Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Alpha and the Omega – 300 posts, stroke, bowel cancer, alzheimers ..

Carbis Bay Hotel

Sounds a little dramatic doesn’t it – Alpha and Omega – the words just tie a few things up, open the doors to new beginnings ... this is my 300th post – my Omega; the A – Z Challenge will be my Alpha ... an infinite number of posts ahead .. starting with a mere 26 in April.

The alphabet of stories, poems, ideas, creative thought – all 600+ of us participating in the A – Z Challenge .. I shall be posting the ABCs of the British Countryside – highlighting areas of our landscape we take for granted.

Whoever thought just over two years ago I’d still be here writing and being involved in this enormous creative blogging world – such an eye opener to many a mere mortal.  The story of life played out by and to each of us as we blog, read, comment and connect along our journey’s paths.  Thank you to you all ...

Elizabeth was a great gardener

It’s a real all sorts mix of a melting pot – we glean, we learn, we travel, we photograph, we cook and we write and importantly, I think, we become aware of things that perhaps might not hit us if we were not internet connected.  So this post is a celebration by me of my 300th  article... a few things I’ve learned and would like you to be aware of too, and some happy times ...

The acronym F A S T – saved a young girl’s life .. her class mates recognised the symptoms and reacted .... the brain does heal ... (to an extent) but never forget this aspect .. certainly this has happened with my mother, though she will never ‘recover’ – as this youngster had the chance to because of her friends’ immediate reaction to dial 999.

Fast Stroke Test:  ... F A S T - react to these symptoms:
  • FACE - Has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
  • ARMS - Can they raise both arms and keep them there?
  • SPEECH - Is their speech slurred?
  • TIME - call the ambulance .. if you see any single one of these signs
Alzheimers – the Nursing centre, where my mother lives, have opened the ground floor to Alzheimer patients; at the opening the Director for Dementia came down and left some copies of his book: “And Still the Music Plays” – stories of people with Dementia – by Graham Stokes.

Doris, who blogs with us – I love that phrase!, at her blog ““Hold My Hand” A Social Worker’s blog” where she tells stories of her experiences, much as Dr Stokes does above ... they are just great ways to learn.

Alzheimer’s can strike early in life too ... Dr Stokes’ first story is about a 41 year old woman ... she coped, however her husband and sons were not aware of her struggles ...

Autism – perhaps you’ve seen the TED talk by Temple Grandin .. an amazing woman, who despite Autism .. in fact because of it .. has this amazing (out of this world) capacity for visual thinking ...  a fascinating way to understand someone who thinks in a series of photo-realistic images = picture perfect .. and who can only do this because she is autistic.

Googling – brings up the Wikipedia entry:  the 2010 film is a biopic on Temple Grandin, as a woman with autism, who revolutionised the practices for the humane handling of livestock.

Lastly and sadly Bowel Cancer ... can strike very quickly and is one of the most painful cancers, so I understand.  My mother’s best friend and ex manager of her Care Home had not been feeling well .. she was cheerful and looking forward, despite the probable prognosis.  Sadly she was in such pain, she went into hospital and never came out .. it was only a few hours .. and she was relatively young – 73.

I have been drip feeding my mother with the information that Elizabeth is ill – as I thought the shock of her death needed to be tempered by the knowledge that she was seriously ill first – as my mother cannot easily express emotion after her strokes .. because of the shock & when you are confined to bed with no other resources than your own brain ... these sorts of notifications need to be carefully handled – if there’s a possibility to do so.

Gorse flowers
The funeral was wonderful and this week I will tell my mother about it – and speak-paint her the pictures of Cornwall in Spring, the new Crematorium – Cornish granite, wonderful wood – including a beautiful polished cross, set in the gorse covered, tree cowed countryside that is Cornwall.

It was so good to meet Elizabeth’s family and old friends from the Care Home days ... the day was glorious with blue sunny skies; the Reception was held in the Carbis Bay Hotel, who were kind enough to allow me to use their photos here.  The weather was very kind giving us magnificent views across St Ives Bay.

In tempering the news re Elizabeth and her funeral I can include the sunny day, being able to meet the family and share our appreciation of her, as has also been expressed by our relatives too – as my great uncle and his wife were cared for by Elizabeth and my mother in their last days.

We used to stay in Carbis Bay at a Bed and Breakfast, while my grandmother owned a house on the hill down to the hotel – where we had often played as kids ... so it brought back many memories of those days ... my first swim/paddle .. the chugging local line train, stopping at the beachfront – but high on a viaduct, which linked St Ives to the main line.  It was strange driving down to the hotel – but what a view ... a day of mixed emotions.

I then had the great privilege of having another visit to my 94 year old ‘aunt’ near St Austell .. with glorious food – courtesy this time of Marks and Spencer:  just to whet your appetite –

+ King Prawn and Avocado salad, with pasta and a creamy lemon dressing
+ Herb crusted Scottish Trout fillets stuffed with a Crab and Red Pepper mousse
+ Raspberry jelly with fresh raspberries, and Cornish clotted cream
... washed down with grape and berry juice

You cannot really go wrong with this meal .. it was delicious and met with total approval!!

This is a sad time .. however my mother is as pragmatic as always – saying that bowel cancer is horrible, and thinking back to other people she had cared for, who had died of this disease.  So I think I did the right thing in ‘delaying’ the telling ...

Alpha and Omega .. 300 posts an end, a new beginning; life begins and ends .. beware it can happen suddenly and be aware it can drift in .... keep and remember the positives ...

Thank you so much for your continued support – new times ahead ...

Alpha ‘Arlee Bird’ Challenge .. the ABCs of the A – Z Challenge start Friday – April Fool’s day .. now that’s a thought ... but 700+ participants is not ... amazing .. congratulations to you all and especially to the organisers:

Arlee Bird at Tossing It Out (who created the challenge)
Jeffrey Beesler at World of the Scribe
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Jen Daiker at Unedited
Candace Gangers at The Misadventures In Candyland
Karen J Gowen at Coming Down the Mountain
Talli Roland

Stephen Tremp at Breakthrough Blogs

The Carbis Bay Hotel were kind enough to allow me to use their photos - there are some incredible panoramic views on their website: Carbis Bay Hotel ... please have a visit ...

Dear Mr Postman .. we go on – when my mother is awake .. she is just so with it .. other times she dozes, or sleeps and seems reasonably content – the main thing in my life.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 18 March 2011

Garden history ...

Renaissance Garden in Pieskowa Skała, Poland
Gardens ... now that Spring is springing, or Autumn autumning round the corner on the other side of the world ... and as my brain has been having a blip or two in its overwhelmed befuddled state ... I thought I’d write about some of Britain’s finest gardens that I pass on my trips to Cornwall ... but

... I will save those for another day .. because when I looked up Garden in Wikipedia .. I found an amazing array of garden pictures .. and thought these will be just fine and with a few short annotations will be a delight to look and wonder at.  (and yes I am doing the A - Z challenge .. so you will get short posts - surprisingly!)

Click here for more information on the A - Z Challenge

Plan of St Gall
 So saving my brain a little ... which is being stretched in other directions .. here goes, and for more information please just check back to Wikipedia. However I have to get the history bit in ... the etymology of the word refers to enclosure - from Middle English ‘gardin’, from Anglo-French jardin of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German 'gard', 'gart', an enclosure or compound, as in Stuttgart.

The words 'yard', 'court', and Latin 'hortus' (meaning garden, hence horticulture and orchard) are cognates – all referring to an open space. In Britain we refer to an enclosed area near a residential building as a ‘garden’, whereas in American English this would be referred to as a ‘yard’. Isn’t it interesting how the words travel?

Copy of the Plan
 So much for the short and saving my brain .. but well I enjoy it! This Plan of Saint Gall brings together the Latin ‘hortus conclusus’, with the word 'enclosure', 'garden' and 'yard' derivations we use today - as it is the only surviving major architectural drawing from the 700 year period since the fall of the Roman Empire to the 13th century (1200s).

The Plan depicts an entire Benedictine monastic compound including churches, houses, stables, kitchens, workshops, brewery, infirmary, and even a special house for bloodletting. However it appears never to have been built.

Despite those unknowns, much has been learned about medieval life from this architectural design. The absence of heating in the dining hall, for instance, may not have been an oversight but was meant to discourage excessive enjoyment of meals. In the quarters for the 120-150 monks, their guests, and visitors, the ratio of toilet seats was better than those which modern hygienic codes prescribe.

Cottage Garden

To me this Plan epitomises gardens as we know them today ... their history, their variety, their specialities and how all scholarly disciplines have drawn and will draw on them; having said that .... the ancient rulers of Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome for over 4,000 years had their gardens ... then Byzantium and Moorish Spain kept garden traditions alive in Europe during this 700 year dearth of interest in gardens.

By this time a separate gardening eastern tradition had arisen in China, which was taken up in Japan, including miniature landscapes centred on ponds, and separately into the severe Zen gardens of temples.

A typical Italian garden at Villa Garzoni, Italy

The Italians rediscovered descriptions of antique Roman villas and gardens which led to the creation of a new form - the Italian Renaissance Garden; these designs were carried north into the rest of Europe, where they prevailed until the English style of landscape gardening took over.

 The predecessors of the landscape garden in England were the great parks such as those created by Sir John Vanbrugh (1664–1726) and Nicholas Hawksmoor at Castle Howard (1699–1712); Blenheim Palace (1705–1722), the Landscape Garden at Claremont House (1715–1727). These parks featured vast lawns, woods, and pieces of architecture, such as the classical mausoleum at Castle Howard.

The gardens of the great and the good continued to develop owing much to the Age of Exploration, while the spread of scientific knowledge gave us new species; specialist gardens came into being, such as botanical gardens .. along with new gardening specimens and wonders to behold.

Chatsworth - a grand English Garden
I’d like to give you a description of The Pleasure Gardens at Eglinton Castle, Scotland .... where you can really “see” the grounds as described in the 1840s:

“Its princely gates soon presented themselves and we thought we should easily find our way to Irvine through the park. It was a rich treat to wander in these extensive grounds. We soon made way through a handsome avenue to the gardens. The hot-houses for fruits and flowers are on a magnificent scale, and on reaching the parterre we were delighted with the elegance which pervaded it.

Movable stone blocks in the
old heated wall of the walled
garden, Eglinton
 A glassy river with a silvery cascade came gliding gently through these fairy regions, as though conscious of the luxuriant paradise which it was watering. Nor was the classic taste wanting, nor horticultural skill, to render this a region of enchantment. Two elegant cast-iron bridges, vases, statues, a sun-dial; these pretty combinations from the world of art could not fail to please the beholder.

Leaving these luxurious regions we again wandered among thick woods, and occasionally obtained glimpses of the proud castle, peering over the trees. At length we found our way to a seat beneath some noble weepers of the ash tribe, and here we had a fine view of the castle, towering majestically over the dense foliage.”

In the late 1700s and early 1800s some walled gardens would have one hollow side with openings into which a fire could be set, allowing the heat to spread along the wall protecting the fruit growing against it, while the additional heat would escape into the garden. Hot houses were being engineered.
Côté du dôme de la Roseraie du Val-de-Marne

Garden history moved with the population’s growth, the rise of the middle classes and then the factory workers as they had a little extra money to enjoy – we still get the magnificent gardens, that transformed themselves into commercial ventures, but cottage gardens came to the fore, the Arts and Craft Movement, at the end of the 1800s, brought further design and experimentation through wild gardens, colour plantings, cottage inspired borders ...

... all manner of gardens are to be found around the world .. which now include so many types: community, container, sustainable, sensory, raised, roof and living-wall gardens – where there’s a space plant in-fill can give us so much pleasure.

Farmers paint a picture of a water buffalo
using flowers at FuLi Town by the
Huatung Highway in Taiwan
 At the start of Spring and the wonders of the Summer to come .. enjoy your walks in the park, trips to country estates, strolls through the bluebell woods, tennis in between the herbaceous borders or rose gardens and your own little area of green wealth that bring our homes so much pleasure (and work!), through their abundance.

Here’s to all gardens ...

Checkered garden in Tours, France

Dear Mr Postman – my mother was an excellent gardener and still comes up with the Latin names for plants, loves having fresh flowers around, especially those with scent – but all flowers give of that freshness ... which cannot be captured through chemical essences. She will love the reference to the toilet spaces, and the bloodletting room ...

She always comments on Washington’s teeth, or lack of .. we’ve had some sad news which I’m working through with her –hence my hiatus in posting ... I’ll be back! Keep well ... here’s to Spring too!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 3 March 2011

How a play came to be written ... Samuel Pepys, Robert Hooke ...

Cast of characters:

Siobhán Nicholas – playwright, director, actress
Samuel Pepys, and his wife Elizabeth, - diarist
Robert Hooke - the genius polymath (aka the English Leonardo)
Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren – early scientists (natural philosophers)
Stephen Inwood – author, lecturer in English, social and economic history
Chris Barnes – actor, director, playwright, composer
A pilot, Shoreham Harbour, England


A birthday party in Brighton, England (2006)
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, England (2006)
Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge – founded 1660

Samuel Pepys? … His Diary! … His World!! … His Women!!! - Theatre poster for 'Sam and I'

Time frames (approximate):

21st century 2000 - 2011
17th century 1635 – early 1700s


Sam and I ... Take the Space {Theatre Company} – their flagship production
Hanging Hooke ... Take the Space - a co-production with Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Dolce Via ... their new co-production ... more in another post
(yes - similar name to La Dolce Vita and there are links – but very different)

... and the secret ghostly blog writer ... who plagiarises emails, snatches snippets from Wikipedia, and words from Amazon reviews to create her post ... !

Robert Hooke Memorial Portrait for the Open University,by Rita Greer

Setting the scene: Let us start in 2006, a birthday invitation is sent out, Siobhán and Chris attend the party in Brighton ... they were touring their play “Sam and I” about Pepys and his wife; as happens at parties this unsolicited excited chap dashes over ....

I now quote Siobhán:

“It was 2006 and I was at a birthday party here in Brighton. We were in the midst of touring Sam & I, my play about Elizabeth Pepys.

Anyway a complete stranger came up to me and seemed excited by the fact that I had been researching the C17th because he had just been reading about this interesting chap, who had lived at that time, and maybe had even known Samuel Pepys. Before I could stop him – he had run back to his flat in the rain and appeared 15 minutes later with this book under his arm – insisting that I read it!!

I groaned inwardly….I felt I had read enough books about the C17th to last me - well another century. But this man was determined and was so sweet that I couldn’t really refuse to take the book. So I was polite and thanked him.

Elisabeth Pepys in a stipple engraving by John Thomson, after a 1666 painting (now destroyed) by John Hayls

I got home and I decided to quickly glance through the book for a few minutes and then give it back the next day with polite thanks – so I settled down to skim read “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Stephen Inwood ....

... literally – on the first page – the hairs proverbially stood up on the back of my neck!! I was “hooked” and I knew I had to know more and more and more……..most important I knew that I was going to write about this man and that my favourite actor in all the world, Chris Barnes, would have to play him. But it was going to be such a mammoth project – I’d reserve it for some time later in the long distant future.

A couple of months went by, we were performing Sam & I at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (see left) – when Brian, the artistic programmer, asked me what would be my next play …..and the words somehow tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them …..

.... ”a solo show about Robert Hooke, a genius who was written out of history”.

“ Okay” says Brian “ Write it and I’ll put money into it for a production” There was no escape now – I had to write it!!!

Postscript: The complete stranger at the party is now a good friend of Chris and I. He turned out to be the pilot at Shoreham Harbour - an interesting man – but he didn’t get his book back for three years!!

I have now also met Stephen Inwood who has seen the play and [thankfully] loved it. He then very kindly did a lovely preview for us in the Oxford Times when we played Oxford again last Summer”.

PS The Hooke Folio was only found in 2006 when it was put up for auction; The Royal Society managed to acquire it to verify his importance to their organisation and fill various holes in their records.

So today Mr Hooke, on the anniversary of your death in 1703, we celebrate you .. and are sorry you never got to be knighted like the rest of your pals ... but I hope you’re resting on your rainbow cloud, and are just drifting around soaking up the recognition that finally is now being accorded you ...

Siobhán .. I really want to thank you for your input and interest in my blog, and my own interest in having found your play and thus the English Leonardo.

Oxford University - Department of Engineering: Dr Allan Chapman made a fantastic speech which captured the art of storytelling and a beautiful painting by Rita Greer, both of which brought Robert Hooke's character and identity to life.

I am certain my readers will be enthralled by the telling of this tale, and will look forward to another story on why and how you go about the process of writing these plays.

Also, in due course, it will be wonderful to hear more about “Sam and I” and your new play “Dolce Via” – charting the music halls and giving credit to the great artists of variety, who came to the fore in the last century.

We really appreciate you – and are very grateful for sharing your time with us. Have a successful performance tonight at the staging of Hanging Hooke at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in honour of Robert Hooke's life. 'Break a Leg' is, I believe, the phrase I should use!
Take The Space {Theatre Company}

We will never truly know what happened ... but at least Robert Hooke, you have been restored to the living archives at The Royal Society, and are now ‘our English Leonardo’.

Blog posts: the historical background of the 17th century - England's Leonardo
Hanging Hooke – the play

Stephen Inwood’s book: 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' – Amazon
Wikipedia – Robert Hooke; and new memorials recently erected to Robert Hooke

Wikipedia Media Commons – category – Paintings by Rita Greer – her Robert Hooke Project

Note: The Hooke Folio .... Lot 189: The Royal Society cancelled Bonham’s auction of a 17th-century manuscript that charts the beginning of modern science. Britain's premier scientific academy believes the 520-page document, by the scientist Robert Hooke, may have been stolen from its archives 300 years ago.

Take the Space {Theatre Company} - website

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre - website

Susanne Drazic from Putting Words Down on Paper – her blog .. honoured me with the Stylish Blogger Award for which I am very grateful – Susanne many thanks!

Dear Mr Postman .. my mother stays much the same; we had a quick planned visit to the hospital and she stayed awake and was cheerful during the whole episode – 7 hours .. up and down, waiting for the ambulance etc. She was pleased to be back and with Hardwick, her special companion. So for now .. from a chilly England .... we await Spring ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories