It’s the day before Christmas Eve and I hope you’ve done all your shopping. Since it’s a Saturday too, high streets and shopping centres up and down the country will be buzzing with last-minute shoppers all day. Personally, that’s one of my more anxiety-inducing ideas of hell, and makes me glad I’ve done all my Christmas shopping, and all I have to do now is to stay in the warm and wrap the presents up (which, in its way, is a circle of hell in its own right – can someone PLEASE find the end of the Sellotape for me!?). I’m looking forward to Christmas Day when I can put my feet up and not have to think about anything!
Today is Yorkshire Day, an annual celebration of all things connected to God’s Own County, as it is affectionately known. Although I am a Londoner born and bred, I know that a great number of my ancestors came from the West Riding of Yorkshire, and I still have links to that part of the world. So, to celebrate Yorkshire Day, I went on a hunt for something interesting to share with you all – and I found this intriguing photograph.
Taken somewhere between 1898 and 1902, this image shows Park Row in Leeds city centre (now part of the city’s financial district). It is a moment in time on a fairly busy street, showing many Leeds residents going about their everyday lives. They all seem to be ignoring the photographer… except for the group of boys in the foreground, who have stopped with their handcart by an ornate lamp-post to watch in fascination as the picture is taken.
Even as late as the turn of the 20th century, the sight of a photographer and all his kit can’t have been a common one for such working-class lads, and it’s obvious that they’re highly curious and seem to want to get in on the action! Perhaps it is my imagination, but are one or two of them posing for the camera? One also wonders if they ever got to see the finished article – or even knew that they played a small part in the history of Leeds and of Yorkshire.
I grew up on the Beautiful Game. I’m of the generation whose pre-Premier League childhood memories associate the game with dodgy perms and mullets (hello Chris Waddle…), the final years of standing on the terraces as the norm in the top flight, and the weekly Saturday afternoon ritual of listening to the wonderful James Alexander Gordon read the classified football results on the radio. It wasn’t a girl’s world back then, but I was still utterly entranced by it all.
Walking home from a hospital appointment yesterday, I was struck by these trees in a local neighbourhood park. Almost leaning into the wintery blue skies as if reaching for the hazy sunlight, it’s just possible to see a hint of new growth on their bare branches.
Maybe spring is on its way in London…
After my recent post about all things autumnal, I felt some more seasonal colour was needed round here. I thought I might go to the local park and see what was on offer for my camera there, but while I was pondering that I noticed this tree, which happens to be almost literally on my doorstep. This lovely, still part-green tree is not in the sylvan surroundings of said park – it’s in the more prosaic location of the carpark attached to the block of flats I live in (not visible in the photo: one of my neighbours sitting in his car giving me a strange look while I repeatedly pointed my camera at the tree…!)
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
The last few days may have been a bit overcast and cloudy, but Friday was a beautiful early autumn day in my little corner of west London. As I went about my business, the morning skies were that fading, mist-tinged blue that I associate with such early October days; the sun a little lower in the sky and the trees just on the turn. Give it a week or so, and the full colourful impact of the season will be revealed right across London – and there are plenty of green spaces in the city where you can see the most glorious displays of colour as the trees prepare for the changing seasons.
I often talk about the fact that there are places where history exists in layers, where you can physically feel the weight of the past on the present. Battle Abbey in East Sussex is one such place. The importance of what happened here in October 1066 is still palpable nearly one thousand years later, for this is the site of what we now know as the Battle of Hastings – one of the most crucial moments in all of English history.
It all began (and ended) with the death of a king, as these things so often do. And, as is also so often the case with medieval history, that’s where it all gets a bit complicated. On 4th January 1066, King Edward (‘the Confessor’) died. He had no children and thus no direct heir. As a result, his death was likely to leave something of a power vacuum in England.
This was a problem in the making, since the English throne was among the most desirable in all of Europe due to its significant economic and military strength at the time. Unsurprisingly, amongst all the interested parties there were a number of claimants sniffing round the throne (although who claimed or promised what to whom will never be known with any accuracy now), with three in particular having perhaps the most legitimate claims to the English crown at the time.
I realised recently that we haven’t had any ducks round here for absolutely ages. So, when I spotted a few relatively friendly mallards on a family trip to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex not so long ago, I decided that a new duck post was definitely in the offing. And when I say I spotted a few mallards, I actually mean there were loads of them. They were absolutely everywhere. They didn’t seem that bothered by humans either (their collective look of disdain when a small boy came hurtling up the path towards them, enthusiastically yelling “OOOOH, HELLO DUCKS!” kinda said it all).
Oh, I love this!
Like many, many people, I was genuinely upset when the novelist Terry Pratchett died last month. His books have been a part of my cultural existance almost as long as I can remember, and the joy they have brought into my life cannot be underestimated. So when I heard that a clever street art type had painted a tribute to him in east London, I had to go and find out what it was all about and report back to you all with photos.
And it’s wonderful.
Packed with many of Terry’s most beloved characters (and a great portrait of the man himself), this mural really is a fitting tribute to him. If you want to see it for yourself, you can find it right by the park in Code Street, off Brick Lane. I recommend you do go and have a look if you’re a fan, it’s an amazing piece of work!
This is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. From the photographs, you can clearly see that it’s a pretty spectacular construction. Indeed, it looks like the kind of castle immortalised in books and films as the type of defensive military stronghold we all associate with knights and soldiers, sieges and battles – “everyone’s idea of what a medieval stronghold should look like”, as the guidebook puts it.
It certainly has all the outward trappings of a classic medieval defensive building, although now ruined inside: thick stone walls and tall towers with battlements, a wide surrounding moat, a rare 14th century wooden portcullis, arrow slit windows, murder holes in the ceiling of the gatehouse (and even a much later piece of defensive kit in the shape of a World War Two-era pill-box) – all the things you’d expect to see in such a castle. Ostensibly, it is such a castle, and it has the kind of history you might expect from that too.