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Not Quite Done Yet

Saturday’s Festival day is over. The vibe wasn’t quite as energy-filled and buzzing as usual (numbers were restricted because of COVID) but our audiences made up with enthusiasm what was lacking in terms of numbers.  The children who came for Sir Michael Morpurgo were a delight and it’s probably not overdoing it to say that their attitude towards books and reading may have been changed for life by that encounter. In the evening Ed Stourton was intelligent and entertaining, taking lots of, sometimes difficult, questions about broadcasting from the audience.

I had awoken despondent. It was pouring with rain. By one o’clock, however, the rain had gone, even if the sun hadn’t replaced it, at least it was dry.  My little group of intrepid walkers gathered outside Omnibus ( both the walk were completely sold out ) and we started off with a few quotes about Clapham from Daniel Defoe and William Makepeace Thackeray and our first Clapham writer, one Edward Winslow, who sailed on the Mayflower.  My fellow guide, Irish-born award-winning writer Annemarie Neary accompanied us, at least part of the way around the Common. Her walk and mine covered some of the same ground, though she diverged to do a deep dive into the writers who lived near the Northside of the Common, while I continued with a part circumference, taking in the Southside too.

We walked from the Great Fire through the Georgian era, Shelley’s ‘Age of Elegance’, to the nineteenth century and the ‘man on the Clapham Omnibus’, right up to the end of the twentieth century when Clapham achieved another golden age, playing host to Angela Carter, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, J.G. Ballard and Ian McEwan.  Then there is Roald Dahl and a certain Ms Rowing who acknowledges that the ‘first brick of Hogwarts’ was laid in Clapham.

Then back to Omnibus Theatre and the wonderful Sir Michael Morpurgo ( unfortunately I didn’t see his set, I was selling books ), everyone said how excellent he was. But I did see Edward Stourton later that evening and very good he was too, ranging from his book on the BBC during World War Two through his long career in broadcasting to modern journalistic ethics.

The feedback we received was uniformly excellent.  But we still have two events to come, both via zoom and costing only £5.  The first is tonight.  I am speaking with Brixton resident Rosanna Amaka about her amazing debut novel ‘The Book of Echoes’ set in East London, Nigeria, the USA and Brixton’ You can buy tickets at https://tinyurl.com/nkthz2zm

Then in two weeks time Sunday Times best seller Ben Macintyre is talking about his latest ‘Agent Sonya’ the biography of ‘the greatest spy of the twentieth century’.  Clapham Book Festival 2021 isn’t over yet!  Why not join us at seven o’clock tonight?

As an aside, this is the nub of a conversation witnessed outside the Cafe between a group of children and Sir Michael –

Small Boy, pointing to girl beside him: ‘It’s her birthday and she’s got a present.’

Sir Michael: ‘Really! Happy Birthday. How old are you, may I ask?’

Small Girl:  ‘Nine.’

Sir Michael: ‘And what is your present?’

Small Girl: ‘You. My present is to come and see you.’

Multi-awarding winning, former Children’s Laureate tries hard not to crack up, sits down and talks with children, regardless of waiting adults.

The countdown begins…

The research is done, the cards of notes are written and the hand-out prepared, now it’s all about the weather. My Literary Walk kicks off this year’s Festival at two o’clock on Saturday and, fingers crossed, it looks like it’s going to be dry and ( relatively ) sunny! My supplications to the weather gods are working so far. It’ll be so much better a festival if that is the case, encouraging people out onto the Common and to participate in things. Omnibus Theatre, our venue, has a pleasant terrace to its Bar/Cafe which overlooks the Common and that is a good place to sit in the sunshine. But the real impact will be on the walks, which would be so much more difficult in the rain.

Award-winning Irish-born novelist and short story writer ( and fellow Clapham resident ) Annemarie Neary leads the second walk starting at three thirty. Our walks aren’t the same, though we do cover some of the same ground; we both start from outside Omnibus Theatre on Clapham Common Northside. Annemarie is focusing on the north and west of the Common, whereas I am doing the full circuit, though I don’t deviate from it, whereas Annemarie does.

There is so much to talk about, in terms of writers who lived in Clapham and works set in Clapham, from the seventeenth century to the present day; including one Nobel Laureate (and some nominees), some of the most famous books and characters in English literature and some modern mega-best-sellers. I’ve unearthed some Clapham-based detective/crime fiction too (I’m not sharing them today, if you want to find out about them you’ll have to come on the walk or wait for the blog which will, inevitably, follow).

As I write this there are some tickets still available for all of the ‘in person’ events at this year’s Clapham Book Festival, mainly because we have been moved into the bigger of the two auditoria at Omnibus Theatre. Social distancing necessarily reduces audience numbers ( one of the reasons the ticket price is higher this year ) but we should now have a good sized audience. Experience suggests that the majority of tickets are sold within the last week, with many people choosing to attend only on the day itself. So we will be selling tickets at the front desk too.

It’s clear from the ticket sales that Sir Michael Morpurgo is a real draw, with people coming from across, and even outside, London to see him.   Ed Stourton is more of a local – he had used to live in Clapham – and I fully expect that Clapham will turn out to see him. We also have two zoom events which take place on the evenings of 19th October and 2nd November (postponed from 7th October because of illness ). I’m already preparing to interview the much praised debut novelist from Brixton, Rosanna Amaka, whose The Book of Echoes was short listed for a range of prizes, including the Royal Society of Literature’s Christopher Bland Award.

But that will take place next Tuesday and, between now and then there’s a Festival Day to take part in.

P.S. I’ve just learned that my walk is Sold Out!

A Different Kind of Book Fest

Clapham Book Festival 2021 is almost upon us! This year we have a variety of excellent sessions, all involving authors, sometimes ‘in person’ live, sometimes live on zoom and sometimes leading groups of walkers around Clapham Common. There are local authors involved, including myself, as well as some big names – Sir Michael Morpurgo being the biggest. We have everything from children’s books, to crime, history, biography and a ‘searing, rhapsodic‘ debut. Fingers crossed for good weather on the day. Autumn in Clapham is often beautiful and, as a leader of one of the walks, some blue sky would be nice. The Cafe/Bar at Omnibus Theatre is light and airy, with doors which open on to a gaily lit terrace and we will be selling, and the authors signing, books there throughout the afternoon of 16th October.

Clapham Book Festival is a small festival run entirely by volunteers and with only small local sponsors. It’s been running since 2016, gradually getting a reputation and a regular following in the immediate locale and some minor recognition in the industry (we were mentioned in The Times in 2019 and had the BBC filming a short piece). 2019 was also the year in which the Festival began to be financially self-sustaining. The future looked bright, but COVID derailed all that. There was no Festival in 2020. We took the decision that the Fest would go ahead in 2021 back in February, while England, the UK and much of the world, was in lockdown. Nobody really knew what circumstances would be like in the Autumn, so we had to be flexible and offer something rather different to normal.

So, this year, in a new and exciting partnership with media partners Time & Leisure Magazine we are presenting a series of zoom interviews and discussions with authors. We have Ben Macintyre, associated editor of The Times and best selling historian and biographer, speaking with Simon Berthon, local writer and BAFTA-winning broadcaster about his latest book Agent Sonya and all things espionage. Time & Leisure hosted the first, successful, online author interview back in July, when I spoke with best-selling local novelist, Elizabeth Buchan to an online audience. We’re staying local to end the Festival on Tuesday 19th October with Brixtonian Rosanna Amaka discussing her wonderful debut novel The Book of Echoes in an interview with me.

The live ‘in person’ events at Omnibus Theatre on the Showcase day will also be livestreamed. In collaboration with Clapham Books, our local independent book shop, the Fest is offering tickets to the livestream to include a copy of a book, plus postage.  Tickets this year are, it has been pointed out, more expensive. Yes, they are, but we are a charity and we can’t project running an event to make a loss. Given that audience numbers are restricted ( though not as much as we originally feared ) we had to reflect that in prices. It will, I have no doubt, put some people off, but the zooms are all at £5.

So why not join us, online or in person. If you live in south London come along to one of the literary walks and learn more about Clapham and its writers.

Chelsea in Autumn

Chelsea-2020-Header-DesktopChelsea, or the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show, happens in May. It has happened in May for as long as I can remember ( and I’ve been going, on and off, for thirty years or more ), but in 2021, thanks to COVID-19, it took place in September. I went along.

First impression – there were far fewer people at the show. This was a huge plus for those of us who were there! Only people who’ve attended this show realise just how crushed and sometimes unpleasantly crowded it can be. There was still excitement, but much less stress. Numbers had been restricted and, even so, all the tickets had not been sold.  That didn’t surprise me – at almost £100 per day ticket and taking place at the ‘wrong’ time of year. This is too expensive, oh RHS. It’s supposed to be a show for gardeners, not just for the wealthy who can afford it. Plenty of folk will simply have decided to watch the BBC’s blanket coverage on the TV instead and they won’t be returning.  Aren’t you trying to appeal to more people not fewer? This is how to make your (currently very popular) product into a ghetto (albeit a well-heeled one). 

Second impression – this was a somewhat underpowered show. There were fewer contributors of all kinds, fewer show gardens, no ‘artisan’ gardens, fewer Grand Pavilion stands. The RHS had tried to fill the gaps, but, overall, rather unsuccessfully, I thought. I’ve never seen the Grand Pavilion so empty and, while it was undoubtedly the case that there was a real attempt to spread things out because of COVID, there were also some of the usual stands missing. I understand that some of regular exhibitors weren’t there because of, they said, the difficulty in preparing blooms for September, but how can it be more difficult than preparing blooms in the early and cold part of the year for display in May? So I missed stands like Bloms Bulbs, David Austen and other well-known growers.

What about replacements? It’s Autumn – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – there was even a Harvest Moon on Tuesday night. Where were the stands celebrating that? Pumpkins and squashes appeared as a theme, but what about some of the other seasonal produce? My fig tree is producing. My roses are still blooming, in what has been a fabulous year for roses, at least in the south east of England, where were these? Didn’t the brains at the RHS come up with alternatives?  Or did they do so, only to find that growers and supporters weren’t going to play ball? Missed opportunity.

There was, nonetheless, much that was interesting and new. A stand from Penzance specialising in Restios which look like grasses, but are as a species, many millions of years older. They were stunning. There were new garden categories too, which needed less preparation time and construction, the Balcony Gardens and the Container Gardens, the latter more successful, in my opinion.

Of course a good time was had, meeting up at Chelsea is an annual ritual and especially welcome after recent restrictions. Pimms was drunk, new people were met, the sun shone and the band played. Not quite back to business as usual though and it was interesting that we were contemplating other garden festivals where we could do all this and be rather better serviced (lunch has become impossible, even getting seats in a cafe/tent for a group of more than six is difficult). We all moved north to Chatsworth when that began, maybe next year it’ll be Hampton Court, or Malvern, or Rosemoor? I love Chelsea, but our relationship needs a serious looking at. Who knows what will happen next year.

La sonida del mar

Or the sound of the sea. There is nothing quite like that ever repeating, calming background pulse of water falling upon sand. Or indeed the fierce cacophony of wind whipped breakers on rocks or cliffs.  Last week I was enjoying the former.

Twenty minutes drive from Jerez de la Frontera is the sherry town of El Puerto de Santa Maria. It sits at the mouth of the Rio Guadalete, although it would be more accurate to say that it sits upon the river delta, because there is as much sea and marsh as land.  Nonetheless the river is in part enclosed here as it runs into the Bay of Cadiz. The town is an old one, it was from here and from Sanlucar de Barrameda that Columbus set sail in the seventeenth century and El Puerto was already old then.

It has its medieval castle and ramparts and many familiar bodega-style buildings, although these are largely symbolic today. It also has a smart central shopping area and a grand Plaza de Toro ( the people of El Puerto are keen on the traditions of old Andalucia and old Spain ). There are plush modern suburbs, like Vista Hermosa, full of large villas built in the traditional style each surrounded by private gardens, often rented out to officers from the American Naval Base at Rota. There are also holiday apartments, in Las Redes and at El Manantial, owned in part by locals, but favoured too by visitors from Madrid and Sevilla.

El Puerto is much more of a holiday destination than Jerez, with its many beaches which, like all Spanish beaches, have names (see above). There is the town beach, with children’s play areas, soft golden sand and tiled promenade with gardens, Vista Hermosa’s beach, beyond what had used to be the Club 18 -30, which has been raised and is about to be replaced with a five star hotel; and there’s a glossy marina called Puerto Sherry. The Spanish Olympic Yachting Association sails out of here and, on the day when I visited, there were some rather expensive, ocean-going yachts moored behind the lighthouse mole.

There were some rather expensive bars too. Sotavento is superbly positioned just where the marina meets the Bay (see photos, courtesy of Deborah Powell) with a view across to Cadiz and one pays a premium for the location. When we visited there was the bonus of a tall ship. The people frequenting the bars along here are, largely, wealthy holiday makers and yacht owners, Spanish and foreign. The locals work in them. They were, however, extremely welcoming of Thai and Goa, Deborah’s two labradors. We sat and watched the sun set and the lights of Cadiz begin to glow.

Twenty four hours later I did the same at El Manantial, half a mile further north, a beach which lies up against the perimeter of the aforementioned naval base. On that occasion I was with my friend from Jerez and her three dogs. She has a beach-house there, where there were few foreigners, but plenty of Spanish folk enjoying the last of summer, once the ‘tourists’ have gone back to the city. The beach bars are few and far between, though the clam sellers (and sellers of sweets and snacks) push their gaily coloured carts along on the hard sand, crying their wares. Much less smart. And soon they too would pack up and leave, the season having finished. The beach would become much quieter, the bailiwick of locals only.

Again I watched the sun set and the lights of Cadiz twinkling on the horizon, before heading back to a Jerez still celebrating the Vendimia (with a ferris wheel in Plaza Arenal!). Two beaches, both in El Puerto and so close to each other, but so different. In both there was the sound of the sea.

Conservation and conversation

London is a wonderful city in which to live, a trove of treasures to be discovered. I’ve lived here for over thirty years, yet I’m still finding interesting places new to me, sometimes close to home. Ten days ago I found myself in Stockwell.

Stockwell is a place I usually pass through, on the number 88 bus or on the Northern or Victoria lines going into town. I almost never stop there. Yet there I was, consulting my map and clutching my trusty notepad (plus a jar of homemade plum jam). I was there to interview the broadcaster and journalist Ed Stourton of Radio 4  for Time & Leisure Magazine. It was somewhat daunting, to be interviewing the man who had interviewed so many famous, and infamous, people and whose voice had formed part of the backdrop to my mornings for so many years. Stourton was a main presenter on Radio 4’s Today Programme for a decade – as well as The World at One and The World This Weekend, both of which he still does on occasion.

He had, very kindly, invited me to interview him in his home and, determined not to be late, I was ridiculously early. So I wandered towards the address I had been given and discovered, for the first time, Stockwell Park or the Stockwell Conservation Area.  It received that designation in 1973 and covers the old Stockwell Green (the 15th century manor house which formerly stood there has links with Thomas Cromwell) and the later 19th century developments of Stockwell Crescent and the roads running from it. Built primarily in the 1830s the surviving buildings are elegant early Victorian villas with gardens. They were built to different designs, which distinguishes them from the smaller, ‘pattern built’ south London Victoriana elsewhere (like some of my beloved Clapham).

I wandered, happy, around curving crescents and through quiet, tree-lined streets and found St Michael’s Church of England church (consecrated 1841) and a blue plaque marking the home of Lillian Bayliss, Director of the Old Vic and Sadlers Wells theatres and founder of the forerunners of the English National Opera, the National Theatre and the Royal Ballet. The whole enclave was a delight and so very near to the busy Stockwell Road which runs directly into the City. I never knew it existed.

When I arrived (on time) Ed and I had coffee in his beautiful garden and talked about his life in broadcasting – from the Cambridge ‘Milk Round’ and an ITN traineeship, to Channel 4 News at the very beginning (Stourton was a co-founder), Washington and Paris for C4 and the BBC respectively, his love of radio, admiration for George Orwell and enjoyment of la france profonde, specifically the foothills of the Pyrenees. His views on current standards of journalism were more optimistic than I thought they might be, taking the view that the ‘no truth’ culture would pass, reality being very hard to avoid. He cited the initial success of Nazi propaganda, something he’d researched for Auntie’s War; The BBC During World War Two (Doubleday 2017) which ultimately failed.

He was an amusing and engaging companion with a fund of stories, how he got into the besieged city of Sarajevo, for example, or being in Soweto when Nelson Mandela was released. I came away with a wealth of material and the interview will appear in Time & Leisure October edition ( plus a longer version in their on-line version ) I’ll share a link when it’s published. Why not come along to hear him speaking with Simon Berthon, fellow broadcaster, at the Clapham Book Festival on 16th October or, if you’re unable to get to Clapham, buy a ticket for the livestream of that event. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.

Shivering in the park with Tosca

ToscaatCrystalPalace2On a grey and somewhat chilly Bank Holiday Sunday English National Opera, with the full ENO orchestra and chorus and soloists David Junghoon Kim, Natalya Romaniw and Roland Wood were at Crystal Palace Park. So were we.

Part of ‘South Facing Festival’ this was the first time this music festival has taken place and it showed. In the information provided to concert goers and in provision of refreshment at the site. So, there wasn’t a clear message that the gates would open at 5.30 pm, yet the show would not begin until 7 pm. A crowd of people were milling around at the entrance at 5.20, all a little bemused at the lack of urgency in letting people enter. We were there and then sat around for an hour and a half, waiting. It did allow us to grab a prime spot, however, with a very good view of the stage.

Despite a promise of ‘a carefully curated line-up of some of the UK’s top street food traders‘ we had small choice – aToscaatCrystalPalace3 couple of burger joints, a pizza place, churros and sushi – with long queues, which meant people walking back to their places bearing food after the performance had commenced. There were bars aplenty, unfortunately they sold only hugely overpriced cans – of beer, of wine and of gin & tonic. No draught beer, no bottles of wine. And no bringing your own drinks with you. We knew this, so didn’t try, but others clearly did not and had their goodies confiscated at the entrance. Given the lack of choice and the prices charged this left a sour taste in a lot of mouths.

So did some of the ticketing information. We’d gone for the cheap seats in Zone C ( blankets on the grass at the back ). Others had paid a premium ( £60 ) for Zone A. In one instance £240 for four seats, the man arguing heatedly with a steward clearly believed, only to be told this paid for entry to Zone A and he would have to pay even more for Zone A with seat (and there were no such tickets left). He and his family had to sit on the grass at ToscaatCrystalPalace5the back of Zone A, only a few yards from where we sat. They weren’t pleased and understandably so.

Whoever organised this was clearly focussing on making as much money as they could. I estimated over a thousand people were there on Sunday, each paying a minimum of £35, many paying more. The food and drinks outlets would also pay the organisers for their pitches. Yes, opera is expensive and the local council would be paid for use of the park, but, if you’re offering a superb musical experience, then why not allow people to enjoy the whole evening, not just the performance. 

But this was the ENO so the playing and singing was sublime. I had forgotten what a full orchestra, live, sounded like and Puccini was a wonderful way to be reminded. The performance was ‘semi-staged’ and the ENO had circumvented the potential pitfalls ( Tosca shot Scarpia and, at the end, herself, in the absence of a stage on which to set a dinner table or a set of battlements to leap from ). Inevitably some of the subtleties went missing -if you didn’t know about the political sub-plot and the news from Marengo, it would have passed you by completely.

The music and singing were absolutely ENO standard, that is, world class. They had bought their A game. Kim was a lyricalToscaatCrystalPalace9 and powerful Cavaradossi who reached those high notes with ease. Romaniw was empassioned and exquisite – even in a park and with an audience this big, you could have heard a pin drop during ‘Vissi d’arte‘. At the end, everyone was on their feet and clapping and cheering ( and booing Scarpia, who was an excellent Roland Wood ). Though there were also folk beginning to clear away their things – it was cold by this time. The group to the immediate right of us had brought duvets, they were snug.

Tosca is also the opera in ‘Opera’, a performance of which my heroine attends with a Greek diplomatic party ( the Greeks from previous book, ‘Oracle’ ) but that one is at the Royal Opera House ( of which more in a future post ).

Jam-making and manuscripts

PlumJam1Last weekend I submitted the manuscript of Opera to Claret Press. Then I went and made some jam.

I’d had a major wobble about the ending towards the end of last week and rewrote it, now I’m worrying that it’s not written well enough. In truth this doesn’t matter, because the editing process means that submission is just the beginning and I’ll have ample opportunity to consider it again. I’m sure that those more experienced or more skilled than myself are able to produce a manuscript which is almost, typos and a few infelicities aside, completely ready for publication. Their manuscripts would be almost perfect. As yet I can’t, so my aren’t.

Opera is the sixth book that I’ve written, the third to be traditionally, commercially published (by Claret Press), beginning with The Village back in 2014. I’ve learned a lot since then, not least how very unglamorous a job writing is andOpera_Cover_HiRes what extremely hard work. It’s a business, an industry and many of those toiling within it do so for very little reward and recognition. As with any industry the larger entities, the Hachettes and Harper Collins, will have greater reach and a higher profile ( placing their books on supermarket shelves for example ) and the big corporate vendors, the Amazons and Waterstones will also skew the market towards those books which get the publicity and the coverage. As my friend and fellow Claret author, Steve Sheppard, says in the note in his latest novel Bored to Death in the Baltics, he ‘ought to have tried to become a celebrity first, as this would have made selling it (the book) so much easier’. 

Another of the things I have learned about is the creative process, or, at least, how the creative process applies in my case. So I know that there comes a point in the making of a book when I, the writer, need other input.  As ever this will come from my husband, who has an uncanny knack of spotting plot holes, very useful to a writer of crime/mystery stories, but also from a trusty band of beta readers, some of them writers themselves, who are ‘critical friends’. So the manuscript of Opera has also gone to them.  Their feedback will inform the editorial process too. But the major input will be from my editor.  So far, I’ve had two, Gina Marsh on Plague and Madeleine Simcox-Brown on Oracle: both were excellent in different ways and, of course, there is the over-arching input from Katie Isbester, the Editor-in-Chief.

PlumJam4I have come to genuinely enjoy this process, though it sometimes isn’t a comfortable one. People get passionate about a work, there are disagreements and I, like any writer, am possessive about my stories. I expect to know them better and know what’s best for them, despite evidence to the contrary. But for now I have a moment’s respite, maybe a fortnight, maybe longer. I can sit back, read other books, do the garden, catch up on all those jobs… and make more jam.

Bored to Death in the Baltics will be published by Claret Press in September 2021.

 

This Turbulent Priest

Becket5Yesterday to the British Museum during the last week of the exhibition Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint which ends on Sunday. It’s an interesting exhibition which follows Becket’s upbringing, fairly meteoric career ( from Cheapside immigrant merchant’s son to the Archbishopric and Lord Chancellorship of England ) to his eventual death and subsequent canonisation. I reread Murder in the Cathedral in preparation and the exhibition ends with lines from that verse play.

The objects on display were sometimes exquisite – the beautiful reliquaries – some times interesting – the documents and carvings – and often both – the illuminated manuscripts. They illustrated the story of Thomas Becket, or, as I was taught at school, Thomas a Becket. This was an individual with a will to power, a very clever and subtle man who, itBecket1 seemed to me and my companion, also sought martyrdom as the ultimate step, a translation into immortality. Everyone knows the story, or has seen the film and recognises the famous quote ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’, although this is, without explanation, changed to ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?’ in this exhibition. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, though I’m afraid it prodded my cantankerous side. So no, I don’t accept that Henry II is mainly known for this feud and the resulting death of Becket. Henry II was a tremendously successful king, the first English Plantagenet, who reigned over the Angevin Empire – England, Wales, Scotland, much of Ireland and most of France – for thirty five years. He maintained a large and sophisticated royal court and introduced legal changes, including the use of juries, which eventually became the basis for the English Common Law. Some historians see him as laying the foundation for a unified Britain. I understand that this is an exhibition about Becket and therein its focus must lie, but no, Thomas Becket story isn’t the only, or even the main, event for which Henry II is remembered.

Becket2British Museum curators shouldn’t, in my view, be saying it is because, aside from anything else, it will then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Three young people, unknown to me, but who went round the exhibition at approximately the same time as I did, clearly took away this ‘story’ without its context. Henry might not be a popular, or even a colourful, character, by all accounts he was a choleric and sometimes harsh individual, but he also inherited a cash-strapped and exhausted land, following the war between Stephen and Matilda ( Henry’s mother ). Just because he isn’t particularly likeable doesn’t mean his role in history should be limited to his role in a martyrdom. In my humble opinion, it’s bad history ( even if it is good story telling. ) The richness and complexity of life, even life in the past, is reduced in this way. Rant over.

That quibble aside, this was a good exhibition, taking in the legacy of the murder and subsequent canonisation as wellBecket4 as the murder itself.  I was intrigued to find out about the broken sword and the depiction which showed this, as well as a chunk of skull falling to the flagstones of the cathedral floor. It’s interesting that these small, if gory, details survived and thrived in later representations of the scene. I was surprised by the far-flung examples of the Becket cult – stone carving from Sweden, a reliquary from Norway, reference in a parchment from Italy. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, the Church stretched across Europe and its saints were promoted widely.

One last point, I discovered when reading the preface to Murder in the Cathedral that sections of the original verse play which were not used in the final version performed eventually found their way into Burnt Norton as part of Eliot’s Four Quartets. Now I have to read those again.

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint runs until 22nd August.

Dear Voyager…

RyanairFlightphotoThe airport wasn’t crowded (no queues at Pret for the in-flight sandwich) though that may have had something to do with the hour – it was 5 a.m.. That’s the downside of my Ryanair flight to Jerez, the only flight available. There’s no public transport at that time in the morning either, but Pepe, my cabbie from Congo, was fun to talk to on the way. The cab from south London wasn’t cheap, but then the flight tickets were, so…  My flight, on time and comfortable, was far from full.

The bureaucracy was a pain, but not too much of one. A Spanish Document Control complete with QR Code was the result of my completing the required online form and, given that I am doubly vaccinated, that was the limit of it going out. There was a little additional business at the Spanish airport, but not much. Once there, the sun shone, friends whom I hadn’t seen for ten months awaited and my little flat was as lovely as it ever was. PatioWriting

The State of Alarm in Spain was ended sometime before the Emergency COVID measures were lifted in England, so the wearing of face masks isn’t obligatory in either country and nor is social distancing, though it is strongly encouraged in Spain. Most Spaniards choose to wear face masks, outdoors and in, except when eating and drinking. People without them are oddities and looked at as such.  I was, however, pleased to see they were no longer worn on the beach.

Returning to the UK is more problematical, with much more documentation needed e.g. the Vaccination Passport, certification of an authorised and negative test taken 48 hours or later before returning and Plateroswithmasksevidence that a PCR test has been booked for one’s return. I had organised these last two before I’d left the UK and the arrangements worked well, especially the Antigen Test with Zoom, which I did when there in collaboration with a nurse who was online, somewhere else in the world. This method was considerably cheaper than any other that I’d found and entirely acceptable to the UK authorities. 

I didn’t think I’d caught COVID, I had no symptoms and I was staying in my own home, mixing with people whom I knew. Nonetheless I was, I confess, a little anxious while I waited the twenty minutes or so for the test to work. So what, I reasoned, even if I have it, I just have to stay in this beautiful place for a couple more weeks, but, of course, self-isolation isn’t that much fun anywhere, so I was pleased when the test result was negative.

I needed to complete a Passenger Locator form too ( that took rather longer than I’d anticipated ), at least I received theSunset at ElPuerto code which successful submission generated on my phone.  Rather more than a fellow traveller on the return journey had managed. He was in transit only through Stansted and hadn’t completed the Form but the Ryanair people insisted.  They turned another woman away, who had failed to take a test. Her excuse was that she had planned to take one at the airport – it didn’t work,  Jerez airport is very small, without any testing facilities. Other airports may offer this service, but she really should have checked.

So, my advice to a voyager is, take this seriously, ensure everything is arranged before you go and then do what you have arranged. If you do, it’s relatively plain sailing. 

Ditch your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep and direct your sandaled feet, to the sunny side of the street. Can you hear a pitter pat, that’s the rain in dear old London, a double vax is so neat, on the sunny side of the street. Why not walk in the shade, when the town’s on parade, no need to be afraid, this rover’s crossed over. A Day Two test and all that, will await until you’re home and, don’t forget it’s sweet, on the sunny, sunny side of the street.

With apologies to Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. Here’s Dinah Washington singing the real thing.