Friday 29 June 2012

Tudor Tilt Yard to Sand Pit ... Elizabeth I’s birthday playground to car park ...

Two hundred years ago the Duke of Wellington commanded the British Army from here; in the 21st century the first Polo Championships were held at Horse Guards Parade ... which is more usually known for Trooping the Colour ...
Trooping the Colour pre 2012

... that military ceremony dating back to the 18th century, when the colours (flags) of the battalion were carried (or “trooped”) down the ranks so they could be seen and recognised by the soldiers.

From 18th June 2012 Horse Guards will be being converted into the Beach Volley Ball venue for the Olympic Games ... whatever next?

Horse Guards Parade - the sand is being spread about
Sand will be ‘imported’ ... fortunately we have sand near Heathrow ... so a mere 2,500 tonnes (4,115 tons) will be trucked in to create a beach at this historic Tudor Jousting site.

The work for the latest and last build of the 2012 Olympics could not begin until after Trooping the Colour, now combined with the annual celebration for Her Majesty the Queen’s official birthday – this year on 16th June 2012.

The Royal Family on the balcony
after Trooping the Colour 2012

Although the Queen was born on 21 April, it has long been the tradition to celebrate the Sovereign’s birthday publicly on a day in the summer, when good weather is more likely.

The Household Division (Foot Guards and Household Cavalry) are responsible for Trooping the Colour, while the troops still remain fully trained at Her Majesty’s Service.

A mounted trooper

Horse Guards parade was formerly the site of the Palace of White Hall’s tiltyard, where tournaments (including jousting) were held in the time of Henry VIII (five hundred years ago) .... then his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, had her annual birthday celebrations there on 7th September.

The Palace of White Hall was the main residence of the English monarchs in London from 1530 until 1698, when all except Inigo Jones’s 1622 Banqueting House was destroyed by fire.

The Palace of Whitehall by Hendrick Danckerts, c 1675.
The view is from the west, in St james's Park.  The Horse Guards
Barracks is on the extreme left, with the taller Banqueting House
behind it.  The four-towered building, left of centre, is the
palace gatehouse, the "Holbein Gate".
Before the fire it had grown to be the largest palace in Europe, with over 1,500 rooms – larger than the Vatican and Versailles.  William III, Prince of Orange, was on the throne at the time – Mary his wife (William and Mary) had died in 1694.

Since the 17th century it was used for a variety of reviews, parades and other ceremonies ... and was once the Headquarters of the British Army – The Duke of Wellington was based in Horse Guards when he was Commander-in-Chief.

Massed bands playing at a Trooping the Colour
During the 20th century it became a car park ... being known as the ‘Great Perk’ – but the Provisional IRA’s mortar attack on 10 Downing Street in 1991 ... finally led to the announcement that car parking on Horse Guards parade would be ended.

The 1st London Polo Championships in 2009, with a host of teams from around the world, were held on the parade ground.

Competitors in action .... testing

2012 heralds another type of tournament – which will almost certainly be a once off for at least one hundred years, if not a millennia, more probably ever – the hosting of the Beach Volley Ball Competition at the Summer Olympics.

Horse Guards had a test run last August ... the construction was different in scale to that occurring as I post ... a centre court was built in the actual Olympic position, 1,500 seats were erected, the sand was brought in ...

Elizabeth I - what would she think?
 ... the technology was tested, the sport was tried out, the venue was ‘cleared down’ without leaving an imprint (an essential to the plan)...

... the initial drafts were confirmed, allowing time before the actual build, to be detailed up, bearing in mind the short construct time – 36 days instead of the usual 14 months.

The Mall during 2012
The kilometre long Mall (0.62 mile) – synthetic iron oxide pigment giving the Mall that red carpet effect – will once again be festooned with - this time - Olympic bunting ...

... now Horse Guards will hold a centre court, two warm-up courts, six training courts, seating for 15,000 ... along with paraphernalia required for an arena, a broadcast site etc ...

Beach Volley Ball arena in preparation
... a further 3,000 seats will be added on the Mall which will see the start and finish of the road walk, marathon and road cycling, along with the Paralympic marathon – the final event of both Summer Olympic Games 2012.

The logistics and thought going into the provision of the Games within London is, I found, very interesting and I’ll post about that later –

... but as far as Beach Volley Ball on the jousting ground of half a millennia ago is concerned, spectators will watch the action with the London Eye, Big Ben and a Grade 1 listed building facade as their background.

It will be one of the spectacles - as over 4 billion people will watch these Olympics – partly to see the competitions, but probably just as much to see London from a completely different standpoint ...

... Extraordinary does not really describe it ... it will be quite fascinating to see it unfold ....

... but in the meantime I, and I'm sure many Brits, would like this terrible weather we're having to disappear somewhere else - that sky looks foreboding - but yesterday the sky chucked it down, the tornadoes flew, lightning flashed and hailstones stoned .... leaving us with floods, torrents, landslides, fires and general major disruption ... 

See my post on Polo here

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Outdoor entertainment - Olympian style in the Palace gardens ...

Under a Big Top in Kensington Gardens story telling comes to life ... this is the latest collaborative venture backed by Three Sixty Entertainment group ... the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the Park.

The Big Top c/o CTS Catholic Compass

Where the anticipation of a circus arriving in town, the imaginary magic it brings to children around the ring, then that envelopment of the audience within the progress of the story.

Under canvas there are no walls, little scenery (because where would you put it without blocking the audience’s view) – a dramatic space is created where everyone has equal vision ...

The Lion and the White Witch c/o The Guardian

... there is magic, circus and complex choreography ... ‘tree people’ drop from the ceiling on ropes, snow falls from the roof, mist hangs in the air ...

... this is olympian drama at its best ... where actors have to be physically fit ... they spend hours practising ... skipping, doing press-ups and back-flips ... they have to walk on stilts and bungee jump into the air ...

... their final audition was like an horrific boot camp --- for a play, a daily performance .... not a few rounds of an Olympic event.

c/o The Guardian:  Lucy and Mr Tumnus
The animation and video designer (in charge of the images projected onto the large concave canvas skin that runs all around the inside of the tent) ...

... provides the main innovation of this ‘state-of- the-art 360-degree projection effect’ which promises that ‘the theatre is literally part of the show’.

As you would expect there is a wardrobe, a lion and a witch ... the wardrobe telescopes, up and down, out of the stage ... when smoke billows out from its sides, the actors  look like they are coming out of a rocket ...

Max Humphries with his 'Aslan' design

... the lion, Aslan, has taken on a role of his own ... the puppeteer creates – discards – revises – creates – abandons – part creates – reinvents ... eventually Aslan metamorphosed – the puppeteer has succeeded  ...

... then David Suchet’s (the 'Poirot' actor) takes on the vocal role of Aslan ... he ‘met’ the three puppeteers as they put the lion through its paces to help him prepare to voice the role ...

... Suchet said it is rare for an actor to meet the character that you’ll be portraying in real life ... so having seen this shire-horse size of Panthera Leo ... we’ll be hearing Aslan in full low throttle ...
Kensington Gardens in winter

The White Witch remains true to the tale – enslaving the children, ensuring the canvas is enveloped in the dark gloomy white of perpetual winter ... while the saga unfolds, good comes to the fore and the tale is told.

You wonder what Lewis and Tolkien would have made of the theatrical productions from their stories – bearing in mind they were both Oxford University Old English and mythic scholars of the 1930s ...

Original Hardcover - 1950

Lewis seeing Narnia recreated on stage, and now in a Big Top with projected scenery where Mr Tumnus, the fawn, is tattooed with henna and woad body art ....

... or Tolkien when Maoris were seen doing the haka before battle ... perhaps gold miners doing the Gumboot Dance might have been preferable for Tolkien born in the mining region of South Africa.

Susan's picture of Cardiff Castle from Bute Gardens

Susan Sheid in her blog Prufrock’s Dilemma mentions walking in Bute Park abutting Cardiff Castle on her recent Musical Journey to Wales, when she linked the singing wafting across the air – as coming from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

The link to this production of Narnia .. is that no less than 14 graduates from the Royal Welsh are all actively participating ... including Max Humphries the puppeteer, Tom Scutt the show’s designer, et al ...

So the smell of saturated grass, the trudge through the gloopy mud, the rain-lashed tent, the picnic tables outside, the tent’s soft darkness beckoning ... as Narnia comes to life – all make for a beguiling typical British tented summer show ... where anything is possible ...

Roll up, roll up ... Narnia’s come to town ....

Kensington Palace from the gardens
The Telegraph article, by Sally Williams, from which much of this information was taken – for the full detail please go here.

Susan Scheid’s blog post:  Wales Diary, Art and the Aquabus ... Susan is incredibly knowledgeable about music, art and literature and always entices with her ensemble creations for each blog post – enjoy.

Here’s the YouTube video (2.32) of the puppeteer Max Humphries taking us through the process of making Aslan for this production.

The Show:  Here are more snapshots about the production, together with the charitable arm of the enterprise ... art and as part of the 'Get London Reading' Campaign.

 Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday 21 June 2012

Gold: Power and Allure ... 4,500 years of gold treasures from across Britain – Free Exhibion!

Happy 30th Birthday Prince William and enjoy your day with your wife, family and friends in Anglesey ... a quiet celebratory interlude between army duties and the formalities of royal life.

Yesterday I went up to Goldsmiths’ Hall to see an Exhibition the Goldsmiths’ Company are hosting in association with the World Gold Council.  The press had given it a golden glow – and it was free ... an opportunity not to be missed.

Anglesey coastline

Prepared to be dazzled – and should you be in the London area ... please get to see it – just north-east of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The two Princes had established a charitable foundation in 2009, of which the Duchess of Cambridge is now a Patron – as the three of them share similar charitable interests – and the Foundation in conjunction with the Goldsmiths’ Company is supporting those in need.

The Gold Irish Lunula,
c.2000 - 1500 BC

The assembled collection is the most comprehensive and ambitious exhibition ever staged at the Goldsmiths’ Hall, and tells the rich and previously untold story of Britain and gold, demonstrating the country’s unique golden heritage.

It features more than 400 gold items ranging in date from as early as 2,500 BC to the present day, including rare and exquisite works of art, pieces of exceptional historic significance and others which are esoteric, curious and amusing.

Gold and Garnet pendant brooch
- Canterbury collection c 7th C
Anglo-Saxon burial site

All the exhibits displayed over three floors at Goldsmiths’ Hall have been loaned from distinguished institutions and private collections and many have rarely been seen in public before.

St Vedast's Churchyard - now
courtyard with bench seats

I walked past the Church of the Guild, St Vedast’s, which had a lovely little courtyard away from the hustle and bustle of the City outside ... where I ate my lunch ...

The range of objects is incredible – some are predictable, from golden chalices and baptismal fonts, to a mechanical mouse, the Middleham Jewel, a 15th C diamond shaped pendant inset with sapphire and blue enamel ... recent Anglo-Saxon finds – the Staffordshire Hoard – to lunulas circa 2,000 – 1,500 BC.

Gold and pearl mechanical mouse c 1810

This is unlike any exhibition you have ever seen before or are ever likely to see again.  It looks at gold in Britain via its many facets – geological, historical, scientific, monetary, artistic and symbolic, and it is full to bursting with beautiful things and curious facts.

'M' brooch mid 14th C

With 100 different institutions and private collections lending to this show – this is a golden mass convergence ... this metal that means so much, that has changed the course of history ...

As The Daily Telegraph’s Richard Dorment states ... ‘an exhibition about gold could have been a lugubrious trawl through the vaults ... but it is the wit and high spirits of this show that makes it so much fun’ ...

Gold Court Jerkin for the coronation of
George 1  (1714)
Where else would you see a gold and pearl mechanical mouse from 1810, a gold tea pot, a 21st C gold handkerchief and a hat of woven gold wire thread ... or an oak tree in leaf, complete with tiny caterpillar and snail?

This engaging, educational, thought-provoking, awe-inspiring exhibition illustrates, that, even today, this most precious metal has the power to captivate audiences with its universally mesmerising allure.

Golden threads
I will come back to this Gold Exhibition as there are some truly wonderful tales to tell ... and for those of you who can visit before July 28th – please do ... and for those who can’t visit I hope you can get a feel for these golden declarations of workmanship through the ages ...

Some wording taken from The Brochure for the Exhibition and The Telegraph (Richard Dorment;

An article and short video (2.20 mins) can be seen here at the Evening Standard - well worth a look.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday 17 June 2012

George Orwell, “Never Seconds” blog by Martha – pot-luck ...

Read on if you would like over 5 million page views ... or 2,338 comments on one post and you’ve only been blogging since April ....

Martha with her website "Never Seconds"

Surprisingly - this is not Jubilee orientated ... but a couple of things caught my eye and though perhaps they are not obviously linked – pot-luck took over ... and who knows when success will strike – even if you’re not looking for success.

Martha Payne, aged 9, started a blog “Never Seconds” – taking a photo of her school lunch every day and commenting on them, rating them as part of a campaign to get them improved – entrepreneurship at a young age.

Kilmory House - home to Argyll & Bute
Horror upon uproar, bureaucratic officialdom kicked in and generally all hell let loose – the papers picked it up, those twittering types picked it up – Members of Parliament, journalists et al ...  food authors sent their support ...

...  success comes when it does ... sometimes when we’re not looking for it as happened to  Martha, for other authors posthumously as in Orwell’s case – we never know, but as bloggers and particularly authors we must write ...

Even if authority shuts us out and bears down with closure ... public pressure will prevail and she will be blogging once again ... while Orwell too continued to practise his craft, until TB took his final curtain call.


I have just had a look at Martha’s website “Never Seconds” blog .. and it is just clicking up visits as I sit here typing ... I think it started at 5,451,490 or something ... it’s now a over 600 .. in other words views are going faster than seconds!! 

Want to save time – stop watching Martha’s pageviews!! Over 720 now ... 20 minutes or so later .. she’s clocked up over 3,000 page views – success or what?  I’ve been gone about 3 ½ hours and she’s now added over 100,000 page views in that time!

An Israeli school lunch - see Martha's blog 7 June 2012
love the plate, as does Martha ...
Most importantly – in writing the blog she is raising funds for Mary’s Meals – a charity that feeds 600,000 school children in 16 countries ... 

Here’s Martha with “My Story” for the charity where she explains how she became involved ...

I found a quote too ... “If the Wi-Fi isn’t working, it’s ok.  Most people don’t have fresh water!”....

Feeding children and reminding us most people in the world don’t have running water or fresh water for that matter ... brings our own challenges of the financial crisis, slightly into perspective.

I subscribe to Julia Hones’ blog “My Writing Life” – where she’s posted about Orwell’s Essay: Down and Out in Paris and London ... I was intrigued ... clicked over and was taken aback.

She starts off “If history repeats itself, reading Down and Out in Paris and London can help you understand the effects of the current world financial crisis.” ... just drew me in to read the rest ... the last paragraph alone is of great relevance in today’s world.

I then looked at Orwell’s page in Wikipedia to find out about his life ... and found a link to the Orwell Prize, which carries an article by Gordon Bowker entitled “Orwell’s London” ... fascinating stuff – as I had no idea about Orwell .... the fact he was called Eric Blair, he went to school in Eastbourne, went to Wellington before gaining a scholarship to Eton.

Sleeping Rough
He embraced the down and out culture he was writing about ... living in kips and spikes – doss houses, under bridges, work houses etc ... walking from Lambeth, east London down to the hop-farms of Kent to find work in the fields ...

So this medley of thoughts is an interlude before normal service will resume ...

Well if they come looking for the crumbs of penmanship under my table I will be suitably extremely surprised – Jubilee posts will recommence shortly ... as I have realised that there will be plenty of glossy photos, magazines etc out there ...

... but these posts, will in the coming years, offer  .....  a ‘conversation starter’ or talking point to stimulate interest .... with some eclectic oddities tucked away for added extras – memory joggers.

Life is a blur at the best of times – but with this year ... it is positively racing by ... and I’m sure that most of us have not realised the significance of our Jubilee year – sixty years on the throne and the impact on history that this year will make.

Having the Olympics in a few weeks too – 2012 is certainly one for the British history books ...  so normal service will be resumed – this post probably is part of normal service .. it just sits amidst Jubilee and Olympics ... while the tennis is on – which I have not mentioned!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Jubilee Picnic at the Palace ... held on 4th June 2012

Wet lawn, manicured gardens, palace background, atmospheric dampness uneasily lingering awaiting its signal once again to release the lifeblood of our world ... but not that day ... let the Picnic at the Palace begin.
Buckingham Palace, the gardens
and road layout in 1897

I just hope the 5,000 lucky ticket holders, each bringing one guest, had waterproof rugs to sit on ... it looks like there were some garden chairs  ... but it was a real picnic setting ... while I’m sure their adrenalin rush had settled in and they’d have enjoyed the occasion any which way ...

... an invitation into the gardens at Buck House, a delicious picnic, a grandstand seat for the Jubilee Concert afterwards, and then all those unique memories that none of the rest of us will have had.

Waitrose lorries being security
checked in The Mall
Waitrose supplied that picnic – and this is their story ... a special convoy of lorries set off from Bracknell (just west of Windsor) at 3.00 am, driving north to the depot in Leicester! ....

.... picking up the 13,000 picnics, and driving south again to Buckingham Palace ... Waitrose say it was a carefully co-ordinated operation ... but to me seems slightly cracked! – driving north to drive south ... but who am I to wonder!
Waitrose's message to the Queen

The convoy job was over-subscribed ... then 17 of their drivers were finally chosen ... a prestigious job that comes along only once in a lifetime as one driver noted and who felt he was honoured to have been chosen.

One of the big challenges was keeping the lorries in the correct order on the roads, as they had a special message for Her Majesty typographically set atop the vehicles .... probably not seen by many ... what a great idea: ... the eight lorries had the words interspersed with one ‘emblematic’ lorry ...

Ø Congratulations
o   Emblem
Ø to Her Majesty on
o   Emblem
Ø her Diamond Jubilee
o   Emblem
Ø from Waitrose
o   Emblem

Her Majesty the Queen
with Katherine Dewar

The 11 year old, Katherine Dewar, from Chester, designed the winning Diamond Jubilee Emblem.  The top 30 children, from a submission of 35,000 entries, attended a special tea party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate their achievements.

Katherine Dewar's design

The winning design will be seen by millions on everything from posters to commemorative tea cups for many years to come.  It features a crown poised above the Union flag with columns of diamonds down either side.

The Diamond Jubilee picnics were donated by Waitrose, and created over six months by world-renowned Michelin chef, Heston Blumenthal, in conjunction with the royal chef, Mark Flanagan, who had catered for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding – remember that!?

Mark Flanagan & Heston Blumenthal

... there were 10,000 lucky ticket holders, while the other baskets would go to the organisers and technicians working behind the scenes, before we were entertained with the Diamond Jubilee Concert.

Picnic Basket, poncho and some contents

Wicker Hamper ... chilled country garden soup, followed by tea-smoked Scottish salmon and Diamond Jubilee chicken. Dessert was a strawberry crumble crunch, crown-topped chocolate cakes and a cheeseboard served with chutney – a picnic fit for the Queen – washed down with Moet champagne, beer and/or water.

The contents of the picnic (enlarged)

Steel drum, pan
The Queen had tried every dish – the royal seal of approval had been given and all diners were able to enjoy their fare to the sounds of a steel-pan band from St Vincent and the Grenadines (one of the Commonwealth countries) contributing to the picnic atmosphere.

A number of Royal purveyors are offering ‘take-away’ picnics or products eg Fortnum and Masons; Paxton & Whitefield’s (Cheesemongers) offer this ‘Fit for a Queen cheesecake’ made with cheeses with a royal association, for example Auld Loghnagar, made in the shadow of Balmoral Castle.  (Oh! and I’m not sure this cheese was included ... but the photo quite delighted me ... so that is here!)

Paxton and Whitfield Cheesemonger's 'Jubilee cheesecake'

Heston’s decision to stick to traditional style simple foods with a twist met with general approval ... the contents were ...

ü Garden soup made with plum tomatoes, cucumber, mint, oil and vinegar
ü The potted salmon includes Lapsang souchong tea-smoked Scottish salmon with crème fraiche, lemon and fresh chives
ü Fresh bread rolls and butter

ü Diamond Jubilee Chicken featuring a blend of spices*
ü Vegetarian option: mushroom parfait
ü Crudités of celery, carrots and red peppers

ü Two cupcakes: lemon and caraway Madeira; and chocolate indulgence cupcake decorated with a chocolate crown ... and sprinkled with popping candy

ü  Strawberry compote, meringue, cream, elderflower cordial and rosewater  (the organic Florence strawberries were grown on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, harvested and frozen last year in preparation for the picnic – very forward thinking and probably a good thing in the circumstances of our weather this year)

ü Cheeseboard with West Country farmhouse cheddar and Red Leicester crunch (I knew there was a reason to go to Leicester!) ... served with Duchy Originals (founded by the Prince of Wales in 1990) – oaten biscuits and harvest chutney

ü Drinks: Moet & Chandon champagne, Cobra beer or Hildon water (natural mineral water from beneath the chalk hills of Hampshire)
ü Extras: 12 hand wipes; clear plastic cutler; napkin; poncho and flag

Enjoying the picnic regardless of the weather
There was a drinks table ... where the champagne, beer and water could be collected ... and I’m sure coffee and tea would have been available too.

* Heston Blumenthal’s first job was in a curry house (per Wikipedia) – which might explain his interest in spices, but not his scientific approach to cooking that pervades his recipes now – as he seeks the future of food.

Well life for the rest of us returns to normal ... while for the Royals life goes ... the Queen has been up in Nottingham today, with her grandson and his wife, opening playing fields for the local schools – part of the Diamond Jubilee tour – under the auspices of the ‘Fields in Trust’ charity.

Prince William in giving the speech today said “My grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, who very sadly cannot be here today, has been president for 64 years”, while the Queen has been patron throughout her reign.

Picnickers enjoying the fun ... 
The Queen then went on to Burghley House for a Diamond Jubilee Picnic, while her husband remained in London at Buckingham Palace recuperating.

Yesterday the Queen, with other members of the Royal family, hosted a jubilee garden party for 3,500 guests at Sandringham – all of those invited were being recognised for their contributions to local communities.  10,000 macaroons had been baked for the occasion.

The next major event is to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday on Saturday, 16th June, with the Trooping of the Colour, which travels between Buckingham Palace, The Mall and Horseguards’ Parade.  Let’s hope the Duke can make some form of appearance.

And as Alice might have said ... 

They’ve changed the guard at Buckingham Palace –
When Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
They have big picnics now inside the grounds.
I wouldn’t be Queen for a million pounds” ...

                    c/o  When We Were Very Young (1924) by A. A. Milne

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories