Friday, September 28, 2007

"I've Been Tagged!"

Liz at has tagged me. It's quite a long tag. And Liz, I've got lots on today; even as I write, I should be elsewhere, looking intelligent with makeup on ( No comment) so I'm attempting only part of it. Please forgive me, Liz.
It's this: What 5 books have been particularly meaningful?
Lots, I suppose, so I'm just skimming, rescuing ones that jump out immediately. I've probably left out life-changing reads which I'll remember as I drive into town. And no doubt I'll wake up in the early hours and think: " Wow! I didn't mention....!"

"The Tale Of The Flopsy Bunnies" by Beatrix Potter: its vocab gave me my first interest in "words". Its delicate illustrations ( which I studied for hours in detail) intrigued. But those soporific rabbits... I was 5 and I loved it.

"Little Women" by Louisa M Alcott: borrowed from the library when I was 10. I cycled home with a clutch of books wobbling around in a basket on my handlebars. I'll never forget my pride as I showed my choice to my mother; she'd loved the book, and was thrilled that I'd discovered it too. I felt "womanly" for the first time, like I'd joined an exclusive club.

"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte: I read this when I was seventeen and supposedly in love with a boy from a nearby school; in reality, I was crazy about someone else. He was a very different kettle of fish. I shall say no more. We met only occassionally. Only one friend ever knew. The passion of both story and characters was exactly right at this dodgy time.

"We need to talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver. This book knocked me out. There's a scary, wonderful plot; family stuff that shocked me to my socks**. It's superbly written and I read it over 24 hours and was bereft at its close.

"Cat's Eyes" by Margaret Atwood. A middle-aged artist in Toronto examines the spectre of her schoolgirl relationships. It's Atwood at her best; empathic, lovely writing. So much to recognise.

OK. 5 books. Please can 5 other folk have a go at 5? I tag: Lucy, Suffolk Mum, Chief Biscuit, Stay At Home Dad, and Watermaid. Hard to choose, so if anyone else wants a go, please do!
** I buy my socks from a shop called Fatface. They're usually stripy, great colours and they're the comfiest fit for any foot anywhere.
AND PS: Please can someone comment on our fabulous Literature Festival ?! It starts in earnest on Monday and there's stuff going on that will suit everyone. (see my blog posted on Wed 19th for lots of detail)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

" Standing Solemnly in Stockport..."

These are sculptures, each 8ft high, now proudly standing in Stockport Art Gallery.They were made by Robert Koenig, born Manchester 1951, talented son of Polish immigrants. BUT, to digress:

Years ago, my family and I walked with Lakeland pals in the Forest of Grizedale. This woodland covers 6000 acres of Cumbria, between lakes Windermere and Coniston. That July, we were stunned. Everywhere, there were foxgloves; between trees, beneath trees, beside trees. They hovered high over brooks, they straddled low across ditches, and as we strolled, they glided ahead of us in endless procession.
"Foxgloves", beamed our children, "foxgloves, they rule!".

The children were fascinated. They stood for photos by foxgloves, they grinned between clumps , they leapt in the air to reach their faraway tips. Most were pink, a few white, but many were tall, towering and stately. And, according to our younger son, struggling over words as he crunched teeth into apple: " Those foxgloves, Mum, are absalootly mugnificent!"

AND yes, there was other " mugnificent" stuff in Grizedale Forest.

There were trees, of course, and colours, of course: umbers, ochres, the startling flash of a dozen greens, a surprising orange, a secret purple, a splash of crimson. There was the scent of the woodland, the crackle of twigs underfoot, the sudden cry of a bird as it swooped overhead, and yes, there was other folk's laughter, echoing ahead, haunting those spaces between tall graceful trees.

THIS OTHER STUFF was sculpture, the most wonderful of pieces; to stare at, to laugh at, even to be moved by. And just like the foxgloves, sculpture " ruled" in the forest. It hid in copses, it roared triumphantly out of them, it cowered in dells, it stood solidly before us and it slunk shyly behind us. All of it was created with forest material; bark from its trees, mosses, water, lichen, the earth itself. It surprised and it delighted. And there were sculpture trails, sculpture themes, parts to touch and parts to smell.....sculptures to listen to, to play with, to dream upon.

AND THEN just yesterday, I heard that one of the sculptors in the Grizedale Sculpture Project ( started 1977) was Robert Koenig ( see his work above). At present he's exhibiting at Stockport Art Gallery, Wellington Rd South, Stockport, SK3 8AB. It's a free exhibition, open to all.

There's 23 figures, carved by Koenig in the Polish village of Dominikowice, where his mother, Maria, was born. Each figure was carved from lime trees which grew on Maria's family farm.
And Koenig then travelled across Europe with them, finally bringing them to Stockport, the town where Maria ( after the Nazis) had her family, made her home.
They're stunning and startling. They're silent, serious and some of them, Koenig says, will watch over Maria's grave in the land she fled to, all those years ago.

They're keeping guard on the memories of someone's special life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"I Will Stand Up For British Values" ( Gordon Brown, 24:09:07)

Once upon a time, I knew a woman who was married to a Cheshire tenant farmer. Their kitchen was large and friendly; two labradors lazed in huge baskets by the Aga, three pompous cats strolled in and out. There was often the smell of cakes baking, apples stewing, lamb roasting. The floor gleamed with red quarry tiles and through the latticed bow-fronted windows, I saw green fields, tall stately trees, endless skies. I'd drive over from my edge-of-city home, sit in this cosiness, wallow in its peace and go home soothed, rejuvenated.
Then one day, my friend put up some pictures**. She ranged them along one entire wall, at least ten of them, and the entire character of the warm hospitable kitchen changed . At least it did for me. The prints were incongruous, out of place. I could see their artist's skill, his mastery, but I failed to see their relevance in this colourful farmhouse kitchen.

And THAT'S what's happening in my city. At weekends, its character changes completely; Saturday night in the city is scary, it's threatening. There's shouts and screams and partially dressed girls, there's swaggering young men, people running, women arm-in-arm thronging the street, coarse singing beneath the Eastgate clock, furtive dealings in darkened corners, between Tudor houses, beneath Roman City Walls.
BUT this city is not alone:
OTHER precious, much-loved small cities throughout the land are suffering the same fate. I hear it from friends in the south, the north east, Wales, Scotland. People are hurting because they're watching a sad, steady decline in places they love. We feel scared and we feel powerless.
Yesterday in Bournemouth (is B'mouth besieged on a Saturday night ?) Gordon Brown made promises.
He's proud to be British. He says he "stands for a Britain where we expect responsibility at every level of society"
Yesterday he declared: " This is my pledge to the British people: I will not let you down.
I will stand up for a strong Britain. And I will always stand up for you."
Please do, Gordon Brown, please do.
Because it's VITAL you do.
PS: **Hogarth prints ( Gin Lane) Is THAT what will happen??

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Tracy B Terrifies Tom L at Traddock Hotel"

Here's a photograph taken at R+K's wedding a fortnight ago ( see blog post September 12th)

And YES, you're right, it IS Tracy Barlow, ex Coronation Street murderess, who must've been " let out" for the night.
Scary Tracy's here with my lovely nephew, Tom. But really,Tom wasn't scared of her at all; he hugely enjoyed meeting her, and he now has the above picture as his glamorous computer screensaver... *** ( see end of post for more on "Tracy")

R+K's wedding reception took place in the Yorkshire Dales at the Traddock Hotel, Austwick, after a marriage service cheerfully conducted by Rev Ian Greenhalgh at the Church of the Holy Epiphany.
The church was merely a few minutes walk from the Traddock. And YES, we SO enjoyed this walk through the village: the bridal pair, happy and gorgeous, the guests in their finery, glowing and laughing, the brilliant sunshine, cameras snapping, the air full of greetings and chatter and rose pink confetti...
And then to the Traddock, where we sipped Pimms and champers on lush green lawns, as we mingled and talked and listened to the mellow tones of Phil Gregory's jazz combo..
ALL this before a delicious wedding breakfast, including five stunning "speeches" ( bride's vivacious sister, vivacious groom himself, groom's vivacious brother, groom's vivacious friend, groom's vivacious father...)
And in the evening, Phil's jazz combo showed their versatility with rock, pop, House, Indie and more......and the incredible Austwick served up a supper which was a perfect end to a ( sounds naff but it's true!) a Perfect Day.
R+K, now in Malaysia, planned the wedding superbly; we all enjoyed every minute and know that they'll be very very happy. And if you're reading this, R+K, in some internet shack on the Perenthian Islands, lots of love to you both....

Please see because it's well worth treating yourself!

HOWEVER, back to" Corrie" :
SOME folk I know never "admit" to watching " Coronation Street". Hmm. At its mention, eyes glaze over, frowns appear, folk look bewildered. But if this IS true ( ie that they've never in all their born days watched TV's longest running soap ) then they are quite simply Missing A Treat.
Corrie's writing is consistently good; it encompasses tragedy and comedy in equal measure. Over the years, it's documented a valuable social history of northern England, describing changes and situations, dilemnas, successes; all this through its characters, its storylines, its dialogue and settings. Its characters often beguile us and its plotlines sometimes become national talking points. Youthful actors started their careers in its cobbled streets and established, successful ones have been delighted to return for a while, appearing in a " cameo" role, becoming part of something extra special.
And ALSO, something really rather precious.

**** Tracy B. was played by lovely Kate Ford, who was a delight to meet at the wedding
She was an evening guest, along with her fiancee, equally delightful Jon Connerty, old schoolfriend of my son, the groom. Jon is now a TV director in London; he and Kate marry this Autumn. Lots of happiness, Jon and Kate, if you're about.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Lionel, Louis, Julian and Jane...."

The 19th Chester Literature Festival ( ) opens this Saturday with its Festival Book Swap at the Town Hall Square.
Call there for a leisurely open-air browse betwixt 10:30 am and 3pm.

Once again, there's a brilliant programme, from Saturday September 22nd, through to Thursday November1st!!
This includes Julian Clary ( in the Grosvenor Hotel, talking at the Festival Lunch, about his 1st novel:" Murder most fab" ) Louis de Bernieres, David Starkey, Katherine Whitehorn, Sir Roy Strong, Oliver James, Kate Long, Colin Dexter, Prunella Scales, Timothy West, Sir Ralph Fiennes, Jane Fearnley- Whittingstall, Andrew Motion, Adele Geras, Sophie Hannah, Lionel Blue.... and there's lots more, including local folk such as Chester Poets, Chester Writers, Chester born writer Paul Dowswell, and Dr Ashley Chantler, of Chester University who launches a new book of short-short stories written by local writers, each story making up a portrait of our city at the start of the 21st century...I need to pause for breath here so PLEASE forgive me for not mentioning everyone who enlivens this superb programme !

Bag a programme if you're near the city as you're guaranteed to find something to suit and stimulate you.
AND ALSO: Contact the Festival Box Office for more information on 01244 304618 at Chester Race Course, Chester, CH1 2LY.
You can also think about becoming a Friend of the Festival; see the website at top of this blog.
PS: "Murder most fab" is available from and all good book shops.
More about the Festival ( and novelist Kate Long in particular ) on my blog Monday April 30th.
Click on "April" in Archives list ( right)

Friday, September 14, 2007

"An Ode For An Odeon"

Here is a photograph taken in 1937 outside my city's Odeon Cinema. The manager, Mr Harry Yorke, greets a friend, watched by two dignified doormen. It's a poignant picture. It illustrates a time when visiting the Odeon was an outing, when people treasured such places, as well as enjoying the art of Cinema.

The Odeon was designed in Art Deco style by Robert Bullivant. Within its elegant vastness, it provided films for generations of Cestrians, but sadly, it finally closed its doors this June. It's been bought by a nightclub developer; plans for it include shops and bars as well as night clubs.

BUT my city has countless bars, numerous shops. It's certainly got a surplus of night clubs. It's got plenty of pubs too; in fact, someone once boasted there's one for each day of the year.
AND OH YES, it's got cinemas on its outskirts, but these are ugly places, OK for parking, popcorn and peanuts....

BUT NOW, in the centre of this city, a superb 70 year old building stands empty, condemned to be something it never expected to be...

Our local MP, Christine Russell, has called a meeting at St Mary's Centre, St Mary's Hill, Chester, for Thursday September 27th, at 7:oopm. All are welcome to attend.
A "Save the Odeon" group has been formed. The Rt Hon Sir Gerald Kaufman MP (once Chair of the Select Committee for National Heritage, Culture and Sport) has kindly offered his support.
And also, you can link with to hear Christine Russell on video, to sign a petition and see photograph of the Odeon.

HOPEFULLY, a wonderful asset to our city can be saved.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Just In Case Leanne Is Peeping..." are some folk she'll recognise!