Sunday, 29 November 2009

Friends of London Zoo

Towards the end of November 2009, Alexander and I decided to visit London Zoo again, and became Friends of ZSL (Zoological Society of London). This means that we can now go there as often as we like, for the next year, for free. We can also visit Whipsnade Zoo for free. Other perks include receiving a copy of the zoo magazine, discounts in the shop, and 2 half-price tickets for others etc. And nowadays, of course, the zoo is very ecology-focused and aims to save various endangered species.

Here are some more pictures that we took of some of the animals whilst we were there.

This heron was wild - not part of the actual zoo, but enjoying some of the otters lunch (dead mice!!).

Rosamunde Pilcher: best-selling author

Rosamunde Pilcher is another author that I discovered recently. Once again, I was quite persuaded by the book cover! This was of Rosamunde Pilcher's book,'The Shell Seekers', published by New English Library, London, 1987. The cover was of another lovely beach and seaside scene, with two children walking along the beach. Here is the book cover:

I did also read the blurb on the back of the book this time though, and flicked through the pages, to see if I liked the way in which the author had written the book. I liked the general look and the feel of it all; I thought it would be a book that I would enjoy and engage with. And once again, how right I proved to be! I bought the book in Waterstones and chose it over other books, that also looked appealing on initial inspection, but which I then rejected, because I was not so keen , on browsing, on the way in which the books appeared to have been written.
It was yet another book that I could not put down. The story is about a mother, Penelope Keeling, trying to somehow deal with her three adult children, who really did not treat her in a very nice, loving and caring fashion. Olivia, though, is the best of the three; she at least respects her mother's decisions - but then again, Penelope always loved Olivia more, and that was because of her own fate in love. The other two (Noel and Nancy) seemed far more bothered about what money they could get out of Penelope.

Anyway, the story is interwoven wonderfully with art, because Penelope's father was the famous painter, Lawrence Stern. Now, Stern's painting, 'The Shell Seekers', which he gave to Olivia, hangs in a room in Olivia's home. Her children are keen on the idea of her selling this, along with some panels and sketches of Stern's that Olivia has. When Olivia realises all this, she makes her own decisions. She sells the panels and donates 'The Shell Seekers' to an art gallery. She spends a little of the money on a luxury holiday for herself and takes two young people (her companion and gardener) along with her. None of her own children would go with her. These two young people then fall in love, much to Olivia's delight. In her will she then leaves the panels to the young man.

Penelope then sadly dies of a heart attack. Noel and Nancy cannot at all understand why Penelope made the decisions that she did in regard to the paintings, but Olivia does. In some way or other, love conquers, because in the last few pages, the two young people (Damus and Antonia) get married and Olivia is invited to an unexpected special celebratory wedding lunch.

'The Shell Seekers was one of the BBC's Big Read Top 100 Best Loved Novels.

There is a little additional story to me buying and reading this book though, which gives it an added dimension. I was reading the book whilst waiting for a train - now there is nothing unusual about me reading books on trains! But what was unusual was that a lady interrupted me and said how good this book was, as are all the books by Rosamunde Pilcher. And that the books by her son, Robin Pilcher are also very good, she said. Well, I was most surprised, and in fact, quite taken aback! I told her how I had started to select books from bookshops and libraries by the look and feel of them more than I had ever done before and how successful this was proving to be for me. Furthermore, that I was very keen these days to find and read novels that I could quickly and easily engage with and really enjoy. Life is too short to be reading books that leaves one cold and alienated and where one is not able to finish them etc. The lady very much agreed. In this frame 0f mind, I also recommended the authors Douglas Kennedy and Erica James to her, that I had also discovered by this route (see my previous blog entries on 'Douglas Kennedy' and 'You can't judge a book by its cover?'). The lady said that she liked Rosamunde Pilcher's books because they were written so well; and that they were interesting stories, and with no swearing etc. I did think the book was just a little old-fashioned in this regard - I mean, Penelope is introduced as being more or less an old lady, when she was only in her mid-60s. Heavens! But this is a minor criticism, compared to the warmth, wonder and intrigue that flows throughout the book.

Usually, I can quickly tell the value of a non-fiction piece of work these days; it seems that the same thing is now starting to happen to me with fiction. This also fits in with me reading more novels again at the moment (over non-fiction reading) and with my thoughts turning more and more to novel-writing. I was also interested to discover that Rosamunde Pilcher began writing when she was just 7 years old and published her first short story when she was only 18 years old.

I shall definitely, now, be reading more of Rosamunde Pilcher's books!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

'Hidden Talents' by Erica James

This book was such a one-off that I decided that I just had to give it a blog of its own - particularly as I am reading it at this particular point in my life.

Erica James is an author that I have discovered recently - see my previous blog entry on 'Serendipitous Moments' - 'You can't judge a book by its cover?', where I refer to her books.

Well, I went into one of my local libraries the other day and picked up 2 more books by Erica James - if I find an author and/or musician that I particularly enjoy, I like to get to know, enjoy and appreciate more of their work. So, I borrowed 'Hidden Talents' (published by Orion Book, London, in 2002) in this frame of mind, without reading much of what it was about, on the back of the book.

Anyway, I discovered that 'Hidden Talents' is about a Writer's Group. Why this is particularly significant for me right now is because, although I have read fiction all my life, it is only now that I am very seriously turning my thoughts to the idea of writing a novel myself! So, it all seemed quite fortuitous. The Writer's Group in 'Hidden Talents' consists of 5 interesting characters; Dulcie Ballanytne who runs the group and is in love with a married man; Beth King who is facing empty-nest syndrome and is having a relationship with a cyberman (!); Jack Solomon who is rebuilding his life after his wife leaves him for his best friend; Jaz Rafferty, a teenager who writes as a way of escaping from her boisterous family and Victor Blackmore, a conceited man that thinks he is well on the way to writing best-sellers, whilst no-one else in the group rates his work much!

A couple of quotes particularly struck a chord with me.

One is where Jaz Rafferty "...withdrew and immersed herself in books, reading herself into other people's lives, happily escaping her own." (p.8) I know that feeling very well; and I am sure that many other people read novels for these reasons as well. Another is a comment about writers writing about themselves.

" was glaringly obvious to Beth that she, Jack and Jaz were writing about themselves. Apparently most writers did this when they embarked on their first novel." (p.148)


Anyway, I won't say any more, other than to recommend the book and to say that, once again, this book also has a lovely cover - this time of a lady sitting on a bench in a park, reading a book.

Here is the cover.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Shopping at Christmas Time in London with Helen and Phil

On the weekend of 19th-22nd November my cousin Helen and her husband Phil from Gloucester came to stay with us, and we all went shopping and window-browsing in London. We shopped in Greenwich and Covent Garden; and also saw some of the street entertainers in Covent Garden. Helen bought lots of Christmas presents - and some lovely, pretty and unusual presents at that. But for various reaons I have cut my Xmas shopping right down and have decided that cards will usually now suffice!

We also went to see the Christmas lights in Oxford Street. Also, saw and heard the SOAS Rebetiko band on the evening of Friday the 20th November, who were very good. Our friend Les Levidov invited us to it and he plays the violin in the band. There are some 25 people in the band altogether. G2 in SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), where it was held, was packed. A few people also danced. Rebetiko, we learnt, is the rebel music of Greece (the 'urban blues'). It includes "songs of prison, hashish, love, emigration and desperation."

Then, on the Sunday we had a short (albeit a wet) walk on Wanstead Flats and in Wanstead Park. We also went into The Temple in the park, and saw the exhibition about the fascinating history of the park. The park was once the grounds of a great estate, Wanstead House. The heiress of the estate married a no-gooder, who gambled all the money away. The house had to be dismantled brick and brick and all the contents sold. The Corporation of London bought the grounds cheap and still own them, thereby providing much pleasure to the local community.

In addition, Helen, Phil, Glenn and I had lots of very enjoyable conversation together, covering many topics. We discussed the Vickery's, for one thing and how we first got to really know and like each other. Helen's father, Richard Vickery was my mother, Mabel Turney's (nee Vickery) brother (my mother being one of seven). Helen and I first got to know each other when we were still in our teens - I was 16 years old and she was 14 years old. We used to stay with each other in our parents homes then, go for long walks together, listened to lots of music and did lots of chatting etc. We discovered that we liked the same type of music and the same sort of fellas!! We also went youth hostelling in the Yorkshire Dales and Pembrokeshire in Wales whilst still in our teens, did lots of walking and had a great time.

I showed Helen our grandfather, Clement Augustine Vickery's nautical books. She had not seen them before. We also talked about our Auntie Irene a little - it was through her that we got to know each other. She thought that we would get on and how right she proved to be! Irene Littler (nee Vickery) being the sister of Mabel and Richard. They have all passed on now; only one of the seven is still alive - Aunt Jean. Helen has a brother and a sister, so her brother of course is carrying on the Vickery name.

When in our teens, Helen helped me to think about the types of fellas that attracted me. Although she was the younger one, she had quite a big influence on me here! These days, Helen and I have many interests in common - more than ever, in fact. This includes a love of music, books, arts and crafts, walking in the countryside and cycling. Like me, Helen adores Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' , for example, and Colin Firth's superb acting as Mr Darcy. Who else could possibly come near to it, one wonders? - well, no-one much apart from Richard Armitage, in my view. The part that Richard Armitage played as John Thornton in the BBC production of Elizabeth Gaskell's 'North and South' was breath-taking. Also, the plot has some similarities to 'Pride and Prejudice', but with a clear political dimension as well. Thornton owns a mill in the north of England, and at one point, the workers go on strike, for example. Here is Richard Armitage being interviewed about it all - see Helen and I also like the same sort of clothes, jewellery and ornaments etc - which is why we all had such a great time window-shopping together.

Helen and Phil's son designed our 'Flow of Ideas' website for us (, which we have been very pleased with of course. Now, he has moved on and his studying for a photography degree at Southampton University.

All in all, we had a really lovely time. Now, we look forward to the next time that we can spend some time together!

Here are some digital photos of our various escapades!

Greenwich Market

Having a meal out in Greenwich - Helen, Phil and Glenn

SOAS Rebetiko Band, playing on 20th November 2009

SOAS Rebetiko Band, playing on 20th November 2009

Our friend, Les Levidov, is playing 3rd along from the left in the back row

Christmas festive reindeer at Covent Garden

Helen and I in Covent Garden

Christmas Tree in Covent Garden

Christmas decorations in Covent Garden

Covent Garden

Stall selling hand-painted silk products in Covent Garden

Covent Garden

Christmas decorations in Covent Garden

Christams decorations in Covent Garden

Christmas lights in Oxford Street

Christmas lights in Oxford Street

Christmas lights in Oxford Street

Christmas lights in Oxford Street

Christmas lights in Oxford Street

Feeding the ducks on Wanstead Flats

Phil and Glenn in Wanstead Park
(suddenly turned cold, windy and then wet!)

Two swans with their four offspring in Wanstead Park -
I do not think I have ever seen a family of swans like this before.
I just had to take a picture of it!

Phil, Helen and Glenn in Wanstead Park

Monday, 16 November 2009

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats is an area of green open space, that is near to home, and we often go for walks there, especially at the weekends. The Flats (both Wanstead and Leyton Flats) are part of Epping Forest and they are administered by the Corporation of London. It is truly wonderful to have this area in the East End of London, and so near to us as well.

Many recreational activities take place on and around Wanstead Flats, including walking, football, cricket, jogging, cycling. horse riding, kite flying and model aeroplane flying. It is very much an area that is enjoyed by a wide variety of people; including children, dog-lovers, keep fit enthusiasts, senior citizens etc. There is also a wide variety of wildlife on the flats. In particular, there is Alexandra Lake, where we often go to feed the ducks and watch the wildlife. On and around the lake there are Canadian geese, seagulls, coots, swans, common wagtails, magpies, moorhens, herons, woodpeckers, pigeons etc. etc.

In addition, there is an organisation entitled 'Friends of Wanstead Flats'. The 'Friends' hold meetings periodically, and they aim to ensure that Wanstead Flats remains a valuable, free green open space for the community.

Under the byelaws, cattle is allowed to graze on the flats. When I was a girl, many cows did, indeed, graze on the flats - and sometimes wandered into the road as well! Very surprising - to see cows wandering about in the East End of London! This was later stopped, although sometimes the idea of bringing them back has been raised. It is important that the byelaw for grazing remains, because this ensures that Wanstead Flats remains a green free open space.

For more information about Wanstead Flats, see

The Golden Fleece family pub is on the edge of the flats, and this is also a favourite of ours.

On Sunday, 15th November 2009, we decided to take some pictures of it all. Some readers might well be surprised to realise that such a beautiful place exists in the East End of London.

Also, nearby to us is the City of London Cemetery and Wanstead Park, and I will 'feature' these in future blog entries.

So, here are some of the digital photos that we took.