Sunday 29 July 2012

Olympics - Much Wenlock ... let the Games begin ...

The Games have begun ... the seven year countdown to the staging of the 30th Olympiad is over and a frenetic timetable of events is unfolding as I write – a few gold medals have been won by China since yesterday – the first in Shooting at Wellington Barracks in Greenwich.

Shropshire hills
2012 is being a quite extraordinary year for this small island that seems to tie so many threads of history, enlightenment, exploration, social culture and now technical expansion together in normal life, let alone during the Opening Ceremony of this year’s Summer Olympic Games.

I have to say ... it was a very English show – much of it I loved ... I still really am not keen on the 1980s and the Sex Pistols ... but c’est la vie – many are.  It was fascinating to watch and then to hear and read the comments.

Bucolic – totally ... sheep, sheep dogs, shepherds, pastures, meadows, cows, ducks, hens, horses, geese and goats ... a Shropshire hill – though I haven’t heard mention by a journalist of this link...

... the Olympic Games in its pre-nascent state originated from ‘The Olympian Class’ under the banner of the Wenlock Agricultural Reading Society in 1850:

for the promotion of the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Wenlock and especially of the working classes, by the encouragement of out-door recreation, and by the award of prizes annual at public meetings for skill in athletic exercise and proficiency in intellectual and industrial attainments.”

Depiction of rural life
The local doctor, William Penny Brookes, was inspired to create these events after he read about the premature deaths of weavers, thought to be due to lack of exercise ... do we have games for Bloggers?

The first games were a mixture of athletics and traditional country sports such as quoits, football and cricket; also included were running, hurdles and cycling on penny farthings; while there were some “fun events” including the blindfolded wheelbarrow race and in one year “The old woman’s race for a pound of tea” --- not sure how old the ‘old’ was!

Dr Brookes with
a penny farthing
The doctor also wanted the games to be all inclusive so included embroidery, knitting with some other domestic hobbies ... no-one was to die of inactivity under his auspices!

In 1859 the Society sent £10 to Athens as The Wenlock prize for the best runner in the longest race at the Olympic Games – it was won by Petros Velissarios of Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire ... one of the first Olympians.  I have to say I forget that the Ottoman Empire was so recent ...

Olympic symbols outside Velodrome
The National Olympic Association (as it became known) continued sporadically on for a few years before ceasing operations in 1883.  However Baron Pierre de Coubertin visited the Olympian Society in 1890 – which held a special games in his honour.

The Baron, inspired by Dr Brookes, then  went on to establish the International Olympic Committee which spawned the Olympics we know today; while the Much Wenlock Olympian Games continued intermittently, until revived in 1977, and are now recognised by the IOC and BOA, continuing to this day.

The mascots
Wenlock, one of the two Olympic mascots, gets his name from these villages.

So now we have this modern games at which each country hosting the Games competes with an Opening Ceremony ... as to who can put on the greatest show on earth ... but what could surpass Beijing – something that wasn’t clinical and precise ...

Lowry: industrial river scene -
title 'Canal Bridge'
Our Show was eccentric, quirky, down to earth, full of cultural references, typically British in so many ways; reminding us of our roots  - with the hymn ‘Abide with Me’ and William Blake’s Jerusalem – the common name for his poem of 1804 ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times” ...

Then onto the industrial age – Danny Boyle’s portrayal of this era was really quite special ... making me think of my post on Richard Arkwright, who is credited as the creator of the modern factory system ... as well as the silent movie “Metropolis”, the Lowry paintings, then their combination with sparks of the furnace flying ...

... Armageddon, Pandemonium or randomness looked like it prevailed as we remembered more parts of our social and cultural history – all touched with humour ... good old British humour ....
Brueghel (1563): Tower of Babel

As one commenter said – it’s probably a Show we need to watch again to get all the references and nuances ...  especially to see The Queen in her first acting role – Daniel Craig must have had fun doing that sequence.  I gather it was exposed – but was put down as an April Fool’s joke ... now the joke is on the other foot.

The wild flowers at the Park are just coming into
flower - the Orbit is in the background
I thoroughly enjoyed it ... and now need to catch up on some more of its finer points ... it was wonderful so many people of all shapes and sizes, all races were present and were included in the Ceremony – we are a very diverse nation ... while Stratford in the East End of London – that waste dump of land seven years ago ... is now a Park of superb achievement ...

Olympic Park riverside
The LA Times has written a concise article that you may like to read ... but there was so much inference within this very British production ... a Games fit for humanity rather than superpower politics of self-aggrandisement of past Openings.

The British humour won through – all played their part ... the volunteers – thousands of them – to The Queen ... and of course it had to be Bond, James Bond tempting our Majesty away from her Palace for a helicopter ride to the East End.

Rolling Shropshire hills
We were reminded of the rolling Shropshire landscape by the backdrop of Danny Boyle’s Olympic hill with its Jack and Jill path to the top of the hill ... bringing us full circle from those agricultural beginnings to this the 30th Olympiad being held in London for the third time ...

I don't think the world will forget this Opening Ceremony - it will stand apart - the Games have begun ... let’s celebrate them – win or lose ... it’s the taking part that counts.

LA Times article – can be found here

Hardwick - much loved, but very ancient
...  I wondered if he'd last the course
he did - just!!
Dear Mr Postman ... I would like to thank all my supporters over the years while I was with my mother – I really appreciate all your thoughts and comments about her passing however they were sent ... on the previous post, via email and even cards by post, or by e- card ...

We will not forget her – equally I shall continue blogging, no doubt at times referencing her or Hardwick, who I suspect will travel with me now ... Hardwick is a ‘real-life’ toy dog – a constant companion to my mother during her recent years!

You’ve all been wonderful ...

I'll be away in Scotland for a few days this week - then back to a degree of normality and blogging again ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday 12 July 2012

Gardener, Cook, Carer, Homemaker - my mother ...

Even unto the last she kept us on our toes ... going at a time that suited her and her daughter ... peacefully in the late evening ... with no fuss or bother she slipped away last Wednesday night – Fourth of July day.

Pulmonata: slugs and snails ..
this would have interested my mother

No late nights, no anxiety – frankly none of us expected her to leave us – the nurses, the care staff, or me – my brother said ‘that’s a surprise’, as I’d only been on the phone minutes before letting them know the situation – only to ring back and say she had gone.

Even on Monday – we’ve been here before ... she will recover; even on Tuesday the doctor was only called for good order – we hadn’t had need of her for a year ... she said 2 – 5 days ... but I didn’t think much about it – my mother thought otherwise ... 36 hours later I was called out.

English stone walled garden planting

She had always been practical and got on with things and somehow over the years managed to rationalise in her own mind that faith, courage and strength of mind were her friends now.

She has been quite incredible during the last five and a half years ... there were times that were challenging, somehow we managed to laugh our way through them – she did want to get back to the way she was ...

... and we had many fictitious travels back to Penzance in a Purple People Carrier, overseas holidays to New Zealand and Australia – hiring a plane, even to Buenos Aires, where she ‘had castles’ and Valparaiso ... do you know where it is? ... amazing she even came up with the name.

Newlyn steps - looking east over
Penzance Bay - her recent home
I had to laugh a lot of the time – because she was so ‘with it’ even if it was logically impossible – we’d roar with laughter at the thought of slings, the numbers of carers we’d need for the journey etc etc ....

The staff laughed lots too ... and over the nearly five years we had been in Eastbourne ... so many stories came out – I’d be accosted as I walked in ... “your mother ..... “ ... shock horror at her comments and ripostes – then we’d have a good giggle! 

Everyone was very fond of her and that made such a difference to me – it’s never an easy time to see one’s mother bedridden for so long without apparently any benefit ... but to look on the bright side of life –

I’ve learnt loads along this journey, I appreciate illness far more, and the needs of many; I’ve met some incredible people ... that’s been a huge bonus; I’ve had lots of support from family and friends ...

Scented Roses - perfect for the sensory

My mother was never very effusive – she was always grateful for everything that happened, philosophical at ‘disaster’ times, while her one pleasure (as she has been fed intravenously – her decision) is the educational rapport we’ve had.  Two things she said to me ensured I knew she valued me and the support I’d been providing her had been hugely appreciated – what more as a child should I not do.

Right from the beginning I realised I needed to visit with interesting stories to hand, and I realised that by writing out to family and friends I’d elicit letters back – so I did a lot of that ...

Tall ships - another of my mother's loves
in a gloomy Penzance Bay

This blog is not called Positive Letters for nothing- from a few people writing and saying your letters are so positive and interesting – please don’t stop ... well I haven’t stopped blog posting 440+ posts later ... or writing letters for that matter ...

These interactions kept my mother stimulated and interested in educative history ... we’re a very small family – so that wasn’t an option or source of chit-chat ...

... and Mum would send me home from London, when she was in hospital there at the beginning, to google things and come back with interesting articles etc ...

... my take on Talli’s blog when she asked us to write on “If I could be anyone ....” – I’d picked Mary Wollstonecraft – as I walked through the churchyard to get to St Pancras Hospital, where my mother was when she was being assessed before her move to Eastbourne.

St Pancras Hospital - the Sun Memorial behind
which is Mary Wollstonecraft's grave

We had long discussions about St Pancras Workhouse – now the  hospital ...  I often talked about the blog – and she was amazed that people were always sending their love, hugs in her direction and asking about her well-being ... so thank you for that support over the years.

I didn’t read much to her from the blog, because in later years she wasn’t that easily able to concentrate so I’d mix and match what I talked about or read (usually about Cornwall) ... but one blog post always tickled her – and she remembered and laughed ...

Washington's mouth does look awfully
uncomfortable .. doesn't it?

... Washington and his false teeth ... she would have loved to know that Winston Churchill had a gold plate – that featured in the Gold Exhibition I went to and recently wrote about ... forgot his plate!  However there's a story attached to that too .. so another day ...

About 10 days before she died – I told her a story I’d read on someone’s blog about a Scots lad who, on being caught by the police pre-war, had on a whim given them his name as a name taken from the iron-monger’s sign above the policeman’s head ... it stayed with him through his life – he did manage to clarify matters just before he died ...

An Ironmongers - but our toolshed didn't look
much different in the 1950s ... 

I’m sure it was in the States – if anyone remembers whose blog this story belongs to – please let me know.  He was their father and this happened 25 years ago or so ... but my mother belly laughed at it – pronouncing at the end “How wonderful” ... she always amazed us ... two staff were in the room too ... we all had a good giggle ...

Then this story – that I never mentioned in my last blog post, nor told my mother ... but this too would have tickled her:

c/o Local Guardian in Wimbledon
The tennis ball sofa featured in my last post, Wimbledon and Olympics, has a story ... that would have amused my mother ... a furniture maker turned a sofa that had been dumped in the street into this ‘art work’ .... Mark Thurgood, used tennis balls donated by the local Telford Park tennis club, in Streatham, to create this rather special piece of memorabilia.

Then a co-tennis player decided that it was so good that they should offer it to the BBC, sent them some pictures and the rest is history.  Apparently it’s really comfy to sit on – though with all the rain delays we had the night-time presenter, John Inverdale, hardly ever used it.

I wonder where it’ll end up ... I’m sure my mother would have said Wimbledon will keep it ... and she’d have had a good laugh ... this was her type of story.

And guess what is in Scotland - another castle:
Dirleton ... I might take a look around

Well that’s me for now – I am fine and happy with the way I’ve been around for my mother, so I have no regrets, nor need to grieve as such – I’ve been doing that ... but all the while keeping my brain active ... now the little bird is free to roam occasionally –

As my mother counselled me a few years ago – travel before you reach 80 ... but you’ll be a double old age pensioner before you get around to that ... I just had to laugh and think to myself ... Mum at the rate you’re going I probably will be 120 before you take yourself off ...

Still we survived as best we could in the circumstances and now you are at peace ... Gardening, Cooking, Homemaker will be posted on anon – but she was excellent at all of those ...
I'll be there in a few hours - if the net and Blogger
ever get to connect and work today - ?!

Thanks everyone for your support – I’ll be around spasmodically for a while – and I’m going to Scotland (pre-planned) at the beginning of August – so that will be a nice short break to tie up with some old friends ... then I shall settle back in to blogging – with the world ahead of me!

Much love Mum ... be blessed where you are ... you deserve some good times ... 

Today I'm off to London to (as so many of you instructed me!) to see "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" under the big top in Kensington Palace ..  report back shortly .... 

Blog post on Washington's Teeth

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 9 July 2012

Olympics and Wimbledon ...

Time frames sometimes just rush towards us – the Olympics is less than three week’s away ....
A touch of purple on the hallowed turf.

The Wimbledon staff must be wondering what hit them this year – usually once the annual tournament is over that is it ... then there’s high-class maintenance work over the coming eleven months.

2012 alters all that – Wimbledon will not host the Olympics a third time for many a century – the first was in 1908, when the tournament was distinctly different to that of today.

Already replanting the grass
Our sense of what Wimbledon stands for will change this year – no longer the unique event at one venue that dominates Southfields for two weeks of the year ... another anachronism in the season’s rituals that are pervading British summer’s sense of normality.

The imagination boggles at how the Olympics will unfold on the venerable turf of the nurtured grass – this is the first year that Olympic Tennis will be played out in a Grand Slam Setting and, of course, that will be on grass.

Number One Court ticket options
and Wimbledon venue layout
c/o Olympic Tennis exchange
The opportunity for both Wimbledon and the Olympic Games will be mutually beneficial .... the All England Club will have a global audience of billions, instead of the 50+ million ... while Olympic Tennis will be showcased in an arena that is revered around the tennis world.

Players from different countries have an opportunity to play at a venue esteemed as the best in the world ... while tennis lovers (who get tickets or are prepared to queue for the few available) will have another chance to see the world’s best players in action.

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club will become garish ... coloured clothing will be allowed ... the Olympic Rings, London 2012 logos on violet canvas hoardings will enliven the dark green backdrop ...

Dayglo shoes ...
... the only colour that applies to both events is the rich deep purple of Wimbledon ... a colour in classical antiquity that could only be worn by the elite ... and that garish violet is now being stretched out around the ground. 

Even the hallowed ‘white only’ clothing and shoes – as was found out this year – will be set aside for the Olympic tournament – when the courts become occupied with the colours of the nations.

The draw for the 190 players will be made two days before the tennis starts on 28th July ... culminating in the medal events on Saturday and Sunday August 4th and 5th.

Centre Court showing retractable roof
The main difference in the tournament will be that each match is decided over three sets, except for the men’s final, which will be over the usual five sets – however the mixed doubles has a unique format where the 3rd set, if required, will be played as a first to 10 tie-break.

Twelve courts will be used, while there are plenty of practise courts – for Wimbledon there are twenty-two, then there are seven other courts ... so the Olympics looks well catered for and set to go live.

Wiki - purples: left centre Wimbledon
colour, centre bottom square - Olympic
The centre court holds 15,000 spectators - and at least those lucky people will remain dry under the retractable roof, while there’s room around the grounds for another 15,000 to find a court, or to soak up the action on the big screens with a cold drink in hand, or an umbrella raised – cheerful aren’t I?

Did you hear the rain on the roof during the Federer v Murray match – amazing noise ... buckets of the stuff – honestly it just goes on raining. 

Yesterday it was strange seeing a flooded drain being attended by a van stating “We are in Drought” in large letters on its bonnet/trunk for you guys over the pond ... all hosepipe bans have been lifted as of today.

When we hosted that first Olympic tennis tournament here in 1908 - the British had a slightly more successful outcome ... winning all six medals ... what likelihood this year?  No, don’t answer ...!

The 1896 Olympic Games Report
Well we did have one medal winner this year – Jonny Marray (not the Murray the British nation had hoped for), who had entered as a wild card and with his partner, the Dane, Frederik Nielson then won the Men’s Doubles.

But – the origins of tennis being included at the inaugural Olympics goes back to 1896 in Athens.  The first tennis gold medal went to Ireland’s John Plus Boland, who happened to be visiting Greece and volunteered himself as a last minute replacement in the Singles.

Another ‘British’ wild card winner ...

So sit back, relax and enjoy those
believe it or not green balls
Tennis was voted off the Games after Paris 1924 – surprising really with the French being fairly dominant then – Susanne Lenglen et al – only to return as a medal event in Seoul 1988.

What is the green leafy suburb of SW19 going to be turned into when 190 tennis players descend to contest the five events, during which 26,400 tennis balls will be whacked about ...

Which country will win the gold, silver and bronze medals at this green green grass of home tennis tournament ....?

See my other four posts on Wimbledon:

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich to Great British Menu Olympian Banquet in The Painted Hall

Olympic food in the 21st century – what would you put on the menu? ... and what happens next at the site of the old Greenwich Palace?

Greenwich: Old Royal Naval College -
showing the four courts, Queen Mary's House.
The Painted Hall is under the dome on the right.

Ancient Greek cuisine was characterized by its frugality and was founded on the “Mediterranean triad”: wheat, olive oil and wine – with some fish quite often, while meat was rarely eaten.

Too much refinement was generally considered to be against the hearty spirit of the Greek cuisine – but this food series was for the faster, higher, stronger Olympians participating in the technology-driven 21st century of the London Olympics 2012 and the 7th Great British Menu.

Detail of William and Mary from the
ceiling of The Painted Hall

The brief this year per the BBC was for:

... the chefs to create a menu that captures the Olympic spirit – food that is both breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

With a sub-brief ...

The food must be worthy of and display Olympian qualities.  Illustrating ground breaking techniques, ideas and presentation, the food must be perfection.

Personally I found the whole thing too convoluted, too muddled and not desperately inspiring – I enjoy food, seeing how it’s created, then imagining the deliciousness of each course being served (to me!).

Not selected for the GBM - Stephen Terry
cooked an Olympic Rings dish c/o BBC -
tasted rather good and it looks Olympian:
Fish and Shellfish Medley (Relay)

Somehow the show felt contrived and the brief was not easy to adhere to ... still out of all things there’s always something fun and interesting to write about.

The Painted Hall looking towards the dais area

The setting was pretty incredible – The Painted Hall – one small part of the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, which is often described as ‘the finest dining hall in Europe’ – sadly the paintings have severely faded over the years as they were painted directly onto dry plaster.

Housed within the King William Court, one of four courts of the Royal Naval Hospital, is the monumental Painted Hall ... I think a mammoth could easily fit inside.

The gargantuan size of the dining hall
The Royal Hospital for Seamen was the result of Queen Mary II’s long held ambition to establish a refuge for wounded sailors, similar to the Army’s Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

Queen Mary instructed Sir Christopher Wren to ‘build the Fabrick with great Magnificence and Order’ ... but before work began, she died from smallpox, aged just 32, in 1694.

Mary’s husband, King William III, was determined that her project would be completed ... and it was 55 years later in 1751.  Funds today are being raised to preserve and restore the paintings in that 'Fabrick with great Magnificence and Order' ... 

... these paintings by James Thornhill too took forever ... from the starting date of 1707 until 1726, nineteen years later.  Thornhill’s design traced the recent royal history from 1688, then changed with the times ...

An early drawing of  The
Painted Hall (as it became) by
Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
... beginning with a glorification of the reign of William III and Mary II (William and Mary) on the Lower Hall ceiling, then culminating on the west wall with a celebration of the recently installed Hanoverian dynasty.

Queen Mary’s hospital became realised: The Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich: ‘A Refuge for All’.  To stick with my theme of the Great British Menu – the hospital food in the 1700 and 1800s makes for an interesting comparison ....

Quails in the Wood by Colin McGurran
was the first course
Hospital food was plentiful, if basic – five days a week it would be a 1lb  of meat (half a kilo), boiled or roasted beef or mutton, 4 oz (125 gm) cheese, a1lb of bread and half a gallon  (2.25 litres)of beer;

... while on two of the days they would have had pease pottage, 8 0z of cheese and 2 oz of butter; in the 19th century tea joined the rations, chocolate at breakfast, potatoes and other extras, but cabbage was the only green vegetable – available during the summer.

c/o BBC: Phil Howard's Cornish Mackerel celebration

One of the logistics of cooking large banquets in today’s age – is that the kitchens tend to be in the bowels of buildings –or vaults– having been banished with their Medieval smoke and grime below stairs.

From 1708, Thornhill’s work even caused the pensioners’ meals to be moved from their intended dining hall to the kitchen level in the undercroft below.

The selected recipes for this year’s Olympian feast were:

Quails in the Wood served on a bark platter, with moss and game smoke  - different ways with quail were topped off with a fantastic foie gras parfait recipe and quail egg kebab.  This looked very impressive.
Daniel Craig's Slow Poached Chicken

The Cornish Mackerel fish dish celebrated all things Cornish and fishy ... smoked mackerel pate, tartare of mackerel, served with a velouté sauce, topped with oysters, mussels, winkles, samphire and an oyster beignet.

Slow-poached chicken, sweet-corn egg, spinach with bacon and peas ... was described by all the judges as a stunning dish ... just superb ... and this was the first time that chicken had featured as the main course.

Simon Rogan's Poached Pears

To complete the banquet - poached pears, atsina cress snow, sweet cheese ice-cream with a rosehip syrup collected from the Fells of the Lake District – all the guests raved about the sweet cheese ice-cream.

Sir Steven Redgrave hosting the evening

Sir Steven Redgrave, five times Olympian Gold Medallist (1984 – 2000) hosted the event to celebrate a 21st century Olympian Feast in the Dining Hall of the Royal Naval Hospital.

The Olympian guests came ... medallists from recent times back to the summer Olympics of 1948, when Tommy Godwin won a bronze in the 1,000m time trial, to our highest achiever – the para-Olympian Dame Tanni Grey Thomson: 11 golds, 4 silvers, 1 bronze from 1988 – 2004.

Service .....
I might not have thought much of the Great British Menu series this year – but I’ve learnt a thing or two about Greenwich and its origins ...

... then to remember how far we have come as nations in the nearly 3,000 years since the Ancient Olympic Games began in 776BC ...

... the feasts we enjoy today, the creative chefs we have out there being prepared to try different methods, seeing the setting of The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College – which has been used as a back drop for many many films and tv series ...

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich looking east towards
Queen Mary's House from the River Thames
... now these magnificent grounds are to be transformed once again for the London Summer 2012 Olympic Equestrian Events starting very soon ...  as for the Beach Volley Ball at Horse Guards – a successful dummy run was conducted last August ...

Recipe photos c/o BBC or similar
Recipes - can be found at the BBC Food Programme site here

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories