal National Theatre this year. For my part, I have many happy memories of seeing him on stage at both theatres, and I am grateful to him for making the experiences so memorable.

This week Sepia Saturday is celebrating theatre in its many forms. Why not join the rest of the cast in this week's performance? I can guarantee a place on the Front Row.

* Peter Lewis, The Sunday Times
**John Preston, The Daily Telegraph

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Beguiled by Burgos

There he is, El Cid himself, riding high in the city of Burgos, the former capital of Castilla y León in Northern Spain, where the legendary hero lies buried in the Cathedral. He didn't bear any resemblance to Charlton Heston in the film, but this was an imposing monument to Spain's national hero. I was glad to have seen him but more pleased still to meet someone I had hitherto only known through our shared interests on Sepia Saturday.

By careful planning we managed to ensure that our tour of Northern Spain last week landed us in Burgos on the same day as Brett Payne, better known to you all as Photo Sleuth. Brett is currently walking the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route and was having a couple of well-earned rest days.  Brett lives in New Zealand and we live in Lanzarote, off the coast of Africa, so we consider it a feather in Sepia Saturday's cap that not two, but three Sepians managed to get together in this way. In case you're wondering Caminante (occasional Sepian) took the picture, but as I live with him anyway that bit was easy. Here we are having just met under the clock of the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).

John and Brett admire the Casa del Cordón
The Cathedral of Santa Maria

We explored the city together and stopped to  gaze at the ornately spikey Gothic cathedral and the Casa del Cordón, where the Catholic monarchs welcomed Columbus after his second Americas expedition. The house is named after the monk's ropes, carved in stone, hanging over the door.

We stopped a couple of times for a snack known as Pinchos, or Pintxos (in Basque), a beer or coffee. It was very hot and we were pleased to find a little shade in this arcade, whilst we chatted away and got to know each other a little better. I'm pleased to report that Brett is just as nice as he appears in his weekly Photo Sleuth submissions and his Facebook comments for Sepia Saturday.

All over Northern Spain there are wonderful statues and fountains in the streets of even the smallest towns. Brett offered to be photographed sharing this young lady's umbrella; fortunately the fountain was switched off at the time.

We had no idea that our visit coincided with a Medieval Festival, but it turned out to add a whole different dimension. Sepia Saturday likes anything old and here in Burgos, and the next day for John and me, in León, we found that the place was steeped in history; ancient streets with balconied buildings and medieval churches. The festival gave the city's proud inhabitants the chance to let their hair down and celebrate their traditions and regional produce whilst dressing up and generally having a good time.

Hard to resist the many food stalls; Brett chooses some local cheese for his lunch next day and samples some proffered local ham.  

Don't even think of your diet; just look at the tarts and pastries on display here. 

You could burn off the extra calories perhaps by taking a turn at a 'medieval' carousel, worked entirely by pedal-power. As Brett was giving his pilgrim's legs a rest, he politely declined my suggestion that he offer his services. The young man running the machine was clearly having so much fun it would have been a shame to deprive him. 

Here's another young man, but this little troubador is being shepherded by his dancing master along one of the main streets of the city. We found we were constantly stopping to admire these statues  and to enjoy the details and humour.

The one below was dedicated 'A nuestros mayores con el carino y el respeto que merecen' - 'Our elders with the affection and respect they deserve' in November 2009. I love the fact that the grandma is a crocheter like me. Sadly her yarn basket was a bit soggy due to a recent rainfall. 
Brett encouraged John to join the group and show them what a senior really looks like! 

By now we were ready to sample the Pilgrims' Menu at a local restaurant. Very basic; three courses, with bread, water and wine for about 16 euros.  All too soon it was time for us to go our separate ways as Brett needed a good night's sleep before a very early start next day. We asked our waiter, now making his way out of the door dressed in his medieval costume, to take our picture. Here you have it, three Sepians together; Photo Sleuth, Caminante and Little Nell, hoping to meet again in real life one day- who knows?

Sepia Saturday this week has a picture of a ship being launched as a reminder that it is hundred years since HMS Queen Elizabeth was launched at Portsmouth. Alan says:

In Sepia Saturday 198 we celebrate the start of something new. It might be a life, it might be a love, it might be a new chicken coop or it might be a mighty ocean liner.

A backward glance at the city gate of Burgos, illuminated for the evening, as we made our way back to the hotel, and a reminder of a very pleasant day spent in good company  and the celebration of a new friendship - will that do? 

Join other Sepians as they share their own celebrations, and whatever you do, don't be like ships that pass in the night.