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My Chronicle for 2006

(last edited on Sunday 14th January 2007)

I have mixed feelings about annual letters. They can be useful for keeping in touch with people, but unless one is in touch only once a year they are likely to duplicate information already provided. Since a moderate proportion of my activity is chronicled on this site I decided to create a page to combine links to existing accounts of recent activities, with a little extra material that does not already appear elsewhere.

I've continued to pursue my old hobbies, gardening, reading, computing, playing Go and exchanging emails with friends, all described here but there have been new activities too.

Reading Violet Bonham-Carter's Winston Churchill As I Knew Him has inspired me to reintroduce into English usage the word 'luncheon' as the name of the midday meal - so that 'lunch' may be restored to its original meaning as the verb referring to the act of eating luncheon.

Very time consuming has been the extension to the house  which has a page on this site all to itself.

I've also joined the Leicester U3A (University of the Third Age).

In my youth I was told to try to avoid starting sentences with "I", but notice that three of the last five paragraphs do so, so excuse the tortured syntax by which I avoid repeating the offence in the next paragraph.

Monthly visits to London have been a new departure this year. When I moved to Leicester in 1993 I saw one of the advantages as easy access to London, but for many years visited London only rarely. However, since April 2006, I've made a day trip to London every month save July. Usually I meet Gerard, another refugee from the Northwest, who lives near Luton, even nearer to the capital than I.

We've been to Kew gardens twice, and managed to look round almost all of it, including Kew Palace. It is now extremely expensive, about 9 pounds even with my old man's discount, and Kew Palace, really only a moderately large house, is 5 pounds extra. However the gardens are a wonderful place to be. We plan henceforth to make annual visits at different times of the year.

Greenwich which we visted early in November was a very pleasant surprise. Neither of us could recall ever being there before, and although The Cutty Sark, and the dome of the old observatory were both closed for renovation, there was still more to see than we had time for, so we plan to return next year.

   Art galleries and museums have occupied a good deal of our time in London, and after I'd read biographies of Lytton Strachey and Maynard Keynes we looked, from the outside only, at various houses formerly inhabited by members of the Bloomsbury Group.

We often start our visits to London with a drink the café of the British Library, where one can see some of the book collection through large plate glass windows. We once actually saw someone take a book from the stacks. Shelves moved to make way for him, and we recalled the scene in one of the Star Wars films where the heroes were trapped in a rooms the walls began to move inwards, but nothing so exciting happened while we were watching.

We are working through the National gallery one period at a time. I find looking at pictures rather boring, though reflecting afterwards on what I have seen is interesting in two ways. First the subject matter and style of painting is an interesting reflection on the societies in which they were painted.  A high proportion of Mediaeval European painting seemed to have been of biblical or classical scenes, in which the people painted were models pretending to be someone else. Second I'm intrigues by the bahavious of visitors to galleries. Most visitord the linger over pictures, while walk briskly past most, occasioanlly pausing briefly. I wonder why they most people gaze for so long? If they are artists, they may be analyzing technique, but I doubt if they are all artists. If a picture shows a busy street or market scene, or some mechanical contrivance, one may need to pause to work out what is going on, but few of the older pictures pose such puzzles. Typically they show models self consciously showing off their good looks. However much one may admire such a picture, there is no need to stand and stare at it, for after a quick look one should have it imprinted on one's mind where it will be available for leisurely contemplation in more comfortable and less crowded surroundings than the gallery.

At the Tate Modern I was intrigued by the Brillo Pad box, and by the notorious bricks. As objects for dispassionate aesthetic appreciation, neither struck me as by any means the least pleasing of the exhibits, and I shall not discuss the unproductive question 'what is art?' here (but see  this document ), however something was decidedly odd about both. First there is the question of authorship. The Brillo Pad box must have been designed by some employee or agent of the company that makes Brillo Pads, and any merit in the design reflects on that designer, not on whoever decided to exhibit the box. The bricks too, while not formally a copy of any commercial design, were arranged neatly as many bricklayers' mates must have arranged bricks while tidying up a building site. It is not clear what the exhibitor had contributed to the exhibit. Had he sealed in a plastic block the product of one of his own bowel motions, there would have been much more of himself in the exhibit, though possibly more than many would have wished to see.

There is still a great deal to be done in London; enough, I imagine, to occupy monthly visits for the rest of my life. The museums are still largely to be explored; so far we've got no further than one short visit to the Science Museum, and a quick trot round parts of the British Museum. In outer London, I haven't been to Hampton Court for at least 30 years, and have never looked round Windsor castle.

While visiting friends in Suffolk  in July I spent a morning looking round Orford Ness, a strange place, for most of the last century in the hands of the military, but now owned by the National Trust. It is an odd combination of nature reserve, with shingle, reed beds and bird sanctuary, and military relics. Various explosives, including atom bombs (just the chemical explosives not the fissile material), used to be tested there, and some of the strange buildings used for that purpose are still standing, though by no means in pristine condition. In one building they were exhibiting an atom bomb, or at least the outer casing of one, which our guide said also contained the electrical wiring. The plan marks one building as 'Naval, function unknown'

Although the Ness is at one point tenuously linked to the mainland one reaches it by ferry. Usually one has to walk around the Ness, but the five miles of the recommended tour would have been far too much for my companion's knees, and something of a challenge for me as we should have had to walk over shingle for much of the way. However on just three Saturdays each year there is a tour in a trailer towed by a tractor, so we timed our visit to Suffolk to coincide with one of those. That also allowed us to go inside some of the less derelict buildings, which are opened only on special occasions. these included one building containing the casing for an atomic bomb.

We were given to understand that the tractor and trailer can be hired for private functions, so one could have one’s birthday party on the Ness, picknicking outside a bomb shelter. Choose warm weather if you pan to do that.

The sea breeze kept the Ness wonderfully cool, I estimate from 6 to 8 degrees cooler  than on the mainland. The Suffolk coast was also several degrees cooler than the midlands, temperature differences that were most welcome in the July heat wave.  

At the end of July I spent a weekend in Kent, helping my friend James run his mother's 90th birthday party. With several other helpers we managed a buffet lunch for upwards of 40 people, in the course of which 34 bottles of wine were consumed. I enjoyed it all immensely. I do enjoy having something to do and hate those social occasions when people say 'just relax and have fun'; few things can be more tedious than lots of people conscientiously striving to have fun.

An interesting event was a recent visit from my cousin Alan to see if I could identify some old family photographs. When Sophie, the last of our aunts, died in 1995 Alan managed to rescue her photograph and post card albums from the dustbin. Of course most of the photographs had no identifying note, and I was able to help with only a few., but it was fascinating to look through his colection - recorded in his lap-top computer.

  Alan has been busy working out his family tree and has traced some lines back to the seventeenth century. We are related on my mother's side, so it was that part of my family tree than he had worked out, but given a few pieces of information he produced  for my father a tree that goes back to the early nineteenth century. Perhaps I ought to find out how one does it.

I was struck by the size of the families; six or more children seemed to be the rule rather than the exception, but that was balanced by infant mortality, two of my mother's siblings died in infancy, and by a fair number of people never marrying. On both sides of the family my roots are in the villages of Leicestershire, but surprisingly few of my ancestors worked on the land, most being artisans, garment makers, or spinners and weavers.

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