Thursday, 9 June 2016

MUDLARKING ON THE THAMES




The term, mudlark, nowadays has the romantic connotation of somebody strolling along the Thames shore on a sunny afternoon and suddenly discovering an ancient Roman hoard of silver coins poking up through the mud, or perhaps the discovery of an ancient Celtic shield revealed in the slimy river bank. However, it has a much deeper social and historical meaning.
On the beach below the OXO Tower looking towards The City.

The first, “mudlarks,” appeared beside the Thames in the late 18th century and early 19th century. They were usually children and mostly boys who scraped a living by scavenging along the shores of the Thames at low tide looking for anything they could sell for a few pennies. The items they might collect included pieces of coal, dropped from colliers, nails and bolts, pieces of discarded rope, bones, coins and any other item of use they might discover. In 1851, Henry Mayhew, the author, interviewed a 13-year-old, “mudlark.” Mayhew described mudlarks as the poorest level of society making a meagre income, dressed in tattered clothes and having a terrible stench about them. The modern day,” mudlark,” is very different. Officially there are 51 members of the Society of Thames Mudlarks. They are registered by the Museum of London to use metal detectors and to work with the Museum in collecting archaeological finds for the museum. Roy Stephen, at the Museum of London, says that their finds help them fill in some of the gaps of the history of London. Dr Michael Lewis at the British Museum goes further in that he thinks the present day work of mudlarlks has actually helped to rewrite history. Their finds add to the rich jigsaw of evidence that helps the Archaeologist and historian interpret the past. Apart from the these official mudlarks who work closely with archaeologist and museums , anybody can walk along the shores of the Thames  and find things. This is what Keith, a very good friend of mine and myself did one sunny June day recently.
One small spot on the beach. Terracotta, pieces of chalk, flint, broken glass and a myriad other items deposited by humanity.

Using our ,” Freedom Passes,” we got on the train from Raynes Park to Waterloo. From Waterloo we decided to walk along the, South Bank, towards, The Tate Modern. Keith had told me, on a number of occasions, about how he had done some ,”mudlarking.” The Thames River was at low tide as we walked along and quite extensive stretches of sandy and stony beaches were visible. Keith suggested we go down to the beach opposite the OXO building to do a bit of ,”mudlarking.” I had heard it was easy to find  the remains of artefacts along the Thames within the bounds of the city. I was dubious at first. Once we got on to the beach my immediate reaction was to start looking at the ground infront of me and to each side. The first obvious things were bricks and pieces of terracotta. The beaches alongside  the river is speckled by these items. There were many yellow bricks which are thought of as the standard London Brick  or stock brick. We also came across pieces of coal. At first I wondered about this but I kept finding more and more. What had been the industry at the side of the river here in the past? I picked up quite a number of oyster shells, which excited me because my immediate reaction was; Romans. Oysters were a staple of the Roman diet but it seems at other periods in History too. There was a recently broken wine glass. We kept finding bone, large blade shaped pieces of it. These segments could only have come from cows surely? I  saw the elongated lower jaw of a cow with teeth still in place. Keith rather eerily found a set of four blackened teeth still attached to a piece of jaw. Was this human? It looked too small for either a cow or a sheep. Another find that excited me and suggested a particular period in history were the many stems of clay pipes we found. There simply lots and lots of them. This made me think of the Georgian and early Victorian period. We came across a lot of rust encrusted iron bolts, hooks and a chain link. We also kept finding pieces of terracotta. The fragments must have been part of larger containers of some sort. Mostly they were not glazed but some were on one surface. Keith found a small fragment of white glazed pottery with a blue pattern on it. One of the intriguing things that stood out  was a short stretch of jetty. It was a length of evenly laid cobble stones, about a metre wide, edged by thick wooden pillars that supported large planks that kept the cobbled path within bounds. These planks were bolted with large iron bolts to the thick wooden pillars. The stretch of this pier that remains is in reasonable condition although it is eroding. This lead me to think it could not be much older than the Victorian period. We also came across a lot of flints. Some had been napped but many pieces were nodules that had come as they were from the chalk. There were also many large and small boulders of chalk. Each one these things has a story to tell us about London and the Thames through time. Keith and I began to surmise and make suggestions as we walked. All these artefacts made us wonder what had been here in past ages before the upmarket shops and restaurants and galleries that now line the shore at this part of the Thames. What did it all mean?
Keith searching for items.

London Stock Bricks first originate during the 19th century when London was beginning to expand outwards and new housing and buildings were constructed with bricks made from the London Clay they were to be built on. There has been a variety of colours of stock bricks. The earliest London bricks were red, going back to the 17th century and further. Then in the 1700s many were of a grey colour. In the 1760s another brick was made called a malm. The dictionary definition for malm describes it as a soft grey limestone that crumbles easily. It also describes it as an artificial mixture of clay and chalk to make bricks. There was some confusion over the differences between malms and stocks. The supplies of natural malm was also very limited, but in 1797 John Lee took out a patent for, 'A Certain Mixture of Chalk, Whiting, or Lime, Together With Clay, Loam, or Earth, For Colouring and Making Bricks'," and thereafter malm bricks began to be manufactured artificially, chalk being mixed with inferior clays and earths. The yellow bricks we saw in great numbers scattered on the shore were probably malms. Having said that there were also numerous porous types of red brick scattered about too. Keith and I thought of them as London Stock bricks.
Yellow London Stock bricks made with chalk and clay and a red stock brick too.

Oyster shells are interesting because the Romans developed the oyster beds where they could around the coast of Brittania. I remember taking a class of children to Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex quite a few years ago now. We learned that amongst all the artefacts that were found on the site that the rubbish tips were the most productive in telling us about life as a Roman. All sorts of things can be found in rubbish, just think of your own bins at home. Informing us of the Roman eating habits was one of the foremost things we can find from rubbish tips. The Romans ate copious oysters. So when I started to find oyster shells on the shore line of the Thames I looked over at St Pauls Cathedral and the city and recalled that that was where Roman London, Londinium, grew up. However in researching the cultural and historical eating of oysters it was not just the Romans who enjoyed this culinary delight. They were eaten all through the Middle Ages, the Tudor Period, the Stuart Period, The Georgian period and most definitely the Victorian period. While pickled oysters became a regular food of the poor in London and other towns, Dickens' Sam Weller remarks, "Poverty and oysters always seem to go together." In the middle of the 19th Century, oysters and scallops were being dredged in huge numbers all along Sussex coast by fleets of oyster smacks. Then, quite suddenly, the natural oyster beds became exhausted, partially through overfishing and partially through pollution; it was only deliberate artificial breeding that saved them from extinction. This far up stream in the tidal Thames at this point, the most probable assumption is that these were Victorian oyster shells. It just leaves the question, how did they get into the Thames from the dinner plates of the Victorians? The only answer is that the Thames was used like a sewer and all rubbish, including discarded oyster shells, were thrown into the Thames nearby the spot where the oyster flesh had been extracted from the shell and eaten at some person’s meal.

An oyster shell I picked up from the beach beside the Thames.


There were a conciderable number of pieces of terracotta pot and of course Keith’s little piece of glazed porcelain. I chose one piece to bring home. Terracotta could come from any period in History just as oyster shells can. The piece I chose was interesting because the rim has not been turned to give a nice rounded finished edge except in one place. This tongue or lip of terracotta that sticks out from the rim is too small to get a good hand hold for lifting the size and weight of the original pot. If there were a number of these lips around the edge I can only think they were used to hold the pot proud of the top of an outer container that it was placed inside. It is reasonably easy to estimate the size of the pot from the thickness of the terracotta and the curvature of the piece of rim that I have. It is a gentle curve so a complete top would have quite a large circumference. I could actually work this out on paper and continuing the curvature from the piece I have. A small pot would not need to be quite so thick. So I estimate it to be a tall round pot for containing something dry. It is not glazed either on its exterior or its interior so it would not be good for holding a liquid because of its porosity. Pottery is very durable and a piece of Roman pot can look very much like a pot from any later period in time. A modern handmade terracotta pot might merely look slightly less worn or used but there would not be much difference between the two.
The piece of terracotta I discovered on the beach. I wonder what the small lip on the rim was for?

The bones we found were a little creepy. Some were appeared like blades. They were slightly darkened with mud and green algae. They were large and so must have come from a large animal. A cow would be a good guess I should think. There was one bone I saw that was obviously the lower right side of a horse or cow’s jaw. It was long, tapering down from the joint of the jaw towards the front of the mouth and it had teeth all along its length. Perhaps a Victorian cabbies horse had collapsed and died on the job and its body thrown into the Thames? The bones could be just the results of the butchery trade. This is the thing with interesting artefacts like these, you begin to make up stories for them in your imagination. At one point Keith held some teeth still attached to a segment of jaw in his hand to show me. This was certainly not the teeth and jaw of a cow or horse or even a sheep. They were far too small. Was this human? I doubt it very much. It was probably the teeth and jaw bone of a dog or some such smaller animal.
A piece of blackened and burned bone. Was a piece discarded from the process of making bone char?
One piece of what I think is bone was blackened and fossilised. Could it be a piece of bone char? Bone char is primarily made from cow bones. The bones are heated in a sealed vessel at up to 700 °C (1,292 °F); a low concentration of oxygen must be maintained while doing this, as it affects the quality of the product. Most of the organic material in the bones is driven off by heat, and was historically collected as Dippel’s oil; that which is not driven off remains as activated carbon in the final product. Heating bones in an oxygen-rich atmosphere gives bone ash, which is chemically quite different. Bone char is used in water filtration to remove fluoride. It is used in sugar production. It is used to make the black pigment for artist’s paints. It has also been used, combined with wax, to impregnate and polish leather items to help preserve them.
A piece of pot with the remains of a glaze on it.

We found many pieces of coal. Just along from the OXO Tower where we were carrying out our Mudlarking exploits is the Tate Modern. That used to a coal fired power station when it was first built in the 1930s. That could answer the question about coal. Coal must have dropped into the river as it was being hoisted by cranes form coal barges onto the quay where the coals reserves for the power station were positioned. The OXO building, next to where Keith and I were mudlarking, was originally constructed as a power station to supply electricity to the Royal Mail post office, built towards the end of the 19th century. It was later owned by Liebig Extract of Meat Company in the 1920s  manufacturers of Oxo beef stock cubes, for conversion into a cold store.

The building was largely rebuilt to an Art Deco design by company architect Albert Moore between 1928 and 1929. Much of the original power station was demolished, but the river facing facade was retained and extended.

The short piece of cobbled jetty we found was probably where coal or other items were taken from barges to the power station on the OXO building site.
The cobbled jetty on the beach in front of the OXO Tower site where previously, in Victorian times, a power station stood.

The copious amounts of chalk and especially flint is interesting. Chalk can be readily obtained from the North and South Downs which are ranges of chalk hills in Southern England extending through Surrey and Sussex primarily. Flint has been used as a building material by the Romans, Saxons and all periods since. There are a number of buildings still standing in London made from flint. Churches and important buildings were made from flint. Some of the flint we discovered was napped, that means it has been, chipped into even shapes to use in buildings. Others pieces were natural flint nodes that had come straight out of the chalk. These could have been used in the infilling between a smoother outer and inner layers of napped flint. The large amount of chalk boulders could suggest that the flint was not removed from the chalk until it reached its destination in London or that brick works in the area were using the chalk to make the London stock bricks. Chalk is a little too soft as a stone to be used directly in building. It would dissolve and wear away too quickly under wet rainy conditions.
Three pieces of clay pipe stems I discovered on the beach.

Finally, one of the most intriguing things we found were the broken stems of numerous clay pipes. We could have collected clay pipes all day. Within minutes we both had found, perhaps a dozen each. Unfortunately, we only found stems. The bowls would have told us so much more. Often the bowl of a clay pipe has the makers stamp on it and some have intricate patterns and designs. Many are plain of course. Clay pipes have been known in England since Sir Walter Raleigh reputedly brought tobacco from Virginia to England in the 16th century. In 1578, Raleigh sailed to America with explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert, his half-brother. This expedition may have stimulated his plan to found a colony there. In 1585, he sponsored the first English colony in America on Roanoke Island, now North Carolina. The colony failed and another attempt at colonisation also failed in 1587. Raleigh has been credited with bringing potatoes and tobacco back to Britain, although both of these were already known via the Spanish. Raleigh did help to make smoking popular at Elizabeth’s court.  The North American Indians used stone pipes to smoke tobacco. The clay pipes manufactured in England were of a similar design. A clay pipe is made by rolling a length of soft clay into a type of sausage with a bulge at one end. This clay sausage is placed into a mould and the two halves of the mould fastened together. A thin wire is inserted carefully in the end of the stem and pushed through until it meets the bulbous bowl shape, A thick metal, peg is then thrust into the bowl head, creating the hollowed out interior of the pipe bowl until it meets the channel made in the stem by the wire. The inside cavity of the pipe is then ready. The pipe is baked in a pottery oven until hard. The pipe is ready. The process is simple and quick and a pipe maker might make hundreds of pipes a day.
Clay pipes and a small fragment of glazed and patterned pot that Keith found.

Keith and I only spent about half an hour looking and finding things on the Thames shore line but it was a fascinating exploration. It got us thinking about London, it’s history and the purpose of so many items. We moved on to explore some other interesting things. We looked into a pub called The Fighting Cocks, that in the 18th century had actually been a cock fighting pit and saw the gallery where spectators would have looked down on the fighting pit below. We found where Shakespeare bought a house, part of the great gatehouse to the Blackfriars Monastery. We also discovered a wall, hidden out of the way, in an alleyway that still shows the lathes that were part of a wattle and daub construction. We found remains of the White Friars medieval monastery hidden beneath the steel and glass construction of an insurance company in, The City, just off Whitefriars Road. We came across an iron Victorian street urinal and a shop selling judges’ wigs situated behind the law courts, just off the Strand. A couple of pints of beer and a fish and chip meal in the Bell Inn, near the Law Courts, was our well-earned reward.




Thursday, 26 May 2016

THE EU REFERENDUM




The Grand Canal. Marilyn and I had a lovely few days in Venice.  Travelling freely around Europe is brilliant.  


On the 23rd June 2016 the people of the United Kingdom will go to their local polling stations and vote on the EU referendum. Do they want the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union or do they want them to leave?

This question has split our political parties.
The Conservatives, who are in government at the moment, lead by David Cameron, are going through the process of a particularly nasty and vicious struggle between members of their own party. UKIP (The United Kingdom Independence party) lead by Nigel Farage, are vociferously cheerleading the exit group. The  Labour Party is split into the two camps like the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats but the in fighting in those other political parties appears to be less destructive or it might be that the Conservatives are so loud and prominent in their campaigning for leaving or remaining, we don’t hear so much about the differences and possible seismic rifts between the members of those other parties.

A recent series of polls produced by ICM (ICM Research, is a public opinion researcher) for the Guardian reveals that probably, overall, the British public are equally split over the referendum. Phone polling, which is probably the most accurate because the people are chosen by the researchers and they are chosen to be a cross section of society taking into account age, ethnicity, gender, social status, work and location. Internet polling seems to be age biased towards a younger group and also there is no control over the other factors that phone polling can take into account. Also internet polling proved to be wildly inaccurate in our last general election. Both polling strategies were used in this recent poll by ICM. It showed that in their phone poll 47% were in favour of remaining in the EU, 39% were in favour of leaving and 14% were undecided. Internet polling showed 43% in favour of remaining, 47% in favour of leaving and 10% undecided. If however you take into account all possible variables the picture looks pretty much as though the British public could be split half and half. This is a little worrying because it could go either way still. There does not seem a big lean one way or the other which is creating tensions in our economic dealings and indeed it is causing tensions throughout Europe. Businesses do not know where or when to invest. It is hampering growth at the moment. Hopefully this is going to be a short term situation which will be clarified when the referendum has been voted on.

Why is a referendum being held? Our Prime Minister, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum if he won the 2015 general election, in response to growing calls from his own Conservative MPs and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who argued that Britain had not had a say since 1975, when it voted to stay in the EU in a referendum. The EU has changed a lot since then, gaining more control over our daily lives. Immigration issues, questions about sovereignty, questions about democracy and being in charge of our own economic destiny are all issues being hotly debated connected with this issue. Mr Cameron said: "It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics."






Emily, Abi and Marilyn enjoying a walk around La Guell, Gaudi's park in Barcelona.
One of my most favourite places to visit in all of Europe.

David Cameron negotiated with the European Council in Brussels and came back to the British people with changes to our membership that he thinks warrant us remaining in the EU because they deal with some of the worries people have in Britain about being members of the EU.



These cover, firstly child benefit. Migrant workers will still be able to send child benefit payments back to their home country - Mr Cameron had wanted to end this practice - but the payments will be set at a level reflecting the cost of living in their home country rather than the full UK rate.



Secondly there is the question of migrant welfare payments. Mr Cameron says cutting the amount of benefits low paid workers from other EU nations can claim when they take a job in the UK will remove one of the reasons people come to Britain in such large numbers (critics say it will make little difference). He did not get the blanket ban he wanted. New arrivals will not be able to claim tax credits and other welfare payments straight away - but will gradually gain the right to more benefits the longer they stay, at a rate yet to be decided.



British people want to keep the pound. Mr Cameron has said Britain will never join the Euro. He secured assurances that the Eurozone countries will not discriminate against Britain for having a different currency. Any British money spent on bailing out Eurozone nations that get into trouble will also be reimbursed.



There is also the question of the large financial sector we have in the City of London. Mr Cameron has negotiated safeguards for Britain's large financial services industry to prevent Eurozone regulations being imposed on it. 



Finally, for the first time, there will be a clear commitment that Britain is not part of a move towards "ever closer union" with other EU member states - one of the core principles of the EU. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change. Mr Cameron also secured a "red card" system for national parliaments making it easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it will be rethought. Critics say it is not clear if this would ever be used.

 
Robert Clive, Clive of India negotiating with a Moghul.


Britain and trade have always had a close and fruitful relationship. We are an island sea going nation. The ability that Britain had for enormous growth in trade goes back to the late 1600s. Compared to other European countries such as France, Spain and the Netherlands, which were our trading rivals at the time, Britain appeared to have a much larger middle cl,ass which had a facility for commerce and a desire to settle in new continents. They had the education and wealth to get things done. Merchant ships went to North America and the West Indies. The triangular trading system was born. Slaves would be brought from Africa to the Americas to work on the plantations which grew sugar and cotton and other commodities. These were then shipped back to Britain. In turn these commodities boosted the growth of industries for processing the commodities. Ship building, industrialisation, with its accompanying technological inventions and agriculture, which created a parallel revolution, all boosted Britain as a world power and trading nation. To go with this the City of London became a great financial centre financing this growth alongside new developments. The loss of part of the Americas through the American Revolution was a setback but after the Napoleonic Wars when Britain was the victor and France and Spain were defeated Britain looked to the Far East and India and China and their trading strength and wealthy expanded enormously. All this was facilitated by a powerful Royal Navy policing the oceans and protecting our far reaching trading routes. The British Army in turn based around the world protected Britain’s interest on the land. Robert Clive (born 29 September 1725 – Died 22 November 1774, known as Clive of India, famously fought wars against the various states that had been formed in India after the Mughal Empire. His defence of Arcat and his great victory at Plassey are amongst his military achievements as commander in Chief of the East India Companies army. The British relationship with India was complex and it was highlighted by a series of wars that continued from about 1766 right up to 1849. The British became the dominant power in India. This provides an example of how trade, and the military are closely linked. Trade and wealth, when we think of the British annexation of most of India demonstrate that military might and trade go hand in hand. This was also mirrored somewhat in China over the tea trade. The Chinese tea trade with Britain in the 1720s onwards eventually lead to the Opium Wars.  Military might cemented Britain’s dominance as a trading nation. We can think of the recent wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the consequent terrorist and ongoing military threats and wars. They are seemingly attached to religious, political causing terrorist concerns but they are also about oil, and trade. The disastrous involvement of America, Russia, Europe and every country in the world, to some extent, shows the need to be part of the changing world landscape so they can all get their share.

So through expansion of trade by the use of continuous wars and military might, Britain in the 18th century, became the most dominant, powerful and wealthy nation in the world.

 
The trenches of the First World War

During the 20th Century Britain experienced two world wars. The First World War came about because of a number of factors that developed in the decades before 1914. Mutual defence pacts had been agreed between various nations. Britain had agreements with France, Belgium and Japan for instance. Imperialism was an aim for various nations. Britain and France were the big Imperial powers at the time and Germany worked hard to catch up. Africa and other areas in the world were places where rich resources could be obtained to make the European nations strong and wealthy. Germany, France and Britain certainly did not want to let the other gain pre-eminence. Britain had a large navy and army and Germany wanted to match this because world trade can only be viable with a strong military element enabling it to happen. The comments about Britain in the 18th century previous to this section demonstrate that. There was also a strong element of Nationalism present at the time. All these elements were in place leading up to the First World War. It only took one incidence to ignite the gathering forces, the powder keg and this was created by the Serbian crisis. So the First World War had come about because of clashing self-interests and the continent split along its alliances. The Second World war was no better. Germany had been crushed and impoverished after The First World War. Clemenceau for France and Lloyd George for Britain had demanded stringent reparation from Germany. This created a fertile ground for nationalism and the growth of the Nazi party which offered the German people their self-respect back and a strong dominant future again in Europe. Would these terrible things have happened if all the countries of Europe had worked together and all been closely allied? The fact that those with strong alliances did work and go to war alongside each other against the opposing factions might give us a clue.



The history of the EU, the European Union, has been precipitous since the end of World War II. Straight after the war efforts were begun to forge a political union throughout Europe. In 1951 the European Coal and Steel Union (ECSC) was formed. By 1957 the ECSC ratified two treaties, the European Atomic Energy Community ( EAEC) and the European Economic Community (EEC). The purpose of the EEC was to eventually remove all trade tariffs and other barriers between member states. This was established by 1967. The first member states being Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemberg and the Netherlands. A rival trade group, EFTA, was established between Austria, Denamrk, Britain and couple of other countries. In 1961 Britain had wanted to become part of the EEC but Presdinet De Gaule of France refused to let Britain in. Britain wanted special dispensations so that they could still have close trading agreements with the Commonwealth Countries and De Gaule saw this as against what Europe wanted as a whole. By 1973, Britains trading links with the Commonwealth countries was not so strong and along with Ireland and Denmark they joined the EEC. Gradually, as the 20th century progressed other staes joined the EEC too. The EEC expanded in 1981, 9186 and again in 1995.The Maastricht treaty of 1992 brought  the member states even closer together through monetary union with a single currency the Euro. The name of this economic group changed also to the European Union, the EU. Banking and foreign policy too became unified. Britain did not join the monetary union at the time but promised to look at the possibility at a later date. It looks now as though this will never happen. In 2004, most of the members of the old Soviet bloc joined the European Union. So the European union has grown enormously and trade and movement of labour has expanded. There are now twenty eight countries in the European Union.The EU is the world’s greatest trading bloc with no barriers to trade between its member states. This has obviously caused  stresses and strains within this system. There are large economic differences between member states. This has caused a one way flow of workers trying to get jobs in the more affluent countries. This in turn has a put a strain on the social services, education and health systems of those countries. Britain’s renegotiations, under David Cameron, have tried to deal with these issues and it is those sort of issues the exit campaigners are emphasising in their campaign. There are also questions about democracy and sovereignty because of decisions  being made for member states in the European Parliament outside of member states. There are also questions about free speech and other freedoms we expect in a democracy but those issues are more to do with terrorist threats and right wing religious and political movements.

 
Political and economic migrants making their way across the Mediterranean.


These questions about migration and immigration, freedom of speech and democracy are debates we should always be having. They are important issues which need to be dealt with. What is democracy in this day and age? What is freedom of speech when we have ISIS clerics standing up in Mosques preaching hatred and destruction to the west? We have to think about this and analyse what free speech means and what democracy means. How can we deal with economic migrants and migrants who are fleeing from their own countries in fear of persecution and even death? Places like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have been destabilised by western forces so how much should we now contribute to helping them?

 
David Cameron arguing to stay in Europe. I am not a conservative voter but I agree. We must stay.


It is easy to say, like the Brexiters, those wanting to leave the European Union, that we would be far better off leaving the EU. We could negotiate our own trade agreements. We can make our own laws and we can be truly democratic again. We could control our own boarders better and so the arguments go on. It all sounds ideal. However, in the light of how trade really works around the world through military power plays and economic might, how do we really think Britain on its own is going to deal with China, Russia, India, the South American countries and so on? What sort of great trade deals are we going to be able to negotiate on our own? It’s easy to look back at our history and say we did it in the past. We were then the world’s greatest military force. If we did leave the EU and other unhappy countries did start to leave also what might that mean? Is it possible alliances and the re-emergence of power struggles within Europe could happen again? That sort of thing caused two world wars not that far back in time in the great scheme of things. The EU is not perfect but it is the best trading bloc we will ever be a part of. Its strong links between countries make it a safe place politically or much safer than it has been in the past. Europe has been a peaceful place for a lot longer than it has ever been before since the second world war. Europe needs working on and adapting and improving for all member states. The best thing, I think is for us to stay and work together on all these issues. They will need to be worked on continuously, forever,I should think, but things will change within the union.






Thursday, 5 May 2016

SHAKESPEARE IN TEN ACTS a review.




Vivien Leigh as Titania in Midsummer Nights Dream performed at The Old Vic
With bated breath, on Saturday 16th April, Marilyn , Abi and I, we bear a charmed life by the way, put our best foot forward and went up to The British Library to see the Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. Shakespeare breathed his last in Stratford upon Avon at his home, New Place, on the 23rd April 1616. This year is the 400th anniversary of his death. As good luck would have it, The British Library has created a wonderful exhibition to commemorate his death. Arguably, come what may, Shakespeare is the greatest writer this brave new world has known.  Before I continue, I hope Shakespeare addicts who peruse this article will not accuse me of plagiarism. It must be a foregone conclusion that I have already  used the Bard’s very own words a number of times. Actually we can’t get away from Shakespeare. He introduced so many common place words and phrases into our vocabulary, we use them all the time without even realizing what we do. They have become household words. (Ha! Ha! there I go again. Didn’t even realise it.) So far in this introductory paragraph, I have quoted Shakespeare countless times already. I have done it consciously as you probably realise . I will continue this article though without consciously trying to quote the Bard but I am sure I will. Please don’t be too critical, to write this successfully I can’t get away from him. (and yes, I have quoted him again in the last two sentences.) He’s everywhere in nearly everything we write or say !!!!!  The words and phrases are there in his plays. It is his plays and his written words, that the library has turned to to explain Shakespeare’s enduring importance and greatness. The exhibition begins with a display showing a first folio edition of thirty six of his plays collected by two of Shakespeare’s friends, John Hemynges and Henry Condell and published in 1623 seven years after Shakespeare died. Before 1623 and during Shakespeare’s lifetime, eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays had been published in quarto editions. Wothout Hemynges and Condell we may never have had some of Shakespeares plays passed on down through the centuries to us today. The folio edition frontice piece shows the picture of Shakespeare we all know, a slightly balding fresh faced gentleman with wide open eyes staring out of the page straight at us. The exhibition explains Shakespeare in ten iconic productions of his plays over the centuries that have been milestones in his popularity.
The first folio edition. Thirty six plays collected by John Hemynges and Henry Condell.

I was introduced to Shakespeare at a very young age. There was obviously the mere act of speaking to start with. We can’t get away from Shakespeare. At school, Macbeth, the Scottish play was the first engagement with one of Shakespeare’s plays we had . Being educated in a catholic school in Southampton we were all used to engaging, rather vividly, with concepts of the conscience, confession, the ten commandments, guilt, God, the devil, hell , good and evil and Macbeth has all this in abundance. We were in our Roman Catholic element. Macbeth is powerful stuff and we learned the witches chants and spells avidly. Lady Macbeths wringing her hands, “out damned spot,” the making of her confession and trying to get her soul clean , resonated with  our guilty catholic consciences  , and how! Later on we were taken to see Macbeth at Stratford upon Avon on a day trip from school. The school six formers created a production of Macbeth for us all to participate in too. We were imbued with Macbeth. Later I saw Peter Brooks 1970, production of a Midsummer Nights Dream at Southampton Gaumont when it toured the country. That production is one of the ten important productions featured in the ,”The Ten Acts,”at the British Library exhibition. Over the years I have seen a number of Shakespeares plays on stage and on film. Some of the most memorable are of course Macbeth at Stratford, and A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Gaumont but also Henry IV part one at the Mermaid Theater at  Puddledock  in Blackfriars next to the Thames in the City., As You Like It, at The Globe Theatre on the South Bank, Lear at The National, Midsummer Nights Dream, recently at The Rose Theater, Kingston upon Thames with Judy Dench playing an aged Queen Elizabeth I. I have seen, Hamlet  at Stratford. Leonardo de Caprio’ s Romeo and Juliet and Orson Welles, Macbeth, come to mind as powerful incarnations of the bards works on the screen. We all of know of course, once more, Laurence Olivier’s, Henry V. There is the brilliant adaptation of Romeo and Juliet,West Side Story, too.

There were believed to have been 750 copies of the first folio printed. 234 of them are known to have survived. The British Library has five copies. The first folio is one the rarest books in the world and is sort after. Recently at the library of Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute a copy that has been in the library’s collection for a hundred years was confirmed as authentic by Professor Emma Smith of Oxford University. After seeing this rare and precious edition of the first folio we were introduced to quarto versions of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were published individually in quarto form in his lifetime. Some are better than others. Some believe that publishers plagiarised the texts from the official theatre prompt books. Some say that they were written from the memory of people who attended performances of the plays. This process lead to inconsistencies meaning that some of the quartos are of reasonable quality but some are poor bastardised versions of the plays. Condell and Hemynges, the publishers of the folio edition, contested the validity of many of the quarto versions of the plays. But still, seeing these original volumes showed us what people of Shakespeare’s time would have seen and read. Being able to see the folio edition is a special moment. It is a connection with Shakespeare himself. We are only permitted to see with our eyes. Touching would be destructive. The folio edition is something from the past for us now to see but also for  future generations.
Shakespeare as he appears in the title page of the first folio.

The first of the ten plays that were important to creating Shakespeare’s legacy is the first Hamlet performed at the Globe Theatre in about 1600 in Southwark on the South Bank. Revenge was common in a lot plays written at the time and most were bloodthirsty but Shakespeares Hamlet was more cerebral. He wrote to the strengths of the Lord Chamberlaynes men, later the Kings Men, of whom Shakespeare was shareholder. He wrote a part specifically for his friend Richard Burbage. Making Hamlet appeal to the audience’s minds linked the life experinces of each member of the audience with the charcters in the play. There was empathy. Through theatre people could now act out in their own imaginings their own real problems whether they be thoughts of revenge or other human issues.

During the winter months, the Kings men performed in the Blackfriars theater, the ancient refectory of the Blackfriars situated just south west of St Pauls Cathedral.  It no longer exists but you can walk through the narrow streets that still retain the Medieval street pattern to this day. You can see the location of the old monastery gatehouse that Shakespeare bought as his London home. You can still see the site of the graveyard attached to the monastery and plaques showing where the Blackfriars Monastery was located. Also you can still walk into the courtyard where the Kings Wardrobe was. Shakespeare and The Kings Men borrowed or hired costumes from The Kings Wardrobe to wear as costumes for their plays. The Kings Men played at the Blackfriars Playhouse from 1609 onwards during the Winter months and at the open air Globe Theatre during the Summer. The indoor atmosphere created by the Balckfriars theater, a candlelit space, caused Shakespeare to write plays that made full advantage of the indoor location by , “using magic, music and spectacle.” Shakespeare wrote The Tempest to take advantage of this more moody, enclosed atmosphere of the Blackfriars Playhouse.
Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford upon Avon.

On the 5th September 1607 The Crew of the Red Dragon, an East India Company ship, reputedly performed Hamlet off the coast of Sierra Leone to an audience of African guests. It takes a moment to think about that. Hamlet was performed to Aficans in Africa during Shakespeares lifetime. During the 1600s, because of travel and trade Shakespeare’s plays were already being performed outside of England. There was institutional sexism against women who performed on the stage during Shakespeare’s time and women were played by adolescent boys. However, on the 8th December 1660 the part of Desdemona in Othello was played by a woman. She was introduced as a novelty and her name was not recorded. Later in the 18th and 19th  century women did act on stage but very often they were thought of as no better than prostitutes. By the end of the 18th century Shakespeare was greatly revered. David Garrick had promoted Shakespeare. It was a time that Shakespeare was so revered, forgery became a temptation. In 1795 law clerk, William Henry Ireland astonished his Shakespeare father when he discovered a cache of Shakespeare documents. Including King Lear, Hamlet and an unknown play called Vortigern. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane snapped up Vortigern. It was performed on the 2nd April 1796. The performance was ridiculed and Ireland’s documents were exposed as forgeries. In 1825 Ira Aldridge was part of the African Theater in New York and performed Shakespeare. The actors were treated badly by the authorities and beaten badly. Aldridge came to Britain in 1824 and acted in Britain for over 40 years. He was the first black actor to play Othello. By the end of the 17th century Shakespeare was considered old fashioned and many of his plays were rewritten to suit the times.It was strange to learn that by the end of the 17th century Shakespeare’s plays were considered old fashioned and many had been rewritten. For instance King Lear was rewritten by Nahum Tate in 1681 giving Lear a happy ending. In 1838 William Charles Macready reintroduced Lear’s fool into the play and got nearer to the original although even Macready’s version was still an adaptation.
The site of New Place in Stratford where Shakespeare lived the last years of his life and died.

Closer to my heart is the 1970 Peter Brook’s Midsummer Nights Dream, staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was 18 years old. Peter Brook took the production on tour, or it was doing a run of a limited number of theaters before decamping for the USA. I can’t remember exactly the situation but I saw it at Southampton’s  Gaumont Theater. It was incredible . A minimal white stage,   that enhanced the simple geometric shaped costumes of poster paint colours. A character was either yellow, blue, green, white and so on, very simply attired. Swings and ropes helped characters ascend , descend and fly. I remember being thrilled by this bright vivid production. I remember being awestruck after the play had ended when outside the theater I saw the characters of Bottom and other mechanicals appear out of a side door to the theater  in their ordinary clothes and line up outside a nearby fish and chip shop to buy some fish and chips. My friends and I stood and stared at them. It was slightly surreal as indeed this production was. The production had a hippie element to it, combined with its minimal stage, costumes and acrobatics. It was a [production that really fitted ,”the age of Aquarius.” Peter Brook showed what can be done and how each generation can interpret and learn from Shakespeare.
A scene from Peter Brooks 1970 production of A Midsummer Nights Dream.

More recently, in 2002, the acclaimed actor Mark Rilence, whilst director of The Globe Theater on the South Bank returned Twelfth Night back to what Shakespeare would have known using the music and costumes of Shakespeare’s time. He also made it an all male cast with women played by men. Rilence was trying to inject some authenticity into Twelfth Night making a connection with Shakespeares time.
Mark Rylance in the 2002 production of Twelfth Night at The Globe Theatre on the South Bank.

And most recently, "the tenth act" and so tenth play that demonstrates how Shakespeare is for all times, an adaptation of Hamlet in 2013 by The Wooster Group. They have created a Hamlet that uses modern technology to connect productions  of Hamlet from past generations with a Hamlet of today.It was first performed I the USA in 2007 and more recently at the Edinburgh Festival in 2013. The live performance used digital technology to combine its live performance with the film of Richard Burton's 1964 Broadway production. Other footage of Hamlet films were combined into the production too. It must have created a layered effect of multiple interpretations. This could only have been achieved now in this digital age. As technology progresses we can only wonder what the future will bring.

In one final exhibition case, there is displayed the delicate bejeweled and flowered headdress Vivien Leigh wore as Titania in the 1937 production of A Midsummer Nights dream at The Old Vic. The exhibition poster, not over cool, the exhibition book, available for our perusal and the exhibition guide,which can never be described as too much of a good thing,  use the picture of Vivien Leigh wearing this head piece, on their front covers. Vivien Leigh does indeed look like a beautiful dream. This exhibition is superbly curated and presented. Swift as a shadow it leads us through the various key moments in the development of Shakespeare over the centuries through various productions and interpretations. It shows us Shakespeare in ten acts just as Shakespeare shows us his dramatic stories in a series of acts.  A superb exhibition. It begins with an original first folio and it is this that  is so important to us today enabling us to discover what Shakespeare intended.

In this last paragraph, can you discover which are Shakespeare’s words and which are mine? And I might say to finish, all's well that ends well.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

“Painting the Modern Garden, Monet to Matisse .“ At the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly



On Saturday 13th February this year Marilyn, Abi and myself went to see, “Painting the Modern Garden Monet to Matisse ,“ at the Royal Academy of Arts, just off Piccadilly.
It was an excellent exhibition displaying pictures from various artists who painted their gardens during the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Claude Monet’s garden pictures dominate, however the exhibition provided a detailed examination of the role of the garden in art and in peoples’ lives of the early 20th century right up to now. It covered all the modern genres of painting, Impressionism, Symbolism and the Avante Garde and also included artists from right across Europe. Of course there are pictures from Monets gardens at Argenteuil and finally Giverny, but also paintings by Gustave Caillebotte, Camille Pisarro and Pierre August Renoir. One painting by Pissaro depicts Monet painting in his garden at Arguenteuil. These garden pictures show the garden as a motif for modern life, relaxation and pleasure and not, as in the past, the utilitarian garden that grew vegetables and produce for eating and source of food and were, in a sense, a part of peoples survival. Other artists include John Singer Sergeants pictures executed in the Cotswold village of Broadway, Laurits Tuxen and Peder Kroyer in Denmark, Karl Nordstrom in Sweden, The German Impressionist Max Liebermann in Berlin and Joaquin Sorolla in Madrid. The American, Childe Hassam has some paintings displayed. He painted the garden of his friend, Celia Thaxter in Maine. This exhibition is not only about just the relationship between individual artists and their gardens it also has a broader meaning that encompasses the human relationship with nature and how gardens affects us all psychologically and help shape us as human beings. The artists in this exhibition find symbolic meaning, explore the effects of combining colour and a deeper emotional world through painting their gardens. 


Claude Monet's Agapanthus triptych. ( The three parts are owned respectively by Nelson Atkins Museum, St Louis Art Museum and Cleveland Museum of Art in America.)


The final room of the exhibiton has a triptych of Monets waterlilies that he painted between 1915 and 1919 covering the period of the first world war. Monet remained at Giverny during this time, which is north west of Paris, throughout the war although many local village people and indeed members of his own family left the area for safety. Giverny was very close to the war front and always there was the possibility that the Germans could overrun Giverny and on their route to  Paris. Monet did not want to leave Giverny ,the source of his inspiration and  wanted to continue painting. Some critics suggest that paintings such as this triptych were Monets response to war and his fears. The triptych is enormous and standing in front of it your sight is filled with the painting and your mind becomes completely taken over. Monet has stopped painting any reference to land or connections with the world. The painting is all water surface with its plays of light and shadow and large patches of waterlily pads and flowers. I could feel myself being absorbed into its depths. It was a sensation of almost sinking into the picture. It is as though in painting this Monet was passing into another world away from the terrible strife and unimaginable death  toll happening around him. It is an example of how we can interact with our gardens.

Blue bells at the bottom of my garden.

I can remember as a young child spending a lot of time in my grandparents’ house near to where I lived in Woolston in Southampton. Their garden had various meanings. I was shown the site where the air raid shelter had been dug to protect them from bombing in the second world war. I was shown pictures of how the garden had been dug over to grow vegetables to help feed themselves during the time of rationing. By the time I was born in 1952 their garden had been turned back to a place of relaxation and fun. They had a grass lawn, and flower beds with roses and various border shrubs and plants. In the spring there was a patch, near the garden shed at the bottom of the garden, where lilly of the valley grew and another patch that produced primroses. The fruit trees growing plums, greengages, cooking apples and eating apples and the cherry tree and the hazelnut tree that all been planted during the war to provide fruit to eat as a part of their austere diet still remained but they had become places of shade in the summer months and were islands of enjoyment producing juicy and luscious fruits.


By Emil Nolde

However, it was Mr Biggs’s garden, who was their next door neighbour that really took hold of my imagination. Sometimes my grandmother and I would squeeze through the gap in the fence to one side near the bottom of my grandparent’s garden and emerge into Mr Biggs garden. This was perfectly alright to do. The two families, all through the war years, had shared each other’s garden. My grandparents had provided fruit from their trees for the Biggs family and the Biggs family, whose garden was twice the size of my grandparent’s garden, had a chicken run providing eggs and the occasional chicken to be roasted and eaten. They also had space for a giant compost heap which both families shared. They had a large murky pond covered in water lily pads that held a multitude of fish. The Biggs family shared my grandparents air raid shelter when the warning sirens howled across the district warning of an impending Luftwaffe bombing raid. My grandfather had built an extra-large shelter for this purpose. I remember as a young child walking through Mr Biggs garden. It was populated with all sorts of trees which made it seem like a forest with a tall brick wall dividing the bottom of my grandparents garden from his. It was darkly shaded and blinding splinters of sunlight broke through the foliage in places. The pond, its edges covered in mosses and reeds seemed deep in its glassy blackness and occasionally the back of, a what appeared to me, a giant under water monster broke the surface. The compost heap, to one side of the pond, smelled musty and sour with rotting vegetation thrown on it. I can’t explain, but I liked the feeling of being there. It was dark and mysterious. I felt submerged in its shadowy depths. It felt like being inside a fantasy world. Elves and goblins could be just behind each tree trunk. Every sense of my young boyhood self was stimulated, smells, sites, shadowy shapes, the sounds of birds and squirrels. I must have felt then like Claude Monet in his garden or Camille Pissaro or Laurtis Tuxen or Joaquin Sorolla, in their gardens.


Monet's garden at Giverny.

At the back of the gallery guide to this exhibition are two pages advertising events and lectures, free talks and family events associated with the exhibition. One particular event caught my eye. An afternoon talk, “ Provocations in Art: Contemporary Urban Gardening.” It was held on Saturday 27th February so I  missed it but the description of the talk got me thinking and exploring the websites of the people involved. It was chaired by the journalist and horticulturalist, Alys Fowler. The guerrilla gardener and author Richard Reynolds, forager John Rensten and artist Wendy Shillman took part. I checked out Wendy Stillman first and discovered that she  and her husband have created a small urban garden on the roof top of their house near the BBC Centre just north of Oxford Circus and close to the British telecom Tower. A photograph on her website shows Wendy standing among her plants high above London with the BT tower in the background. She is an urban architect. She lives in an urban environment and combines producing her own food and using her house as a bed and breakfast for visitors to stay so they too can be inspired by her living experience in a big city. John Rensten lives and works in London too. He studies wild food such as fungi, wild flowers and fruits. He has set up an organization called, Forage London. He takes groups around London and other parts of the country searching for wild, free growing foods and teaching about them. Discovering about Richard Reynolds and his ideas about guerrilla gardening really inspired me. Reynolds has written and published a book recently entitled,“On Guerrilla Gardening,” In the book he describes gardeners he has met around the world who garden in subversive ways.The book refers to horticultural “sleeper cells” and “shock and awe” plantings, and takes tactical advice from the writings of Che Guevara and Mao Zedong. It all sounds like  1970’s student protest stuff. However it is exciting to learn about his nighttime escapades to isolated pieces of waste land all over London with his followers and collaborators. . Overnight they can plant whole areas and clean away the detritus of urban living. He has created twenty eight gardens so far. One article about him tells how the authorities, the local councils and the police have confronted him but on the whole have left him in peace. He defines guerilla gardening as, “ the cultivation of someone else’s land without their permission.” He used his tactics in the Tate Modern. On the 20th October 2015 Cruzvillegas created an installation that he said was inspired by guerilla gardens. He layed out a whole series of triangular planters filled with soil. However they were under the roof of the Tate Modern and there seemed no prospect of anything growing in these planters. Reynolds and his friend Vanessa Harden prepared some seed bombs and stood on the balcony overlooking the installation and began throwing the ,”bombs,” into the planters. The Tate Modern wasn’t sure how to react at first but decided it was a positive response to the installation and allowed them to continue with their obviously enthusiastic escapade. Even visitors of all ages attending the gallery joined in.


Wendy Stillman in her rooftop garden.

I think these people ,John Rensten, Wendy Stillman and Richard Reynolds are the modern equivalent of Monet and Matisse. They are taking, in some ways, the idea of gardens as being important to peoples emotional, physical and imaginative lives forward into nowadays.They are responding to gardens and using gardens in  human contexts.


The lily pond at Giverny

The exhibiton of great paintings and the interviews with John Rensten, Wendy Shillman and Richard Reynolds have now inspired me to think of my garden in a range of different ways from how I have considered it before. I feel inspired to find out about what is there already. I know about the buddleia bush, some blue bells that shoot up creating a carpet of leaves and blue dangling flowers in the spring and a couple of  dilapidated looking apple trees, oh, and a few shrubs. However there is a lot I don’t know. I want to plan how I can develop it creating colours, smells, light and shade and sounds. This exhibition has got me thinking about it all. Watch this space. The Summer months will give me time to do something. In the words of Citizen Smith of the Tooting Popular front, “Power to the People,” and my back garden.