Diary of Lakeland events

I try to keep up to date with events, activities and festivals in the Keswick area and more widely in the Lake District and Cumbria, but it is easy to miss something.

This last week however I have come across a great resource, a website which covers the whole of the area. You can search the Wordsworthcountry website by 36 different towns from Alston to Workington. Below we include a snapshot of Keswick for the May to July 2014 period.


On Hadrian’s Wall

We’ve been travelling beside the magnificent Hadrian’s Wall between Wallsend and the shoreline of the Solway Firth in West Cumbrian and exploring bits of it for years.

But one area we had never visited was Vindolanda and the Roman Fort five to six miles to the west. This year we put that right with our cousins and their children at the February half term. It’s an hour and a quarter’s journey by car from The Larches and a must for anyone interested in this fascinating period of our island’s history.

Vindolanda, a large fort for 400 soldiers, built by the Romans to the south before the wall was constructed, and the adjacent village have been excavated comparatively recently. With watch towers, communal latrines, baths and a tavern adjoining the barracks, the site provides an excellent insight into the organisation and practices of a conquering power at the extreme limits of its empire.

The adjacent museum has a fascinating collection of notes and letters inscribed on small stone tablets. These alone for their diversity and range of subjects make the site worth a visit. There’s a cafe serving food there too plus an area outside for eating your own food.

The fort site to the west offers some excellent posters, has a short film of the Wall (commenced in about AD 122) and gives an opportunity for children to try on a Roman tunic, armour and head protector.

This site is ideal for setting off for a short or longer walk up and down the Wall at probably its most exciting point. The attraction of the museum and Wall can be seen from the revealing comments below from Ellie and Owen:

Today was the most historical and intriguing day ever. We marched along the uneven, Roman stone wall. As grey as dawn, the stones went up and down in crags. We felt like soldiers…” (Ellie, aged 11)

It was fascinating to see all the armour, weapons and chariots at the museum. We dressed up as Roman warriors – on went the red shirt, on went the tunic and finally the shield and helmet. We looked ferocious! We just had to see the Wall.

High up on the enormous ridge, Hadrian’s Wall snaked along like a huge stone basilisk, severing the two domains like a knife – Celts to the North, Romans to the South….” (Owen, aged 12)

Nelson Mandela

Yesterday we watched on the television the drama of the day long celebration in Soweto of Nelson Mandela’s life. it was a moving experience and reminded us of that day in February 1990 when we had watched his release after 27 years of imprisonment on Robben island. Could we believe our eyes then about what was unfolding for South Africa and its apartheid system?

Like so many others now I have found myself asking how I might try to measure up to this extraordinary man’s example with his commitment to justice, his compassion, his humour, his love of others and his lack of rancour against those who had been responsible for his long years of imprisonment. A truly great man, whose like I will not see in my lifetime.

Over ninety world leaders had come to South Africa to celebrate Mandela’s life – an indication of how significant his contribution has been not only to South Africa’s development but to the politics of the whole planet. Most moving was the speech of US President Barack Obama, whose African origins made him an obvious choice.

In a well crafted speech he talked of how Mandela had ‘not only freed the prisoners, but the jailers also’. He chose to extend his theme into a debate about poverty, malnutrition and the need for education, making a connection that some of those present would have found uncomfortable. ‘Too many leaders support Nelson Mandela and his ideas, but are not tolerating dissent in their own countries.”

Obama finished by referring to the ancient African word ‘ubunto’, which roughly means ‘humanity to others, but has the notion of inter-connectedness, ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. We have plenty to learn from Africa and Nelson Mandela.

Trompe l’oeil: ways of seeing

I’ve always been interested in words and their origins, so it came as no surprise when in my early teens my parents gave me a shorter Oxford English Dictionary for my birthday. This thumping great slab of a book with over 1500 wafer thin pages – in the days before online dictionaries – taught me that English has such vitality and richness because it has drawn so much from other languages.

Unlike France, where Government has banned the incorporation of English words into the lexicon, English has shamelessly raided French. RSVP, Poste restante, à la carte, Grand Prix are just a few common examples.

Two French phrases have always intrigued me for their conciseness and subtlety. L’esprit d’escalier (staircase wit) is the response you should have made, but only thought of too late when the discussion was over.

Trompe l’oeil (deceives the eye) has been a term in the art world for centuries, describing paintings and drawings that create an illusion, that encourage exploration of the subject matter with fresh eyes.

In a sense this is part of a wider discourse on the role of art, which John Berger explores in his book Ways of Seeing (Penguin Modern Classics).

Over the years the Trompe l’oeil ‘treatment’ has been applied to architecture and buildings and more widely in other fields; and by a range of artists like Salvador Dali, Magritte and M S Echer.

Attached in this blog posting are some Trompe l’oeil examples I have found or created with a camera in the US and Germany over the last few months.

At the top is a picture of the shop window of local store,‘Englische Antiquitaien’ in the town of Konstanz, in Germany which our Queen Elizabeth appears to be about to enter, bag in hand. Behind her a couple holding hands are crossing the street. Given the interest shown round the world in the birth of George, the UK’s new royal baby, the choice of his great grandmother may well have attracted attention and customers to the shop.

The second picture is an arresting image of a multi storey apartment block with an impressive portal in downtown Chicago, where we are staying this week. It’s near the Gold Coast neighbourhood and is in fact the work of Richard Haas, the American muralist on a blank wall.

The two photos below are shots taken in Bellingham, a port town north of Seattle near the border with Canada. The first shows two seagulls flying above some miniature sailing boats. The second is of town life in the northwest with an unusual mix of 19th century horse and carriage and 21st century motor cars. Why not suggest some explanations and titles for these two images in the Comments section below?

UK makes waves in the US

My blogs this last month may seem like a new version of Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’. The reason’s simple. Our new grandson, Finlay here in Seattle needs lots of feeding and attention. Mostly from his mother, it’s true, as the picture of Chloe (opposite) reading Finlay his first book shows.

But she needs respite and sleep, so there’s plenty of time to read and type, provided you have the skills to hold the baby in one hand and control the laptop or read the newspaper with the other!

It’s always good to have a chance when we are over here to read a hard copy of the New York Times (NYT), which is thrown onto the porch in a small plastic bag sometime before 6 am every weekday.

The NYT brings me current views and breaking stories across the world. Back in the late 1990s for instance I first heard of smoothies as the ‘politically correct’ fruit shake in a NYT article. But this time, when I was looking for tennis news, the defeat of Serena Williams in the women’s singles at Wimbledon appeared to have diluted the NYT’s interest in the rest of the event.

But I was wrong. Come the final, interest in Andy Murray revived. Not only that, but in Sunday’s edition (7th July) the final match was front page news.

Murray’s win, making him the first Brit to become Wimbledon men’s champion for 77 years, received top coverage with a picture of him after completing the third and final set. I liked its neat caption – “Rule Britannia” – only 3 days after all America had been celebrating Independence Day on the 4th July with BBQs and fireworks! See photo opposite of the giant firework display over Seattle’s Union Lake, which we watched from the house.

That wasn’t all though that the UK had to offer New York. This last Tuesday’s front page of the NYT’s Arts Section (9th July) had a huge front page battle scene photo from the Manchester International Festival.

The first two pages of the Section were devoted to an enthusiastic and detailed review of the current production of Macbeth in the city, which has Kenneth Branagh co-directing and in the title role, his first Shakespearean stage performance for more than a decade. This is being staged in the deconsecrated St Peter’s Church in Ancoats – now home of the Halle Orchestra and Choir, in which Lindsay has sung for over 20 years. (See photo below, where the Halle Choir was preparing for a rehearsal).

I’ve been arguing recently that Manchester, largest city in the north, is fast becoming a world city. Now others are starting to realise this too!