Tuesday, 26 April 2016

From football to matzo balls

Tuesday 3rd May - Leicester have won the League! We are the Champions. I may not be an avid football fan but I'm feeling pretty proud of Leicester this morning.

What I know about football could be written on the side of a matzo ball (matzo balls are small dumplings for soup) but I have noticed that there's a lot of excitement around Leicester's King Power Stadium over the last few weeks. It would seem that at the beginning of this season Leicester were no hopers, and now they are almost winners of the League. I don't exactly know which League this refers to but I do know that a lot of people are very excited about it.

This Friday Leicester will be turning blue as a show of support. There will be blue banners, blue balloons, blue cakes in shops and blue jerseys everywhere. There will even be a blue strip tease posted up by Walkers Crisps. They will be removing packets of crisps from an apparently naked Gary Lineker in their Countdown to Kit Off.

As I understand it, this Sunday's game could be the clincher. Televisions will be tuned in to Sky Sport. The streets of Leicester will be silent. I may take advantage of the situation and go shopping.

We are in the middle of the eight days of the Jewish Passover. I've blogged about the story that must be retold each year, the story of slaves escaping Egypt, of freedom and the ending of oppression here. Those first two nights, when we have the Seder meal and retell that story, are special. Not only do we get to share a meal with family and friends, we also share our well-rehearsed traditions and songs. It's the kind of communal activity that I love.

But what of the rest of the week? Eating matzo in place of bread is tough. Every year I'm reminded of how much wheat-based food I usually consume. As well as bread, there's pasta, pizza, scones, fruit loaf, the list appears to be endless. Just as too much matzo has its unpleasant effects on the body, so too must all that wheat. Maybe this year, after the Passover, I'll stick to my promise to myself and cut down on the wheat. It can only do me good.

Happy Passover. Happy football viewing and good luck to Leicester City.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Richard III for Kids at ArtBeat

Every year for two weeks in June the whole of the Clarendon Park area of Leicester is taken over by the ArtBeat Festival. The festival includes all kinds of art based activities. This year I've been asked to organise a session called Richard III for Kids.

I have, over the last year and a half, visited many schools to promote my Children's Book of Richard III. Each visit involved me standing up in front of the children and talking about my book but this presentation is going to be very different. Dr Richard Buckley, Director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, will be taking part. He is going to explain how they discovered Richard III's body and he has told me about some fascinating props that he intends to bring with him.

Traditional costume from Wikipedia
I am also very excited to report that we are creating a whole new dimension to the Richard III story. Richard's final day and the Battle of Bosworth will be depicted in the Indian dance style of Bharat Natyan.

Last week I met up with Nimisha Parmar for a first rehearsal. It is going to be amazing. Nimisha uses Mudras (hand gestures) in her story telling and she will be dressed in the traditional costume of Bharat Natyan.

Richard has a grand open-armed gesture. Lord Stanley has folded arms and drumming fingers. Henry Tudor's journey across the sea is depicted by a swaying body and waving arms. The marching, the flag waving, the fighting; all have distinct gestures. As I watched Nimisha's rehearsal my mouth fell open in admiration. The next rehearsal is going to include a drummer. I can't wait.

My contribution will be to tell of how a King's body came to be under an office car park in Leicester but I think I'd better 'up my game', create some exciting props, or I shall be well and truly overshadowed by my co-presenters.

You can find out more about the ArtBeat Festival on their Facebook page and this is the link to the information about our presentation. If you're in the area on June 24th, I look forward to seeing you at Avenue Road School from 4.30 until 6 pm. (I will, no doubt, mention this again nearer the day.)

Thursday, 14 April 2016

A Magnificent Magnolia

A magnificent magnolia flower

A lovely gift from a lovely friend

Fresh white petals brightening up a dark corner

A sign that summer is not far away

Friday, 8 April 2016

A doggy dilemma and how first impressions can be misleading…

…especially if you’re a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Sunny was found tied to a fence in a car park, (How could anyone do that to any living thing?) and is now at an RSPCA Animal Centre waiting for a new home, one where he will be loved. There’s only one problem. When visitors walk by looking for their dream dog, Sunny enthusiastically tells them:

“I’d love to go for a walk and play on the grass.”
“Please, take me home with you.”
“My suitcase is packed and ready.”

Unfortunately the visitors don’t understand Dog-lish and to them his conversation sounds like a series of angry barks.

If only those visitors could take him for a walk and play with him on the grass, they would soon see that far from being an angry barking dog, he really is a little softie…

So you see how first impressions can be misleading.

(The above photograph was taken by Daughter who volunteers at the RSPCA.)

It’s not only dogs who have trouble with first impressions. We often make judgements on other people based on a brief introduction, even though we all know that being shy or nervous can affect the way a person is perceived. How do we overcome this problem? It is especially important when going for a job interview where it can affect someone’s future career. I don’t know the answer but I know that I have often assumed that someone is unfriendly until I get to know them and then I invariably realise how very wrong my first impressions were.

I am now wondering how I come across to people on a first introduction. (They possibly can’t see beyond the fact that I talk too much!)

Have you ever made a glaring mistake based on first impressions and how do you think you might be perceived on a first meeting?

If you’re interested in giving Sunny a loving home then here is another adorable photograph of him together with his contact details.
Sunny at the RSPCA's Southridge Animal Centre.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Treasured Items

I have paused in my research about my Grandma and her journey from Latvia to England in the early 1900s to consider some of the practical issues that, fortunately, have never, to date, affected my life. One issue that I have spent some time ruminating over is, how did my Grandma and her brothers and sisters decide what to leave behind them and, more importantly, what treasured items to take with them when they set out on this foreboding trip?

The only item that I remember the family referring to as 'Russian' was a huge feather quilt. This was when I was small girl, in the days before duvets, when people in England slept under sheets and blankets. Every winter that feather quilt was placed onto my bed, over the blankets but under the counterpane. I loved it. It was snuggly warm and made me feel secure under its weight. 

Though they were never referred to as 'from Latvia', there was always a pair of candle sticks and a small silver wine goblet (or bekher as it is referred to in Yiddish) on Grandma's sideboard. These were items used on a Friday evening to welcome in the Sabbath and I can only assume that they were part of the treasured belongings. The bekher has been so well polished over the years that the engravings can hardly be seen but they are of typical buildings from the shtetls (small Jewish Eastern European villages).

Grandma did not know what kind of journey she would have to endure and so would need to keep packing to a minimum but how does anyone decide what to take, what to leave behind? I appreciate that the family were very poor and so would have had few belongings, but there must have been small treasured items, something that Grandma maybe slipped into her pocket when no one else was looking, that made the journey with her.

So what would I take with me if, sadly, I had to make such a journey? Of course, life has changed dramatically in the last hundred or so years. I would grab my phone and Ipad even though I'd not expect there to be Internet access out at sea but what else would I pack? What would be that little item that I slipped into my pocket? A photograph of my family? A small teddy bear for comfort? A prayer book maybe, or a book of uplifting thoughts? What would you pack under such circumstances? And what would be that treasured item that you slipped into your pocket when no one else was looking?

Friday, 25 March 2016

Refugees in the 1900s or 2010s?

The last two months have been challenging but I think I'm finally emerging from the infections because, this morning, I noticed how beautiful the garden looks in the morning sunshine. 

But enough of pneumonia. I'm tired of talking about it. I'd far rather talk about some research that I'm doing at the moment. I'm trying to find out how my Grandma and her siblings might have travelled from Latvia to London in the early 1900s because they never spoke about it and we never asked. The pogroms were getting frighteningly close. Jewish people were forbidden to work in many trades. My Grandma and family were starving. The only time they mentioned this was to say that the family in the 'Fiddler on the Roof' film were rich in comparison.

The more I read about the possible journey that brought them here to England, the more I'm struck by the similarity between their experience and today's refugees' experiences. There's mention of corrupt agents in the big towns encouraging people to go to England and America but not providing safe travel. Refugees were packed onto ships that in some cases were designed for cattle and indeed, had the cattle on the upper levels. Human excrement was reported to be pouring down the sides of ships as they docked. Many people came here expecting to pick up pre-paid tickets to travel on to America only to find that they had been ripped off and no tickets existed. It all sounds so familiar.

I intend to find out more about that journey that Grandma never spoke about, but for now I just want to say that had England turned those ships away, then my family and the family of most of my friends would never have been. For me that is a sobering thought.

I hope you all had a lovely Purim/will have a great Easter... and the sun is still shining!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Hospital and Pneumonia

So I haven't returned with flowers in my hair. Neither do I have a spring in my step. Last weekend I landed up in hospital with pneumonia and acute sinusitis. I was sent home with strong antibiotics, liquid morphine and strict instructions to do absolutely nothing for at least two weeks.

My temperature had shot up. I had such a severe pain in my head that I could neither open my eyes nor speak. A taxi took me to the hospital walk-in clinic. I arrived with the clothes I stood up in. Within half an hour I had been admitted to A&E, had a cannula in my arm with saline drip, antibiotics and liquid painkillers rushing into my blood stream. From there I was moved to an acute infections ward.

Everything they say about Leicester's Royal Infirmary is true. There are too many patients and too few members of staff but the treatment I received was rapid and precise and that's all you need in circumstances like that. That no one had time to get me a nightie or a pillow for many hours is not important.

The meds have kicked in enough now for me to be able to focus my eyes on this screen, at least for a little while at a time. As for doing nothing for two weeks, yes, I know it sounds attractive... if only I didn't feel so ill.