Friday, 23 November 2012

Flood threat to Furness Abbey foundations

What horrendous weather! Typical topic of conversation for the English...but its gone beyond a joke this week. It's extremely worrying because Furness Abbey has been one casualty of these terrible flash floods. It is extremely concerning that the whole site was submerged and the drainage channels and streams were flowing like the river Thames!
This once again compromises the integrity of the abbey foundations. There is already major movement in the structure and I cannot see that this new deluge can be anything but devastating to the building. I am writing to English Heritage-I am sure they already know about it-but I think that the public need to express concern over this state of affairs and keep a "weather eye" on the situation as it were. We need to protect this wonderful edifice and save it for the future generations yet to be born. 

Furness Abbey under water yesterday-photo courtesy Steve Hillman
I looked at the pictures of the poor old abbey under water yesterday and cried a tear or two...I would be broken hearted if it deteriorated further and finally fell completely....and I know I am not alone in this. If you love ancient buildings...Furness Abbey in particular, please support us and join Furness Abbey Fellowship either on Facebook: Furness Abbey Fellowship or follow us on Twitter-@FAFellowship. We will be launching as a charity in new year and presenting membership packs...please join and help us to protect one of the most significant abbeys in the UK.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Its a funny old world

I am just about thawing out after a few hours in a full on draught from an ever opening door in Waterstones at Carlisle. However, it would be silly to complain, as without the ever opening door there would be no customers and no book thermal undies next time. Everyone is lovely at this particular Waterstones they can't do enough for you and make you feel really welcome. It's a busy shop too, so you get to meet lots of interesting people. However, it was a bit different today because I only had a small table and to be honest until I draped my "author" sign round the table people must have thought I was just taking the weight off my feet. I had sound advice form some customers..."You want to stand over there and wait for people to come to the table to look at the books and then... pounce!" And... "you need a big table and notice saying Author signing" (well I had a small table and notice!).

I did try to engage with my "readers" by offering smiles...often across a crowded room, leaflets "would you like a leaflet I'm doing a book signing today" and bookmarks. Reactions ranged from a nervous smile back, turning to look the other way (like when people avoid the woman selling the Big Issue), taking a leaflet and running, browsing, asking for more details and avoiding the leaflet like the plague-really, I think some people thought they might catch it if they risked taking one. I love it though because it is a fertile ground for an author. The strange look,the haughty dismissal, the eccentric response and the furtive glance-are all grist for my literary mill! So beware! Next time you encounter a signing author-you may well appear as a cameo role in their next book! Oh! And that thing about Scots being mean... its rubbish because they were definitely the best purchasers today...and I had lots of chance to chat to people from Dumfries and Annan-lovely!

A more serious note-I read my copy of the NUT Teacher magazine today (old habits die hard) and was delighted to read an article about Julia Donaldson of Gruffallo fame. She surprised me by saying that she disagrees that Phonics is a cure all to literacy problems and actually dared to fly in the face of current thinking, saying that we should adopt any means necessary to allow children to learn to read. It has long been my belief that phonics is a good tool-but not for everyone! It is just one method and would be pointless to some children who innately seem to read whole words etc. It annoys me that emphasis is on one way or the other...instead of adopting all methods-in fact it all depends on the current fashion as much as anything. When I started teaching phonics was frowned upon as old fashioned (because-yes, its not actually new- guess what? Mr Gove didn't just invent it). We had something called emergent reading (by osmosis apparently) and whole word reading-where the shape of the word is recognised...then onto Letterland, Oxford Reading Tree, real books (as opposed to imitation books?), Jolly phonics, synthetic phonics, guided reading (urgh!), shared reading?! Reading for meaning and on and on... All seem to work-for some why not use what works? The day that politicians butt out of education will be a good day for teachers. Maybe then they can use their expertise and experience to guide them and allow them to choose the strategy which best fits the child! Until then, I guess they will just have to toe the educational line (or bend it a little bit-but don't tell anyone I said so!)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Remembrance approaches

Quick mention to the brilliant guys at Barrow Waterstones-thank you for making me so welcome on Saturday. It was a steady flow for the full hour I was there and it was a shame I missed some people...catch them later I am sure!

The weather is a bit more like it ought to be in November and I am looking forward to visiting Brantwood on Coniston Water at the weekend. I'm going to the Craft Fair and I am hopeful that I make some good sales and contacts. We had a great time last year-so this will be a test of the recession! 

It will be poignant for me to be in Brantwood on the 11th November-as I think I have mentioned before that my dad's maternal grandparents and family lived at the Lodge at the foot of the drive there. I have wonderful photos of them outside the cottage and my Great Grandfather Miles Wilkinson was a gardener under Professor John Ruskin and later took over from the Head Gardener and continued to work for Arthur and Lily Severn after Ruskin's death, until his own in 1920.

His son John will be in mind particularly as he was one of the many who gave his life for us during World War 1. He had volunteered with his brothers at the start of war, but had been declared unfit for service because of poor sight. He joined the local volunteer unit and as war progressed he was called up when conditions were relaxed. He went to France in 1917 and was home on leave in February 1918-we know this from his diary (now in Ruskin Museum Coniston) and he had barely returned to the front when he was shot in the head at Vimy Ridge. He ended his life in the field hospital at Wimeraux and lies in the cemetery there (the same cemetery which houses John McCrae-the soldier-poet who wrote "In Flanders Field"). Naturally, the family was devastated and his loss was felt in the Brantwood community. In fact he was honoured by Canon Rawnsley (of National Trust fame), who penned a poem in his honour, read at the memorial service. John was 27 years old,shy, unassuming and quiet. He had a fiance-who is known only to us from the diary as "F"-she lived at the Severn's London home in Warwick Square and was a servant there. One wonders what happened to her and how she took the news-she had visited the family home in Coniston on his last leave-so it was maybe then that they were engaged.His diary entries are brief and simple-but it is quite chilling when the entries cease on 26th March-two days before he was shot. However, the most poignant and disturbing discovery is in the fly leaf of the diary, where in faint pencil he has scrawled "Cheerio".
John Wilkinson Royal Garrison Artillery Died 30 March 1918

Poem written for John by Canon Rawnsley

Remembrance ceremony for the fallen of the villageand dedication of the memorial cross in St Andrew's Church Coniston