children

Be Different!

Yesterday in this daily blog I was talking about the amazing children's author, Roald Dahl - it was his birthday yesterday, which is now celebrated as Roald Dah Day.

Hope you enjoyed it!

But I wanted to continue thinking about this amazing writer ... he was a real 'one off', a man with a huge imagination. Someone who was just true to himself. 

He never learned to type, he did all his writing in an old shed  with sharpened pencils. He invented a medical device to help his son when he suffered a head injury and the family could find nothing to help him. He made up his own language - or at least a language for his BFG (Big Friendly Giant) ... Gobblefunk!

And, of course, he wrote all those wonderful stories and much more ... see yesterday's blog if you want to read all about him!

Roald Dahl was unique!

Now, we can't all be world famous authors, or indeed hugely famous for anything.

But we can be different!

We all have things which make us stand out from the crowd, it's just sometimes we desperately try to fit in to other people's moulds and forget just to be ourselves! Instead of standing out and being proud of our differences, we squash them or hide them away. 

For most of my adult life I've been a little 'different' to others, but I did spend years being tempted to 'fit in'  - sometimes I DID do that, wore what people thought I should wear, looked like they thought I should look ... and that was just for starters...

But no longer! Now I am accepting my uniqueness and  I'm looking always for the things that make ME  different. And if people don't like it, they can lump it. I'm not going completely weird, but I am trying to be true to myself a lot more. And I'm finding it rather liberating!

So today ... I just want to encourage us all to embrace ... well ... ourselves!

We never know what we might uncover and how much fun we might have or where life might take us when we truly just become more 'real', more as we should be.

Have a great day everyone!

Be yourself


A Scrumdiddlyumptious Day!

Now here's something you may not know ...

Today is Roald Dahl Day!

Or to give it it's official name ... Roald Dahl Story Day !

It's a global annual celebration of the most brilliant British novelist, short-story writer, poet, screenwriter ... and wartime fighter pilot - Roald Dahl, and today we're encouraged to enjoy and celebrate our favourite Roald Dahl stories, characters, and moments.

We do all this today because it was on this day, September 13, in the year 1916, that the author was born!

Roald Dahl is best known as a children's author, of course ... think The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  and Matilda - and that's just for starters, I think you could probably name more.

But Roald Dahl wrote not only for children, but also had a successful parallel career as the writer of macabre adult short stories (I was scared witless back in the 1980s by television dramas based on his spooky and and bizarre Tales of the Unexpected.) Briefly in the 1960s he also wrote screenplays including two adaptations of works by Ian Fleming - the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ and 'Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang'

Roald Dah quote - change the worldIf you look online you'll see loads of quotes from Roald Dahl - and this one here is one of my favourites I think.

He could be funny and profound at the same time. He could write about cruelty and kindness in equal measure. And, as we've learnt from some of the films which have been created from some of his stories, his words encourage children, and all of us really, to be the people we should be, to dream big and to believe in ourselves.

He was and still is a true superstar!

In fact, as it says writ large on the building which houses a Museum named after the author, he and his creations are 'Truly Swizzfigglingly Flushbunkingly Gloriumptious!'

When I lived in the UK, I actually lived quite near to a leafy village called Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, which is home to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.

Dahl - Willy Wonka gatesStep through the doors of the museum and the Willy Wonka Gates and prepare to leave reality behind as you enter the weird and wonderful world of Dahl.

The gang’s all there including the aforementioned Big Friendly Giant, Charlie, James, Matilda ... Danny, the Champion of the WorldThe WitchesEsio Trot, Fantastic Mr Fox and so much more!

If you fancy it, you can dress up as your favourite Roald Dahl character, and get crafty making a mask of, as the museum literature says, ‘a crodswoggling creature’.

Dahl - museum exteriorJust like Roald Dahl, who invented hundreds of new and whacky words and phrases – over 200 just for the BFG ‘gobblefunk’ dictionary apparently – you can even let your imagination run riot and create your own crazy words. It’s fantastagorically hands-on and fabulously intriguing, even if you’re not 6 to 12 years old! 

His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide but his talents actually extended much beyond the written word and the Museum and Story Centre is also a window on that world.

In the ‘Boy’ Gallery we can find the famous ‘mouse in a gobstopper jar’ and learn more about Roald Dahl’s schoolboy days and pranks! There’s loads more about his life as a Welsh-born lad with a Norwegian heritage and as a husband, father and grandfather as you read original letters and delve into the Dahl family photo album.

Step through into the ‘Solo’ Gallery and discover more about Dahl’s life as an RAF (Royal Air Force) fighter pilot in the Second World War and his unique literary archive. You might have to fight a 4-year-old for a place by the touch-screen monitors, but if you are forced to wait your turn, you can always sit back and enjoy extracts from some of the films which have been created from Roald Dahl’s books.

Then, if the kids haven't already beaten you to it, it's into the Story Centre and Crafts Room. There you'll find the aforementioned dressing up box, and that word creation area, tables where you can be all messy and crafty, and there's even a space where you can make your own stop-frame animation film.

Roald Dahl originally wrote his stories for his own 5 children and encouraged creativity in all the kids he met, so it's not surprising that his Museum is a place where the words ‘Don’t Touch’ are banned! Here there are items to play with, spin and manipulate, holes to peer into and wonder what lurks beyond, things to prod and poke. Anything that is not for touching is out of harm’s way or under glass. In fact, touching and feeling and getting into a little bit of mischief is positively encouraged!

However, my favourite spot at the Museum is the replica of Roald Dahl’s Writing Hut - it's in the Story Centre and it's fascidoodly - here I go, making up words already! 

It was in the 1950s that Roald settled down with his family in 'Gipsy House' in the little village of Great Missenden in the county of Buckinghamshire (sort of north east from London). He was then married to his first wife, the American actress Patricia Neal, and it was here in the quiet and idyllic countryside that they raised their family.

At the bottom of the garden at Gipsy House, Roald had a little hut to which he retreated to write most of his unforgettable stories. Research tells us he couldn’t type - he always used a pencil to write for several hours a day locked away in his hut, sitting in a big old shabby chair, leaning on a ‘writing board’ which he fashioned to fit perfectly around his body.

Apparently the hut wasn't warm or particularly clean and tidy, but it was here, in his special writing place, that Roald wrote for two hours each morning and two hours every afternoon, using exactly six freshly sharpened, yellow, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils which he popped into a small Toby jug on the desk next to his chair. He'd worked out that he needed six pencils for a two hour writing session and always started each session sharpening the pencils!

Dahl - The writing hutIt’s just one of the rituals which Roald had when it came to writing and, as you sit in the replica chair in the replica Writing Hut, surrounded by the fascimiles of the author's special objects, you feel something of the man and the genius. Well, at least, I did!

This is me some years ago trying to channel a tiny fraction of Dahl Inspiration in that replica of his very own chair!!

Small Kid or Big Kid - whatever age you might be, there will something for you!

The Museum and Story Centre regularly hosts Revolting Rhymes sessions from roving storytellers in the Courtyard around which the museum nestles. In Miss Honey’s Classroom there are ‘fantabulous’ weekend and holiday workshops with storytellers, authors, crafts experts, scientists and chocolatiers (Roald Dahl ADORED chocolate which makes me admire him even more!)

For an extra special treat for adults and slightly older children you can enjoy a special tour of the Dahl Archive, a behind-the-scenes experience where you get to meet an archivist who will show you some of the locked-away archive material, providing an even deeper insight into the mind, life and work of the author. When I went, we discovered that Miss Honey (the perfectly lovely teacher in Matilda) was originally intended to be an alcoholic and Miss Trunchbull (the hideous headmistress in the same story) started out as a much nicer person!

For those wanting to do more research on Dahl, the Archive and Museum Reading Rooms are also open to researchers by appointment and they also welcome researchers who can't actually get to Great Missenden - via the website.

Dahl - Cafe Twit signFinish the visit with a stroll through the Shop where you can buy everything from books and pictures to Dahl themed games and weird stuff like a ball made entirely of elastic/rubber bands.

Finally, grab a drink and ‘delumptious’ cake in Cafe Twit. 

Dahl - cakesIf it's a fine day sit in the Courtyard and just watch how much fun everyone - young and old - is having.

And forget any diet - because the cakes are perfectly delicious.

In fact, you could say they are ... Scrumdiddlyumptious!

*This blog is based on a article I first wrote for my Hub Pages website pages ... and it's still there if you fancy looking it up ... and also please feel free to check out my other hub stories!

Thanks!

 


Lashings of Reading Fun

Today I'm turning back time to my early reading days and I'm celebrating one of my favourite authors when I was a child.
 
The inimitable Enid Blyton!
 
Born on this day - 11 August - in 1897,  she would become a prolific children's author, bringing joy to generations of young readers including myself. Everything from 'The Famous Five' adventure books to the many 'Noddy' stories, and the fairy tales of the likes of  'The Magic Faraway Tree' and many other fantastical stories of fairies, imps and elves to the series which started with 'The Naughtiest Girl in the School', one of my personal favourites.
 
I could go on ... but I'll let you fill in the gaps! If you're a Blyton fan you will have YOUR favourites.
 
Enid blyton portraitAll I can say is that Enid Blyton must have had a head full of stories and an imagination to surpass time and place. According to the Enid Blyton Society and EnidBlyton.net who have done the calculations for us, she wrote voraciously including:
  • 186 novels/novelettes
  • 243 character books
  • 904 short story series books
  • 265 education books
  • 195 recreation books
  • 170 continuation books
  • 284 Enid Blyton contributions

Plus, Enid Blyton is also credited with over 10,900 short stories, poems and plays throughout her career, but some were used many times so the actual number is more like 7500! She also wrote under the pseudonym Mary Pollock (her middle name and first married surname)

What an amazing imagination, and what a talent!

Enid Blyton books on shelfApart from the fairy tales, some of Enid Blyton's stories explored life, it's fun and it's difficulties, including for children.  It was a way for kids to learn maybe a bit about dealing with life as they read how Miss Blyton's characters deal with what is thrown at them.

With that in mind, top of my list is an amazing book which I read probably when I was very young. I was given this book when I was around 7 and it's lived with me my whole life - indeed, that same hardback copy still sits on my bookshelf, proudly displayed among all the many other books I've acquired in the lifetime since.

It's called 'The Family at Red Roofs' and, for me, it's an absolute classic!

From the first lines it captures the imagination and draws pictures for the readers.

The little white-washed house on the green hillside seemed to smile in the warm sunshine of the bright May day. It sat there snugly in its big patch of gay garden, a white cherry tree out in the front garden, and a golden laburnum hanging over the gate. The gate was painted green and white, and there was a name on it - Red Roofs.

Enid Blyton ... Red RoofsIt's the story of a happy family with four children, who move into a new house and then face all sorts of problems. Father has to go abroad for business, Mother falls dangerously ill and then there is news that Father is lost at sea en route to the USA. It's the story of how the children face the future, struggle to survive amid financial and personal disaster and come through with flying colours.

The Family at Red Roofs isn't as well known as many of Enid Blyton's other works, but it was one of the books that opened a world of fantasy to me - a child with a vivid imagination.

There's no doubt that it was Miss Blyton's books that got ME 'scribbling'. I knew nothing about the woman only that I absolutely loved her stories, and wanted to dream up tales, just as she did. So started my lifelong love of daydreaming and writing.

I still maintain that Enid Blyton is to blame every time I find myself sitting on a train wondering just WHY the man sitting opposite me has such an ENORMOUS nose, or find myself listening in to other peoples' peculiar conversations. For me every journey, meeting, experience, is still about soaking up faces, places, names and characters. I did this long before I knew that's what writers do - I did it because I wanted to write ... like Enid Blyton ...  she seemed to me not only able to write, but to write about life, and my life.

But why did The Family at Red Roofs ring such a bell in my head?

Perhaps it was because, aged 7, I was in a family which moved around ... a LOT. By that age, I already had experience of moving home three times, that I could remember. I was also one of four children, although I had three brothers, whereas the the Red Roofs family  consisted of two boys and two girls.

When, aged 8, we moved again - this time to Kenya in Africa - I found myself in boarding school hundreds of miles from home, I initially felt excited. I imagined the place would be just like Whyteleafe School where there would be high jinx, just like in The Naughtiest Girl in the School. 

Of course, seeing my parents' vehicle pull away from the school, disappearing down a long drive and knowing I would not see them for at least three weeks, broke the spell. It unfortunately began a prolonged period of homesickness, but at least I had enjoyed the long drive up to Nyeri Primary School, thanks to Miss Blyton's magic and my innocence.

But it wasn't just Enid Blyton's stories and characters that I loved, but also her writing style. I read from a very young age, and soaked up language like others consumed food. As I explored her books and stories, so I was exploring the English language.

Imagine my horror, years after I first snuck away to curl up on a chair in a corner of a quiet room to feast on Miss Blyton's latest story, when I discovered that she was not beloved by all.

Many 'experts' claimed her use of language and vocabulary was restrictive and limited, even at the time I was reading her as a child. Some didn't like her 'tone' and literary 'devices', criticising her for presenting too 'rosy' a view of the world. Even in the 1950s and 1960s apparently she was banned from some libraries and in the early 21st century it came to light that the BBC had actually had a ban on the dramatization of Blyton works during those two decades.

However, if the 7 or 8-year-old me had known this it would not have made a blind bit of difference - I loved her stories! And, what is more important, so did many millions of other children.

We didn't - and in my case still don't care - that Miss Blyton, whose main work preceded the second half of the 20th century, was or is considered 'old fashioned' or 'not politically correct'.

I don't mind that in Red Roofs the very first paragraph includes the word 'gay' - a 'gay garden'. At the time of writing, the word 'gay' had none of the sexual and even controversial overtones which it has now. It simply meant 'happy' and 'glad', among other lovely adjectives.

Although some of her works have, over the years, been altered to ensure that they are not offensive to the modern reader, it has to be remembered that Enid Blyton not only came from another generation but really another world which has long since passed away. If her language is now considered unacceptable, it is not her fault. If some of her stories are naïve, we must remember that she was writing for children who lived in a world where they were allowed to be children. In Enid Blyton's day there were no 'teenagers', that peculiar place between childhood and adulthood. Children, especially middle and upper class British children, would grow up soon enough but while they were young they were allowed to be children. There was not the modern pressure to fast track into adult behaviour while still in childhood.

Ironically, my favourite Blyton book - The Family at Red Roofs - does tackle exactly this theme, the need for children to grow up quickly in the face of adversity. Although in true Blyton fashion everything 'works out well in the end', perhaps that was why I loved this book so much. It wasn't all 'sunshine and flowers'! Perhaps she wasn't so out of touch with modern reality as some think!

So, I will not let the fact that retrospectively Enid Blyton has been considered rather poor taste in some quarters detract from my childhood enjoyment of her writing and the joy her stories brought me. Neither will I let it interfere with my memories and my gratitude to her for the gift she gave me - a love of books and a love of reading!

So - thanks Miss Blyton! You're one of my heroes!

Enid blyton model house

And  just a final note ... it you want to read more about Miss Blyton and her life and work,  then you might like to know that I have re-worked this blog from an early version which is on anther of my websites .. on HubPages ...

Click on 'Lashings of Enid Blyton Fun' and you'll also learn how Miss Blyton's home in a place called Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire features in a very special model village!

Love it!


Delicious Writing

Today I'm remembering one of my heroines.

She was a fantastic writer, an artist and illustrator, a farmer, natural scientist and conservationist! And just an AMAZING person, a woman before her time!

Her stories have given hours and hours of pleasure to generations of children in the last century, with her incredible creatures - Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Mr Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck and so many more.

I'm talking, of course, about Beatrix Potter!

What a woman! 

Born on this day - July 28 - in 1866 she grew up in a strict middle-class Victorian home, educated by governesses and isolated from other children. Apart from her brother, young Beatrix's main companions were her numerous pets and early on she started painting pictures of them and making up stories. Beatrix and her family took holidays in Scotland and in the north west of England, in the Lake District, and as she grew she learned to love and closely observe landscape, flora and fauna. 

Beatrix studied and made watercolours especially of fungi, and she first became well respected in the field of mycology. the study of fungi. 

By all accounts she was not just an exceptional talent, but also frustrated at home, feeling trapped. She didn't care to do what other girls of her time were expected to do ... get married to the 'right' man and produce lots of offspring. She wanted more. She wanted a career, to do something useful with her life. She bucked the trends of her day.

By the time she was in her thirties, she turned to writing and illustrating stories for children.

Peter_Rabbit_first_edition_1902Her first book, 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit', started out as a story for a little boy she knew, five-year-old Noel Moore who was the son of one of Beatrix's former governesses, Annie Carter Moore. Beatrix drew pictures and made up the story in 1893 and in 1901 she revised it and offered it to some publishers. When it was rejected, she decided to print copies herself but a year later it was picked up by the publishing house Frederick Warne & Co.

With its central character a naughty and mischievous little rabbit who gets into, and is chased around, the garden of  Mr. McGregor, the book was almost immediately a huge success, capturing the imagination not just of children but of their parents. It's a simple story - Peter escapes and returns home to his mother, who puts him to bed with a cup of chamomile tea - but the exquisite pictures have helped to make it one of the best-selling books in history. In the years after its publication it was reprinted multiple times and in the century since it was published it's sold more than 45million copies and has been translated  into 36 languages.

After Peter's success, Beatrix began writing and illustrating children's books full time and she let her imagination run wild, writing many stories based around what have become iconic animal characters ... some of whom I mentioned before. She wrote 30 books, 23 of which were her children's tales.

She was also a canny businesswoman. As early as 1903, Beatrix made and patented a Peter Rabbit doll and this was followed by other merchandise - painting books, board games, wall-paper, figurines, and even baby blankets and china tea-sets. Warne and Co licensed these and they and Beatrix reaped the financial benefits.  She became a very rich woman, and within a few years of that first book she was able to move out of home and the restrictive influence of her parents in London.

In 1905 she had been unofficially engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne, much against her controlling parents wishes. Sadly Norman died unexpectedly a month later and Beatrix was then even more determined to move out of the family home. That same year, with the proceeds from the stories and merchandising, and a legacy from an aunt, she bought Hill Top Farm in the village of Near Sawrey in the Lake District in Cumbria, near Lake Windermere. 

And this is where her story takes an unexpected twist. Living in the Lake District, Beatrix became aware that much of this beautiful land was under threat of being bought up for housing development for the ever expanding population of the northwest of England. 

Over a period of decades, she gradually bought more farms, and so preserved the unique hill country. Her busy writing was eventually replaced by her passion for land and conservation and farming. She became a prize-winning breeder of native Herdwick sheep and she was  a prosperous farmer. When she died  in December 1943 at the age of 77 Beatrix left almost all her property to the National Trust and this legacy means she is credited with preserving much of the land that now makes up the Lake District National Park.

And she didn't live her life without love. Beatrix eventually DID marry - in 1913 aged 47, she married William Heelis, a respected local solicitor from the town of  Hawkshead.

Beatrix Potter was a force of nature. She refused to be constrained by the 'rules' and expectations of her day. She walked her own road and allowed her creativity to thrive. She was determined to follow her own path, even if that scandalised her parents and other 'respectable' folk. She made a fantastic success of her life, and her legacy lives on not just in all those amazing stories, but also in the beautiful Lake District National Park.

As a writer I'm inspired by Beatrix Potter and am a little envious, truth be told, of her imagination and her determination. I need more of that!

She once said that she never really 'grew up' and that was the basis of her story-telling. She also apparently said she was pleased she didn't go to school because that might have robbed her of her originality.

But this is my favourite quote from Beatrix Potter. She obviously LOVED writing ... she was excited by the prospect of putting pen to paper. Bringing her animal friends to life was a joy, but she allowed them to tell their own story.

I love that.

Some writers report that sometimes characters in their stories DO almost manifest themselves through the writing and that's happened to me once in a while.

To do that, I must simply allow my imagination to go wild, just as Beatrix did.

Thanks Miss Potter - may your stories always not just entertain but also inspire!!!

Beatrix Potter

 


A Little Pixie Dust

"All children, except one, grow up."

A classic and inspired opening line from one of the best loved children's stories of all time.

Yes, today I'm talking about 'Peter Pan'.

Not just the Boy who Wouldn't Grow Up but the book, and the play and the man who created him - J.M.Barrie.

Full disclosure here  ... I am an avid reader of classic children's stories. I have a good collection of them, some of which I read first as a child and some which I re-read over and over, always finding something new in them every time of reading.

Yes I know many of the books I love were written in a different time, and maybe some might say that they are not as 'relevant' to the young generations that have come along since they were written, but what I love about these tales is that they are often beautifully crafted, invariably include fantastical storytelling and they have the ability to transport me into another world.

As a would-be children's author (I'm still working on it by the way) I recognise now that I was probably born in the wrong time, because these days to be a children's writer I guess one needs to be more 'edgy' than people think the writers of yesteryear were.

Except that it's all relevant. In their time, many children's stories DID speak into issues and situations, including social issues,  and sometimes challenged them, albeit subtly. And many of them are just simply about human nature and those values which, I hope, we will all want to treasure regardless of the times.

Peter Pan coverWhich brings me to the story of Peter Pan, which is really partly about 'youthful innocence and escapism'. Peter is a mischievous, free-spirited, rather cocky and careless boy who doesn't want to grow up. He is determined to be independent but it's only when he meets a girl called Wendy and her brothers that he gradually realises that love is also part of the human equation. I don't know about you but that's a lesson lots of us can learn, whatever era we live in!

These days the story of Peter and Wendy and their adventures in Neverland, the fairy Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, the ghastly Captain Hook, are all well known to us through numerous interpretations, including in various movies and cartoons down the years.

Although J.M. Barrie created Peter early on, he really made his first main public appearance in a play ...  Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up ... which debuted at the Duke of York's Theatre in London on December 27 1904 - interesting because stage productions of Peter Pan are often now associated with the Christmas period and the pantomime season, at least in the UK. Peter Pan first page

In 1911 the story of Peter and Wendy began to reach a wider, worldwide audience when it was reworked as a novel with that classic opening line.

My treasured copy of the story, which I picked up years ago in an old book shop, was first published in 1951 and at the start of the book there is this inscription ...

Do you know that this book is part of the J.M.Barrie "Peter Pan Bequest"? This means that Sir J.M.Barrie's royalty on this book goes to help the doctors and nurses to cure the children who are lying ill in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London

And this is what I love most about Peter Pan. 

SO much has been written about Peter, Wendy, Neverland, the dog nurse Nana, the whole 'cast' of the play and the subsequent stories, books and movies,  J.M. Barrie himself and the children who so-called 'experts' reckon Peter and his characters were based on.

J.M.Barrie is best known for Peter but he wrote so much more, including many plays and stories which address social concerns. And I love the fact that in 1929, Barrie assigned the copyright of the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a leading children's hospital in London.

I understand the copyright status is unclear these days because Peter Pan is now generally in what is called 'the public domain'. Original copyright in the UK ran out on June 19th 1987, the 50th anniversary of Barrie's death but that was later extended to another couple of decades, and there have been some developments since in other parts of the world. But that doesn't take away from the fact that down the years GOSH has benefitted greatly from the 'Peter Pan Bequest'.

I know Great Ormond Street Hospital a little, having visited to report as a journalist and in a personal capacity with loved ones, and they do amazing work. It's a hospital dedicated to the care of children and it IS a very special place where children are at the centre!

So today - as we mark the day in 1937 that J.M. Barrie left this earth - I was trying to think of a way to celebrate him and his most well known characters. And I found this quote and this image ...  which is just inspiring. 

Whatever we 'believe' in, we all need trust and faith, if only in those around us. And a little of 'pixie dust', even if not scattered by Tinkerbell herself, helps us to dream and create a little bit of magic for ourselves and others.

I Love It!

Peter Pan quote


Musical Memories

I'm not a classical music buff, and not particularly knowledgeable either. 

I like a bit of Beethoven and Mozart and a few other random composers but I have a lot to learn about that musical genre that we now call 'classical'.

But there is a piece of music that I love and which has specific memories for me.

In the Hall of the Mountain King - GriegIt's a piece of orchestral music called 'In the Hall of the Mountain King' by a Norwegian composer called Edvard Greig, who was actually born on this day - June 15th - in 1843.

It's from a wider composition or Opus called 'Peer Gynt' which was written for a five act play created in verse by another famous Norwegian - the playwright and  dramatist Henrik Ibsen.

'Peer Gynt' is thought to be based on a Norwegian fairy tale, and it's about a boy called Peer Gynt who was a rascal. He stole things, played tricks and never helped his mother. He was disliked by all who met him.

One day he went to a wedding and met a beautiful girl called Solveig. He fell in love and was determined to marry her, but Solveig's parents knew Peer's reputation and sent him on his way. Heartbroken, he left his village because he couldn't bear the thought of seeing Solveig knowing she could never be his. He ran into the mountains where he could be alone and that's where his adventures began. 

Peer arrived at the castle of the Mountain King, where disgustingly ugly trolls caught him and took him to the king, who was furious that someone had entered his domain.

But he liked the look of the young man and when Peer persuaded the king that we wanted to stay, the monarch was happy for him to remain in the mountain kingdom so long as the young man marry his daughter. Although she was beautiful, she was not a patch on Solveig, and anyway in order to marry her, Peer was told he would have to be transformed into a troll - one of those mythical Norwegian/Scandinavian creatures that is generally unfriendly and even thought in some cases to be evil.

Peer decided he did not want to be a troll and he made plans to sneak off when it was dark. Before his escape he stole jewels from the king, filled his pockets and ran. However, the troll guards heard him, and he was chased and surrounded. The stolen gold and jewels were discovered and he was dragged back to the castle where he was kept in prison until he agreed to marry the king's daughter, Anitra.

That's just part of the story but it's one that sticks in my mind.

And that's because I learnt about it in school.

I clearly remember my teacher, Mrs Jones, playing us the music that Grieg composed in 1867 for Ibsen's play, and telling us the story of Peer Gynt. Then we all had to draw pictures from the different scenes in the story and I remember drawing one - very badly because I am and never was an artist - of Peer in the Hall of the Mountain King and being chased by the trolls.

That must have been fifty years ago or thereabouts but still I remember that lesson or series of lessons. The story of Peer Gynt fascinated me then and it still does now. I didn't realise at the time what an iconic piece of music 'Peer Gynt' is ... listen to it below and you may recognise it.

But on this day as I think about that piece of music, and the man who composed it, I also remember Mrs Jones.  And thank her, all these years later, for opening another door into the world for me.

There are a few teachers I remember from my school years but not all!

Some teachers just have a knack of bringing subjects to life. They are often not appreciated by their students or even the wider world, and some rarely receive the recognition they deserve.

So today I say thank you not just to Mrs Jones, but to all the wonderful engaging teachers past, present and future. You may not think you're making any impact at all but there again you may be creating memories that last a lifetime for your students.

Meanwhile, here's that piece of music that inspires me ...

I give you Edvard Greig's 'In the Hall of the Mountain King'....

Enjoy!

 

 

 


Somewhere Over the Rainbow

It was back in 1939 that the world got to know a certain young actress, singer and dancer who would become one of the most famous women in the world.

Judy Garland was born on this day - June 10 - in 1922 and she had already been on the stage for many years, as a child star on vaudeville, before she starred in The Wizard of Oz,  a musical based on a classic children's book called 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' by the author L. Frank Baum.

Baum actually penned 14 Oz stories plus 41 other novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, and at least 42 scripts - a prolific writer. I've read some of the Oz stories and if you've never done so, its worth it. But as I was investigating him, I discovered that actually some of his works were rather 'prophetic'. He apparently wrote about future inventions like television, augmented reality, laptop computers (in his novel entitled The Master Key), wireless telephones (Tik-Tok of Oz), women in high-risk and action-heavy occupations (Mary Louise in the Country), and much more.

The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz_first_edition_cover'The Wizard of Oz' is, of course, a fairy tale about the adventures of a young farm girl named Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland in the movie. She and her pet dog Toto venture into the magical Land of Oz after they are blown away from their home in rural Kansas by a cyclone.  It was first published in  January 1901, and the book has become one of the most loved and best-known stories in American literature. The Library of Congress has even declared it "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairy tale."  By 1938, when the film was in production, it had already sold a million copies. And it's success has gone from strength to strength, being translated into many different languages.

'The Wizard of Oz' movie - the original - is one of my favourites. As a child I loved it's excitement. Would Dorothy ever 'get home'? And I loved its tension - the Wicked Witch of the East who is killed when Dorothy's house falls on her, and the Wicked Witch of the West who plagues her for much of the story. 

As an adult I watch it and read much more into its narrative twists and turns. Our longing to be safe and 'home' and to appreciate what we have there, without perhaps having to travel far to find happiness and fulfilment and friends. The 'evil' that may be around us and how we need to gain the courage to fight against it.

And, of course, I loved the music in the movie with original score by Herbert Stothart. The film was nominated for  six Academy Awards, including 'Best Picture', but lost out to another brilliant classic 'Gone with the Wind'. But it DID win 'Best Original Score' and 'Best Original Song' for  "Over the Rainbow" - sung at the start of the movie by Judy.

I love the sentiment of this song. We all dream and wish and hope for 'something better' don't we? But as the movie unfolds, we learn that sometimes our dreams and hopes and wishes are all right here, right where we are. We just need to learn to cherish and appreciate what we have.

Today, enjoy this excerpt from the movie and what I think is one of the most perfect songs ever written...sung by one of the most brilliant performers the world has ever seen.

 


The Bare Necessities

One of my jobs at BBC Radio Jersey is to co-ordinate and produce what we call the 'Morning Thought'.

It's broadcast at around 0640 every morning ... so it is a bit early for a lot of people ... but it is surprisingly popular, as anyone who has contributed to it may tell you. Many a vicar, church minister or leader or individual who's done a recording have told me that after their 'morning thoughts' have been transmitted they will get people saying 'heard you on the radio!'

Each 'thought' is only about two minutes in duration and it's just an uplifting thought to help ease people into the day. It's sometimes spiritual but not always. We feature people of different faiths, and topics like fair trade and peace, and charities who are maybe marking a significant anniversary or a special week. 

The contributors usually record in advance (rather than getting up at the crack of dawn) and since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, when the Radio Jersey studios have been closed, they've been unable to come in to record. But they've been wonderful because they've all learned to record at home on their phones and tech devices, and email the audio to me, after which I'm able to edit and make it ready for the Breakfast Show.

Why am I telling you this?

Well it's because on Monday this week, our morning thought was about the importance of friendship. And our contributor, a great guy called Graeme who leads a church in Jersey, started with one of my favourites songs from my childhood.

Back in the early 1970s I was at boarding school in Kenya. It was one of those schools that had 'houses', Everyone was in a 'house' and there was a system of rewards and punishment for good stuff, or bad things, we did. Points added to the house tally if you did something amazing, points deducted if you stepped out of line. So what you did wasn't just for YOUR own glory, but for the general benefit of the whole house. And if you stuffed up then it wasn't only YOU who suffered but all the other kids in your house. It helped to bond us together, and made us realise the need for corporate responsibility. Oh and of course, it helped to encourage us all to behave ourselves and it kept us all in line. 

If you know the Harry Potter books, you'll know all about this. 'Ten points to Gryffindor for...' or 'Twenty points taken away for...' 

At the end of the year at one particular school I attended, the house with the winning number of points got a treat ... a chance to see a movie!

I'm sure you get where I'm going with this now. One year my house won the house cup and we all sat down one afternoon to watch 'The Jungle Book' ... the animated movie which had been released just a few years earlier, in 1967. And yes, I really AM that old!

I loved it! I've seen it numerous times since that hot afternoon in the school hall, with black out curtains keeping the sunshine out, and I never tire of it. The tale of Mowgli, the little boy brought up in the wild with his band of animal friends. Based on the fabulous collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, one of my favourite authors and poets!

As I said, for his Monday 'morning thought' for BBC Radio Jersey, our Graeme was thinking about friendship and he took as an example those friendships in 'The Jungle Book'.

And at the start of the piece he actually broke into song and gave us a little rendition of one of the most popular songs from the film - 'The Bare Necessities'.

It's a great tune with fantastic words. and it's sung by the big bear Baloo and Mowgli 

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

It's hard to 'forget about your worries and your strife' I know, but actually there's something in this song about just trying to keep life simple.

But the real reason I'm talking about this is because ever since I heard Graeme singing that song on the recording emailed to me, it's been going around in my head, like an earworm. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not a bad song to have constantly in my brain, but I figure if I share it with you here then I might get it out of my system.

Or maybe not.

 

PS - if it's now in YOUR head, sorry. But hope you enjoyed it!


Mothering Sunday

New Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (2)So today in the UK, the British Isles and many other English speaking nations is 'Mothering Sunday'.

Otherwise known as 'Mother's Day'.

If you go to any card shop you may be hard pushed to find a 'Mothering Sunday' card ... but sometimes they are there, if you are eagle eyed. I know because every year I rummage endlessly through the card racks to find one.

My Mum loves a Mothering Sunday card.

So given that not many people call it that, you might be wondering about the title of this blog and the picture.

Well, it's because the day was called 'Mothering Sunday' LONG before people started calling it 'Mother's Day'.

The history goes back to the Medieval times in Britain, to the Middle Ages. 

The fourth Sunday in Lent, 21 days before Easter Day, was also known as Laetare Sunday, or 'Mid-Lent Sunday' and it was a day when Christians could have a break from the fasting which was required during the Lenten season, the preparation for the holy festival of Easter. So it was a bit of a celebration day. The faithful were encouraged to make it even more special by attending services at their 'mother church', the place of worship where they were baptised. That might have involved travelling home for the day. 

In the Middle Ages, the Mass or church service on that fourth Sunday in Lent included several references to mothers, and so the day became one also to celebrate not just the 'mother church' but mothers in particular.

The tradition of coming 'home' to church on this day lasted for centuries. By the mid 17th century this annual journey had become known as 'mothering'. And traditions developed down the years. Mothering Sunday became a day when servants, especially those working in domestic service in big houses, were given this day off to go home to see their mothers and family members ... and attend church, of course.

From 1908 in the USA a 'Mother's Day' was introduced as a way of honouring motherhood, although this was being celebrated on the second Sunday in May. And in the UK, perhaps not coincidentally, something called the Mothering Sunday Movement was created in the UK in the early years of the 20th century, to try to revive the importance of the day.  

By the 1950s Mothering Sunday was being celebrated across the British Isles and the Commonwealth, still on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and that's where it remains to this day.

But increasingly, the day has lost it's spiritual context and the American influence means it's now almost exclusively called 'Mother's Day' ... hence my annual rummage in card shops.

And like in the USA, the day has become more and more commercialised. Cards, flowers, chocolates and other treats are bought in vast quantities. Lovely, but expensive.

Nowadays, including in the church, the day has also become a time not just to celebrate people who are actually  'mothers' but those who are mother figures and it's sometimes also a general celebration of women and their achievements.

While Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day is a lovely day, it can be hard for some people. Those who yearn to be a parent, to give birth to their own children but have been unable to do so can find the annual celebration of 'mummies' really difficult. For those who have lost babies, even many years ago, this can be a very sad day. It can be a very poignant and painful day for people who've lost their mothers, and those who didn't have a strong and loving mother figure in their lives.

It's a complex day and I try never to forget that.

But today, if you'll let me I will just take a moment to thank my own Mum ... the best mother in the world.

On this Mothering Sunday I thank God for her. I thank her for all her love and for the many sacrifices she made for me and my brothers, and for just being an inspiration to me.  And I just want to say ... 

I love you Mum!


Being Dennis (the Menace)

 

Dennis the menace

Who knows who this is?

If you were (or still are) an avid reader of  'The Beano' comic you might recognise him?

It's Dennis the Menace!

The mischievous little boy with, it has to be said, a bit of an evil streak. He gets up to all sorts and unlike many anti-heroes, he doesn't really get any better as time goes on. He is just Dennis.

Why am I remembering him today?

Well, it was on March 12th 1951 in the UK that the long running children's comic first featured the little boy with the devilish grin and the catapult. The comic came out a week later on March 17th ... but it was today that history began. Well,  Dennis the Menace history anyway.

I loved the Beano, and other comics actually, not just for the jokes but also for the cartoons - not just Dennis, but also 'The Bash Street Kids', 'Minnie the Minx' and 'Billy Whizz', with the fantastic quiff of hair.

And the great thing is that The Beano is still entertaining kids today. Published by DC Thomson in Dundee in Scotland, the comic first appeared on 30 July 1938 - it's now more than 80 years old but Dennis is still Dennis. Sort of.

His name of his cartoon strip has changed a bit over the years ... 'Dennis the Menace' to 'Dennis the Menace and Gnasher' (his dastardly dog) and now to 'Dennis and Gnasher'. By the way, did you know that Gnasher apparently is an 'Abyssinian wire-haired tripe hound' ? No, me neither. You learn something new every day.

The idea of an archetypal naughty schoolboy who gets into all sorts of trouble and causes mayhem especially for the adults around him is, of course, a winner for a comic strip. It's what all kids want to do but mostly feel they can't - right? It's escapism, pure and simple.

Down the years, there have been TV shows and films about Dennis, but you might have noticed that usually the little lad is not the dark haired broody chap we know here in Great Britain, but an angelic looking blond kid, who is nevertheless as mischievous as our Dennis.

Dennis usaWell that's because in the USA, Dennis IS an angelic looking blond kid!

He ALSO appeared for the first time on March 12th 1951, in newspapers across the USA. Originally the comic strip was distributed by a company called Post-Hall Syndicate and today it's distributed to at least 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and translated into 19 languages by King Features Syndicate. It's why the cartoons and TV shows and movies generally feature the little blond version of Dennis.

But weirdly, although Dennis the Menace appeared for the first time on exactly the same day on both sides of the Atlantic, there was and is NO connection.

How spooky is that?

It seems that creative people on both sides of 'The Pond' were having almost identical ideas about creating a boy character with mischief on his mind, at the same time! Plus, the name apparently was independently conceived based on different personal experiences. Ok, so the word 'Dennis' lends itself to rhyming with 'Menace' but I still think it's a bit freaky that different cartoonists came up with the same concept independently. 

That aside, on this auspicious Dennis the Menace Day, I wanted to leave you with a quote from the boy himself.

I've no idea which version of the Menace this is attributed to or whether I need to say it in an English or an American accent, but when I looked online for 'Dennis the Menace Quotes' THIS is what popped up.

And I love it. 

A little while back I blogged about just being yourself and not being forced into anyone else's mould. and this quote in the same vein. 

Dennis is just Dennis, in the UK and in the USA (and around the world now). He's just Dennis, even though that's a bit naughty, disruptive and hilarious. And he works hard at remaining Dennis and not becoming someone else, despite the pressure - in his case, to conform and behave.

So this Friday ... I don't know about you, but I'm going to think about being the best ME that I can be!

 

Dennis the menace quote