Monday 26 May 2014

A week in photos

There was nothing very notable about last week in London, other than the mercurial weather. Here's a few bits and pieces from along the way:-


Penguin and I took a trip to Westminster, mostly to see the statues - but also because it was a nice sunshiney day.


A rather grey morning to accompany the journey to work; thanks to a traffic jam I did finally manage to get a photograph of the dragon sculpture at a shopping area in the Bermondsey area.


The weather cheered up again for the middle of the week; and Her Majesty was lucky that it didn't rain on her garden party!


A day of indeterminate weather, sunshine and showers. I went out at lunch (I forgot to take my lunch to work!); my favourite moment was the rather quality looking cigar stubbed out in a coffee cup - that's Mayfair! Another traffic jam allowed me a photo of St George's Circus; a mile from London Bridge (and some other places).


Another day of mixed weather, some sunshine and some clouds. Grey and cloudy but sunny enough for the cat to take a nap in a sun puddle. A trip into the garden to check on the greenhouses and the rose bushes from our wedding last summer. The roses are confused - there are flowers and hips - undecided on Summer on Autumn?! 


It started the day raining, quite seriously. It cleared up by late morning, enough for the wildlife to come out to amuse the cat. By late afternoon it was sunshine all the way!


Enough rain overnight an in the early morning to have a puddle photo (aided and abetted by poor drainage). The good weather carried to the evening, for a lovely sunset and a cross cat who didn't see why the curtains had to be shut whilst he was still busy watching the wildlife; he made a little hole in the curtains so he could continue his garden watch!

Sunday 25 May 2014

Sunday Social (103)

Linking up with Ashley and Neely for the Sunday Social

1. What is your favorite handbag you own?

I still own a cupboard full of handbags, but I hardly use most of them. The trouble with using crutches (and even the wheelie-walker) is that you have very specific handbag needs. It has to have a shoulder strap (if I can't wear it cross body I drop it constantly). It needs an easy access secure pocket for travel cards and so forth, and it needs fairly easy access secure pockets for phone and other regularly used items. It also needs to be a reasonable size for all the stuff I carry around with me. This one came from Accessorize last summer - I should have bought two as constant use has made it a bit shabby and there is nothing similar in this year's offering!

2. 3 things you would buy right now if money was no object?
Gosh, three things?! Well I'd get Samsung Gear watches for Husband and myself, they are the best offering of the type on the market and meld seamlessly with the phones. I'd say a bigger TV but I really don't think our little living room would take much larger than we've got! Perhaps a nice 'aviary' type enclosure so Casper (cowardly cat) could sit in the garden safe from falling leaves and other hazards!

3. Name a place you would go right now if given a plane ticket to anywhere?
American East Coast, I'd love to go back to NYC, visit Boston and DC.

4. What is the most valuable life lesson you've learned from blogging?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

5. What is the most valuable life lesson you've learned from a friend?
Never give up. There is always a way.

The study of Literature

When I was at school (when everybody was at school) we took a course for our GCSE called English Literature, we also took a course called English Language.

The reason and aim of the Language course (to this day) eludes me; we did not learn vocabulary or grammar - the only part of the course I distinctly remember was a piece of coursework undertaking analysis of the reporting various newspapers of an action during the first Gulf war.

The Literature course was (of course) a requirement to study various books and complete assignments on them. We did a Shakespeare play, a Jane Austen novel and To Kill a Mockingbird, amongst others.

Both of those courses shared a common theme, they were 100% coursework, there was no final exam. This meant that Austen (who I have never liked much) and Harper Lee (I didn't take to 'To Kill a Mockingbird') were never read. Because there was no exam in order to fulfil the coursework requirements I just had to read the chapter(s) for the essay question in order to pass the grade. Pass I did, I got an 'A' for both courses.

The reason for this post is today's news that UK Education Michael Gove wants to overhaul the syllabus a drop US classics such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Crucible" from the syllabus.

Twitter is alight with indignation (Twitter alerted me to the story in fact).

The fact is that 'English Literature' is not  just about reading books by English writers; if it was them surely Dylan Thomas, Walter Scott and Robert Burns would all have to be struck off too! It is about reading books in English (even if that is not the language in which they were originally written). It is about exploring characters and themes, about understanding the world and people around you with the help of an authors eyes, it is about exploring history through literature.

Gove's apparent specific reaction against American authors is inexplicable. Some of the most powerful literary experiences of my teenage years (the very time when you study for your GCSE) were courtesy of American authors. There weren't many people I knew who didn't read "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath and who weren't extremely affected by it. We read "The Crucible" and were lucky enough to see it at the National Theatre; amazing - to the extent that when we had to perform a play at the end of our course one of the classes chose "The Crucible" and just as powerful when performed by teenage girls.

If you are my age then odds are that you were also affected by "Dead Poets Society"; which was out at cinemas during the first year of my GCSE. Although the play featured was Shakespeare (the play we were studying in fact, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" this was my introduction to Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau.

And where would we be without Emily Dickinson?

I studied literature in  the original language, I did French A-level. We read "La Peste" (Albert Camus), "Le Misanthrope" (Moliere), "Becket" (Jean Anuoilh) and "Therese Desqueyroux" (Francois Mauriac). I remember all of these for different reasons, but not because I was reading them in French. I did have to answer exam questions on them - so perhaps that is why I have a deeper recollection of those books, and certainly a deeper attachment - I still own a copy of "Becket" and will never forget reading "Therese Desqueyroux" in the car on holiday in Normandy.

The only positive of Gove's proposed changes is that the coursework would be abolished and replaced with exams. I'm not sure, however, that I would have taken well at the age of sixteen to having a deeper relationship with the likes of Dickens, Bronte or Austen!

If the focus of the exams is English as a language then by all means overhaul the 'Language' exam and teach students grammar and use of English in that course; focus on clauses, participles and all the other parts of language that are routinely taught when studying a foreign language course.

Literature should be inclusive. Of course there is a huge amount of powerful literature written in the English language, but there is equally a huge selection of literature in other languages which loses nothing being read in translation.

The proposed curriculum changes, as many commentators have noted, is likely to lead to less students carrying on their study of Literature to A-level and beyond. Those are impressionable years, and from recollection decisions are taken lightly and without much consideration for the effect on future years. It may not wash well with fans of the authors but being forced to read Dickens, Austen and Bronte is unlikely to gather the same enthusiasm as (from the opinions I have heard from those who finished the book) Harper Lee.

Michael Gove, who studied Literature himself, would appear to be imposing his own preferences on a generation of students, and possibly sounding the death knell for the study of Literature.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Google Doodle

Google is, today, celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Mary Anning - 19th Century fossil collector and paleontologist.

Monday 19 May 2014

Parliament Square

Inspired by my 'Statues of London' book I took a trip up the Jubilee Line this morning to Parliament Square. There are now proper crossings to get to the centre so rather than jay-walking the (admittedly slow moving) traffic you can get to the green centre with ease. The protest camps that used to line the edge opposite the Palace of Westminster are a thing of the past; and the lawn that was relaid after the last protest (I've forgotten who set up camp) continues in its verdant greenery.

There are a number of statesmen around the square - famous British (mostly) an American President and two South Africans. On the West side of the square (opposite side of the road to the green) you will find George Canning (in Roman attire) and Abraham Lincoln  (a replica of the statue in Lincoln Park in Chicago). Head towards the Abbey and you will find a pedestrian crossing to take you to the centre where you will come face to face (along the Western side of the green) with Nelson Mandela, Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli and Edward, Earl of Derby. Along the Northern edge Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston; Jan Smuts (Prime Minister of South Africa), David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. All of the statues apart from Lloyd George and Mandela (both erected in the 21st Century) are Grade II listed.

There are famous buildings on all sides of the square - east is of course the Palace of Westminster, to the South Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church, to the West the building formerly the Middlesex Guildhall - now the Supreme Court and taking up the North Side a portion of Her Majesty's Treasury (part of the immense Whitehall complex of Government).

A perfect day for a visit today as the weather was glorious. It is worth bearing in mind that if you want to visit Parliament or Westminster Abbey an early start is in order as queues get quite long (at all times of year)!

Parliament Square

A set by nat_grove
Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and various statues
George CanningWinston ChurchillWinston Churchill
Abbey windowWestminster and St Margaret's
Secular and SacredGeorge Canning
Oliver CromwellOliver Crowmwell

Don't be evil!

40 years ago today Erno Rubik invented his fiendish puzzle. I've never finished the Rubik cube (unless you count the time I peeled off stickers and stuck them back on in a different order). Tempting as today's interactive Google Doodle is, I'm not sure that I've the time to waste and sit and try and solve a virtual Rubik cube! Come on Google, don't be evil!

Sunday 18 May 2014

Sunday Social (102)

Linking up with Ashley and Neely for the Sunday Social

1. What is your best summer memory as a kid?
That's a tough choice! I have lots of happy summer memories, I grew up in a country village and we were allowed to go roaming about playing in the woods and fields. Whole imaginary universes existed from our neighbours' garden shed down to the river (where you could actually go fishing). We took some great family trips too; off to the various beaches in Kent and Sussex, or to see my God-parents and their endless (or so it seemed) garden in Essex or my Grandparents down by the sea in Portsmouth.

Me and my Dad at Eastbourne
2. What is your favorite summer drink?
There are two summer drinks for me; Elderflower Cordial (light, refreshing and flowery) or Pimms (a very English alcoholic drink, best served with some diced fruit and a sprig of mint).

Elderflower Presse
3. What is your favorite summer TV show?
Summer TV?! There is no Summer TV! Thank goodness for USA who do have a Summer schedule - I think Royal Pains probably wins as it is set in the Hamptons in the Summer. For all the other channels everything that started in January goes away, and nothing that begins in the Fall has started yet. The TV execs abandon us to the vagaries (well it is if you are in the UK given the time difference) of the baseball schedule. It is pretty much sport or nothing... the F1 season is still going and if you are lucky and the England team aren't rubbish there is plenty of cricket. Sadly I don't like tennis, otherwise my schedule would be even more full!

4. What is the best outdoor summer activity?
Summer is not my favourite season. Husband doesn't like the heat (and never has) and I no longer tolerate the heat because it exacerbates my MS symptoms - I can't walk very far, I get even more fatigued than normal... I quite like to potter in the garden at a push.

5. What are your summer vacation essentials?
We don't do summer vacations (see above). For our Honeymoon - which coincided with one of the fiercest heat-waves England had seen in a good while - I made sure to carry sunglasses, a bottle of water, paracetamol, a fan, tissues, tea bags (decaf green tea) for Husband, sunscreen, a baseball cap... it sounds like a lot, but the wheelie-walker has a carry-all under its seat and holds a myriad of useful items!


Monday 12 May 2014

The Elizabeth Tower

I pass it pretty much every morning when I go to work, and quite often in the evenings too. It isn't called Big Ben (that's the bell that chimes the hour) and it isn't called The Clock Tower since it was renamed in honour of Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.

It isn't the biggest clock face in London (that honour goes to the clock on Shell Mex House a little further down the river towards the east.

The Palace of Westminster hasn't been there in its current form as long as you think (it was largely destroyed by fire in the early nineteenth century and the current complex is the replacement).

The Elizabeth Tower

A set by nat_grove
aka The Clock Tower
aka Big Ben
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