Saturday, 4 June 2016

Making Hay...and the sun shone!

 The Hay Literary Festival (visit the website here) is a phenomenon. Started 29 years ago, it has (like Topsy) growed and growed and is now a world renowned 10-day extravaganza of books with talks, music, comedy and lots of other word-inspired fun! We have just spent a brilliant week there, and I arrived home refreshed and full of ideas and plans....
  
 One of the reasons it was so especially great this year (we have been before) is that the sun shone warmly for just about the whole time...blue skies, cooling breezes...but mainly sun, sun, sun! It just added to the atmosphere and brought an extra element to what is always a fabulous experience whatever the weather. Anyone British will recognise that we are, as a nation, totally obsessed with weather. And when it's good, it brings out the smiles and just improves the general mood somehow...everything is a little bit easier! We brought my mum along this time...she's always wanted to visit, so this was the year! I planned the schedule carefully once the various events were announced. We had a 'free' day when we visited other places...and also spent a wonderful lunchtime and afternoon with great friends in the city of Hereford, which is nearby. But mainly it was talks and books and filling up from the cultural well that is Hay!
 I went to a recording of one of my favourite radio shows...Gardeners' Question Time! Mum and Paul were at a debate on the upcoming EU referendum at the same time...there really is something for everyone at the festival, including an incredible programme for children (Michael Morpurgo, Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson, Jeremy Strong...just a tiny taste of the authors appearing this year, plus farm visits, craft projects, even fencing lessons!)
 The whole site is brilliantly set up for reading and relaxing - love these flags! And the deckchairs which are strategically placed everywhere and perfect for flopping with a just-purchased book that you can't wait to open!
 Much emphasis is also placed on the beauty of the surroundings you are in...these flowers, for instance, in one of the refreshment tents (which we visited all too often, as they sold prosecco by the glass....)
 And a huge enclosed garden in the centre proudly displayed the new (peach, naturally!) Roald Dahl rose produced by David Austin Roses to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth (coincidentally, he was born in Wales!) One of my best 'claims to fame' is that I met Roald Dahl (this is the one I always use to win children over...it always impresses them!) He actually lived in Great Missenden which was the nearest town to the village I mainly grew up in, so we did see him often when out and about. But in around 1977, our school held a Fancy Dress competition as (I think) part of the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations. In those days, you couldn't buy costumes in the shops as you can now...so parents had to be creative! My Mum did a brilliant job, adapting her own cast-offs, and adding crepe paper bits and pieces...and I won, jointly with my sister Esther! I was a milkmaid (complete with a bamboo 'yoke' with buckets hanging from each end) and Est was a (very beautiful) daisy in a white broderie anglaise dress with a special headpiece from which 'grew' yellow and white petals that framed her little face (she was about 8) I have a photo somewhere...will try and find it! Anyway, Roald Dahl was the judge and he also handed out the prizes. Ours (we shared) was a first edition hardback copy of 'Fantastic Mr Fox' which he signed especially for us. We still have it! Such a thrill...
 'His' roses smelt absolutely gorgeous...as did these. And the warm sun brought out the fragrance for all who were nearby...delicious.
 This was the view from our bedroom window each morning in the cottage we rented for the week. On the left is a beautiful husky-type dog who was let into the field every day while his owners mucked-out the stables and groomed the Welsh Cob ponies. This foal was turned out into the meadow every morning and he and the dog really enjoyed playing together. It was wonderful to see!
 This was the entrance to the festival site (taken late in the afternoon...usually completely obscured with people arriving and leaving!)
 The town of Hay-on-Wye itself - which is literally just inside the Welsh border with the English county of Herefordshire - is a gem of a place and worth a visit at any time of year. There are over 30 bookshops there...most of them second-hand, and very affordable. And many, many independent small shops (like the one above, called 'The Welsh Girl' full of beautiful local textiles) Famously, the residents of Hay have prevented any of the big supermarkets from settling there...so there are still  the 'proper' shops - greengrocers, butchers, delis, bakers - which have been driven out of so very many other places.
 This menu was from a pop-up version of A Rule of Tum which is mainly based in the city of Hereford. Only in Hay for the festival! It's that kind of place....exciting...
 But it's really all about the books. All the authors giving talks then sign copies of their books in the Festival Bookshop Tent, which is an incredible chance to meet heroes! I felt so lucky to shake hands and chat with the delightful Thomas Keneally, author of (amongst many others) Schindler's Ark, the book on which the film 'Schindler's List' was based. He is over 80 now, and came here from his home in Australia, so we felt very honoured to have heard the thoughtful, warm and often funny interview with him conducted by the author and noted QC, Phillippe Sands (who I also met) Buying the books and meeting their writers is a huge part of what makes the Hay experience so special.
 The area is another thing. This is a road called Angel's Pass...we travelled along it many times during our last visit (when these photos were taken) and you can see how it got its name! But on our very last morning in 2014, we had an accident when a courier van came too fast around a blind corner...luckily no injuries on either side, but it was scary and the car was damaged (cosmetically) and it did blight my memories of that trip a little. So this time, to lay the demons to rest, I drove the road again...and, despite the sweat that broke out at regular intervals, this view is definitely worth it! And no vans this time!
 I found a photo from that last trip to show what it can be like at the site when the weather isn't fine!
 It's still magical...but somewhat muddier!
Nothing like that this year though. This was one of our last views yesterday before we left. It was incredibly hard to tear ourselves away...especially as the Festival doesn't end until tomorrow and we know the delights that will be occurring while we're not there...
But now we're home, it's good - as always - to be here, to cuddle Alice, to admire our gorgeous garden (which exploded into life in our absence) and to reflect on seven amazing days filled with words and sunshine.  If you've ever thought about visiting Hay for the Festival - my advice is to just do it! You'll never regret it - even if it rains! xx

Monday, 31 August 2015

Borrowed homes...new outlooks...


 As you'll know if you read this blog regularly, history is one of my pet subjects....it never ceases to fascinate me. I love to learn about and imagine different times, who came before us, what they saw and felt. A wonderful way of experiencing this is to stay in historic places. And a few weeks ago we did just that...and spent a weekend here, in gorgeous Lynch Lodge, one of the Landmark Trust's amazing properties.
 The Trust buys and restores historical places of interest, many of them (like this one) quite quirky and different...and then rents them out as holiday homes for short or longer term breaks...
 We only spent a long weekend here, but for those 3 days it was our own! Gazing through the mullioned windows at a different view as we ate breakfast...
 Climbing steep stone steps to the light-flooded bedroom at the top of the tower...
 ...catching the evening rays in the impressive porch....Alice was allowed to come too...(many, but not all, Landmarks accept well-behaved dogs!) Sipping a gin and tonic here made us feel like the Lord & Lady of the manor!
 The Lodge is very close to wonderful countryside and we did lots of walking in the warm August sun...watching the narrowboats traverse the locks...
 Fascinating to see the water gush in and raise the levels, to enable the boats to continue on their journeys...
 Hard work, though, when there are a few of them in a row!
 But worth it to be on the beautiful River Nene and see views like this...

 The glorious English countryside at its overblown late Summer best...
 On the way home, we stopped in Stamford...an ancient place with so many interesting features..
 ...and more tranquil sights...
 ...as well as echoes of the past, everywhere...
 As we reluctantly left to drive home, we came upon this glorious, beautifully-restored old coach...


Like something from a 1960's Carry On film!


And even further back, we were privileged to stay in a restored early 18th century weavers house in Spitalfields, in the heart of London's East End...

 This is a part of London that we are very connected to...ancestors who lived here can be traced back to 1695....many of whom were silk weavers, Huguenots who had fled from France in fear of their lives...
 ...so benign ghosts were all around us in this amazing place...
 ....living here as though it were our own....
 ...going out, and then coming back and putting our key in the front door was incredible...
 ...the stairs were worn and had a gentle patina from the hundreds of feet that must have laboured up & down them so many times through the years...
 The kitchen retains the original features, but has been brought fully up to date for modern use (thank goodness!)
 What tales could these floorboards tell? I imagine children pushing buttons, coins, anything through these little gaps...
 ...and at the very top of the house is the weaving loft...the ceiling very high to accommodate the huge loom that was the livelihood of those that lived here...
 ...this was the only window they would have had for light for many hours of every day...a cramped, overworked and underpaid existence for these migrants who have enriched our land so much...
 The bathroom was one of my favourite places...sitting at the window, looking out over the courtyard below, and into the windows of other nearby houses...
 ...the whole area is steeped in history...
 ...relatives lived here, on Sclater Street, for many generations...what did they see, feel, hear?
 ...Some fabulous shops in the area...one of my favourites is Labour & Wait which sells practical, simple and very beautiful hardware and homewares...
 The area was heavily populated by the Jewish community in the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries...migrants again, from pogroms and poverty in their lands of origin...although their numbers have dwindled as they became prosperous and moved to other more affluent boroughs, there are still many influences visible...


This soup kitchen for the 'Jewish poor' was in use up until just over 20 years ago...
 ...probably the best beigels I have tasted...
 ...chewy, crusty, absolutely delicious!

The impressive and stunning Christ Church presides over the heart of Spitalfields...designed by Hawksmoor, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren...
 Many ancestors married, baptised and buried within these walls....

Despite the heavy bombing of the East End by the nazis during World War 2, and the subsequent regeneration of the area (it is at the heart of the commercial and banking centre of London), an amazing number of original buildings remain...like this former silk dress shop in Raven's Row...

 ...and although there's a change of use for it now, this was the former workhouse...with separate entrances for the desperate men and women who sought refuge here (as an absolute last resort)
 Artillery Row still has the cramped feeling of an overcrowded and poverty-stricken population...
 ...but, like so many other places, the regeneration has hiked up prices and the area is now incredibly popular and expensive...

...as one man told me 'my grandparents moved away from here when they made enough money to leave, and now my son can't afford to move back!'

But we felt what it was like to live here, for one glorious weekend....and it felt fabulous!

Hoping you have a great week...it's raining as I write, on the last Bank Holiday of the year...and the schools go back on Wednesday...the year is turning again! xx