Banksy ~ A rebel with a cause?

I recently wrote about our concert at the Tuckwell Open Air Theatre.  For several weeks before the concert we rehearsed in a room above a pub in one of the older parts of Cheltenham.  Right opposite the pub, on the corner of Hewlett Road and Fairview Road, was an ugly modern telephone box.    I will never understand why the powers that be got rid of our lovely red telephone boxes and replaced them with these ugly grey plastic things.  But I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

red telephone box modern telephone booth

However, I digress.  The telephone box was attached to the side wall of a very insignificant rented house.  Insignificant that is until one Saturday night in April this year when a van turned up and a man covered the wall of the house with tarpaulin.  He then proceeded to paint a mural around the phone box which showed three men apparently using listening devices to hear and record the conversations of people using the phone box.   The trenchcoat-wearing men were obviously meant to be spies.  Now this was clearly a reference to the fact that GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, is based in the town.  GCHQ had been controversially in the news because of Edward Snowdon’s revelation that they listen in to private telephone calls, though quite why anyone is surprised by that I fail to see.  I may be missing something, but if this is done in the quest to prevent terrorism and serious crime ~ isn’t that their job?

When the tarpaulin, the man and the van left, there appeared an amazing piece of very professional street art or graffiti, depending on your point of view.

It was quickly established that the art was the work of the world famous elusive Bristol based artist known as Banksy, which made it extremely valuable to whoever owned that wall.  Banksy owned up to the work, which is now known as Spy Booth

People came from miles around to have their photograph taken inside the Spy Booth including my daughter and my grandson!

Jenny and Stanley in the Spy Booth

Of course all of this attention had negative consequences too.  The painting was very soon badly vandalised, which is tragic, but also rather ironic as it was originally an act of vandalism itself.

Banksy vandalised

The debacle which has rumbled on ever since verges on the ridiculous with the owner, the tenants, the council, local business people, millionaire prospective buyers and art experts all proclaiming their views loudly in the local newspaper.   But most residents agree that it livens up a rather dull area, is a tourist attraction and definitely belongs in Cheltenham.  It would be irrelevant as a political statement if it were not linked to the phone box and the home of the Government communications Headquarters.

Banksy himself has said, “As a kid I always dreamed of growing up to be a character in Robin Hood”.  It seems now his street art is so valuable that he doesn’t need to steal from the rich.  They are queuing up to buy his work!   Today I heard that another of his paintings, Mobile Lovers, attached to the side of a community building in Bristol has been sold for a six figure sum and all the money is going to secure the future running of the premises as a Youth Club.

Mobile Lovers appeared in April on a doorway by Broad Plain Working With Young People

Miss Margaret’s New House

When I was a student in the 1960’s I started collecting nursery rhymes and poetry which I could use once I started teaching.  I built up quite a collection in a folder.  I also got into the habit of cutting poems out of the daily newspaper if they appealed to me.  One poem impressed me so much I have treasured it for the last 50 years.  I still have the original cutting.  Brown with age, I’ve now laminated it so that it doesn’t get damaged.  It is called Miss Margaret’s New House and it chimed with me really strongly.

As regular readers of my blog will know, my much loved mum died in 2012.  She lived just a couple of doors away from me, which was really handy when I was caring for her.  But once she had died, the house being so close was a constant source of sadness which I could not escape.

The house was empty and forlorn for months but now new people have bought the house to ‘do up’ and live in.  It seems to me that there will be nothing left of the original house soon.  It now has a huge extension on the back, the lovely hardwood window frames have been replaced with white plastic and the leaded lights are gone.  The kitchen has been ripped out and a new one built in the extension.  The wall between the bathroom and toilet has been knocked through and all the fittings have been replaced.  The climbing roses have been cut down and the rambling hedgerow tamed and trimmed.  All the carpets are gone and modern wooden flooring installed and the walls have all be painted in neutral tones.

I’m sure it will all be lovely by the time they move in, but no longer will it be ‘my mum’s house’.  This is a blessing in a way as I will no longer feel those pangs of sadness as I pass by on my walks with the dog or my grandson.  Every trace of my mum’s taste and personality has gone from the house now, along with her fixtures and fittings, into the skip.

Her style was plain and simple.  She loved the soft pink on the walls, pale green on the floors ~ always Wilton, always 80/20 wool.  She loved roses in the garden, flowers in the house, and dark oak Ercol furniture.  She loved soft cushions and silver ornaments.  Her door, like her heart, was always open to visitors, especially her family.  She never forgot a birthday and was generous to a fault.  Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her.

Now to get back to the poem!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


 She never liked The Firs.  She said

‘Give me simplicity.

Pretentious roofs and leaded panes…

Lord, how they sicken me!


I’ll have an honest house one day.

Clean-shaped outside and in.

Where need shall take its dues, and oust

The merely finikin.


A downright house, a compact house;

A small house – I am small;

The lone pea in its vasty pod

Is not my role at all.


Nor yet for me pert painted doors,

Flame yellow, scarlet bright;

A low house with white window sills,

And trees to left and right.


A quiet house, a peaceful house…

Cool in the August heat,

But snug and safe when parching winds

Drive brown leaves down the street…


This will I have’, she said and let

It cost me what it may

I shall not grudge that dwelling’s price…

She moved in yesterday.


It took the sum of all she had,

But well content she seemed;

She has them all-the sheltering trees,

The quiet that she dreamed;


The low pitched roof, the straight bare walls-

All hers, and perfect, save

For the white window sills.  There are

No windows in a grave.

By Ana Jackson

Miss Margaret's House? No, its mine!

My mum painting in Painswick Rococo Gardens

My mum painting in Painswick Rococo Gardens

My Life in the Glass Cabinet

Preserved Rose from Lourdes

Preserved Rose from Lourdes

August has been challenging to say the least. We needed a new gas boiler ~ expensive but not a disaster you would think. However…one thing leads to another … a burst water pipe in the loft filled up the loft space and soaked the insulation; water came through the ceiling and the loft door soaking all the carpets in the hall, bathroom and airing cupboard. Water then came through all the electric light fittings and the alarms. The gas fitters trying to stop the water managed to put their foot through the ceiling and made a hole in the bathroom wall. We then had a gas leak where the pipes were connected to the meter!
Result ~ 2 regular gas fitters to fit the new boiler, 2 emergency gas fitters to fix the gas leak, 2 emergency electricians to change all the fittings and make it safe, 2 plumbers to change the pipes, 1 handyman to fix the hole in the wall, 2 builders to take down the ceiling and build a new one, 2 decorators to repaint the ceilings and walls in the hall and kitchen, 2 carpet fitters to lay new carpets to hall and bathroom, 1 carpenter to make new loft door, 1 man to replace loft insulation, several insurance assessors and surveyors and a very frazzled housewife!
As if all this weren’t enough my husband then had a nasty fall and injured his leg. It will take some weeks to recover and he is in a wheelchair until it does. Undaunted we decided to go away for a couple of days as it was my birthday on Monday. Not being used to worrying about access I booked a hotel which involved getting said husband and wheelchair up and down several stairs countless times daily. Finding this rather awkward I managed to jam my little finger causing a deep gash, and losing copious amounts of blood in the beautifully tiled reception.
And so dear reader as August draws to a close I am busy getting my little bungalow back in some kind of order. I had to empty the glass cabinet so I could move it for the carpet fitters and today’s job was to clean it and put everything back.
Glass Cabinet
I realised as I put things back that this glass cabinet is a treasure trove, preserving significant moments and key memories spanning almost my whole life.
There are the two little pixies that I bought in Woolworth’s on Felling High Street in 1952 for my mother with my sixpence pocket money. When she died and the house was cleared they turned up amongst her possessions. She had kept them for 60 years and I will keep them now.
Glass cabinet ceramics

Felling High Street when i was a girl

Felling High Street when i was a girl

There is a nativity scene with a painted card background and little plastic figures. This is a poignant reminder of the traumatic Christmas of 1952 when I was in the children’s hospital at Rothbury in Northumberland. It was given to me by a kind visitor and has attained a ridiculous level of significance in my life.
Glass cabinet Crib Scene
There are treasured Christmas cards from friends as far afield as Africa, Russia and Poland. For many years I was involved in an inter-cultural linking charity called Global Footsteps/Rendezvous.
We organised Conferences where young people could interact, learn from each other, share their cultures, have fun, and generally get to know each other. This led to many close friendships, and a couple of marriages, between people who would otherwise never have met. It is a joy to me that I still receive cards from some of the youth and I treasure them.

Glass cabinet Christmas cards from Russia and Poland Glass cabinet Christmas more cards from Russia
There are little things from my children such as extra items for my Christmas crib scene, glass angels, and maple syrup bottles! One of my daughters lives in Vermont where the maple syrup is tapped right from the trees outside her barn.

Glass from vermont IMG_2530
There are paperweights that my husband used to make for me with lovely pictures inside and ornaments we collected from the wonderful places we visited over the years.

Glass from Norway Glass motorbike Glass paperweights

 There are glasses from Anjou and Vezelay, which we collected during a wine tasting holiday in the Loire and Burgundy regions of France.

Glass from Vezelay and Anjou

Glass from Vezelay and Anjou

Crystal Glass from Wales

Crystal Glass from Wales

There is a decanter given to me by a very dear friend when her husband died.  He used to write beautiful poetry and was a very holy man.  So I put a little verse inside the decanter in memory of him:

Life is only for LOVE

Time is only that we may find GOD

Glass Franks decanter 2

There are lots of mementoes from Lourdes, candles, Icons, Rosary beads, statues, crosses. Some of these were given as gifts, some were my mothers, and some I bought myself. I realise that many of my readers are of different faiths, or none, and I respect that. But today I feel strongly that, although I no longer belong to any particular church community, my faith is very important to me. It has been a constant in my life, a comfort in hard times, my anchor, the rock my life is built on.

Memories of Lourdes

Memories of Lourdes

Then of course there are the assorted glasses that I have gathered from jumble sales, trips to the Welsh Crystal factory, or as gifts.  All have a safe home in my glass cabinet…  

As long as my little grandson Stanley can’t find the key!

Family ~ Weekly Photo Challenge

Many years ago, it seems like another lifetime, I was a busy single mum to 4 wonderful children. I had a full time job that I loved, a nice home that was all my own work, an adorable miniature wire haired dachshund and a stray cat who turned up one day and stayed for 17 years. Over the years I progressed from teacher to deputy head and then Headteacher of a great primary school at the heart of an estate in my adopted home town. Luckily my profession fitted in perfectly with being a single parent as I was usually around in school holidays and always at weekends. But if ever there was a crisis due to illness or something I had the backup of my mum who lived nearby and was always delighted to look after the children or pets!

My school and parish was my community and together with my family, was the source of all the joy, friendship and social life I needed. Although I knew my immediate neighbours, my life was much too busy to get involved in the local community or the people in the wider neighbourhood.

And so life went on and my children became adults and gradually left home. I had always encouraged them to follow their dreams and take any opportunity they could to travel and sample other ways of life and other cultures. I was lucky enough to travel extensively through my job, working with schools in Russia and Africa. I also took great holidays in America, Canada and many parts of Europe. So I think I probably went a bit too far with this advice as now 3 of my children live and work abroad!

As my children grew more independent I filled my spare time travelling to Lourdes at every available opportunity as a volunteer/helper with the sick or disabled whom we called VIPs. This was one of the most rewarding 10 years of my life. It also indirectly brought me my wonderful second husband who was also a volunteer.

I knew that I was very lucky in every way and I worked very hard to try and improve the life chances of the children in my school. But of course life has a way of turning your world upside down sometimes. For me several events occurred to produce the perfect storm that would shatter my well ordered life. I buried my feelings and worked harder and harder until my body refused to do any more and I had to retire.

There then followed 5 very gruelling years which felt like 50 years. I was caring for my mum who was disabled after a heart attack. I only ever went out of the house to shop or for their hospital appointments. I became reclusive, antisocial and anxious. By 2009 my life and social circle was as limited as it could possibly be.

Then in that Autumn my youngest daughter said some women wanted to start a WI in our area. She said she thought it would be good for me so she would go with me to the inaugural meeting. It took all my courage to turn up that night and fortunately there were only a handful of women there. In fact there were so few that almost everyone there ended up on the committee by default! My daughter said I was good on computers so could be the secretary.

Now, almost 4 years on, I know that joining the WI was the best thing I could have done. At first I forced myself to go to all the meetings as I had to take notes. Gradually it became a pleasure to attend the meetings and I looked forward to them. I joined the Book Club and started reading again. I started putting my name down for trips and events. To give me the courage to turn up for them I took my camera to hide behind and became our unofficial photographer. I ventured out to concerts and big events like the AGM in Cardiff. It still takes quite a lot of courage for me to attend these things but I know that if I am struggling I will not be alone. The friendship and support WI members offer each other is very special. I even joined the Public Affairs Committee at our Federation.

Usually I find that the speakers at meetings are so interesting that I completely forget to worry or panic and just enjoy myself!

Now the WI is my community and my family. Through joining, I have rediscovered my creative side, writing a blog at I have become outgoing and physically active again and renewed my interest in campaigning.

Best of all, when I walk anywhere in my local area now I seem to know everyone and they all stop for a chat. I feel that I am part of a vibrant and supportive community.

The WI offers all kinds of opportunities to all kinds of women. I would advise any woman of any age to join and get involved to whatever extent you feel able.

The WI is all about inspiring women. It is a rich source of experiences, knowledge and skills passed down through generation ~ and updated every day!

WI even enriches my now rare holidays, as I try to pop in to a local meeting while I am away. It is fascinating to see how different WIs conduct their meetings. But I can honestly say that whichever WI I go to, I know a warm welcome is guaranteed.

I am so happy with my life now and I thank God every day for my wonderful family, friends and community.

Pop, Poets and Plays

Community Choir at Tuckwell

Community Choir at Tuckwell

It’s been quite a cultural summer so far for me in the Cotswolds. I sang in a super concert at the local open air theatre, which was amazing. There were 150 of us aged from 5 to 90 singing together in the community choir. Sometimes we split up and sang in individual choirs, and we sang such a variety of songs. It was great to listen to the other choirs, especially the children. The setting was magical. We were in a dell surrounded on 3 sides by trees and with a stream running behind. On the fourth side was a tiered seating area. All the trees were sparkling with lights and there were candles along the paths and down the steps. The theme for dress was ‘festival’ so there were flowers in our hair and lots of pretty dresses. It took me back to my teenage years in the 1960s. I loved every minute of it. Sitting in the audience were two ladies who are direct descendants of a Gloucestershire poet who coincidentally is the subject of the rest of this post, Will Harvey.

There have been all sorts of commemorative events going on to mark the centenary of the start of World War One. Here in Gloucestershire I was involved in a production of a brand new play called Will Harvey’s War at our local theatre, playing the part of a singing farmworker! The play was based on a previously unpublished manuscript written by Will and only recently discovered. It has now been published as a book entitled The Lost Novel of F W Harvey

Will Harvey, better known as Frederick William Harvey DCM (26 March 1888~13 Feb 1957), was a local man, born in a small village called Hartpury in Gloucestershire. I have very fond memories of Hartpury, as my daughter did her degree in Equine Studies there at the college. The setting was perfect. There used to be a great village pub called the Canning Arms where live Jazz was played every Monday night. My husband and I used to go regularly to enjoy the music, the food, and to chat with the great licensees, John and Jean. Sadly, like many country pubs, after Black Wednesday the Canning Arms suffered in the economic downturn and closed. It is now a private house.

Will Harvey moved to Minsterworth and went to the King’s School in Gloucester, where he met Ivor Gurney, a chorister, who went on to become a noted Gloucestershire poet and composer. Along with Herbert Howells they became lifelong friends. Kings school, being a Cathedral school, has a strong music and arts tradition, but it was listening to Elgar’s, Dream of Gerontius that informed Will’s ideas on beauty and creativity. Coincidentally, I worked at King’s School for a time in the 1990’s and have written about it before

After school Will trained as a solicitor, but at the age of 26, the First World War intervened in his life. Within days of the war starting in August 1914, Will joined the 5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment as a private. After a few months training, the battalion was posted to France where Will proved to be quite a hero. He was awarded the DCM or Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery. Will was later trained as an officer then sent back to France. Unfortunately, during another brave venture into enemy trenches, he was captured and spent the rest of the war in various prisoner of war camps. Although he made several unsuccessful escape attempts, it was in the camps that Will developed his poetry and writing skills. His most famous poem is Ducks, which he wrote after seeing a picture of ducks on the ceiling of his prison hut, drawn by another prisoner

It is often thought that The Wipers Times was the first trench newspaper, but actually the Fifth Gloucester Gazette came first and Will Harvey was a contributor. It was fortunate that Will was allowed to send his poems home for publication. His first volume was, A Gloucestershire Lad At Home and Abroad, which was soon followed by, Gloucestershire Friends, poems from a German Prison Camp.

He also wrote about his wartime experiences in Comrades in Captivity. Altogether Will had about 400 poems published. He wrote of war and nature and animals as well as poetry for children.

After WW1 ended, Will came back to Gloucestershire and settled in the Forest of Dean. His poetry was so popular that he was known as “the Laureate of Gloucestershire“. But, now married to a nurse called Anne Kane, Will went back to his career as a solicitor in order to earn a living. To his credit he became known as “the poor man’s solicitor”. Indeed, Will was so compassionate to those facing prison that he often gave his services free. This was great for his reputation but not for his business and eventually it had to be sold. After that, Will joined the BBC and spent years promoting the people of the Forest of Dean, its arts’ scene, culture and heritage. Will’s friends, Ivor Gurney and Howells both set some of Will Harvey’s poems to music. Even today his poetry is set to music by local folk musicians such as Johnny Coppin. He sings of Gloucestershire, its traditions, its people and its culture.

Will Harvey is remembered on a memorial stone at Gloucester Cathedral and a new biography is being published this year.

The whole cast on set at the end of the show

The whole cast on set at the end of the show

Frozen in Norway

Sculpture by Gustav Vigeland in Oslo park

Sculpture by Gustav Vigeland in Oslo park

One of the many joys associated with having grandchildren is that you get to watch the most beautiful films at the Cinema, or enjoy Disney videos at home, without feeling silly.
Recently I have been captivated by Frozen which I watched with Ben and Rosie. In the film Elsa the Snow Queen sings ‘Let it Go’, which is one of the songs our choir sings. It really is a most beautiful song, but when the children and their parents sing along together it is truly moving. This weekend we are performing it in a concert at the Tuckwell Open Air Theatre.

The film, Frozen, is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the Snow Queen.  When my daughter, Anna,  was young she played a part in a local production of the fairytale so it has a special place in my heart.  Also, the dramatic landscape of Norway was the inspiration for the setting apparently and I had a wonderful holiday in Norway some years ago.

If you have never been to Norway, I hope this film will inspire you to go. In July 1999 I flew to Oslo then travelled by train across Norway. Trains and boats are really the best way to travel for seeing scenery I find, and in Norway there is so much to see. The countryside was truly spectacular and very rugged with snow-covered mountains, icy glaciers, breathtakingly beautiful fjords and waterfalls, wildflower covered meadows and lakes so still that it was hard to tell what was real and what was a reflection.

Reflections in a still lake

Reflections in a still lake

There is a real port called Arendal in the South of Norway which becomes Arendelle in the film, Frozen. But it is in Bergen that you find the exquisitely preserved old buildings of Bryggen which feature in the film. There is a fish market in Bergen just opposite these ancient timber buildings. I was a bit shocked to find whale meat for sale alongside fabulous salmon.

Shopping for Salmon in Bergen Market

Shopping for Salmon in Bergen Market

Also in the film you will see Stave churches. There are many of these beautifully preserved churches in Norway. They were built mostly of wood during the middle ages. The largest is Heddal near Notodde. It is a beautiful fairytale church which dates back to the 12th century. There are several of these Stave churches around Bergen and we decided to visit the Fantoft Stavkirk on St Olav’s day. I caught a bus with my husband from Bergen and we had a very pleasant journey to the church. As we went to enter the church my husband realised he had left his wallet with all our money, tickets and passports on the bus! Fortunately I had a mobile phone with me and I managed to find the telephone number of the bus company. I rang them and sadly explained our situation. Imagine my delight when they said the driver had found the wallet and was finishing work for the day soon. He offered to drive back to where he had dropped us on his way home and return the wallet to us! He would not take any tip and seemed surprised that we were so overwhelmed with gratitude. Call me an old cynic but I just can’t imagine this happening in the UK.



My husband and I intended visiting the church on the way to the house at Troldhaugen where Edvard Grieg lived. I say the house but actually it was like an estate with a very impressive villa which is now a living museum. There was an island where visitors can enjoy free lunchtime concerts of Grieg’s music in the summer months. There is also the cabin where he worked. By the time we got there we had missed the concert and only had time for a rushed visit.

There are several fjords which could be the setting for Arendelle but it is claimed that it is Nærøyfjord, an arm of the Unesco-listed Sognefjord. I can believe that as it is so spectacularly beautiful. We travelled on the famous Flam railway passing huge waterfalls to reach the fjord. Along the way we could hear beautiful operatic singing and we could not work out where it was coming from. The train stopped under a waterfall and from there we could see a woman standing on the very top of the mountain. She was producing that magnificent sound which echoed around the fjord. From there we travelled by boat to one of many little villages dotted around the fjord.

Village along the fjord

Village along the fjord

Also in the film, Frozen, Elsa flees across a glacial landscape which resembles the Folgefonna glacier. It could equally have been the Hardanger Glacier, which we saw, and flew over. It certainly is a bleak and barren place when viewed from the air.

Frozen Norway Norway from the air Hardanger glacier seen from plane

Watching Frozen brought all this back to me so I fished out my photos. Enjoy!