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Saturday, 25 April 2015

Very different days this week

It's been quite a week. A strange week. And when I say strange, I mean an emotional, shocking week in some respects.

At the beginning of the week I heard from my friend Shannon. She has a benign brain tumour, but her latest MRI scan shows that it has grown again and is now perilously close to a major vein. Her neurologist says he and his colleagues cannot operate. It is too dangerous. Next stop for her is a date with a radiation oncologist, if that's an option.

On Monday I stayed behind after work  to interview a man and as he talked, tears began to run down his face. He asked me to forgive him for being too emotional. There was nothing to forgive, he was recounting one of the most pivotal parts of his life, and besides, tears were trickling down my face too by now.

On Tuesday, I went to another interview in a large Leicestershire village, with a lovely older couple who have been married sixty six years. I knew they had quite a story to tell, but I could never have guessed just how surreal their story was.

Doctors often say that when they see a patient, they talk about a certain ailment, sometimes it's a trivial one, sometimes it needs treatment. But many times, it's just as the patient is leaving the room. that they will turn and say while I'm here doctor, I must just tell you about another pain, ache or problem. They then come back and sit down, and the doctor realises this is a major problem or fear that the patient has.

There's a similar moment when I'm interviewing someone, just as we finish talking, when I switch off my digital recorder, and put my notebook away. As I put them in my bag, whilst hunting for my car keys, something tells me there's something more. That's what happened on Tuesday....I found out right at the end I was talking to a man who had been one of Hitler's bodyguards, but he didn't think that was relevant.

When I say it was a jaw dropping moment, I almost lost the power of speech. I can't tell you much more now, because those interviews won't be broadcast until 7th May, but I can tell you they've given me lot to think about.

I was going to end this blog with something nice that happened this morning. Something which put a  smile on my face. But I can't do that. As I've been writing this, I've had a phone call from one of my sons who is desperately worried about one of his closest friends. This gorgeous boy who's stayed with us so many times and who has the loveliest smile and nature, is in Nepal. A couple of days ago, he was starting an expedition, a trek, an adventure. Since the earthquake, there's been no contact since. I 'm hoping with all my heart everything is fine and dandy, he's well and it's just that he can't access the internet or phone.

This news has just knocked me for six. It has been quite a week.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Nesting days

At the back of what was the outside loo of our cottage in days gone by,

 is a wooden and wire storage space. It's covered with ivy and virginia creeper and houses various bits of paraphernalia such as plastic garden pots, some logs etc. It isn't pretty and may look pretty awful to you, but to me it's a very special place.

At the moment this space is acting as a maternity home to not one family but two.

At the top amongst the ivy is a little wren's nest and we've been watching this little songbird for a while now in the garden.

She's been flying around for a week or so, but it was only a few days ago that Mr Thinking of the Days realised that she had a nest so close to the house. There are eggs waiting to hatch.

Meanwhile in the profusion of ivy underneath the roof, there is also a robin's nest. We've always had robins around  the cottage, they're quite cheeky and like to perch on the wooden fence outside the kitchen window. And when it's cold, they pop onto the window ledge as if to say "Hello, any chance of some more seeds or nuts?"

But there's frantic activity at the moment with a robin constantly flying in and out with food, so we know the eggs have hatched. And as robins have two broods a year, this could be the start of a new robin dynasty.

Meanwhile, I hope to see all the chicks when they're old enough to fly, and luckily Boo and Eric our trusty terriers will protecting the birds by ensuring no cats come close by.They don't like cats, but do like to lie on the patio in the sun idly watching the birds fly above.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Days enjoying other gardens and helping to raise money too

I can't tell you how lovely it is to see the sunshine  these days. With the soil growing warmer and more colour in the garden, it's time to head out to other people's gardens  for inspiration, to appreciate what they've achieved, and to relax with a piece of cake after a nice walk .

Yes, the Open Gardens season has begun....

The Yellow Book details hundreds of gardens all over the UK which open each year for charity, and since its foundation, the National Gardens Scheme has donated over £45 million to nominated beneficiaries, of which nearly £23 million has been donated within the last ten years.

That's a lot of money, which is shared between charities such as Macmillan Cancer Care, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Carers Trust, Parkinsons UK and others.

There's a garden not too far away from me, just across the county border in Northamptonshire in the village of Clipston which has opened for many years. I've been meaning to go and see it for ages, but never quite seeming to get around to it. Well, on Easter Monday, I made a special effort to get there...and I'm so pleased I did, because it was the last time it would be open for the charity.

The garden is called The Maltings, and it lies to the side of a lovely red brick cottage, on a gentle slope.

To the left of the garden behind the house, there's a beautiful spring garden, a mass of colourful primroses and spring bulbs.

Two ponds are connected by a stream

And the owner Julia Connell has erected lots of signage,


and oh so helpfully, there are masses of plant labels, which is not only useful but an outright necessity when there are over forty varieties of roses in the garden, as well as sixty types of clematis.

There's also some amusing and interesting features...including this owl, which was used as a decoration for the one of the obstacles on the cross country element of the eventing completion at the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games.

And many of the visitors were admiring this unusual planter....

At the top of the garden, as well as a large lawn, there was a large barn, where the useful in a garden became quite decorative too.

I must confess I like looking at the utilitarian parts of a garden....the strawberries grown in hessian bags, the raised vegetable beds, and the old greenhouse with a very productive peach tree.

And then it was time to sit in the sunshine with a cold drink, admiring the magnolia , and everyone else's choice of cake. There was a fair selection of delicious looking cakes and good size portions too. My mother and I rather regretted having had so much to eat at lunchtime.

The main thing I regret though is not having visited this garden before. I now won't be able to see the seventy varieties of clematis or smell the scent of the forty types of roses there in summer.

The owner of the Maltings Julia Connell has created a wonderfully diverse garden here

and she and her team of helpers have raised a staggering amount of money during the years the garden has been open. Over this Easter weekend alone, 1046 visitors came to see the garden, and in total during the  ten years that Julia has been opening., there have been 8,895visitors. This has meant that altogether, Julia has raised £25,000 for the National Gardens Scheme and nearly £10,000 for local charities too.

 That's what I call good news...and a lot of hard work. Sadly, the Maltings won't be opening again, but in the meantime, there's so many more gardens to see and enjoy which will be open this year. I've promised myself that I'm going to be visiting a fair few. Why don't you do too?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Richard III...Sunday 22 March 2015

It's a day I will remember for a very long time. Richard III's cortege made its way slowly around Leicestershire before finally arriving in Leicester. There, crowds were's estimated that 35,000 people were in the city itself.

The sun shone, there was such a happy atmosphere as people watched the progress of the procession on big outdoor television screens and on a corner of Jubilee Square, Morris dancers stamped their feet, clicked their sticks to music which would have sounded so familiar to King Richard III.

Outside Leicester Cathedral, the crowds waited patiently, many clutching white roses for Richard

While Mabon the police dog did a last minute sweep of the  Cathedral Gardens

It was time for me to put on my lanyard and walk into the cathedral for the service of Compline with the rest of the invited guests.

Once in the Cathedral, I saw Simon Dixon who is the Special Collections Manager at the University of Leicester...he was in charge of the Bible which was later placed on Richard's coffin.

This is no ordinary bible. It a Latin Vulgate bible printed in 1481 during Richard III's lifetime. At the time of Richard's reign though, no Bible had been printed in England,- this one was printed by Johannes Amerbach in Basle, Switzerland.

It is beautiful ....

It was then time to sit and wait  for the service to begin, to admire the Cathedral ,which I see so often, all dressed up, to watch the lights flicker on the polished brass and wood, to chat to my neighbours sitting next to me, and to have a look at what form the service would take.

 Suddenly there a hush, all we could hear was the whirring of a helicopter overhead, and the sound of horses hooves outside the cathedral

We all stood as the Tower Bell began to ring. The coffin was led into Cathedral by servers and clergy including the Very Reverend David Monteith, the Dean of Leicester, His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols , Archbishop of Westminster and the Right Reverend Tim Stephens, Bishop of Leicester.

I was positioned near to the entrance so the King's coffin passed within touching distance. It was a surreal moment, being aware of being so close to the mortal remains of  a King slain on the battlefield five hundred and thirty years ago and to be surrounded by the strong  scent of incense.

The service itself was memorable ,with the soothing ritual of Compline and the cathedral being packed with everyone from royalty and descendants of peers of the realm who fought at the Battle of Bosworth  to members of the public from all over the world .

 There was genuine emotion and a sense of a unique occasion, and above all there was the mediaeval and renaissance music from the organist Simon Headley, the Leicester Cathedral Choir and the Leicester Cathedral Chamber Choir. It was spellbinding as their voices rose to the rafters of the cathedral, especially during The Motet.

The hairs on the back of my neck tingled as I listened to this haunting, moving work which was composed for the memorial service of John F.Kennedy using the words of Prudentius who lived in the fifth century.

At the end of the service, I had to hurry back to the real world, to work. To interview people at the service, to interview the remarkable Pete Hobson who had been in charge of the whole Richard III project. He couldn't stop smiling. "Are those smiles of joy or relief that everything went so well?" I asked. "Both!" he replied with another huge grin.

Then it was back to the BBC studios, a hop, skip and a jump away from the Cathedral, to go on air describing what I'd seen and to edit some interviews to be used later that night and the following day.

And on leaving work, my friend Victoria Hicks, who is a television journalist for BBC East Midlands Today, and I walked back into the Cathedral Gardens just to stand for a while and reflect on the day, and to have a photo with Richard III's statue....

And for a final look at the Cathedral in the quiet of the night.

What a day. What a wonderful day.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Days of Richard III fever

It's here...the week when the world's eyes are on Leicester and the Richard III events taking place.
We've been waiting a long time for Richard to be re interred here at Leicester Cathedral  ...since 2012 in fact, when his body was discovered under a council car park.

This is a still from the TV documentary of the press conference in Leicester's ancient Guildhall when it was announced that it could be Richard. I'm the one with brown hair in the cream jacket, frantically recording and writing notes.

A week of events began yesterday at the University of Leicester.....where hundreds of people attended talks by some of the key players in the finding of the last Plantagenet King of England. There's numerous other events taking place within the next seven days including the actual re interment ceremony on Thursday.

But today is all about a journey. A journey which started within the last hour. Richard 's remains have been taken from the university and the cortege will drive to Fenn Lanes farm which is now known to be the actual battlefield on 22 August 1485. There will be a short private ceremony held there, before the cortege arrives in Dadlington.

I was out around the county last week looking at the route of the cortege and chatting to organisers of events along the scheduled procession.

The village of Dadlington is an important one, because the church there is the only one where soldiers who died on the battlefield are buried. On the left of the photo , just inside of the church wall they lie, about two hundred of them. No one knows who they were individually or even if they were soldiers fighting for Richard III or Henry Tudor - it doesn't matter, they are buried here and are remembered.

Richard's cortege will pass through here just after 1pm, stop at the church briefly and then go through the village, where villagers will be marking the occasion with a hog roast, music, and a specially brewed beer .So, some merrymaking as well as a dignified sense of occasion.

Richard's journey continues  onto Sutton Cheyney, a small village a few miles away. It was here at the beautiful St James Church that Richard was thought to have heard mass on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth.

The cortege will be led into the village by a guard of honour in full plate armour before stopping at the church for another short service

It's then onto the Battle of Bosworth Heritage Centre for a service conducted by the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Tim Stevens in front of two and a half thousand people, and then through to the village of Market Bosworth for a short service, and then past the park opposite Bosworth Hall  where there'll be huge numbers of re enactors in  mediaeval costume, mediaeval music and entertainment for everyone.

The cortege then goes through the villages of Newbold Verdon and Desford, before arriving later this afternoon at Bow Bridge which marked the mediaeval boundary between town and county.

The old mediaeval bridge has long disappeared , replaced in Victorian times, but this place has a real significance in the Richard III story. Legend has it that when the King left Leicester on the day before the battle via Bow Bridge, as he rode across , his spur caught the parapet of the bridge.After the battle, when Richard’s body was brought to the town, along the same route, apparently his head struck the exactly the same place where his spur had hit it on the way out.

And of course there's the legend that Richard's body was thrown into the river this Victorian  plaque states, but of course, now we know better!

200 schoolchildren will welcome the cortege here along with the City Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby and the Lord Mayor John Thomas, and the procession will make its way up a slight hill to St Nicholas Church, the oldest one in the city. Another short service, and Richard's coffin will be transferred to a horse drawn carriage for the procession around the streets ofLeicester.

There's ten horses in the parade, some of them have come from the City of London Police and thousands of people are expected to line the route and welcome the king. A far cry from his last journey back to the city 530 years ago.

Finally, the cortege will arrive at Leicester Cathedral where 650 people will be waiting inside to welcome King Richard II to his final resting place and mark the event with  a very special Compline Service. I shall be one of them waiting inside....and I cannot wait to witness what is sure to be a very moving and unforgettable service.


Saturday, 21 March 2015

A day of Adrian Mole aged thirteen and three quarters

Sue Townsend was a Leicester girl through and through. She was funny, feisty, a brilliant writer whose book "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged thirteen and three quarters" oh so rightly thrust her into the spotlight.

I didn't see Sue very often, but one of the last times I had a really good chat with her was at the opening of a new eating place in Leicester. It was hot in there....Sue was in a wheelchair by this time and she asked me to take her outside for a breath of fresh air and a fag. " Oh, and bring us a glass of something. "I can't remember whether it was prosecco or champagne I swept off the waiter's tray  , but I brought out two glasses, and we sat outside gossiping.

Adrian Mole wasn't mentioned once.

My initial reaction to the announcement of a musical about Adrian Mole's wasn't one of absolute delight. Rather a groan, wondering how on earth this would turn out. I hadn't enjoyed the television series as much as I thought I would, and I was seriously wondering whether this new musical at Curve would work.

So, press night at the Curve, and I was sitting with friends on the second row ...feeling oddly slightly nervous. A familiar voice rang out in my ears as  someone sat down behind me..Christopher Biggins was there....oh, he is a love. So friendly and ready to enjoy himself.

So the curtain opened  and Adrian aka Joel Fossard-Jones was right there in front of us. making us smile immediately - getting Sue's lines out with naievity, self righteousness, and pompousness .

Sue's story, set in Thatcherite Britain on a Leicester council estate , unfolded on stage with a vim and a verve which swept us  engagingly on waves of laughter again and again.

Cameron Blakely playing the creepy Mr Lucas with a lusty laviousness and brio made me howl, Amy Booth Steel had me in fits of giggles as the gormless Miss Elf, (her comic timing was wonderful) and Elise Tiam Bugeja is excellent as Pandora, a bossier, more passionate Hermoine Grainger. No wonder Adrian was bamboozled. And no wonder Christopher Biggins in the seat behind me was chortling loudly throughout.

But as  Adrian's small world increasingly becomes a foreign country, through first love ,"Oh Pandora , I adore ya" and the very gradual realisation that his parents are getting divorced, there were tears too with some touching scenes between Adrian and his mum played by Kirsty Hoiles.

Rosemary Ashe , as the sniffy, ascerbic grandma performed the stand out song of the night with a pathos and a fury which was mesmerising, and made my eyes fill up with tears. I don't know whether Christopher Biggins was shedding a tear too, because he'd gone awfully and uncharacteristically quiet.
But not for long though, Sue's wit, soon had us all laughing and cheering, and as the final curtain came down, there was a standing ovation plus whoops and a hollering from a rapturous audience. I've not seen something like that for a while. Do yourself a favour, and's perfect for intellectuals like Adrian and others. 

So how many stars would I give it out of ten? Nine and three quarters...and the only reason I've knocked off a quarter , is the fact that the notoriously difficult to nail Leicester accent  was constantly veering along  the M6 to the West Midlands  by some of the cast.
 The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged Thirteen and three quarters , The Musical  is at Curve Theatre in Leicester until April 4th.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The first few days of a holiday

The week before going off somewhere flashes past in a blur of washing, packing, finishing work, feeling stressed. Have I got everything? Have I remembered the passports?

And then on a cold and miserable night in mid January, there's hours to be spent hanging around an airport, waiting for the first of three flights which will take us to paradise. To Thailand to be precise. Birmingham to Dubai, Dubai to Bangkok and then Bangkok Airways to the island of Koh Samui.

I always think that the first few days of a holiday have a slightly surreal quality to them, and this year was no exception. There's something so magical about seeing the sun and feeling warm. Within a day we go from being wrapped up in woollen jumpers, thick tights and boots (well I did...Mr Thinking of the Days doesn't wear tights...) to lying on a beach revelling in the sunshine.

There's a delicious laziness, realising that I don't have to go to work, I don't have to do this or that. Routine goes out of the window. I have choices. If I turn right from our bungalow on the beach at the Maenam resort, within sixty paces, I am here.

A lovely little spot within the shade of the coconut palms just in front of the hotel restaurant. A place to sit by the sea, and choose what I would like for breakfast. Fresh fruit, oh yes mango, perhaps pineapple, or bacon? Why not, and perhaps an egg?

Or if I turn left, and move ten paces, I'm here. Time to go for an early morning walk before breakfast.

If I turn left onto the beach, I walk along this way

If I turn right....

Or I can choose to sit with another cup of coffee and do nothing at all for a short while, greedily drink in the beautiful view or read in the shade.

Anything is possible....and that's the delight of those first few days of any holiday. That sense of liberation, laziness, being open to the moment, and wallowing in the newness and beauty of where we are.

It's difficult not to smile.....