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Posts Tagged ‘england’

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Photo: Robert Sansom
Employees at a small bookshop in England were inundated with orders last week after a day with no sales was reported on Twitter. Pictured here is John Westwood, one of the shop’s owners.

For better or worse, the thing about Twitter is it can reach a lot of people very fast. Some people reached by tweets are not so nice. In this story, though, kindly Twitter users decided to give strangers a helping hand. Of course, it helped that one person with millions of followers took an interest.

“After more than 100 years in business,” writes Cathy Free, “the Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire County, England, had perhaps never seen a day quite like Jan. 14.

“For the first time that anyone could remember, the independent shop on Petersfield’s Chapel Street did not have a single sale, saddening bookseller Robert Sansom so deeply he decided to tweet about his ‘tumbleweed’ day.
‘Not a single book sold today. . . £0.00,’ he wrote. …

After closing up shop that day, Sansom, 48, went home, thinking the 102-year-old secondhand shop specializing in antique and collectible books might have to close permanently, he said.

“But overnight, something unexpected happened. Sansom’s tweet went viral and was retweeted by author Neil Gaiman to his 2.8 million followers, prompting thousands of people to inundate the shop’s website with orders.

“The worst day ever quickly turned into the best day ever, said Sansom, who works at the bookstore with owners Ann Westwood, her son, John Westwood, and sales clerk Barbara Kelsey.

‘‘ ‘Just reading the messages we have received has brought tears,’ he said. ‘This was a lightning strike. …

‘’We’re now actively looking for ways to pay it forward.’’

“For the past two weeks, Sansom, his co-workers and a small band of volunteers in Petersfield — population 14,372 — have spent 14 hours a day frantically filling hundreds of orders and mailing them to customers around the world. …

‘‘ ‘One lady, recently back home in the States after a UK holiday, sent us her leftover UK currency,’ he said. ‘One couple drove 460 miles, round trip, to visit us, and many drove at least an hour or two.’ …

“On the afternoon he tweeted about his lonely day, he said, a storm had swept into town, bringing steady rain and putting a damper on customers.

‘‘ ‘There wasn’t a single penny in the till — not a book was sold to a flesh-and-blood customer,’ he said. ‘Of course we have slow days — everyone does. But that particular week, the shop was facing one of its worse crises ever. Even on a slow day, we would expect to sell 20, 30, or 50 books. We were wondering if we would have to announce the closure of the shop by the end of the week.’ …

“Now that the shop has 21,000 Twitter followers, ‘We have a voice we didn’t have before,’’ Sansom added. ‘Please, go and find your local indie bookshops, new and secondhand, and buy real books from them. If you don’t, they will just close and disappear. … You won’t even notice to start with,’ he said, ‘and then you will. And it will be too late.’ ”

How lovely that the shop is looking for ways to “pay it forward”! I wonder what they will decide to do. Encouraging followers to shop at indie bookstores is a good place to start. Personally, I avoid Amazon for books, food (Whole Foods), and other items unless I have tried and failed to get the thing somewhere else. Too much power in one pair of hands.

Although I read this story in Boston’s Sunday Globe, the article originally appeared in the Washington Post. More here.

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Photo: Tim Crocker/RIBA/PA
The Goldsmith Street project in Norwich marks the first time the UK’s Stirling architecture prize has gone to affordable housing.

I’m looking at pictures of a handsome affordable-housing project in England and remembering that during my short stint at Rhode Island Housing, a similar building, restored to provide affordable housing for homeless veterans, also won a prize. I blogged about interviewing one happy resident here. Clearly, homes for low-income people need not be ugly.

Oliver Wainwright reports at the Guardian, “One hundred years since the 1919 Addison Act paved the way for the country’s programme of mass council housing, the prize for the best new building in the UK has been awarded to one of the first new council housing projects in a generation.

“Goldsmith Street in Norwich represents what has become a rare breed: streets of terraced homes built directly by the council, rented with secure tenancies at fixed social rents. And it’s an architectural marvel, too.

“ ‘A modest masterpiece’ is how the RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] Stirling prize judges described the project, designed by London firm Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, representing ‘high-quality architecture in its purest most environmentally and socially conscious form.’

“The 105 creamy-brick homes are designed to stringent Passivhaus environmental standards, meaning energy costs are around 70% cheaper than average. The walls are highly insulated and the roofs are cleverly angled at 15 degrees, to ensure each terrace doesn’t block sunlight from the homes behind, while letterboxes are built into external porches, rather than the front doors, to reduce any possibility of draughts.

“Immense thought has gone into every detail – from the perforated brick balconies to the cleverly interlocking staircases in the three-storey flats at the end of each terrace – to ensure that every home has its own front door on the street. The back gardens look on to a planted alley, dotted with communal tables and benches, while parking has been pushed to the edge of the site, freeing up the streets for people, not cars. …

The architects won the original competition because they were one of the few firms to propose streets, rather than slabs of apartment blocks.

“They took inspiration from the city’s Golden Triangle, a desirable neighbourhood of Victorian terraced houses, where the streets are laid out more tightly than modern overlooking regulations would allow. The architects used this precedent to argue that their new neighbourhood could be just as humanely scaled, while fitting in more homes.

“Marking the first time in the 23-year history of the Stirling prize that it has been awarded to social housing, the project beat stiff competition from the revamped London Bridge station, an opera house in a former stable block, the Macallan whisky distillery in Scotland, a visitor centre for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and a house made entirely of cork. …

“This year’s choice sends a clear message that, despite government cuts, it is eminently possible for brave councils to take the initiative and build proper social housing.”

Read more here.

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom
An impressive coalition of funders, including Rhode Island Housing, collaborated on this 2015 award-winning mill restoration to house homeless veterans.

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Photo: Wikimedia
Paper theaters like the one above were popular with children in England in the 19th century. Robert Louis Stevenson never forgot his.

Children love to put on plays. I know I did, and I see my own grandchildren acting out stories as if on “The Stage.” One form of children’s theater, popular in England in the 19th century, involved paper cutouts.

As Amelia Soth writes at JSTOR Daily, “In the Regency era (early 1800s), live theater was so popular that it regularly inspired riots. In 1809, when the Covent Garden Theater tried to raise ticket prices, audiences were so incensed that they revolted. For more than two months straight, they shouted, shook rattles, rung bells, and even brought pigs into the theater to drown out the actors. The protest was successful, and the administration gave up on the price hike. …

“People were hungry for entertainment. And in this time before Netflix and YouTube, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring entertainment into the home: paper theaters. For ‘one penny plain, two cents colored,’ you got a tiny cardboard stage about the size of a paperback book, complete with a proscenium arch, curtains, and sometimes even a paper audience. The characters were laid out on sheets of paper, frozen in dramatic poses: villains brandish revolvers capped with clouds of gunpowder, jolly sailors hook arms and dance, clowns emerge from barrels. …

“Then there are the sets, storybook illustrations of extravagant palaces and howling wildernesses, to be slotted in and out of the back of the theater, behind the cavorting characters. The scripts that came with them were as miniaturized as the stage, heavily abridged and censored for children’s ears and attention spans.

“Despite the scripts, it’s easy to imagine how these stories would have expanded in the hands of the children who played with them — how the plots would zigzag, how the characters would migrate from one story to another, how scribbled additions would enrich the pre-drawn scenery.

[When] Goethe’s son August put on shows in his paper theater, the family cat always served as one of the performers. …

“The magic of the paper theater was not that it allowed children to replicate a beloved play in their home; it was that it provided them with the raw materials either to copy or create, to follow or subvert, as they saw fit.

“Perhaps this is why this short-lived children’s toy left such an enduring cultural legacy. Before Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, before Jean Cocteau directed his iconic, dreamlike Beauty and the Beast, before Wagner composed his Ring Cycle, they each acted out their big stories on these tiny stages.

“As the literary scholar Monica Cohen points out, Stevenson’s Treasure Island reads almost like a paper-theater drama writ large. Pirates were an unshakeable cliché of Victorian melodrama, and the grim tales of cruelty and violence that featured on the Victorian stage were brightened into candy colors in their miniature theater editions. Likewise, Stevenson’s dashing pirates come to us filtered through a sunny lens. ‘As a toy theater pirate,’ Cohen writes, ‘Billy Bones is a copy of a copy.’

“Remembering the shop where he purchased toy theaters in his youth, Skelt’s Juvenile Drama, Stevenson wrote: ‘Every sheet we fingered was another lightning glance into obscure, delicious story; it was like wallowing in the raw stuff of story-books. I know nothing to compare with it save now and then in dreams, when I am privileged to read in certain unwrit stories of adventure, from which I awake to find the world all vanity.’

“He continued, ‘What am I? what are life, art, letters, the world, but what my Skelt has made them? He stamped himself upon my immaturity. The world was plain before I knew him, a poor penny world; but soon it was all coloured with romance.’ ”

Read more here.

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Photo: John Sturrock
“A modern mania for canal developments is reshaping cities by offering oases of calm in fast-moving town centres,” says the
Guardian.

When our kids were small, the Barge Canal (otherwise known as the Erie Canal) was as familiar to them as their friends’ backyard, as the elementary school, as the Hicks and McCarthy luncheonette. It ran right through town. I remember taking a canal-boat ride up and down (vertically) through the locks with a visiting grandmother and a picnic lunch.

In today’s story, John Vidal writes at the Guardian about a new focus on canals in England.

“Every second Monday of the month, a small group of volunteers meets in the training room of a Birmingham supermarket. They discuss what has long seemed to many of their friends a crazy and probably doomed idea: how to excavate a contaminated 40-year-old waste dump, create an urban marina, restore three miles of derelict canal and build several new bridges and locks.

“Last month, however, the meeting of the 18-strong Lapal Canal Trust committee was joyous. After 20 years of trying to restore this short stretch of the 200-year-old Dudley No 2 canal, permission had finally been granted, they were told.

“What’s more, a feasibility study showed that the plan – which would link the suburbs of California and Selly Oak by water – could be a catalyst for nothing short of the economic and ecological renaissance of a large area of south Birmingham.

“The new canal will generate jobs but also provide space for new houses, as well as pollution-free walking, boating and cycling routes. The marina for 60-100 boats will stimulate businesses and bring in tourists. The wildlife corridor created along the canal will attract herons, otters, fish and waterfowl. And although the whole project will cost about £5m, the study said it would pay for itself in six years.

“ ‘It will improve life in the city. It will complete an old canal loop around the city – we owe it to the future to restore it. … No one is objecting and we have nearly raised the first £250,000 – enough to start work,’ says the Lapal trust CEO, Hugh Humphreys.The Lapal plan is one of at least 80 canal renaissance projects currently making British towns and cities suitable for populations seeking tranquility, leisure space and new ways to move around. …

“It’s not just happening in Britain. … But few countries have as many urban canals as the UK, a legacy of British industrial might – and now a golden opportunity for transformation. Some, such as the Aldcliffe yard development in Lancaster, will see just a few expensive houses built on old industrial canal works; but many seek to create large new ‘liveable’ urban communities in what were some of the Britain’s polluted places, such as Wolverhampton, Leeds, Manchester, Lancaster, Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham. …

“Three things unexpectedly changed everything. A postwar infant canal leisure industry emerged; dozens of passionate heritage charities like the Lapal trust voluntarily restored many of the old waterways; and water proved to be the vital ingredient to kickstart a new, property-based canal mania.

“ ‘The restoration of the canals in the 1950s and 60s was thanks to a remarkable act of defiance by unpaid volunteers against the authorities,’ says canal historian Mike Clarke.

“ ‘Volunteers were vital. It’s unlikely there would be many canals today without them. The government, many influential people, and the British Waterways board, were all happy to see the majority filled in. … They told the government, “if you want to complain, take us to court.” …

” ‘They formed isolated stretches of peaceful country within the urban environment. Planners eventually saw them as an asset, and government at last understood their potential for leisure.’ …

” ‘The job is only half done in Britain,’ says Alison Smedley, policy officer of the Inland Waterways Association. ‘The restoration of Britain’s canal system is in full flow but there is so much left to do. … There are still about 1,800 miles left to be restored, although many [canals] have been filled in and are unlikely ever to be reclaimed,’ she says. …

“Canal and River Trust (CRT), the government-part-funded charity set up in 2012 to take over and manage the 2,000 miles of state-owned canal formerly run by British Waterways, [calculates] that about 10 million people a year visit the canals to fish, walk, cycle, observe wildlife or go boating. …

“In addition, canals have become a real alternative for people unable or unwilling to buy city property. .. Ten years ago 10% of the boats on British waterways were used as primary residences. It is now 26%, says the CRT. …

“ ‘Almost unnoticed, the canals have become important sanctuaries for urban and rural wildlife,’ says Simon Atkinson, head of conservation at the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust. … Otters, water voles, kingfishers, ducks, herons, fish, dragon- and damsel flies, even rabbits, are seen on the 100-odd miles of Birmingham canals, some of which are classed as local nature reserves. …

“ ‘If development is done well, it can enhance nature. The canals have never been more important, but it could go the other way. There is a real opportunity for high quality inner-city development and nature to flourish together.’ ”

For me as a lover of Dickens (the novels, not the man), I can’t think of English canals without thinking of the dark spirit of Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend. In fact, maybe I’m ready to read that one again.

Learn more about the benefits and challenges of canal popularity here.

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Photo: David Jennings for the New York Times
David Esterly in 1989. His woodcarvings were in the tradition of a 17th-century English master.

How some artistic geniuses stumble onto their metier is a mystery. This wood carver didn’t even know how to carve wood when he was blown away by the beauty and intricacy of works by a 17th century master. He had to know more.

Katharine Q. Seelye writes at the New York Times, “David Esterly was in London in 1974, walking with his girlfriend to meet her parents for the first time, when she steered him into St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, to see the intricate woodcarvings by Grinling Gibbons, widely considered one of the greatest woodcarvers in history.

“Mr. Esterly, an American who had studied at Cambridge University in England and was trying to figure out what to do with his life, had never heard of Gibbons and knew nothing of woodcarving.

“But inside the church he was mesmerized by what he saw — a cascading cornucopia of delicate, lifelike blossoms, foliage and fruit above the altar, all sculpted in wood by Gibbons in the late 1600s.

” ‘I was seduced by the power of the carving and its capacity to convey the beauty of nature,’ Mr. Esterly told the New York Times in 1998. ‘It seemed to me beyond belief that a human hand had fashioned those seashell swags, drooping bellflower chains, birds with laurel twigs in their beaks and dense whorls of acanthus. My fate was sealed.’

“He decided to learn more about Gibbons, and to do so, he realized, required taking chisels into his own hands. He taught himself woodcarving, becoming so skillful that when some of Gibbons’s 300-year-old carvings were destroyed by fire, Mr. Esterly was summoned to recreate them. He became not only an expert on Gibbons, but also the maker of sought-after sculptures of his own. …

“Mr. Esterly’s life was shaped by his obsession with Gibbons, master carver to the crown, who was commissioned to work in Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral, among other landmarks. …

“For Mr. Esterly, carving was as much an intellectual exercise as a physical one.

” ‘The wood is teaching you about itself, configuring your mind and muscles to the tasks required of them,’ he wrote in his book ‘The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making’ (2012). ‘To carve is to be shaped by the wood even as you’re shaping it.’ …

“He worked slowly, creating only about 50 pieces in his lifetime. But as his literary agent, Robin Straus, said by email, he was ‘equally fluent with words and wood’; besides books, he wrote numerous articles and reviews about art and carving.

“The subjects of his carvings varied. One might be Gibbons-like but with a twist — a spray of delicate roses, but with insect holes in the leaves, or a broken stem; another might be a head covered in elaborately carved vegetation.

“In most cases Mr. Esterly carved to the specifications of a patron. For a buyer who revered Thomas Jefferson, he carved a necklace like one sent back by Lewis and Clark, whom Jefferson had sent to explore the Northwest Territory. In others he whimsically updated traditional themes by inserting, say, a carved iPhone or a set of car keys.

“After a fire in 1986 at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s palace, Mr. Esterly spent a year creating a replica of a seven-foot-long Gibbons carving that had been destroyed.”

More of the story — and some terrific photos — here.

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Photo: David Tipling/Getty Images
The nightingale’s song has been inspiring writers for more than a thousand years, but today most people have only recordings.

I’m reading one of the Narnia books to my younger grandson (The Horse and His Boy), and naturally some of the cultural references are to author CS Lewis’s England. We turned to our North American bird book when a nightingale was mentioned, and no nightingale was there. I’ll be showing him this story.

Patrick Barkham reports at the Guardian, “The nightingale has virtually disappeared from Britain over the past 50 years, its population plummeting by 93% to fewer than 5,500 pairs. But now a chorus of nightingale events are being arranged by artists, musicians and filmmakers to raise awareness of the plight of one of the country’s most celebrated but endangered birds.

“Birdsong was played on phones [in April] as the street artist ATM spent the day painting a nightingale in a gallery on the square, and more than 750 people attended a concert [of musicians performing] with amplified nightingale song.

Let Nature Sing, a track of pure birdsong including the nightingale, has been released by the RSPB to highlight the loss of more than 40 million birds from the UK in 50 years. …

“Its song was played in Berkeley Square as ATM painted a nightingale on the tailplane of a Wellington bomber at an event organised by the makers of a new documentary, The Last Song of the Nightingale.

“In 1924, the BBC’s first live-to-radio broadcast featured the cellist Beatrice Harrison playing a duet with a nightingale recorded in her garden in Surrey. The BBC continued this annual tradition until 1942, when the broadcast was famously abandoned when microphones picked up the sound of Wellington and Lancaster bombers en route to attack Germany, and the radio engineers realised the sounds could forewarn Hitler. …

“[Folksinger Sam] Lee said the nightingale was the most inspiring of musicians.

“ ‘For me it’s pure song,’ he said. ‘It’s an animal that is so utterly at one with music and the environment and using all the tropes and articulation and emotional capacity of a human musician, in the shape of a tiny brown feathered being.’ …

“Lee will rework the classic song ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ at a free Extinction Rebellion event in the square, after which the audience will be encouraged to disperse through the streets of London with the nightingales’ song playing on their phones.

“Lee said … ‘At this rate we’re going to lose our nightingales, and so many species are in massive decline. We have to start celebrating these species and the arts are a very important way of brokering awareness and creating an agency for change.’ …

“ATM said he was convinced that nightingales did once sing in Berkeley Square. ‘It’s all about whether there was dense scrub in the square and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one singing here 150 years ago.

“ ‘I lived in Berlin and the nightingale’s song was a common sound. Unfortunately the modern ethos of park-keeping is lawns and open spaces. People are frightened of the impenetrable places the nightingale needs.’ ”

More.

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In honor of my 3,000th post today, Suzanne is offering a 20 percent discount on anything at Luna & Stella, the site for contemporary and vintage jewelry with which this blog is associated. Just use the code 3000. The offer is good for all of June 2019!

Turning now to two of my blog’s favorite themes — paying it forward and refugees — I want to tell you about England’s Dame Stephanie Shirley, a former kindertransport evacuee, who plans to donate German government compensation to modern-day refugee children.

Are you familiar with the kindertransport that rescued children from Nazi Germany and brought them to England? According to Wikipedia, “The Kindertransport (German for ‘children’s transport’) was an organised rescue effort that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms. Often they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust. Most importantly, the programme was supported, publicised and encouraged by the British Government, which waived some immigration requirements.”

Imagine that. The government responded to the urgency!

I like that Dame Stephanie, having grown up to be a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, will pay her German compensation forward to help other refugee children. There is still a crisis, just for children from different countries this time.

According to the Jewish News, “Dame Stephanie Shirley, 85, who boarded a train from Vienna in 1939 aged five, founded a software company in 1962 which was later valued at over £3 billion. … She said: ‘I intend to donate my €2,500 windfall to the Safe Passage charity which supports today’s child refugees. …

“ ‘I’m trying to encourage others to donate theirs as well. There are an estimated 500 of us Kinder still in the UK, so that adds up. I’m discussing it with [Lord] Alf Dubs and [Sir] Erich Reich, how we can combine to make a really big donation. …

‘I’m ashamed of how little this country has done to save child refugees in recent years. It couldn’t be more different to the monumental effort that saved so many of us.’

Read more here and here.

P.S. Please buy something gorgeous at Luna & Stella — for yourself, or maybe a June bride — and use that 20 percent discount so my daughter knows my eclectic blog actually sends folks her way.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, a former kindertransport child, who is paying it forward to help young refugees.

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