30 June 2009

Garden at Stokes House, Ham

It was more by luck than judgement that I discovered on the day that a house just around the corner from me was open to the public for charity, so of course I went.

The garden is in Ham Street which, as the name implies, is the central street in Ham and it stretches from Ham Common to Ham House on the river.

Ham Street has a mix of housing from different periods, including some fairly new properties (i.e. less than twenty years old) but it is some of the older white-faced cottages that you can see in this picture peering over the garden wall.

The basically rectangular shape of the garden is rescued from banality by some structural features that divide it up into different sections. Elsewhere a hedge hides the vegetable garden and here a pergola provides a boundary and another border for flowers and shrubs.

Surrounding the house itself is another border. Here a collection of small plants provides a wide range of shapes and colours for the eye to feast on while a trim box hedge keeps them all neatly in their place.

28 June 2009

Poetry in Sheffield

So far in my fairly limited explores of Sheffield I have managed to find two poems among the many public works of art.

The first one that I came across was actually three poems by Benjamin Zephaniah (Minds, Question and Heroes) which are on the New Student Residences in Division Street (in one of the many student quarters).

The words from these three poems are cut into the window grilles with just a few words at each window so you have to stand back a bit to get sufficient vantage to read the complete poems.

The other, more prominent, poem is What If? by former poet laureate Andrew Motion, and it compels you to read it as you climb the hill up from the station to the top of the town.

Public poetry like this strikes me as being a good way to reintroduce people to poetry, assuming that they dabbled with it and were put off it at school.

26 June 2009

Double bill at the Orange Tree

Somehow we have got to the end of another season at the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond.

The parting shot was a double bill by two trainee directors; Sing to me Through Open Windows written by Arthur Kopit and directed by Andy Brunskill, and The Private Ear written by Peter Shaffer and directed by David Siebert.

The pairing proved to work well as both had just a cast of three, were focused on the main (male) character and developed their drama from this character's emotions.

Sing to me Through Open Windows hints at the history of a former stage magician who now finds himself living hermit like with a clown-like servant and young boys makes his annual visit to the magician.

The hint of the past comes from the references to something that happened five years ago to the day just after the magician retired to a lonely place in the woods.

The servant and the boy try to rekindle the magic by playing games and demanding to see some old tricks but these fall flat when, for example, the rabbit pulled from the hat proves to be a toy rather than the real thing.

In the end the magician spurns the attempts to rekindle his life and retreats back into his reclusive ways.

I was delighted to see regular actor David Antrobus (pictured) taking the lead role and firmly take this chance to excel.

In contrast, the lead character in The Private Ear, Bob, is a very shy young man who has somehow managed to persuade a woman, Doreen, to come to his flat for dinner.

They met at a classical music concert but she was there only because she was given a free ticket and had no real idea of what to expect.

Bob loves listening to classical music, especially opera and preferably loud.

He tries to let the music speak for him and after a hesitant start this seems as the ploy might just work.

The situation is made the worse for Bob who invited his friend, Ted, along too to cook and to provide some company. Ted is a womaniser and pushes his luck with Doreen which she is tempted by.

When Ted leaves Bob and Doreen alone (as previously arranged) they do seem to start getting on together but then Bob loses it and tries to kiss Doreen and suddenly it is all over. Doreen leaves Bob alone and in tears.

Tam Williams as Bob was magnificent and so involved in the part that he still had tears in his eyes when he re-emerged for a thoroughly well deserved encore.

The Orange Tree is a magnificent local facility and I am so very glad that it regularly puts on plays like these.

24 June 2009

greenfest West London

I went to greenfest in West London in 2008 just to see Instant Flight play but liked the rest of the festival so much that I decided to go back this year.

The weather was good and a lot of the territory between my home and Furnival Gardens is green space (Richmond Park, Barnes Common, etc.) so I decided to cycle there.

This did not start too well with a boy riding in to me in Richmond Park but no serious damage was done to either person or bike.

The next problem was overconfidence in knowing the route which led me to cross at Putney Bridge rather than the much more convenient Barnes Bridge. The plus side of this was that I could cycle along the North bank of the river back from Putney to Hammersmith, which I had never been to before.

There was music at greenfest again this year and while I had never heard of any of the artists that did not detract from the entertainment.

This is Rocket Number 9 doing their bit to get some of the crowd dancing and some of the crowd to listen appreciatively.

Furnival Gardens follows the river and so is a relatively long and a relatively thin park. This works well for a festival like this because there is good space for a stage and sitting area at one end, plenty of space in the middle for stalls and you can explore everything simply by walking the length of the park.

A path runs through the centre of the park and this was the occasional home to all sort of bicycle related contraptions, such as this one!

The stalls were clustered around the park so it was easy to visit a few together but there was also plenty of space between them to sit and relax.

Being a greenfest the stalls naturally had an ecological slant, which meant that they were all interesting!

I managed to collect an obligatory canvass shopping bag, securing tagging for my bike and information on a host of subjects from domestic solar heating through to car sharing schemes.

Bikes featured quite prominently and I liked some of the more unusual "people carriers" such as a fairly standard upright bike with two child seats, front and back. That would have been useful about sixteen years ago!

It was also good to see plenty of things for children to do and many were occupied making and drawing things throughout the park.

The ecological stuff is good and worthy but the proof of the fun pudding is in the eating and it was clear that, wherever you looked in the park, that it was busy with happy people.

The organisers are to be seriously congratulated for delivering another successful festival which, sadly, makes the comparison with Kingston's abandoned Green Fair all the sadder.

I met two of the organisers last year and I was delighted to bump in to both of them again this year, though I had to put a bit of hard work in to manage the bump with John Griffiths, the co-ordinator of organising group.

We are Facebook friends so the next bump should be easier to arrange. As should the ride there next year.

23 June 2009

Trumpeters' House, Richmond

I see almost every production at the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond so I was obviously going to be attracted by their Summer garden party and any doubts that I may have had were swept aside by the location.

Trumpeters' House is part of the formal Royal Palace, home to King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I before the original building was destroyed.

Richmond has changed a great deal since then, it is no longer in the country any more having been engulfed by London, but the location of Trumpeters' House is still majestic being situated between Richmond Green and the Thames. In fact, it seems to occupy most of the land between the Green and the river!

The garden is in several sections, formed by the selling and purchasing of adjacent plots of land over the centuries. There is a long informal lawn that leads from the house to the rear entrance by the river, but that is relatively boring so I've not included a photo of it here.

Instead, here we see a view of the formal lawn to the side of the main lawn. In the distance we can see the stalls of the garden party and on the left an avenue of trees that leads the way, like a troop of soldiers, to one of the many statues in the garden.

If these two lawns and there borders were all that were in the garden it would be well worth visiting, but there is much much more to it than that.

The most striking feature of the garden (or gardens) is this large pond, hidden from the lawn above by a high hedge. The pond ticks all the boxes that an ornate pond is meant to tick, it was water lilies, an eye-catching statue (not shown), several paths to it to offer many different views and attractive borders to set it off.

Once again you think that the garden has done all a garden could possibly do but again there is still more to enjoy.

Not far from the big pond, but even more hidden, is this little water feature that forms the centre piece of a tranquil and shady space with seats to encourage you to linger. The lights under the water suggest that this sanctuary is also a welcoming refuge at night.

By now we have walked down lots f paths, discovered lots of hidden places, enjoyed hedges, flower beds and statues, but still there is more.

Passing through a small gate takes you in to an arid garden (ironically) next to the river. Suddenly the formality of the previous garden is replaced by a chaos of wild flowers. There are more statues, seats and hedges but also doves and an outrageous (i.e. bright pink with castellations) working artist's studio.

It's for gardens like this that weekends were invented.

21 June 2009

A day of political talking and thinking

My re-engagement with politics continued with a whole day spent at the Compass Annual Conference listening to talks and participating in workshops with other people who believe that left-wing politics are the best way forward.

The pluralistic nature of the event was shown by the selection of main speakers which included representatives from the Greens and the Lib. Dems., as well as from Labour. Other parties and organisations, e.g. Respect and CND, were represented in the delegates and exhibition.

I was pleased to see that Harriet Harman had the courage in these difficult time for Labour to join the opening panel and her speech was well received.

However, my impression of what she said was that some of it was somewhat empty rhetoric. For example, the claim to be taking a string stance on climate change is hard to square with the decision to support another runway at Heathrow.

After the opening plenary session I decided to attend a workshop on real democracy. For me, this started off a little on the wrong foot with too much emphasis on some sort of proportional voting in parliamentary elections as there is a lot lot more to electoral reform than that.

The debate improved (from my perspective) when it moved from the panel to include the participant and several good points were made on the ways and means of engaging more people in more decisions that impact their lives. I commented that if increasing PR is the first step that we have to take to get electoral reform then the easiest place to do this is probably in council elections where we already have multi-member seats and these seats could be allocated more proportionally with little change.

After a lunch break spent in Gosh (a local comics shop where I was able to pick up Kick Ass #2), the British Museum and Russell Square Gardens, it was time for the second workshop, this time on education.

The room was packed for this one showing just how much this topic matters to people and also how much needs to change here. Unfortunately almost all of the changes that people were calling for were unwinding things that this government had introduced.

The day ended with two plenary sessions back in the main lecture hall.

First up was a question and answers question with the panel shown here answering questions from the audience.

This was all worthy stuff but some of it rather came across as naval gazing with an emphasis on procedures and organisation and not that much said on specific outcomes, such as reducing poverty.

The final session was three speeches from Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Prof Richard Wilkinson and Dr Jon Cruddas MP.

Jon Cruddas closed the show and sent the crowd home happy but the enlightenment for me came during Richard Wilkinson's brief talk on the imperative for reducing the inequalities between the richest and the poorest.

Put simply, we can live happier, for just as long and more sustainably by reducing inequality. Put simpler, we should copy the Nordic countries. And that was a good positive and realistic thought to end on and to build on.

20 June 2009

New Apple software saves time!

I am only just starting to get to grips with the latest version (3.0) of the software for the Apple iPhone and iPod touch but I am already seriously impressed.

Things like the large keyboard on all applications are cool and useful but what I really like are the changes made to the music player, after all listening to podcasts is the main use I make of my iPods.

At a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe in April this year I made the comment that one of the advantages of using audio to transfer knowledge is that you can play it at different speeds to suit the immediate need. Apple listened.

The symbol below the time remaining in this picture says that I am listening to the podcast at 2x speed. This may sound silly but it works very well.

The speeding up (or down) is done with software so you do not get the Pinky and Perky effect when playing speech fast, though it does make rather a mess of The Archers theme tune!

I listened to several podcasts at 2x speed on the journey back from Sheffield on Friday and it was a great experience. I was able to listen to a lot more that I would otherwise have been able to and the enhanced pace of the programmes made them more compelling.

I did a few timing checks and it looks as though the 2x speed is a guide rather than a promise. Most of the 30 minute programmes that I listened to were reduced to 20 minutes. That's not 2x but it is still a serious time saving.

I have around 60 unlistened to podcasts at the moment but now that does not seem such a daunting number.

15 June 2009

Hoaxwind thrill at the Grey Horse

There are three rock venues in Kingston and I have now seen Hoaxwind at them all :-)

The latest concert was a benefit gig for the RNLI at the Grey Horse where they headlined a mixed and entertaining line-up, admittedly most of which I listened to from the comfort of the front bar where the Young's Ordinary was on fine form.

Hoaxwind took the (small) stage around 10:30 and spent the best part of quarter of an hour trying to fit themselves and their kit on to it. This time was not wasted and I was able to discuss local schools with the band's WAGS, such is rock 'n' roll these days.

Part of the band's setup included the new smoke machine to replace the one that failed at The Peel. This one failed too, which may not have been that bad a thing as it seemed to be pointing straight at me and I've already had one gig seriously impacted badly by smoke. Stick to the light shows guys!

Gradually the band found spaces on the stage and were ready to rock. For some reason Tony Dyson (keyboards) found himself near the front and facing the crowd, both of which go against his normal custom.

This proved to be a good thing as Tony is one of the more enthusiastic and energetic members of the band (not that any of them look bored or listless!) and it was fun to see him cavorting behind his keyboards.

The set list was similar, if not identical, to the recent gig at The Peel apart from the omission, due to time, of Ejection as an encore. Incidentally, the pre gig conversations in the bar exposed the clever Election/Silver Machine mix played at The Peel as a mistake with some of the band starting to play one song and some the other before they converged on Ejection!

Hoaxwind again played with rhythm, verve and a real appreciation for the songs, which produced another very enjoyable performance. My favourites on the night were influenced as much by how I felt about the original versions as by how Hoaxwind brought them to life and I was very pleased to hear again Assault and Battery, Psychedelic Warlords, Orgone Accumulator and Hassan-i Sabbah. Spirit of the Age would have been nice but with such a rich Hawkwind catalogue to plunder them will always be some very deserving songs that get left out.

Summary; great songs, good band, fine pub, cute company, excellent evening.

12 June 2009

Two Richmond Gardens

The open garden season continues apace, this time with two relatively small gardens on Richmond Riverside. The layouts are a little unusual with the front gardens to the four storey houses being above boat houses and the rear gardens separated slightly from the houses by an access road.

Other houses in the parade have used this space simply to park cars but in both these cases the owners have installed an artist's studio at the far end and have seriously landscaped the space leading up to the studio.

The first garden was simple in construction but was packed with statues, usually of heads, and with colourful plants. This assortment is in the middle of a small square water feature. Other water features provide a refreshing trickling sounds and a home for fish.

The owner of the second house, the legendary Bamber Gascoigne, explained how he designed the two semi-circular sides to the fantastic pond that dominates the garden. The two banks are linked by a most unusual "stepping stone" in the form of a metal springy snake that does not quite throw you in to the water like you expect it to.

This is the same garden looking across the sunken pond to the studio at the back. The very large leaves in the foreground give a hint to the size and depth of the pond.

When looking at this garden you have to remember that the next door neighbour uses this space just for parking cars. I think that this garden is a much better use of the space!

11 June 2009

An early walk in Richmond Park

It seemed like a good idea at the time so I agreed to go for a walk in Richmond Park at six in the morning to avoid the massed hordes that fill the place on any fine day.

The route was fairly simple, enter the park at Ham Gate, follow the boundary wall anti-clockwise past Kingston Gate and on to Robin Hood Gate and come back through the centre of the park passing Pen Ponds and taking in Isabella Plantation.

The deer were out in force along the route and I saw five or six different groups of them during the walk. It was early in the day so the sun was bright but not that warm, however, the deer were still mostly keeping to the shade - which did not help the photography! Even though I was fairly close to them at times I only got a few respectful stares and managed to avoid panicking them in to running away.

It was very much end of season for most of the flowering plants in Isabella Plantation but there were a few trees still in bloom to provide large blotches of colour to contrast with the dark greens of the abundant foliage.

Isabella Plantation becomes uncomfortably busy during the day so it was especially nice to be able to enjoy it in peace. I saw only one or two other people in there and they were quickly hidden behind large shrubs and bushes.

8 June 2009

First thoughts on Sheffield

It looks as though I will be spending most of the next few weeks in Sheffield and I am looking forward to exploring it as I have only been here once before and that was for one day the better part of thirty years ago.

It is pretty harsh to judge anywhere after just a couple of days but here are some initial thoughts on Sheffield anyway!

The public spaces in the centre of the city are plentiful, large, surrounded by impressive buildings old and new, are packed with urban art and are largely devoid of people.

In fact the whole of the centre feels like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film (think 28 Days Later) with the few people that are to be seen sheltered in the buses and trams that cross the city.

There are lots of hotels. These are also empty but somehow manage to charge around £100 a night.

There is plenty of urban art and this is a good mix of the majestic, such as in Peace Square shown above, and the subtle. One of my favourites is this multi-story car park that is clad in shaped steel squares to hide its purpose.

There is also quite a lot of street furniture (benches, bins and barriers etc.) which seems to have been procured at different times as there are several distinct styles in use across the city centre. I particularly like the bins and barriers that look like extra terrestrial armoured warriors.

The restaurants that I have found so far tend to be Mediterranean in nature and while I have managed to eat both Indian and Chinese these took some finding and I have, so far, only found one of each.

This is my only my third day in Sheffield with quite a few more to come which will be spent working hard then wandering around curiously with camera n hand. More views of the city in pictures and words will follow.

6 June 2009

Three Kew Gardens

These days I really am spending almost all of my free time at weekens visiting gardens and then writing about them, and here are three more. These gardens are all in Kew and are a short walk from Kew Station. That also means that they are a short walk from the The Railway public house which is where my afternoon started with a pint of Staropramen.

The first two gardens were fairly typical suburban gardens in size and shape but in each case the owners had worked hard to turn the usual in to something interesting. The first garden complemented the planting with a collection of odd objects, including a pair of feet and this charming pig.

The second garden made the most of its South facing wall to produce a border with a rich variety of shapes, heights and colours.

The final garden was on a large corner plot and was divided into several sections but I managed to limit myself to just sharing just one picture of it because I suspect some of you may be getting tired of all these garden photos!

Not pictured here are the cup of tea and two slices of cake that I enjoyed in this garden. The money all went to charity so how could I possibly refuse such an offer?

4 June 2009

Five Garden Close, Putney

I seem to be writing about gardens a lot in this blog at the moment mainly because I am visiting lots of gardens, though I am not quite sure how that happened. I am no keener on gardens now than I was previously and I guess that the increased visiting is simply down to greater knowledge of what is available through the National Gardens Scheme and greater free time in which to visit them.

A pleasant cycle through Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath took me to the iconoclastic Five Garden House built in Huf Haus style and surrounded by a well designed and cared for garden.

The house is surrounded by a decked walkway and just beyond that at the front of the house are two ponds separated by a narrow path to the lawn and front gate. This space is full of plants, trees, stones, watering cans, pots, etc. but still carries off the modern minimalist look with ease.

At one side of the house there is another smaller pond that was busy with activity as several pairs of dragon flies got on with their Spring rituals. Here the borders have been discretely planted for colour as well as for shape.

As the side and front gardens merge the borders become bigger and bolder and a subtle path lead you towards the lawn and proffers different views of the garden. What makes this garden even more enjoyable (for the owners at least) is that the exterior walls of the house are all glass and so it can be enjoyed from indoors from almost every room.

A warm day, a good cycle through park land and an interesting garden at the end of the journey made this an excellent venture. The glass of wine sipped on the front veranda helped too.

3 June 2009

Developments in Richmond Park

Whilst the Kingston upon Thames Society (KSoc) deals primarily with the built environment (buildings and roads etc.) it does also take an interest in Richmond Park, which is an important part of life in Kingston.

At the last KSoc meeting we were treated to an excellent talk by Simon Richards, the Park Manager, who gave an insight in to what he does to protect and develop the park, with a particular emphasis on the physical elements to suit the interests of the audience.

During the talk I noted quite a few things that caught my attention, including:
  • The park comes under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, rather than Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; which may say something of the Government's expectations of the park.
  • The boundary of the park extends some 5m beyond the perimeter wall so that park officers can gain access to both sides of the wall for maintenance. Most of the land beyond the wall is leased and now forms part of people's gardens.
  • High ambient lighting is an increasing problem for nocturnal life and one of the ways they try to manage this is to comment on planning applications that add external lighting near the park boundary.
  • Plans to route more air traffic over Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common may suit some local residents but they will impact on the life and ambiance of the park.
  • The views from Richmond Park, e.g. to St Paul's Cathedral, are important. The new T5 building almost masks Windsor Castle and the John Lewis building in Kingston blocked the view of Kingston Bridge.
The main point that came across to me from the long and interesting talk was the need to try and balance the often very conflicting needs of the various users of the park, especially when it comes to the cars v bikes v pedestrians debate. Being a reasonably elderly audience overall there was a strong bias towards cars and parking and little support for cyclists. I thought that discretion was the better part of valour and kept my view that cars should be completely banned from the park to myself!