What I’ve been reading: Tremain/Lomax

Two sharing a common theme of the 2nd World War. And also railways if you look at the covers alone!

Read what I thought of them here: Librarium 2014

Minor violence

Last night I went to watch Shakespeare Schools Festival’s performance night at my local theatre. Now in its fifteenth year, the festival was designed to enable 8 to 18 year olds to have their very own grown-up drama experience in the form of performing a Shakespeare play on a full-size theatre stage in front of a paying audience. Participating schools get to choose their play and are sent the script for a pared down version which can be performed in about 30 minutes. They are given a couple of sessions with professional actors who will help them give their best performance, and plenty of support with technical stuff, marketing and publicity. At the theatre on performance night, the actors get dressing rooms just like they were pro’s, they get a great introduction from the MC, and they are given a very positive critique at the end (also in front of the audience). This is all great; the concept is good, the organisation is thorough and the children come away feeling they have really achieved great things – which they have. They have gained valuable experience, their confidence is boosted and they are inspired to go on to bigger and better things.

We had four plays to watch; three I enjoyed, but then there was The Taming of the Shrew. I’d never seen the play, or read the script, but this is what I gathered from the condensed version enacted last night….

A man has two daughters that he wants to marry off. The youngest is a sweetie and has no end of suitors, but the eldest has a caustic tongue and is rather nasty. The boyfriend of the youngest knows that he and his love won’t be able to wed until the eldest sister is, so he persuades some dopey chap, P, to take her on. P forces the elder sister to marry him, beating her senseless until she stops speaking for herself and allows him to, quite literally, walk all over her. The younger sister marries her chosen one, who turns out to be loaded, and the girls’ father feels very smug.

This play is called a comedy and was acted out by a very young cast of boys and girls who looked to be aged 11 to 15. About fifty per cent of the audience was from the same age group. There was plenty of choreographed “beating” where the boys knocked the girls to the ground, lifted their heads up by the hair, cast them down again and gave them a few backhanders. One scene very artily used a back-lit screen to make one particularly savage beating by P into a shadow play (this was singled out for praise by the MC). I was most disturbed that this was what passed for an appropriate subject for a children’s play. There was no trigger warning, no rationalization, no attempt to make clear that this behaviour is wrong. It was presented as a perfectly reasonable way to deal with a sharp-tongued wife, a wife who would doubtless be thankful for being shown the error of her ways, no matter the method.

I see the violenceI think this play should not have been included in the Shakespeare Schools Festival, or it should have had a rewrite to let the “shrew” have her comeuppance in a non-violent way. Children already see too much violence in films and on television; some also see it in their family homes. Last night the violence was carried out by their peers on their peers, by their brothers on their sisters, and it was in the name of entertainment and it was laughed about. This was a production devised and directed by a teacher, someone who should be safeguarding our children. The Taming of the Shrew was ugly, upsetting and wholly inappropriate.





How Victorian bathers came to take the health-giving waters at Ilfracombe

Today my old friend, Wools, and I visited Tunnels Beaches in Ilfracombe; a shameful first for both of us – it must be said, more so for him, as he has lived in this area for far longer than have I. It was an unseasonably warm day, the temperature reaching 19°C in mid-afternoon, and schools are closed for the week, so there were plenty of families enjoying themselves on the sand and rocks. The rock pools here are purported to be amongst the best in the UK.

The beach is accessed by around 200m of tunnels which were carved through the rock in the early 1820s by a huge team of Welsh miners, then a Bath House was built at the entrance which provided hot and cold saltwater pools for the use of the public. Tidal pools were also constructed on the beach itself, one for ladies and one for gentlemen; the ladies pool still survives, but the men’s pool has been destroyed by storms over the years. Bathing machines (movable beach huts) would be pulled down to the sands in the summer so that ladies could discreetly change into their bathing attire before taking to the waters, and swimming instruction was available. Of course privacy was guaranteed by sentries who stood guard around the pool perimeter and sounded a bugle if any errant male was seen attempting to peep. In 1905, after 82 years of segregation, the owners relaxed their straight laces, and mixed bathing was introduced. I expect the relatively recently deceased Queen Victoria was turning in her grave.   …click on pic to enlarge…

Today there is a fee charged to enter the tunnels (£2.50 for adults) and a snack bar, beach shop and toilet facilities are available. The men’s beach, with it’s function room and terrace, is sometimes closed to the public in the event of a wedding (as it was today), but there is plenty of fun to be had on the ladies’ side. The beach is a mixture of coarse black sand and flat pebbles, which proved ideal for skimming across the surface of the pool, and the atmosphere is quite enchanting; the high cliffs all around hide any sight or sound of modern life, and it was easy to imagine oneself living in another era entirely.

Victorian ladies and gents enjoying the beach at Ilfracombe

The Ladies’ Pool post-integration

While we were in the town, we also visited St. Nicholas’s Chapel, which was built in 1321 on a mound overlooking the harbour. It was originally intended as a place of worship for harbour folk, but has also served as a family home, a reading room and laundry, as well as a lighthouse. It is still a working lighthouse today, and is believed to be the oldest in the country. Ilfracombe has acquired a bit of a reputation over the years; the once glorious seaside resort of the Victorians has suffered somewhat from neglect and the rise of the continental package holiday, but there are some hidden gems to explore and lots more reasons to visit. A regeneration project has seen an injection of cash into the municipal funds and there are lots of improvements evident such as the harbour area (which is always buzzing with visitors), art galleries, installations and top-notch eateries.


What I’ve been reading: Himes/Adichie

Read what I thought of them here : Librarium 2014

Terrified of Poetry

Drive-by Poetry

I was a victim of drive-by poetry

assaulted with Rudyard Kipling

by two rude boys in a souped-up coupé

flashing past me up Broadway

speeding puddles

on to drainpipe trousers

later they shocked an elderly couple

with shouted snatches of T.S.Eliot

haring around a blind spot

then up George

blaring Blake from blacked-out windows

a police spokesman yesterday

played down the incidents

as nothing new

people have been terrified of poetry for years

he said

To mark National Poetry Day, I’ve reproduced a poem by the brilliant performance poet and serial slam champion, Ash Dickinson. I met Ash about 18 months ago when he came to run a poetry workshop at the school where I work. The kids were all transfixed by his witty raps and rhymes delivered with rhythm, movement and a lot of humour. His collection  “Slinky Espadrilles” (2012 Burning Eye Books) comprises over 40 poems looking at such diverse subjects as vanity, cybersex, Edinburgh Festival, visiting the dentist and, of course, love. It’s one of the best poetry books I’ve bought in a long time, and sits nicely alongside my volume by the Liverpool poets.

Hello son

spain 077

Spain, 28th September 2014. On his 80th birthday, Dad receives a call from my brother in Australia.

Woolley Wood and Arlington Court

DSC_0023Today I visited Arlington in North Devon, a 3,000 acre estate once owned by the Chichester family and now in the hands of the National Trust. Chichester is a well-known name in these parts; John Chichester was a long-standing MP for Barnstaple in the early 19th century and his name lives on in the names of streets and pubs in the area. Francis Chichester was the nephew of the last owner of Arlington, Miss Rosalie, who bequeathed the estate to the nation on her death in 1949. Francis is probably best known for being the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe by sailing boat; I remember him being talked about a lot in 1967 when he returned, and he was subsequently knighted by the Queen for his endeavours. At the time I was unaware that he also laid the foundation stone for the Barnstaple Civic Centre in the same year. Knowing the disdain with which most local residents view that controversial example of 1960s brutalism, perhaps the latter event carried less importance to Sir F, especially as the sword with which the queen touched his shoulders was the very same one which Elizabeth 1 had used to knight Francis Drake after he became the first Englishman to sail around the world, albeit with a crew. Anyway, I digress.

Arlington comprises a manor house, stables housing the National Trust’s carriage collection, church, walled vegetable garden, ornamental garden, tea rooms, parkland, woodland, a lake, and farmland grazed by Jacob sheep and Red Devon cattle. For me the highlight is the woodland, and there are 20 miles of footpaths to explore. I chose a circular route of just over 2 miles which took in the lake and passed by two fabulous kids’ adventure areas where rope bridges and log forts abound. An avenue of Monkey puzzle trees was quite unusual but spectacular, although oaks and beeches probably make up the largest part of the woods, with some evergreens, ash, chestnut and sycamore. I saw one huge sequoia with a trunk wider than a car at the base. I don’t know the number of bird species found here, but there is a hide in the woods, so I imagine it’s a haven. I saw a tree creeper, chaffinches and a robin without even trying.


Monkey Puzzle

The lake was formed by damming the River Yeo and is home to many water birds including the heron which is the symbol of the Chichester family, adorning various pillars and buildings. The house itself, or what the public gets to see of it, is suitably grand, though most of the rooms I saw were not as large as I expected. It is home to the many collections that Rosalie gathered on her travels; such items as hair adornments, fans, sea shells, pewterware and model ships are here in their dozens along with the usual porcelain, paintings (one by William Blake) and books that one would expect to see in the home of a baron. On the upstairs landing I counted 88 bound volumes of The London Illustrated News spanning more than 50 years across the 19th and 20th centuries. Downstairs I was particularly taken with a large Swiss cylinder music box which played ten tunes with perfect clarity.

I am told that 50,000 daffodil bulbs have been planted over the last three years, so plan to visit again in the spring.



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