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”.


Somewhere to land…

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The New Forest holds many delights which I’m sure anyone who has been can tell you about  but just ten minutes on from Beaulieu is Buckler’s Hard and if you haven’t been already it’s not too late.   

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It costs (at the time of writing)  £52 for a family ticket to Beaulieu, which translates as ‘beautiful place’ and that is no word of a lie.  It is. The house, abbey, museum and village all have plenty to offer  www.beaulieu.co.uk and  nearby Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway also has plenty of family appeal www.exbury.co.uk  lying  across the river as it does,  from Buckler’s Hard www.bucklershard.co.uk  


Buckler’s Hard (or landing place) is one of three settlements along the Beaulieu River, and should be on the ‘must visit list’ of nature and wildlife lovers, history buffs and sea-faring  romantics.  People still live and work there, which gives it a vibrancy and demands respect of its visitors as a consequence. Appealing  to young and old, the drama of a riverside idyll, where such giants of the sea were built and launched,  still  haunts this sleepy rural hamlet, crafted by the skilled hands of master shipbuilders and shipwrights who built the likes of Agamemnon, Vigilant, Indefatigable and the Brilliant.

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In 2011 the Maritime Museum at Buckler’s Hard was refurbished and re-opened.  It costs just over £20 for a family ticket (and a glossy brochure) and whilst, hand on heart I couldn’t say it is, or should be, the ideal destination for a trip with hyper-active children (or adults),  it is the perfect place for a romantic  rendezvous or for less frenetic family excursions. Arriving by car, you enter via the tea rooms  which serve appetizing fare and have a great shop stocked with goodies, beyond the shop lies the orchard and the museum; a wonderful step back in time to the eighteenth century.  Between you and me, Buckler’s Hard is breathtakingly lovely, preserved so well by the Montague family. But for me the real gem of Buckler’s Hard is the Master Builders Hotel, I knew that the bar is a favourite for river tourists and the sailing community but until this weekend I didn’t know there was also a riverside restaurant and now I’m wondering why ever not. www.themasterbuilders.co.uk

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The hotel itself is beautifully presented and I am now firmly set upon a short stay (take note Mr. B!) The staff were so helpful in dealing with our last minute decision to reserve a table for dinner which we then changed to lunch,  there was no hint of irritation at our vacillation and the meal itself was sublime from start to finish. From local bread and freshly made olive pate, to a delicious terrine and a sea bass cooked to perfection, to a heavenly chocolate and bread and butter pudding, all tasting delicious and not looking overly fussy on the plate or slate (my only gripe – slate’s or plates? Plates any day!) The service was friendly and helpful and we couldn’t have hoped for a better dining  experience, our ten year old wasn’t bored and nearly…nearly  managed the whole of her  succulent cod in a golden batter (just how she likes it), she also loved the pea mash and even tried the freshly made tartar sauce. The Hotel supports local produce so perhaps that is why everything tasted so fresh and flavoursome.

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We left the hotel in the warm glow of a very pleasant, happy few hours well spent but feeling the need for a brisk walk. The river path to Beaulieu was calling, on the first warm sunny day after a week of grey grizzle, it was so enjoyable we didn’t make it all the way to Beaulieu, we were distracted by the bird hide at Keeping Marsh and views of the river kept inviting us to stop and stare. Another day, another adventure, we will be back .


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Flights of Imagination

At Old Sarum, in Hangar 1 just along from the airfield cafe, is a door to a world of legend and history. Entry is £8.50 for adults (sorry, I can’t remember what the childrens entry fee is) and as you walk down the corridor from the shop and reception desk, it’s all very unassuming. You walk into the hangar and find faded and ancient museum exhibits – a dented wing tip of a WW2 plane, a mannekin in a glass case sporting a WW2 flying suit, old photos but as you politely stop to look, and the children are wondering what on earth they are doing here and about to ask if they can go back to the shop to ‘get a plane’, the smell of oil, of grease hits you and you turn to see the hulking bodies of planes, all sorts of planes, fat, thin, young, old; all lovingly restored (or in the process of being so) and ready for young eyes and old hearts to touch, explore and witness for themselves the glory days of aviation. If you’re really lucky one of the founder members of the collection will be there to share their considerable knowledge and expertise and guide you through and answer questions, whilst over the radio the cackle of the live broadcast from the airfields control tower offers an authentic backdrop.

We took my nine yr old, my cousin and her son who is five, and spent a happy hour climbing in and out of the pilot seats, reading the warning signs, admiring the designs and capabilities of each exhibit. Our five yr old guest was taught a valuable life-skill (how to get down a small ladder ie. backwards) and when our guide fished out a shiny pilots helmet with visors and microphone his young eyes gleamed and he beamed from ear to ear, Mr. B. was quite envious but managed to sneak a go himself whilst sat in a Hawk a bit later on! Most horrifying were the missiles (without the evil bits) most wondrous was the rebuilt bi-plane, the first to be flown with it’s beautiful wooden propellor – I’d say the museum is a boys dream but my daughter, my cousin and I all enjoyed it too. The collection consists of test planes preserved at nearby Boscombe Down and covers a wide range of aviation history. As we left, a micro-lite landed ahead of us and an older plane was wheeled out from it’s hangar to be made ready for flying. We went to the airfield cafe and enjoyed tea and biscuits outside so we could watch modern day planes landing and taking off in the autumn grey. It was frankly wonderful.


To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;

To forgive wrongs darker than death or nights



To defy power, which seems omnipotent;

To love, and bear, to Hope til Hope creates

From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;

neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;

This, like they glory, Titan, is to be

Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;

This is alone Life, Joy,Empire, and Victory

From Prometheus Unbound

Percy Bysshe Shelley