Tuesday 20 December 2011

Dicken's Rooms

Tessa Hadley talks about rooms and reallity and uses a description of a room in Dicken's novel, Little Dorrit, in this BBC radio series of writers essays.

This is very good!!!!!


Sunday 18 December 2011

Remains of Jane's Steventon home.

During November this year some archaeologists and a few volunteers obtained a grant of £10,000 from The Heritage Lottery Fund to excavate the site of Jane Austen's first home and birthplace at Steventon, just south of Basingstoke in Hampshire.

It was demolished by her brother Edward Knight in 1823 when his son William Knight became the incumbent vicar of the parish. It needed a lot of repairs and it's location, at the bottom of the hill which leads up to St Nicholas Parish church, was a site prone to dampness and the occasional flooding. Edward had a new rectory built, not far away, on the opposite side of the road higher up on the side of the valley.

The site of the original rectory, where Jane started writing some of her most famous novels, can viewed from the junction of the main road leading through Steventon and the road leading up to St Nicholas's. It is a meadow with a couple of large oak trees situated near the main road. The remains of the pump that stood in the backyard of the original rectory can still be seen.

The archaeologists have found a considerable number of artefacts that tell us about life in the rectory. Many clay pipes have been found. Smoking must have been an important past time amongst the male members of the family.The Museum of London have a database of all the 18th century clay pipe makers in London. On the base of each pipe bowl where the tobacco was placed is usually found a stamp with the makers initials or emblem on. The archaeologists at Steventon should probably be able to find where Jane's brothers and father bought their clay pipes from. Jane may have smoked herself.Clay pipe smoking was popular amongst women in the 17th and 18th centurys.They got their tobacco from Virginia. I am sure snuff would have been inhaled on more formal occasions.(http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/claypipes/index.asp)

Wine bottle necks were unearthed too. They obviously liked more than a glass of wine. Shards of earthenware pottery have been found.The pottery discovered might refer to certain types of food stored and eaten.As with the pipes,local makers might be identified.

Parts of the foundations of the rectory have been uncovered. This will give us a better insite into the construction methods, style of the house, ground plan and materials used in its construction. Until now we have only had two sketches of the house, which contradict each other.

Here is a link to an article about the excavation.


Friday 16 December 2011


The village of of Selborne seen from Selborne Hangar.
Hampshire countryside.
James Austen's grave at Steventon Church.
Steventon crossroads.
Cottage at Steventon.
Steventon Church where Jane Austen was baptised.

Today, the 16th December, is the anniversary of the birth of Jane Austen, at Steventon Rectory, in Hampshire. On the day Jane was born,about fifteen miles away from Steventon, , and about five miles from Chawton, in the village of Selborne, the naturalist Gilbert White wrote, "Trees begin to be naked."

(A link to an article about the death of Jane Austen.)

Sunday 11 December 2011

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath


Ted Hughes has been commemorated recently by having a plaque placed in, Poets Corner, in the southern transept of Westminster Abbey.

Here is a radio documentary about Ted Hughes. What I found interesting is that it includes an interview, about 28 minutes into the programme, with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. I've never heard Sylvia Plath's voice before. I found it quite exciting and thrilling to actually hear her speak.

I saw Ted Hughes when I was student, training to be a teacher. I heard him perform some of his most famous poems such as Hawk Roosting, Pike, and The Thought Fox.

The Thought-Fox by Ted Hughes
I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Tea, just like Jane.

Strand Shop Christmas

Having a nice cup of tea in Twinings on The Strand.

Between Saturday the 5th March 1814 and Tuesday the 8th March 1814, Jane Austen was worrying about tea.

She was staying at her brother Henry's house at number 10 Henrietta Street next to Covent Garden.

Writing to Cassandra she says,

" I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply."

From number 10 Henrietta Street turn right out of the front door , walk along the southern perimeter of Covent Garden Market towards Drury Lane. Turn right down the slightly sloping hill with Drury Lane Theatre on your left and the pub, Nell of Old Drury, an old 18th century prostitutes den, on your right and carry on until you reach The Strand. Cross the road and and turn left along The Strand for about 600 yards until you are almost opposite the Law Courts. You will be at the entrance to Twinings shop, number 216. This is the original shop that Thomas Twining opened in The Strand in 1706. By the time Jane Austen was making her way through the streets of London to the premises on The Strand it was well established.
(Here is a link to an article I wrote about Tea in jane Austen's time. A Cup Of Tea With Austen )

There are more than one reason for taking this journey. First to follow in Jane's footsteps but also to be able to drink and buy tea . There are over 100 Twinings blends to choose from. All Twinings shops have a tasting service. At the back of the shop on The Strand is a tea bar, kettles and percolators , cups and saucers and samples of the Twinings tea range. It's FREE! A rest from the hustle and bustle of London traffic and crowded pavements and a nice refreshing cup of tea to recharge your batteries is a wonderful way to pause and contemplate your London visit so far. You can make the tea yourself or you can ask one of the assistants to help. The assistants in the shop are knowledgeable about all the Twinings blends. They can also give you a lesson in ,"brewing up a nice pot."

So next time you are in London enjoy a cup of tea at Twinings.

Here is a link to tea at Twinings.

Friday 11 November 2011


(She is 11 years old today.)

It is Armistice Day today. At 11 o'clock we will have a two minutes silence to remember our dead.

My daughter, Abigail is 11 years old today. She regrets she was not born at 11 o'clock though. She was born just after midnight on the 11th November 2000. It will be a hundred years before others will be able to say,

" Today is my birthday. I am 11years old on the 11th day of the 11th month in the 11th year of this century."

Here is a piece of art my daughter Emily made for Abigail, her sister. I am not sure what it means but in the top left corner the words "Emily, Abigail," appear many, many times.

Thursday 10 November 2011


Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918) was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War

The war poet Wilfred Owen was killed in northern France in November 1918 - in the final days of WWI. His last letter to his mother was written at the end of October in the cellar of a forester's house in the village of Ors.


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen
8 October 1917 - March, 1918

Thursday 3 November 2011

THIS IS LONDON!!!!!!!!! Yeh!!!

On Westminster Bridge, looking down river towards the City and St Pauls in the distance.

The V&A museum in South Kensington. The home of arts and crafts. When the idea for it was instigated by Prince Albert in 1852. It has 4.5 million objects. It's mandate was to display artefacts from every culture throughout the world so that artists, and artisans of every type could learn from made things. It always has had an educational purpose. This makes it different from art galleries which are seen as culturally elite.
An old shop in Shoreditch, just north of the City of London and the Barbican. It looks like a Victorian shop front but the building is probably Georgian.

A view form Brick Lane. You can just glimpse the Ghurkin and the City of London banking sector through the archway. Brick Lane is an area where many waves of immigrants over the centuries have lived. Hueguenots weavers came first of all, then it became a Jewish settelment, there are still some synagogues in the area. Nowadays it is home to many Pakistanis. Monica Ali wrote her award winning novel Brick Lane which was based on life and the immigrant community here. It was made into a hard hitting film about Brick Lane's society.

You will all know this one. It's Westminster Abbey. It has been the centre of many important events in the history of this country.

So many people mistake this for London Bridge but it is in effect called Tower Bridge because it is situated beside The Tower of London.

This is Villiers Road leading off The Strand. Charing Cross Station is to the right and The Thames straight ahead. There are many literary connections around here, from Charles Dickens to Rudyard Kipling.
This is the Buddhist pagoda in Battersea Park, next to The Thames. The Dalai Llama requested that one be set up in London and other major cities of the world to help bring peace to us all.

This is Spitalfields Market in the East End. It is being renovated and turned into designer clothes shops, pubs, restaurants and clubs. The area is close to Whitechapel, famous for Jack The Ripper.
Boris Johnson, our illustrious Mayor of London, is trying to encourage more cycling. You can hire one of these bikes. There are dozens of these bicycle racks around the city.

I know it looks like a piece of fossilised dinosaur but its one of the new entrances down into the tube system.
The Houses of Parliament. But you knew that didn't you!!!!!!!!! By the way, it's not Big Ben. It is called The Westminster Clock Tower. Big Ben is the bell inside it. You can hear Big Ben but you can't see it.
This is Marble Arch next to the north east corner of Hyde Park on the Corner of Oxford Street and Bayswater Road. It was originally the gate into Buckingham Palace but it was found to be too narrow for some of the carriages so it was moved to this spot. The site was originally Tyburn, where criminals were hung.
A seagull contemplating Westminster Bridge at sunset.
I was needing a bit of glamour. Here is myself with Deb Barnum, who organises the Jane Austen Society of North America, Vermont chapter. "Chapter," is that the right word? It has religious connotations but also reminds me of the Hells Angels.

Anyway, we are standing outside 10 Henrietta Street, near Covent Garden. It was here that Jane Austen stayed with her banking brother Henry. I think the downstairs section, in those days, was a branch of his bank.
This is the famous ,"Wobbly Bridge." Behind me, no you can't see it, is St Pauls Cathedral and across the river on the other side, is the 1930's coal fired power station that has been converted into The Tate Modern.
A view of The Thames looking west. That clump of flats (apartments) in the distance is Battersea.
From this viewpoint you can see St Pauls Cathedral, the flats in the Barbican complex to the left, some of the banking district in The City to the right and The Thames again, in the foreground.
An alleyway in Holburn, just half a mile north of The Strand.
Yes I know,drunken telephone boxes!!!!!!!!!!
A statue of that great actor, Lawrence Olivier, situated on the South Bank near The National
Inside one of those London Eye, pods. Going round and round and round!!!!!!
This is not in London but I thought you would like to see Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.
A horse and carriage on The Strand.
Some Henry Moore sculptures in Battersea Park. Nearby is a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth.
Graffitti and skate boarders on the South Bank underneath The Royal Festival Hall.

Well, it was a hot day. A bit of a shock to an Englishman's system. We are not used to hot weather ha! ha!
These are mews houses. They are desirable properties. In Georgian and Victorian times these were the stables for the horses and carriages belonging to the fine houses in areas like Belgravia.
You have got three for one in this picture. That thin looking pedestrian bridge in front is a side view of The Millenium Bridge, also known as The Wobbly Bridge. Southwark Bridge is the next one and then there is the railway bridge coming out of Cannon Street Station. You can see the twin towers of the station to the left.
This is the Hayward Gallery on The South Bank. He's not going to jump. It's a sculpture. About two years ago, life size and life like figures like this started appearing on many buildings all over London. Just another way for us all to relate to art.
St Pauls at night.
The Cenotaph in Whitehall. This is the main national Monument to our British War dead. It was erected just after the First Worlld War. The Queen places a wreath here every year on Armistice Day, November 11th. We all wear poppys to commemorate our war dead.
This is Trafalgar Square last Christmas. The tree is a Norway Spruce.Every year Norway presents us with a Christmas tree to commemorate the help we gave them during the second world war. Denmark, on the other hand, for the same reasons,gave us Carlsberg Special Brew. At one time it could only be sold in England. It's powerful, brain damage stuff.
You are going to laugh at this one. This is George Washington. It's next to The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. In the 1920's the good people of Virginia thought they would like to present the English people with a statue of George Washington.
Then, somebody discovered that in his will he strictly forbade that he should ever stand on English soil again, what, with a little trouble called the Wars of independence and all that.
They thought, we can't go against his wishes. Then some bright spark had a great idea. Why not dig up a load of soil from Virginia and ship it over to England for the statue to stand on. That's what they did. A deep hole was dug in Trafalgar Square and it was filled with soil from Virginia. George was then plonked on top.
A guardsman in Horse Guards Parade.
A stern looking policeman at the entrance to Downing Street.
Somebody beach combing under Waterloo Bridge.
The National Theater. It looks more like a nuclear power station. It has three stages and auditoriums. The central concrete column is a computer operated scenery moving installation for the three stages.
A Thames Clipper, a river bus. One of the best ways to see London is from the river. You can buy a days pass, a Rover ticket, for £12.50. You can go up and down the Thames all day long, stopping wherever you want and getting back on again. You can go up as far as the Thames Barrier, stop at Greenwich to see the Maritime Museum and The Royal Observatory, pop in to The Millenium Dome, see The Tower, look in at the Tate Modern, view St Pauls and embark at Westminster. The views are spectacular and the photo opportunities innumerable.
More graffitti!!!!!!
Buckingham Palace from the lake in St James's Park.
The banking sector in the city viewed from The Tower of London. WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?
Canary Wharf. Multinational companys viewed from Greenwich Park.
A diplodocus in the entrance to the Natural History Museum in Kensington.
I often cycle around London. That's my bike on the right. No, not the one with the bent wheel.
The Albert Embankment, across the river from The Houses of Parliament.
The Houses of Parliament. Need I say more?
The memorial to SOE outside of Lambeth Palace.Lambeth Palace is the home of The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England.
A london pub, called The Museum Tavern, opposite The British Museum.
The London Underground.
On the way to an underground platform.
Me, on my way home on the underground. I can't remember which station this was.
The pavement at night outside the Royal Festival Hall.
The Royal Festival Hall. It is the venue for classical music concerts throughout the year. It can hold the worlds largest symphony orchestras.
A London side street.
Street musicians.
I was about to enter a capsule on The London Eye.
For all you Doctor Who fans. Hamleys toy shop window at Christmas. It's in Regents Street.
A gold Dalek. Blimey!!!!!!!!!
Is it a cave? Is it a load of old rags?
Regents Street at Christmas.
Theater Royal Drury Lane in Covent Garden.
Once in a while I need to sit down and have a cup of coffee.
Covent Garden from the terrace of the Royal Opera House. I went to see The Nutcracker. Yes, I did.
A green house at the Horniman Museum, which I think is one of the best museums in the London suburbs near Greenwich. It has got some amazing things collected from every culture by Frederick John Horniman, the tea trader, from his travels all over the world.
Hans Place. Another house Jane Austen stayed in. This was owned by Henry too. The house he owned was on this site. This red brick building was built in the late 1800's. It's Victorian.
Clive of India. This is just behind Whitehall set between the buildings that comprise the Foreign Office. Clive conquered India and added it too our British Empire.
Chinatown next to Soho, just off Shaftesbury Avenue.
London seen from Battersea Park.
Charing Cross station and Hungerford Railway Bridge. There are two pedestrian walkways either side of the railway bridge. Virginia Woolf mentions in her diaries walking across Hungerford Bridge. Before the railway station and the bridge were built there used to be some stone steps down to the river called Hungerford Steps. It was here that the blacking factory stood that Charles Dickens was employed in as a young child.
Buckingham palace Road and the magnificent French chateau style Southwestern Hotel that served Victoria Railway Station. The Orient Express leaves from here. Notice the Abbey Road Beetles re-enactment society.
Boudica. She was the warrior Queen who routed the Romans and sacked Roman London.
The reading room in The British Museum. Karl Marx wrote his great works here.
This Georgian house is near Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. Benjamin Franklin lived here for about 18 years. He set up a printing press, and carried out many scientific experiments here.
The Science Museum. These are all 18th century scientific instruments.
An aeroplane in full flight inside the Science Museum. It makes me think of the adventures of Tintin for some reason.
A lion in Trafalgar Square. They are made from the melted down guns of many of the ships that took part in The Battle of Trafalgar.
Some Georgian houses. "Upstairs Downstairs."
Looking across the Thames at twilight. On the other side is Chelsea where many of the Preraphaelite brotherhood lived. Cheney Walk, where innumerable literary and artistic giants lived is next to the river.
Battersea power Station. A 1930's coal fired power station that is being converted into everything you can think of, galleries, shops, hotels, theaters, cinemas, and shops.