Saturday, 29 September 2012

Finials on Washing Lines ...

Father Basil Jellicoe (1899 – 1935) was a clergyman in the Church of England, a housing reformer best known for his housing work, which started when he was a Missioner at the Magdalen Mission in Somers Town, London.

Somers Town street
 It was here, west of the British Library, that Jellicoe founded the St Pancras House Improvement Society (as it was originally known) and several other housing associations in London, Sussex and Cornwall.

Somers Town is the area between the three mainline north London railway termini: Euston (1838), St Pancras (1868) and Kings Cross (1852, together with the Midland Railway Somers Town Goods Depot (1887) next to St Pancras, where the British Library now stands.

St Pancras Railway Station
When I was visiting my mother at St Pancras Hospital I would walk up through the Somers Town housing estate, past Old St Pancras Churchyard where Mary Shelley was originally buried, and where the Hardy Tree is to be found ...

... in the mid 1860s, the young Thomas Hardy was in charge of the excavation of part of the graveyard, in the course of the construction of the Midland Railway’s London terminus, he placed the gravestones around the sapling – now known as the Hardy Tree.

Thomas Hardy tree, Old St Pancras churchyard

Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, their daughter Mary Shelley, the architect Sir John Soane, and Charles Dickens, as a child, amongst others have lived within the auspices of Somers Town.

Over the years from the late 1780s when the first housing appealed to middle class people fleeing the French Revolution, new housing continued to be built amongst the fields, brick works and market gardens on the northern fringes of 1780s London, marking Somers Town (pre the railways) as a good neighbourhood.

Wyvern Finial - c/o
An Urban Veg Patch blog
York Rise, Somers Town
Within a hundred years the houses were multiple occupation, and overcrowding was severe with whole families sometimes living in one room, as confirmed by the social surveys of Charles Booth and Irene Barclay.

Jellicoe’s St Pancras and Humanist Housing Association wanted to prove that the poorest tenants could live in good quality homes: where the properties were more than just housing ... there could be plenty of outside space for gardening, leisure, works of art and sculpture.

The sculptor Gilbert Bayes (1872 – 1953) is remembered for his interest in colour, his association with the Royal Doulton Company, and his work in polychrome ceramics and enamelled bronze.

Thistle Finial for
washing line post c/o
Urban Veg Patch blog
Bayes was commissioned to decorate the courtyards and gardens in the new housing developments being created in the 1930s.  Bayes and Jellicoe were inspired by folklore, the Bible and medieval romances ... so many of the streets are named after saints, and any sculptures and art works reflected these interests.

Ceramic finials were created by Bayes to decorate the top of washing-line posts ... and the British Library had allocated a tiny (well large pillar base!) plinth  to remind us of the Humanist Housing Association’s aspirations of the 1930s for their community housing – this, I found, near the British Library’s cloakrooms!

The tiny display at the British Library
c/o Phillip Dawson Flickriver photos
Here I found my inspiration for this post to remind us of days gone by ... Somers Town cut through by the railways, 20th and 21st century roads and developments ... the new St Pancras International station is here ...

... yet being remembered for the fine New Sculpture movement sculptures that tied in with the changes being encountered through the Art Nouveau period and enlightened thinkers of the early 1900s.

Rose Finial c/o
Urban Veg Patch blog
Jellicoe and his associates wanted the slum housing conditions to be improved, and ... if suitably desirable ... then perhaps the residents would take greater care of their properties and area.

The 20th century saw other changes in Somers Town, some good some bad – as is to be expected, now with our more ‘enlightened’ approach to life Somers Town has retained its diverse cultural communities.

Dolphin Pub in Somers Town
Jellicoe’s concern for social improvement in housing and living conditions, while his connections with philanthropic patrons and artists during his life, enabled an area of London to develop a uniqueness that we see today in the district ...

... and one that is fortunately available to us via a minute display that I found downstairs at the British Library with extra information via modern technology that is the internet.

Washing Lines will never look the same again ...

Flickriver photos of Somerstown by Phillip Dawson

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Kew at the British Museum: North American Landscape

Banner high – the Perennial Lupin with its bumblebee – invites all visitors to the British Museum to explore the North American landscape ... without leaving central London.
British Museum's banner

Silly me – goes in to the Museum and asks where’s the display – outside they say!!  So outside I go – and yes the ‘flower bed’ in front of the Museum has been planted up as a trail through the Florida swamps, the Missouri prairie to the forests of New England and Canada.

For the past five years the Royal Botanical Society, Kew have teamed up with the British Museum to create a landscape on the Museum’s West Lawn (I see that’s what it is called!) ....

.... bringing Kew into the heart of London – and by wandering through the landscape, visitors can discover more about the relationships between humans and plants – from Native North Americans and new world encounters to modern conservation projects.

British Museum as the backdrop to the North American
landscape on the west lawn
Each of the planting areas was labelled up, the plants marked, and the areas were given brief annotations ... while the landscapes have been themed to complement the public programmes at the British Museum and Kew.

So far the habitats of China, India, South Africa and Australia have been celebrated in these annual partnership programmes – combining demonstrations, talks, lectures and study sessions – supplemented with videos, a slideshow of the star plants and the general pleasure of finding a landscape vista on the Museum’s West Lawn.

Devonian Botanic Garden, Alberta, Canada
(Pinus flexillis, Eastern Rockies)

Perhaps next year I can go up and see the next landscape and follow it through the seasons – its early planting, to summer flowering, to the autumnal glow, before the plants fade into their winter dormancy.

I was at the Museum to see two other exhibitions ... but I think I need to go back to visit the North American Galleries to see some of the native peoples’ close relationship with the landscape and its vegetation, which contributed so much to early European understanding of botany and natural history.

Black Walnut
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (worldwide) is working in partnership with organisations in Canada and the USA via the Seeds of Success programme to address threats to habitats and support the re-establishment of plants and eco-systems at risk.

Paper Birch tree
Native seeds are collected and stored in seed banks in locations in North America, with duplicate collections held at Wakehurst Place – Kew’s country garden where the Millennium Seed Bank is housed.

Sweet Grass
The American organisations involved are: Bureau of Land Management; Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Chicago Botanic Garden; Zoological Society of San Diego; North Carolina Botanic Garden and New England Wildflower Society; while in Canada it is the Devonian Botanic Garden in Edmonton, Alberta.

The British Museum’s press release highlights:

·        Sweet grass (Hierchloe odorata) – that is used as incense because of its vanilla scent and is sacred to many of the indigenous peoples of North America, who believe smoke from burning dried sweet grass welcomes in good spirits.

Many of the grasses’ natural habitats of wet meadows, lake-shores, stream banks and low prairies have been lost ... so the plant is now endangered.

·        Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) is a member of the daisy family and is a prairie wildflower that thrives in open woods, meadows and pastures.

This species was first described in England in 1789 by William Aiton (1731 – 1793), the first curator of Kew Gardens, in his catalogue of plants cultivated at Kew (Hortus Kewensis).  Loss of habitat means this species is now becoming endangered.

·        Paper Bark tree was used by Native Americans to collect the sugary sap from trees like the Silver Maple, or the beautiful souvenirs made by Native women from the bark for trading.

·        Other plantings include Lupins, Echinacea, Maples, Black Walnut, Tulip Tree and carnivorous pitcher plants.    

Orange Coneflower
With the diversity of peoples we have in London, and those visiting each year, these landscape projects give everyone an opportunity to remember how diverse our planet is, yet remind ourselves that natural vegetation is under threat and many plant species face extinction ...

... by spreading the word, much as Kew and other botanic organisations are attempting to maintain the status quo of our natural vegetation, we can remind ourselves and others of the importance of our natural habitat and learn to protect it.

Let’s join together and help raise awareness of the importance of each of the world’s eco-systems and their absolute necessity to this life of ours, especially those locally around us ...

... let’s start there – preserve and nurture a little of everything ... let’s celebrate our botanical gardens, our allotments, our weed patches, our gardeners who encourage wildlife to remain with us for the centuries ahead.

The British Museum site provided much of this information, with some additional information from the Kew site.  Obviously the inspiration came from my recent visit to the British Museum.

Press release from the British Museum on this exhibition
Detailed press release from the British Museum
Youtube video (1.21m) showing landscape being created earlier this year.

Photos courtesy the British Museum site - except the Canadian one that came from the Kew article above.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 22 September 2012

BBC Olympic Games Coverage ...

I recently went to a lecture at the British Library given by Dave Gordon, Head of Major Events for BBC Sport, on the Transmission and Viewing of the Olympic Games ...

BBC Coat of Arms
"Nation shall speak Peace unto Nation"

Having the Olympics in London gave the BBC a huge opportunity to showcase their work to the world, yet we, the audience, had a huge expectation ...

... we would want to have the possibility to watch every venue (40+), every event start to finish, every session, every sport, every aspect, every day – so not a moment could be missed ...

... they had all the strands of the Beeb to consider – Radio, TV, World Service, local tv stations too – then the 24 digital streams going out with 2,500 hours of coverage – at Sydney ... the BBC only had 300 hours of coverage on BBC 1 and 2 ....

British Library: sculpture -
Sitting on History
.... here they also had to make arrangements with Sky, Virgin and the Beeb Facebook page ... there was BBC Twitter (which was monitored 24/7) ...

... of course they had to stick to programme listings ... and there were the big screens around the country, allowing the community to come together during the Games, torch ceremonies, etc etc

Then we need to remember the other events that were going on around Britain during this year, the different audiences who needed to be catered for – Children’s TV (CBBC), local tv and radio stations ...

CBBC Website
CBBC had its own website, children’s story recording, the torch route, Blue Peter (the flagship children’s tv programme) ...

The Torch Relay was broadcast from a converted horsebox,  which  followed the torch all the way around its 70 day route ... 8,000 miles, 66 evening celebrations ... and more.

Torch Relay Horsebox - BBC 
The Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival ...  what an array of artistic, musical, architectural, literary et al events – the “Pentathlon of the Muses” ... all needing to be taken into account in the scheduling.

Then there’s the normal BBC scheduling of their regular programmes that needed to be taken into account.

The BBC Proms had to be catered for ... the annual 8 week (mid July – mid Sept) Promenade Concerts predominantly at the Albert Hall, but with events being staged around Britain – including tie-ins with the Olympic theme.

Now I’m re-reading this ... what an amazing quantity of broadcast coverage ... standard broadcasting, digital opportunities, not forgetting radio, nor more importantly the social media aspects, journalists working in the field ...

... then there’s the technology we expect now – all the interactivity ... the ‘extra’ slots, the ‘see it again/play it again’, the alarm calls for specific events, all the stats ...

Adding Cables
And I don’t understand that last paragraph at all really!  I hear the word “smart” bandied around ... and I guess that’s what technology is ... who does the glueing I’ve no idea!!

The International Broadcast Centre at the Park was the size of 5 jumbo jets and is provided by the host broadcaster, whose parameters are set by the International Olympic organisation to ensure there is neutral coverage of all events for all broadcasters, which the BBC then customised its coverage for the British audience.
International Broadcasting Centre in
June 2011

The BBC is decentralising from London and BBC Sport was one of the departments scheduled to move .... conveniently this happened in the 2012 summer!? 

The heart of the BBC Sports’ web operation, Olympics news coverage and distribution was now located in the north of England at the new MediaCityUK in Salford (just outside Manchester).

Still the BBC Olympic Studios had to be at the Olympic Park ... so they hired 18 reusable shipping containers at a cost of £2.50 per day!!  This had been tried out for the Football World Cup 2010 in Cape Town – so the BBC reused that studio, customising it as necessary.

Radio 2 also broadcast from one of the containers ...

c/o The Metro - Lund Point and the
unfinished Olympic Park in 2011
The BBC rented vacant areas of the top five floors of the 22 storey tower block, Lund Point, with views across east London and into the Park as a base for their Olympic and Paralympic coverage:

... BBC News and the BBC World Service used this space ... they built a studio on the roof, accessible via laddered scaffolding, to which ‘everyone’ climbed!

There were commentators at every sport – whose commentary and feeds  were available for other countries to tap into ...

 Each day the BBC1 was allocated to the Olympics and its events ... BBC3 opened at 9.00 am (instead of 7.00pm) – all the BBC Parliament bandwidth was transferred to the BBC3 transmission.

White Water Canoeing at Lee Valley
A nation was united:  28.7 m of us watched the opening ceremony, 27.3m of us watched the closing ceremony ... their target audience for Beijing was 75%, this year the target was 85%, but 91% was reached.

They took stats of everything, and are still evaluating those ... fully researched ...

Sport-On-Line reached 24million, while their mobile reach was 12million ... for breaking news, results, video, audio and analysis ....

The advent of Digital gives us, the audience, (seemingly) a never ending choice ... as well as High-Definition Television (HDTV) providing a resolution that is substantially higher than standard ...
Hadleigh Farm in Essex - Mountain Biking

... to which we’d all been subscribed to in the digital roll-out, the south-east being the final region in May of this year – new tvs or converter boxes being required ... and retuning, while it was all fine tuned.  I only use the basic tv set up – so am not aware of all the ‘goodies’ available – I’ll get there!!

Then Dave Gordon gave us an idea of the future for TV ... in about 20 years a much more interactive system, when the resolution would be sixteen times greater than today – Super Hi Vision tv screenings would be wall size.

BBC boxes!

The BBC had to work with all organisations to ensure they meet their public service charter ... so BBC Sport is looking at the lessons learnt from the Olympics and readying up for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014 ...

... they thought they might have 3,000 schools participating in the Olympic coverage – but it was 5,000 schools from around the world ...

The IOC has a Youth Olympics every four years (winter and summer) following the style of the Olympic Games ... the next one will be in 2014.

After Sydney 2000 there was a pile of letters to answer ... at London 2012 the BBC receive instantaneous feedback and need to react accordingly ...

Portland, Dorset - Olympic Sailing venue

They have social scientists on board to monitor, help with planning, scheduling and generally study society and human behaviour ... so improvements can be introduced.

The BBC had first call at the London Olympics, but usually get preferential treatment at Olympic Games due to the BBC’s worldwide coverage ... there is a lot of give and take amongst broadcasters during these international events – there is very little in-fighting.

The BBC is a broadcaster ... not a narrowcaster – and for the not so popular events they would include extra coverage within other programmes: the sport would get coverage, yet the probably tiny audience would have a sampling of the British aspects to the sport, but the sport and its successes would be highlighted elsewhere – eg in the One Show, or on Breakfast TV ...

Olympic Village
During the Olympic and Paralympic Games – the newly gained British expertise was being tapped into by the Brazilian authorities – for their Olympics in 2016 and the 2014 football World Cup ... and the BBC would be at the forefront broadcasting these events to its UK and global audiences.

Looking back on the talk and giving myself a better idea of the challenges the BBC and broadcasters face – it has opened my eyes as to how much is involved in just getting the sport into our sitting rooms, cars, mobile phones, high streets etc ... and the BBC costs us just 40p a day for all the pleasure and information it gives us.  There are no adverts - bliss!

BBC Sport covers a vast array of events, is constantly evaluating itself, has a global scrutiny going on – for the Olympics by the IOC, other events by the various sporting bodies  - the BBC values its position in global broadcasting ... while the British public have a first rate reputable broadcaster ... which cannot allow itself to be seen as biased in any way.

Look at what can be achieved with a few boxes!

The logistics of it all is immense ... the technicians, the electricians, the camera crews, the artistes, the journalists, backroom boffins and administrators, the actual broadcasting – all has to be assembled, co-ordinated,  scheduled ...

... and that was just BBC Sport ...

This is a piecemeal post – but gives an overview of what goes on behind the scenes in getting any sporting event broadcast ... it was an interesting British Library event ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Where the wind blows – music will be made ...

Jurassic music along the coast of Dorset ... the wind chimes across the cliffs from 180 million years ago ... another 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival installation ...

Instruments across Dorset's rolling hills

More than 500 instruments were set up by the French composer Pierre Sauvageot, to be played by the wind ... the one mile stretch of Harmonic Fields overlooked the Olympic sailing course of Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour.

A musical walk through a pergola

The instruments were suspended on posts along the coastal path in Dorset, in six different locations ... as Mr Sauvageot said “The Dorset Coast is a wonderful place to bring Harmonic Fields – its rolling hills and wide seascape the perfect place for the audience to immerse themselves in their sounds ....”

Portland Harbour - the Olympic's sailing
venue - the Clubhouse is on the far left

 The audience could sit and listen, walk slowly along the cliff path, or occasionally stop and put a hat on – a musical instrument to hear the sound - as wind flows create these incredible free sounds of nature.

The 500 instruments were set out in the form of six music movements at the different locations:
  • on the landscape
  • at the seaside
  • along the cliff top
  • down into the valley
  • on the dunes
  • finishing in the disused Bowers quarry 


Cliff top seascape
The event was only staged for six days ... and I’ve only just read about it, while researching something else to post ... but this one steals the show.

Quite extraordinary I thought – and now what else have I missed from the Cultural Olympiad this summer?!  But I know many of you will be interested to read about them ... and I’ve linked the BBC sites below, also other YouTube links for overseas readers ...

Enjoy ....

BBC News – Dorset: Harmonic Fields article

BBC News – Dorset:  video here is 1.43 minslong  (possibly only UK viewers)

You Tube: A walk through wind power from the Jurassic Coast – video 25 mins ... here you get the accompanying seagulls!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday, 17 September 2012

Steampunk at the Paralympic Closing Ceremony ...

Well now I learn something new once again – as I never thought I’d write about Steampunk!  Perhaps I should have joined Alex’ genre fest ... but I see there’s 182 of you - - - have fun!

Electric Storm on the Crop Circles - let the Ceremony begin
c/o The Evening Standard
The steampunk theme at the Paralympic Closing ceremony was to celebrate all the athletes (4,200 paralympians from 164 nations), performers, creators who are prepared to “CAN DO “...

... including those who can wield a screwdriver, blowtorch sheet metal into exhaust pipes, take something apart then putting together a cranky machine ... rethinking life?

Mad Max and the Fisher King c/o The Sun

Steampunk is a genre that incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror and speculative fiction – it is a right melting pot of technology, art fashion and design  - no wonder I had trouble understanding this genre?!

This Festival of Flame sure showed us recycled parts ... it was like Da Vinci’s machines being automated with gears ... cranking around the stadium ...

Man of Fire towed by Man of Steel
c/o Herald Sun of Australia
... interspersed with sparks flying here and there, health and safety bods with fire extinguishers, pyrotechnics ahoy – reflecting our British pagan roots ...

... the festivals of Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer being depicted in this cacophony of colour, spare parts, and spurting dragon fire ...

The cavalcade - The Evening Standard

The Times’ newspaper gave me a breakdown of ‘Behind the Story’ – where it describes these fantaristic machines ... a motorcade as an ode to recycling ...

... component parts fished out of the sea, dug for in scrapheaps and salvaged from Devon beaches.  Each truck was a hodgepodge of different bits of “rubbish” with long backstories, welded together:

Clocks truck – a 20 metre crane arm s the clock hand, this truck was made out of an old fire engine.  Its creators took inspiration from Isambard Brunel, Chaplin’s Modern Times, industrialisation and Steampunk Victoriana (a la Jules Verne);

Winter truck – Scottish thistles blow torched out of sheet steel and 200 exhaust pipes representing global warming made up the truck, surrounded by a twisted Dickensian garden with railings salvaged from Kensal Rise cemetery.

Clamposaurus – A hydraulic dinosaur, his body made of 25 BMW frames welded together, his teeth and head from agricultural machinery, and his tail was a slashed tractor tyre.

Grasshopper – this was made out of aeroplane parts: the back legs were a pair of glider fuselages, the wings were those of several light aircraft, and the head was made out of a Gazelle helicopter embedded with a trampoline.

Fish - An East German army truck rescued after the Cold War and debris from the Devon coastline were adorned with 600 graffiti-sprayed hub caps by 120 school children, selected from the Olympic host boroughs.

Steamship – A ship cobbled together out of old parchment maps, a bicycle chain for a bowsprit, a telescopic mast made out of an army radar system, and wrought iron salvaged from the burnt-out west pier in Brighton.

The Grasshopper c/o MSN News

The Closing Ceremony paid homage to the eccentricities of the Britain – we had crop circles ... the Monty Python-esque parade of Mad Max style vehicles ... the music and songs by Cold Play evocating the steampunk madness of the evening ...

... yet celebrating the achievements of any disabled performer in their ability to adapt, manipulate, meld, make-do ... and all the while achieve by moving inexorably towards their goal ...

Fish Truck c/o 02varvara

I applaud you – if this is what steampunk is .. then long may it last ... dreams are made of these tinkerings ...

Alex Cavanaugh's Genre Fest today .. 

TerryGilliam – Monty Python band member: his early life makes interesting reading .... 

TheTimes Newspaper ... the extracts used to describe the monster vehicles were taken from the 10th September 2012 paper

Steampunk c/o Wikipedia

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories