Shakespeare By The Bow – The Tempest

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

I’ve always found this quote by Shakespeare both inspiring and comforting, so it was wonderful to hear it spoken aloud yesterday evening at Theatre Calgary’s production of The Tempest, performed in an outdoor setting amongst the trees of Prince’s Island Park.

Shakespeare By The Bow – formerly Shakespeare In The Park – is a quarter-of-a-century old Calgary tradition, giving newly graduated drama students the opportunity to practise their skills under the direction of a professional theatre company.

And flex those acting muscles they certainly did last night, with performances that were energetic, funny, thoughtful, considered and assured.

And magical.

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With a female Prospera replacing the traditional male Prospero, the setting was perfect and the costumes inspired. The audience captured all ages. (And species! I spied a few dogs there too.) Many audience members had come prepared with blankets, deck chairs and picnic baskets, while others, cyclists and joggers out for a run, or families out for an evening stroll, stopped to take in the entertainment.

This is the final week for Shakespeare By The Bow  – it ends on Sunday 16th – and I highly recommend taking a trip down to Prince’s Island Park to catch one of their final performances.  Please check out Theatre Calgary’s website for further information.

IT’S A BRAW, BRICHT, MOONLICHT NICHT, THE NICHT.

scottishblogIf I’m being totally honest, there are probably places in Scotland where they really do talk like that.  In fact, many years ago, when visiting Aberdeen, (150 miles from Glasgow where I lived) I struggled to figure out the nationality of the people sitting at the table next to me in the restaurant. Were they Dutch? Scandinavian?  Turns out they were Aberdonians, but with their Doric accents, I could understand very little of what they said.  (Eg Fit like?  –  How are you?)

Writing accents in a novel is tricky. Too much can turn readers off by pulling them out of the story as they try and work out what you’re trying to say. Too little can have a diluting effect as your story could be set anywhere.

As a Scot who’s lived in Canada for many – many – years, here are some common contemporary phrases I notice when I go back to Scotland on holiday. If you’re writing a modern day novel set in Scotland, you might find some of them useful to add a little colour to your setting.

WORDS:
Wee – Scots use this a lot.  Wee monster.  Wait a wee minute.  Wee boy.  It’s a wee way up the road.
Wean – (sound like wane)  A small child.
Rubbish – Garbage/trash.
Hiya! – Hi!  Hello!
Outwith – eg Outwith my control. – Outside (out of) my control.
On your tod – On your own.
Suss out  – Figure out
Uh-huh – yes
Aye – yes
Wheeching along – moving very fast.  eg wheeching along the road
Scooshie cream – Canned whipping cream.
Dead – Very.  eg dead nice
Toilet – Washroom
Bahookie – Butt
Cooker – Stove
Hoover – vacuum.  (I’m going to hoover the carpet)
Messages – groceries.  (I’m going for the messages. I’m just going for the shopping/groceries)
Kirk – church
Chum you – Accompany you.  eg How about I chum you along the road?
Go down the town – Go downtown.

OBSERVATIONS:
irnbrulolliesIrn Bru is Scotland’s soft-drink equivalent to whisky. In fact, I think I’m right in saying that Scotland is the only country in the world where its own homemade soft drink outsells the other ‘big two’ soft drink companies. The adverts claim it’s ‘made from girders’, and I have it on good authority that it’s great for treating a hangover. As you can see, you can also buy Irn Bru in ice lolly/popsicle form. (Check out this classic Irn Bru Commercial and see how many Scottish landmarks you can identify.)

Alcohol is sold in all supermarkets and village stores. The only time it’s not available is on a Sunday morning until 12.30pm – when you should be in church.

Children are usually allowed in lounge bars and pubs – with their parents – until 8pm.

Midgies (Scottish mosquitoes) arrive in May and go right through the summer until August. They are a tiny, but major, irritation and can spoil a holiday if you’re not prepared. To avoid them, stick to the beach, make the most of a windy day, or make sure you’re wearing repellant.

The longest running police drama in the UK was ‘Taggart’, set in Glasgow.

Glasgow Kiss/Glasgow Coma Scale. One leads to the other. A Glasgow Kiss is a vicious headbutt. The Glasgow Coma Scale is the scale used in hospitals worldwide to assess consciousness (or lack of it!) following a head injury.

There’s a (friendly!) rivalry between Scotland’s two major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Depending on where you’re from, you might say that the best thing about Glasgow is the road to Edinburgh, or…  You can have more fun at a Glasgow funeral than you can at an Edinburgh wedding.

Back in the 18th/19th centuries, Glasgow was a major centre for the international slave/sugar/tobacco trade and was known as the ‘Second City’ of The Empire.

The three major Scottish Banks (Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank) all issue their own banknotes.

The Screen Machine is a truck that brings a mobile cinema to the Scottish Isles and remote Highlands so locals can catch up on the latest films.

Gilmerton Cove

Rightly described as Edinburgh’s Best Kept Secret, Gilmerton Cove is the place to visit if you’re a fan of mysteries. Hidden beneath an unprepossessing cottage on Gilmerton’s main road, historians and archeologists still don’t know for sure when this network of secret passages was built, or even what they were used for.

The entrance to Gilmerton Cove

Discovered almost 300 years ago, George Patterson, the local blacksmith, claimed he had hand carved the tunnels – in which he and his family lived – by himself, over a five-year period.  But could one man, on his own, really carve such an intricate series of ‘rooms’ out of bedrock using simple hand-tools?

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    Is that the ghost of a previous occupant at the end of the tunnel… or just a trick of light?

 

 

If so, why dig a well that doesn’t reach water? Why build a forge that has never been used? Were the tunnels really built as a home, or do they harbour older, darker, secrets? Were they used by Covenanters rebelling against the king?  A coven of witches?  A Hellfire Club? Smugglers distilling illegal whisky?

Is this a bed… or a grave?

Is it possible they were built by the Knights Templar as a place of religious reflection?  How about the Romans? It’s up to you to come to your own conclusions.

Who gathered here and why? To study? Pray? Drink?

 

Getting There:  Only twenty minutes from the city centre, Gilmerton Cove can be reached by car or by bus (3, 3A, 29). Guided tours take 45 minutes. Only 12 people are allowed per tour, so booking is essential via Rosslyn Tours.  Telephone: (011-44) 07914 829177

And afterwards, while you’re in the area, consider driving a further ten minutes up the road to explore the mysteries of Rosslyn Chapel.

The Scottish Parliament

I’ve just returned from a (literally) flying 48 hour visit to Edinburgh. The weather was stunning – I even caught a touch of sunburn – and although I’ve lived in Canada for a more than half my life, the trip reinforced how much Scotland holds my heart.

I spent the time with a friend I made many – many – years ago when we were both students at Aberdeen University; she studied Politics and International Relations while I majored in Social and Economic History. Having both lived in Edinburgh at various times in our lives, we felt we knew the city well, but one place neither of us had ever visited was The Scottish Parliament building at the foot of the Royal Mile by Holyrood Palace.

Parliament

The  building itself caused lots of controversy when it was commissioned; designed by a Spanish architect, it ran horrendously over budget.

What were those images of whisky bottles on the walls? we asked the guide.The famous quote by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns came to mind; Whisky and freedom gang th’gither.

‘Aye,’ the guide replied, ‘that’s what everyone thinks, but it’s supposed to signify people looking over the politicians’ shoulders, so they know they’re always being watched.’

whisky bottles

And then we came across a copy of poem, Open The Doors, written by Sottish makar Edwin Morgan for the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 2004. Although it was written specifically for the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament, there are lines in there that every politician around the world- be they local, national or federal – should recite every day before they begin their day’s work.

A Poem by Edwin Morgan
For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004

Open the Doors!

Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!

We have a building which is more than a building.
There is a commerce between inner and outer,
between brightness and shadow, between the world and those who think about the world.

Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together like petals of a flower, yet they also send their tongues outward to feel and taste the teeming earth.
Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A growl of old Gothic grandeur? A blissfully boring box?

Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and heavens syncopations and surprises. Leave symmetry to the cemetery.

But bring together slate and stainless steel, black granite and grey granite, seasoned oak and sycamore, concrete blond and smooth as silk – the mix is almost alive – it breathes and beckons – imperial marble it is not!

Come down the Mile, into the heart of the city, past the kirk of St Giles and the closes and wynds of the noted ghosts of history who drank their claret and fell down the steep tenements stairs into the arms of link-boys but who wrote and talked the starry Enlightenment of their days –

And before them the auld makars who tickled a Scottish king’s ear with melody and ribaldry and frank advice
And when you are there, down there, in the midst of things, not set upon an hill with your nose in the air,

This is where you know your parliament should be And this is where it is, just here.

What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its architecture.
A nest of fearties is what they do not want.

A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want. A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want. And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is what they do not want.

Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, you are picking up a thread of pride and self-esteem that has been almost but not quite, oh no not quite, not ever broken or forgotten.

When you convene you will be reconvening, with a sense of not wholly the power, not yet wholly the power, but a good
sense of what was once in the honour of your grasp.
All right. Forget, or don’t forget, the past. Trumpets and robes are fine, but in the present and the future you will need something more.

What is it? We, the people, cannot tell you yet, but you will know about it when we do tell you.
We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we
have no mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.

Edwin Morgan

In My Father’s Footsteps

1936 copy

My mum and dad in 1936.

I’m a bit of a Luddite, but IF I’ve managed the technology correctly, my book In My Father’s Footsteps will be free on Amazon on December 26th and 27th 2014.

Several years ago, I traced Dad’s footsteps from the village in France, where he was stationed in 1939/40 as a young private in the British Army, to the bloody beaches of Dunkirk. It was one of the most important journeys of my life.

My Dad was born on December 25th, 1914, the first Christmas of the First World War. He would have turned 100 years old this Christmas Day. Sadly he died when I was only twenty-four, so I have now spent more of my life without him than I have with him. He was a lovely man and I still miss him.

If you are interested in reading the book, please click here.

Merry Christmas. Wishing you and your families health and happiness in 2015.

 

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style -Day 12

COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET

It might seem odd that my last ‘favourite’ thing in my Twelve Days of London is a flower market, but you have to remember that, when J and I flew out of Calgary, we left behind temperatures of minus 30C with windchill. To be faced with such colour, and a LEMON tree – an actual real lemon tree – it was a true feast for the eye.

lemon trees

The Columbia Road Flower Market operates every Sunday from 8am until 3-ish. And it doesn’t just sell flowers.  You want a Christmas tree?  They’ve got Christmas trees!

thistles

The street also boasts an eclectic collection of independent shops, art galleries, vintage stores and coffee shops, so if flowers aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of others things to see.  (And it’s only a 10 minute walk from The Geffrye Museum, one of my favourite museums in London.)

lumbio2  indeer

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 11

HIGHCLERE CASTLE

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Highclere Castle, December 2014

I love watching Downtown Abbey – trying to figure out where I’ve seen the outfits before – and I also love Christmas Markets. So when J called me back in October to say there was a Christmas Fair on at Highclere Castle in December, was I interested… well, of course the answer was ‘Yes’!  (I’ve just checked out the website and it looks like tickets for some spring/Easter events are already sold out, so if you’d like to visit Highclere in 2015, book your tickets asap!)

wreath

Christmas Fair, Highclere Castle

 

We were lucky with the weather which was cold but sunny. We took the train from Paddington to Newbury, and from there a taxi to the castle. (Taxi is approx 16GBP each way so it’s a bit pricey. There is no taxi rank at the castle for the return journey, so ensure you have a cell phone with you and get a card from the driver who takes you out there so you can call to be picked up at the end of your visit.)

folly

Jackdaws Castle, Highclere Castle, December 2013

 

 

The exterior of the castle and the surrounding parkland is just as stunning as it appears on the TV show. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside. Also, unfortunately, the Christmas Fair was held in the downstairs rooms, so we didn’t get to see them set up as they are on TV – and they were very crowded – but we were able to view the upstairs rooms.

Was it worth it? If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, definitely. Even if you’re not, it’s a beautiful house. And if you’re a fan of Ancient Egypt, you will know that it was the fifth Earl of Carnarvon who discovered Tutenkhamun’s tomb along with Howard Carter back in the 1920s.

doorhandle

Door knocker, Highclere Castle

My one piece of advice; if you’re interested in seeing the rooms as they are portrayed in the TV show, don’t visit when there is a fair of any kind running. Save your visit until you can take your time and savour the rooms as they should be viewed.

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 10

MUSEUM OF THE ORDER OF ST JOHN

I may not have attended Hogwarts, but my school did have ‘houses’. Rather than being sorted by a magical hat, our gym teacher lined us up and counted down the row, “Smith, Montgomerie, Crawfurd, St John.” I found myself in St John; our colour blue and emblem the Maltese Cross.  I couldn’t have told you anything about the history of St John, although the fact that local neighbourhoods boasted names like Temple and Knightswood should have given me a clue.

gate

St John’s Gate. Clerkenwell, Museum of the Order of St John

So when J led me to St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell last week, and told me we were going to visit the Museum of the Order of St John, I was excited to finally learn something about the history of my house from (cough) all those years ago.

Briefly, in 1080, monks under the leadership of Brother Gerard built a hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims in the Holy Land. Called Hospitallers, they cared for everyone, no matter their faith. With the coming of the crusades, the order was militarized and became known as the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Over the next few centuries, following defeat to Muslim forces, the order retreated first to Cyprus, then to Rhodes then finally to Malta. When the Templar Knights were forcibly disbanded, their wealth was transferred to the Knights of St John. They remained in Malta until the island was lost to Napoleon in 1798.

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Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell

In 1140, the Priory in Clerkenwell became the English HQ of the Order of St John. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the 1530s, the priory was seized. For a while it housed the offices of the Master of Revels – who licensed plays, including Shakespeare’s – then a coffee-house and finally a pub which Charles Dickens used to frequent.

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St John Ambulance

 

 

 

 

 

 

The modern order of St John came into being in 1888, its principal charity in the UK being the St John Ambulance (to teach first aid to the general population). Providing medical care in both world Wars, they also returned to their roots in the Middle East by founding the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem which still exists to this day.

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Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell

Like Charterhouse, which I talked about a few days ago, the Museum of the Order of St John is a hidden gem of a place. It’s open to the public Monday-Saturday, from 10am-5pm, and entrance is free. Guided tours are available Tuesday/Friday/Saturday at 11am and 2.30pm on a first come, first served basis, with a donation of 5GBP is suggested.

Every time J and I go back to London, we try to explore a ‘new’ area.  Although this year our focus was on Spitalfields, Clerkenwell is a fascinating district and I don’t doubt we’ll be back again to explore it in more depth.

And next time you’re at a hockey game or football match, and see St John Ambulance personnel in attendance, take a moment to think about their 1,000 year history.

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 9

SOMERSET HOUSE

If you’ve ever seen the movies Love Actually, Goldeneye, Sherlock Holmes, The Duchess, Shanghai Knights or Last Chance Harvey (amongst others) then you’ve caught a glimpse of Somerset House, just off The Strand, in London. Known by many (of a certain generation) as Register House, it was, until fairly recently, where official hatch, match and dispatch certificates were filed. (Birth, marriage, death.)

The first building in this location was a Tudor Palace, and it remained a royal palace for many years, housing three queens, including Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. Extended over the years, it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1770 to be replaced by the present Somerset House, designed by architect Sir William Chambers, and built to house the Headquarters for Offices of State, especially the Navy and Taxation.

somerset tree

Somerset House Ice Rink, December 2014

With official departments being moved out at the end of the 20th century, much of the building was opened up for public use. Somerset House now hosts the Courtauld Gallery, shops, cafeteria, museum, concerts, summer fountains and winter skating. (For winter skating, it’s advisable to book tickets in advance as many dates/times quickly sell out in advance.)

fortnums

The Fortnum and Mason Christmas Arcade, Somerset House 2014

 

During the Christmas Season, the famous Piccadilly store Fortnum and Mason takes over one of the ground floor wings to provide a beautiful shopping arcade. Fortnum and Mason was founded in 1707 by footman William Fortnum who sold candles made from wax stubs left over from the Royal Household. Over the years F&M became famous for their travelling food baskets, and sent over 10,000 Christmas puddings to the Western Front every year during WW1.

 

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Part of the tour of Somerset House.

Tours of various parts of the building that are normally closed to the public take place on Tuesdays at 12.45 and 14.15. Tickets are only available in person on the day and cannot be booked beforehand. For more information, please click here.

When Somerset House was built, the Thames was much wider – there was no Embankment – so boats sailed right up to Somerset House. Nowadays there is a small museum where the boats docked, with audio-visual displays depicting the evolution of the buildings on that site from earliest times to present day.

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Memorial Stone. Somerset House

Given that this was once a royal palace with a chapel (and graveyard), there are still some memorial stones to those who were buried within its grounds. One in particular caught my eye, the date of death being 1691/2.  I’ve seen that before on old gravestones and never quite understood why. How can you have 1/2 or 5/6 or 8/9 as the last number on a date? The answer is to do with the changeover from the Julian to Gregorian calendar, with the last two numbers reflecting the date according to both calendars. (The Gregorian calendar, which more accurately reflected the solar year, was introduced into some European countries in 1582. Canada, the US and the UK adopted it in 1752 with Turkey being the last to introduce it in 1927.)

If you are interested in visiting Somerset House, please click here for more details.

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 8

MUSEUM OF BRANDS

outsideTucked away in a mews in Notting Hill, you’ll find the Museum of Brands, a gem of a trip down memory lane, opened by consumer historian Robert Opie in 2005. He began his collection in Inverness in 1963 when he decided to keep the packaging on his packet of Munchies instead of throwing it away. Now, the museum boasts a fabulous collection of consumer goods and packaging from the 19th century up to the present day.

imagesIf the name Robert Opie isn’t familiar to you, you’re bound to have seen his ‘Scrapbooks’ of life over the past 100 years in bookstores in Britain and abroad.

Visiting the Museum of Brands offers you a familiar, but half-forgotten world, waiting to be re-explored.  “Remember when…?” “I remember having one of those…”

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Gift Shop Museum of Brands.

For students of marketing, it’s a fascinating lesson on the importance of branding. Trace the evolution of a bottle of Johnstone’s baby powder, or a tin of Tate & Lyle syrup, or tin of Crosse and Blackwell soup, or Cadbury’s chocolate bar, down through the decades (or centuries!) and you’ll discover the essential brand doesn’t change.

This is a fun way of learning history. When were some of your favourite sweets invented?
Crunchie – 1929
Terry’s Chocolate Orange – (a particular favourite of mine!) 1932
Black Magic – (I remember my Dad buying these for my Mum) 1933
Rowntree’s Dairy Box – 1936
Quality Street – 1936
Cadbury’s Roses – 1938.  (Remember the advert, Roses Grow On You?)

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Televisions lining the wall in the cafe, Museum of Brands

And when you’re sitting in the museum’s cafe, wondering what to do with the wrapper on your KitKat bar, (throw it away or start a collection of your own) sit back and watch the TV adverts of old playing on one of the screens lining the walls. How many jingles do you remember? ‘For hands that do dishes…’ ‘Everyone’s a fruit and nut case…’ ‘Murray mints, Murray mints, Too good to hurry mints…’ ‘The Esso sign means happy motoring…’ ‘My name is Bond. Brooke Bond!’

For details on the museum, its location and opening hours, please click here to check out their website.

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Portobello Road

And afterwards, why not take a stroll down Portobello road, a mere stone’s throw from the museum. All and all, a lovely day out.