We’re all in this together…

DSC_0413ed copy   Mindful of last nights particularly ‘Europe focused’ BBC Question Time in which the ‘in or out’ debate raged across the panel and through the audience, I am moved to write about my recent trip to Paris. It was my second time and a special event. Mr B. had scrimped for a year so he could take me for my half century and as that falls on a bank holiday weekend, a lot of scrimping was involved. Mr B. is always shocked at how ‘untravelled abroad’ I am, even my eldest daughter has travelled abroad more than I have but as the sibling of a severely handicapped child it is perhaps unsurprising and I do know England, Wales and swathes of Scotland and Ireland – like the back of my hand.

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Travelling is so important it broadens your understanding of history, life, people. Travelling extends your sense of secret self by challenging your presumed response to new situations and assumptions accrued by ignorance and lack of experience. I did most of my childhood travelling in books and by listening to the stories and memories of others, later through plays and theatre. As soon as I could drive and afford petrol I explored and adventured the counties of England and Wales soaking in all the rich history, culture and people.

 

The Europe debate is quite a poignant one for me, every time I travel via Eurostar to Europe I am mindful of how wonderful it is for the unaccustomed traveller to venture abroad safe in the knowledge that there is a structure in place that helps them to do so with relative ease. One of my uncles went alone to India in his early twenties, he was lost for two weeks before being flown home in shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes, having fallen ill and having had all his belongings including his passport stolen from him. As traumatic experiences go, it didn’t break him, it helped him discover a part of himself,  previously hidden; a resolve to survive, an ability to communicate-  to live every day more fully. But travel shouldn’t have to have such a strong sense of danger and uncertainty attached to it, we are not all twenty-something thrill seekers and lone adventurers and for me that is one of the strongest reasons to be part of the European Union.  What I would hope the European Union starts to address is the retention of a country’s  identity and sense of self so we don’t become an homogenous land of fast food outlets and perfectly formed fruit and vegetables.

Anyway, back to Paris. Whilst travelling on foot to Monmartre we came across a school building which displayed a plaque recording that over three hundred children had been taken from the school and died in concentration camps in the second world war.http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMD57N_In_Memory_of_School_Children__Paris_France

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Later we came across the Ecole Ville de Paris which displayed a similar plaque more blatantly naming the Vichy Government as well as the Nazi’s. It occurred to me, whilst registering the utter inhumanity of that act, that recently over two hundred girls had been taken from a school in Nigeria and were still being held captive. It is all too easy to forget the lessons of that war and the biggest lesson of all is that together against a common enemy we are stronger but equally in times of peace together we are stronger in building a better world where we stand against injustice, tyranny and inhumanity. There may well be corruption within the European Union itself but its formation had a higher purpose and we should be very careful not to turn our backs on the potential of a relationship formed from the utter horror and evil of a war, when it strives to do the best for all people, although it may not always achieve this.

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I don’t believe that we as imperfect humans with all our myriad weaknesses and vulnerabilities, should strive to live harmoniously in a one world culture but I do believe we should celebrate and respect our cultural differences.  Later, whilst sitting in the La Place de La Republique  considering ‘Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite’ I felt the benefit of the European Union more keenly than I ever have before.

I had been considering closing down the @cultureactive  twitter account. Finally it feels as if other platforms are emerging to champion on a broad scale all that is good and glorious and should be celebrated about culture largely in the UK but also internationally. It is good to see what is being done and what is being valued or explored in countries far away and to reflect on that, in much the same way that we have embraced events at night in museums, a popular concept originally offered by French Museums. As our twitter base grows and we continue to promote awareness of all that is out there it seemed that perhaps our act of ‘activism’ has come to an end. But perhaps we should simply be considering more fully whether it’s time to move on a stage?  Like the broader debate on the European Union, our beleaguered arts organisations and the fight to recognise the value of arts and artists perhaps rests on the simple premise of “it is better to be all in it together than apart”.

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Our National Treasures

In a world where we are now cramming new housing developments on greenfield sites, joining towns with their outer villages and creating sprawling industrial entrances to cities here in southern England it is becoming harder to find local spaces where children can play safely without threat of traffic or great expenditure. This summer we re-joined the National Trust and worked out it would only take three day-trips to start getting good value for our money. In that first week we visited Stourhead and Mottisfont with two other families (mums outings with children aged 5 to nine) took a picnic blanket and sandwiches and water and in both cases enjoyed a stress-free day appreciative of the fact that it was a safe, spacious environment for our children to explore and discover and that the staff had given much thought to younger visitors and there were activities to engage young minds in imaginative ways.

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Stourhead, for many years a preserve of the adult interested in botany, garden design, walking and the visual feast that unfolds as you enter its grounds had put on an insect trail for young people to follow throughout the house (which could, in fact, have been continued around the grounds). Our children made cress beds in egg shells, were so overawed at being asked to play the beautiful grand piano that they couldn’t remember a note, were  inspired by many of the paintings they saw and  were greatly amused by the random sighting of a couple pretending to iron clothes by the lake (who knows for what purpose). Sitting in the restored Palladin, so beautifully cool on a hot day was also noteworthy. The two hundred and fifty year old grotto and Hansel and Gretel Cottage also made an impact.

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Mottisfont, had laid on a Winnie the Pooh trail, initially scoffed at by our crowd but actually much enjoyed, we made a donation towards the beautifully printed trail maps and they enjoyed the adventure of the riverside trail, sitting on the sky seat hidden in a hedge looking up at the clouds and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river Test, discovering Eeyores house and concocting games in the beautifully imaginative summer house the trail led you to before walking across the fields past a tree shaped like a “smurf hat” to the Stables where a lovely forest of silk banners grew and the wire mesh horse sculpture just begged to be touched and fascinated all who came upon it. Then there was the second-hand bookshop, the magical walled garden and the spring or moot, the original meeting spot that gave Mottisfont its name. They ran across the wide sweeping lawns watched the bees on the lavender and us mums, enjoyed a really good cup of coffee and the day passed so quickly we were among the last to leave.

 

Into the woods, then out of the woods and home…before…dark

Perry Woods, Selling, Kent.

Last week we went on a bear hunt. Through the dark, dark woods, trip-trapping across the bridge, swishy swashing through the muddy puddles and up the hill to the’ Pulpit’ to survey the North Kent vistas from The Thames and Faversham to Canterbury and beyond.  http://blog.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/2011/08/walk-of-the-week-perry-hill-kent/

Two working horses were bracken clearing by dragging logs through the bracken (bracken bashing) so we kept our dogs and children on a lead (sorry but that was what the sign said;0). http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/woodland-economics/bracken-contro/

No bears but horses, bees and plenty of interesting wildlife

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How to leave London

Reasons to be cheerful part 1. from Playground Etiquette

Playground Etiquette

I’m a Londoner, born and bred. Conceived and born within the sound of Bow bells, I know it’s because I’m a Londoner that I love it so. And to the annoyance of my regional friends, I subscribe to the, admittedly dubious, maxim: ‘when a woman is tired of London, she is tired of life’. But I will leave London. Not because I’m bored or my desire for it has waned, but due to necessity. I can’t afford to live here.

My childhood community, in which, as recently as a decade ago, only the working class, migrants and revolutionaries dared inhabit, has finally succumbed to what its great housing stock and proximity to the City has made inevitable. Along with the artists of independent means and media types, we have the pointed-shoes suits who each morning crowd out the 8:15 to Liverpool Street, on their way to make the money that…

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Whitstable – here now

England is at its eccentric best on May Day, all the quirky ancient traditions such as  ‘Pat-a-Lamb’ and the Cuckoo Fairs, Heritage Re-enactments and Morris Dance Parades emerge in colourful, frolicsome joy to prance gleefully about and remind us of our connection to the land, the woods, the trees, the fields.  So it was perhaps no surprise that on a fleeting visit to @escapetocreate ‘s pad in Whitstable on May Day this year that we should succumb to her inherent creative promoter’s charm and take a walk along Whitstable Beach to the busy, bustling harbour. There we stumbled upon a procession of Morris Dancers parading along to Dead Mans Corner and delighting young and old with their sunny ‘merry olde England’ goodwill amidst the jingle of bells and the fiddling of fiddles. A large ivy clad tree ambled alongside fair maidens and a big brown bear dispensed hugs and photo opportunities.

Arriving by the decking stage at Dead Mans Corner I examined some of the beautiful clay pebbles made as part of a community project and housed in a barrier of Gabion cages – ‘Here Now’ read one. I certainly am, I thought.

Whitstable retains its old coastal town charm and character, clap-board cottages and the curvy Horsebridge Arts Centre mingle comfortably with Oyster bars, the Sailing Club, Cafe’s and the working fishing fleets to-ing and fro-ing in the Harbour. The Coffee stall exudes a siren song to passers-by, the heady mix of coffee and salty air, exhorting you to stop and buy  ‘coffee with your ice-cream Sir? Madam?’. Queues for the Crab and Winkle meandered down the South Quay and the West Whelks Oyster stall was doing a roaring trade by the old smoke huts. Whitstable Harbour, remains relatively unscathed by the surge of concrete monstrosities that sprung up in all the wrong places throughout the sixties and seventies, which is another good reason to go there. We carried on up to the Castle where everyone was in party mode and then back along the beach and through the town, past all those little lanes and nooks and crannys that make the seafront so endearing. It was a wrench to go home!

http://www.kentscreativecoast.co.uk/creative-coast-at-whitstable-event/

http://www.whitstablepeople.co.uk/news/Weekend-ahead-Whitstable-13-15-2011/story-11127195-detail/story.html

day tripper

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Spent a rather marvellous day at the Science Museum, no queues to get in (queueing around the block at the Natural History Museum) although there were queues to get into the Google sponsored Web Lab and the Launchpad. We arrived in time to hear some excellent and enthusiastic storytelling on flight and the history of the hot air balloon on the third floor but the storyteller could have done with a staff member to support them directing traffic round him as his audience grew and grew (a task I fell into, as my education officers hat suddenly appeared from retirement).  I was with my cousin whom I used to take along as a child, and I was often an accompanying adult on her school trips to the museums back in the eighties.  She loved the Launchpad back then and it hasn’t changed so much, the buzz of excited children and young teens testing, trying and tearing about is so loud, you tend to want to hug the wall in shock although the water rocket demonstration managed to draw me out of myself as it shot across the span of the ceiling at lightning speed!

Talking of shock, probably the most memorable exhibit of the day for me, was in the Energy Hall one floor down. Here you will find a massive metal pole very clearly labelled DO NOT TOUCH! – so of course, there were crowds of people (all ages) stood around it as it thunked with electric pulses administering random and non-fatal electric shocks. The energy exhibition pulled some hefty punches about climate change and the image of the childs lunch box which contained a compartment for the child’s pooh (to be taken home for recycling) will stay with me. I’m so glad that some of my favourite exhibits were still there, the planes, the cars, the space suits, the giant lathe and the light-house globe but I’m going to have to come back to acquaint myself with the new stuff.

It cost £80 for three of us to get to London (off-peak) and a suggested donation of a fiver each to get into the museum, we brought our own water but succumbed to a late lunch, after the wonders of the Wellcome Wing left our minds numb with possibility. The eldest had time to pop down the road to the Butterfly Marquee outside the Natural History Museum which she thought was £4.50 well spent (two hundred photos worth). Even if you avoid the eateries there’s still the wonderfully, well stocked shop to get past! Not an inexpensive day but a memorable one – aah, dear old science Museum, you’ve had a face lift, sponsorship and some upgrades but you’re still crazy, after all these years.

The Joy of Tents

“You want to talk Camping!” I hear you cry, “in this weather?”. Well, Yes! You see I’ve just been to Camping World to look at tents, which to the initiated, in the ‘camping world’ is something of a treat. So many tents, so little time… you can tweak the guy ropes, zip and unzip the zips, frown at the lack of this and admire the inclusion of that, and in my case bemoan the lack of double skin tents being made.

All things change. When I first went camping as a Brownie and later in my friends back garden it was in canvas tents. They were heavy to carry, prone to mould and mildew if not dried out before storing and if not pegged out properly, quite undignified in the way they abandoned their post in high winds. We still have canvas tents, of course, and for some people polyester just won’t ever cut it, but my oh my, the art of Tent Camping has progressed so far. Tents are now designed to defy our English weather, they can be shaped aero dynamically, and on a good brand the poles can withstand no amount of heavy rain, high winds and even snow… you still have to make sure you peg it out right and understand about tension and load points but each year we get better and better at designing tents for those who don’t. I have one of those festival tents that folds into a flat circle and somehow magically untwists into a small two person tunnel tent, the problem is I have to phone up the eldest who seems to be the only one who understands how the hell it folds and twists back into a circle when it comes to packing away! Still, it’s a fabulous thing and very useful as tents go.

Over the past ten years, tents have got so big they are like mini home from homes, you can even have electricity for lights, your fridge and cooking! This new breed of barn like tunnel tents and geodesic domes with no amount of ‘pods’ attached, are primarily for large families and people who just like space and head height and lots and lots of space to put their kit, pets and/or children.

Back in 2001, I rediscovered camping but Mr B’s two person Vango (a simple seventies look, tan coloured A-Frame affair was not quite my idea of camping heaven). I purchased a dome-shaped Eurohike and then a vis-a-vis cotton canvas tent which was lovely, until we spent a weekend at Tom’s Field nr. Swanage and I spotted an Outwell. It looked like quality, not only did it look good but it took so little time to put up. Discovering the Outwell (I was so busy being awestruck I have no idea which one it was) was transformative; sewn-in ground sheets! Far less rogue insect invasions, no smell of wet mud and grass, far less mud ingress into the tent… oh I was smitten. I spent two months researching on Ebay and reading tent reviews on the ukcampsite.co.uk and looking at specs, made a few failed bids and then voila! I was the proud owner of an Outwell Hartford Xl and also a Hartford L (errm, yes, quite). Mr B. who was neither as smitten, nor as impressed as I, reluctantly agreed to help me assemble the massive Hartford XL in our not so massive garden, mumbling about the money wasted the entire time. An arched porch led into a spacious dome with three bedroom pods off it. It proved to be everything I’d hoped for and more. In rough, blustery Devon weather it remained standing and we remained dry and cosy. In Southern Ireland when we realised we’d pitched it partly over a bog created by a leaking stand pipe we simply unpegged it, and moved the whole tent to a drier spot much to our friends and the other campers amusement (Germans, Irish, Dutch), it’s geodesic design kept it’s shape. It even withstood ten rowdy teenagers when we took a youth club on a camping trip to Kent for a weekend. Everywhere we go, people want to see inside it. It is still cosy and warm and magical to be inside.

That said, I’m ready to move on, partly age and partly the futurist in me yearns for something new. Mr. B has ruled the budgetary implications of a hotel stay or renting an idyllic cottage out, sadly and, Camper vans are fun but impractical for us and where on earth would we put a caravan? So, there I am browsing Camping World and genuinely admiring the airbeam tents. I mean it sounds like a stupid idea, a tent held up by air-filled pipes, right? Madness! Where’s the stability in that? But they are solid tents. I really liked the Kampa Airbeams, one of which was reminiscent of our Outwell Hartford. I didn’t like the new Outwells, they looked plasticky and all this sun window nonsense is no good at all in our british summers, I felt cold standing in them with so much window and not much privacy – I don’t need people to know how disorganised I am when I unpack my stuff thank you very much.

On our camping holiday last summer we made friends with a lovely family from Chester (in the tent next door) the girls got together with Thom (honourary boy of the tribe) and wrote a lovely story about a mermaid and treasure and pirates. Our tent was also a gallery for the illustrations they came up with. Tents need creativity, good design and good weather handling capabilities. My ideal tent, would have sleeping pods that don’t let in the light so the kids don’t wake up with the lark, sewn – in groundsheet, a good-sized porch that meant you could use the cooker outside the main tent body but are protected from the inevitable rain and wind and have plenty of hanging points inside for drying clothes… Hello! Hello? You still there? Sorry, but you know sometimes these things, well they just have to be said don’t they?