Famous faces & Casanova’s kisses #Soho

When this clock in London’s Soho district strikes the hour, a fabulous thing happens…
The Italian seducer extraordinaire, Casanova kisses Theresa Cornelys, a soprano and impresario who hosted lavish parties at her home in Soho Square; she winks at us; a bearded Karl Marx takes a sip of a coca cola whilst reading his book, Das Kapitas.
Lots of famous painted faces are gathered in this group from all warps of life and all centuries, from John Logie Baird (inventor of the television) to Percy Shelley, William Blake, Dylan Thomas to Mozart and Canaletto. The flamboyant mural is as theatrical, vibrant and as coloured as Soho herself; a thriving, creative district welcoming and supporting all sorts into its narrow streets and cobbled paths. Come join the fun!

Knock Knock

Knock, Knock

Who’s there?


John who?

John Keats

Of course! ‘Junkets’ (as John Keats was also known) lived in this house in Hampstead from 1818-1820. Whilst renting rooms here, Keats experienced his greatest outpouring of work. The combination of support, friendship, landscape and love he received plus his ambitious desire to be a poet (and only the very critical best) were the perfect ingredients for this ‘bright star’ to shine!

Enter round the back and see the rooms he read, worked and lingered in…

Looking for signs

Sometimes the answers are all around us, we just have to know where to look.
Sometimes a sign appears ‘out of the blue’ (that’s an old nautical phrase, the blue being the sea) & it may change our feelings for an entire day, or longer & thus influence those around us too, setting off a small chain reaction of events. Let’s stay on the positive side; I would encourage you to always see the happy not the sad, the love not the hate.

So here’s an example: strolling in a city park (part of the live longer campaign as a previous blog stated, exercise & fresh air – excuse the digression, but everything is interlinked) I came across this sign ‘Keep Smiling’ – the name of a bed of roses.

Now you may quote me Shakespeare:

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other day name would smell as sweet.”

So true Juliet, but what a fantastic name; it certainly makes you stop, smile and shake off those daily frustrations.

As a consequence I smiled at everyone I walked past (a rarity in a busy city), I helped an old lady figure out how to use her mobile phone as a camera and photograph the park ducks; I popped into a gallery to donate some money, thereby buying a postcard to send to a friend.

The World sorted for the day.

So what will your sign be? Just look out for it and in someway it might just look after you…

The most famous pool in the world

Swimming with the Stars, under the stars, amongst the Stars.
Cary Grant enjoyed a swim in this luxurious pool, high on the hilltops of a private Californian estate, after tennis with Charlie Chaplin & a meal with Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. It’s the 1940s heyday of Hollywood glamour, and everyone’s ready to dive in! It glitters at night & shimmers by day…

Something’s ‘Goethe’ Give!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – pronounced ‘gerter’ (1749-1832) is a German legend.
The learned Goethe did a lot in his lifetime – he was, by turns, a philosopher, novelist, botanist, anatomist, poet, dramatist and theatre director and if that wasn’t enough he was closely involved in the politics & court life of Weimar.
But it doesn’t end there, he is also famous for fleeing to Italy, masquerading as a painter & enjoying an ‘Italian Journey’ which he vividly wrote about from 1786-1788. What an adventurer – no blogging, no mobiles, no credit cards, no FaceTime, no Facebook, no tweeting, just him, a trusty pen & parchment, and the desire to explore the classical world.

His first published work included ‘Die Nacht’ / Night Thoughts & it appeared in a songbook, he was a lyricist too, in 1769, in this poem he refers to the stars,
‘beautiful as you are, shining in your glory’ …
‘your figures in a dance through the vast heaven’…
‘what journey have you ended in this moment’ …
From the German to the English the translation is quite perfect!

Are you sitting comfortably?

Children love to fidget! Adults are impatient!
So Sunday is the chance to slow down, catch up & generally take longer over everything you do. If you are getting together with family, buy and take along a children’s poetry anthology, sit a child upon your knee (one you know well!) & get them started early on the wonderful world of poems, which are like short rhyming stories. It’s a great chance to bond, for them to listen and to learn – may be off by heart too. At the right age it is something they will remember for life.
When they are 35 & getting married don’t you want them to come up to you, shake your hand and say
” Uncle A/ Auntie B, I’ll never forget the day you read ‘that poem’ to me, you opened my eyes & my ears!”
What a great feeling you’ll have – the star relative!

Happy Thought
‘The world is so full
of a number of things
I’m sure we should all
be as happy as Kings’

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Turning Wilde

Feeling a bit rebellious? Want to be different, to be recognised, talked about (‘there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’) want to express yourself in explosive & unusual ways, be eccentric, outspoken, extravagant & totally unconventional? Then go wild for Oscar Wilde.
A man of many talents (gifted author, playwright, poet, conversationalist, champion of the Aesthetic Movement, fine critic & a man of brilliant wit)!
It is hard to know where to begin with Oscar & impossible to stop.
He is pithy, cynical, eloquent, witty, cunning, satirical, unrelenting, & also a great, warm character, generous, spirited, brave & with a profound understanding of human life, human vanities and human frailties. There is so much to say about a man who said so much and I know I will come back to Oscar time and time again.

After the high points, the lows follow…so from a man who really experienced life, the last word must be with him –

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

‘Stands the church clock at ten to 3?’

Sitting in Cafe des Westens in Berlin in May 1912 was a ‘sweating, sick and hot’ Rupert Brooke, desperately missing The Old Vicarage in Grantchester – pining for his English home: ‘get me to England once again.’
How far and remote and alone he must have felt. In the poem he wrote that May day he recalls with imaginative nostalgia –
‘my flower beds’ ‘the chestnuts shade’ ‘a bosky wood…a slumbrous stream’ ‘the lilac is in bloom’ ‘May fields all golden’ ‘flower-lulled in sleepy grass.’

At first he is descriptive and comical then he asks questions (with increasing heartfelt inquiry) of the land he so loves.
At some point in our lives we will all miss our home & the things that make us, us. We will long to return, to belong again, to enjoy a hot pot of tea, marmite toast or a red post box.
Rupert Brooke would never return to live out a full life; he died in 1915.
Yet in this poem he has forever preserved a corner of England.
Yes Rupert, the church clock stands, turning the time & the bees are buzzing at the apple blossoms in the orchard. Oh & the sky is a deep blue, with a fat, fluffy white English cloud!

The First Dylan Thomas Day 14th May 2015

Today is the first ever International Dylan Thomas Day. The 14th May 1953 was the date his radio play ‘Under Milk Wood’ was read on stage at The Poetry Center in New York.
So on a sunny afternoon (for Art’s sake) I did a pub crawl around Fitzrovia – perhaps as Dylan would have done, despite the fact he found London “an insane city” that “filled him with terror.”
However at The Wheatsheaf pub he met his future wife Caitlin who listened to his “endless jabber” which included an outpouring of overwhelming affection & love toward her. He adored words & believed in his own genius. Dylan never did anything in small doses.

Dylan’s diction, his performances, his exuberance, his highly charged personality & his beloved Wales are deeply entrenched in his rich poetry. He is every word & every lyrical line of these rhythmic works. In each one of his poems we meet Dylan Thomas. Be introduced…

In Conversation with Churchill & Roosevelt

Facing your critics, your opposition or your enemies is never a pleasant experience. Who could have met more of those than Sir Winston Churchill or Franklin D. Roosevelt? What advice might they offer me on facing criticism or insult? How might I brush off such remarks, having exposed my work to the world? So I put these questions to them…
FDR: “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement & the thrill of creative effort.”
WC: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.”
FDR: “The only limits to our realisation of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.”

WC: “If your going through hell, keep going…never, never, never give up.”

Thanks guys, I knew I could rely on you to make me feel better & to turn the low points into laughs instead…after all, the world will always remember you, so where are the critics now?

‘I must go down to the seas again’

On departing London’s Charing Cross by train to Hastings, East Sussex who cannot help but think of this compelling line ‘I must go down to the seas again…!’
How lovely – a deep breath of salty sea air, a wet breeze, some dozy clouds & the tide tirelessly lapping on the beach. The seashore is a timeless, evocative & ancient old place to cast off your woes & to make new wishes.
John Masefield’s (1st June 1878- 12th May 1967) poem ‘Sea Fever’ captures every worldly imagination of the seas – ‘a grey mist on the sea’s face’ ‘the white clouds flying’ ‘the flung spray’ ‘the blown spume’ ‘the call of the running tide’ ‘the seagulls crying.’ This poem is every schoolboy’s favourite & every grown man’s old romance.
On our Island nation ‘Sea Fever’ is all around us – get out, see it and live these lines!

‘Never the Time and the Place’

May is an inspiring time for poets. A fresh green carpet of newness, buds, flowers ready to bloom, fruits to come, warmer air & circling swallows; the year is promising, bright & full of beauty & optimism. At the age of 70, Robert Browning (who resolved to become a poet age 14) composed these lines just after his May birthday in 1882: ‘Never the time and the place And the loved one all together! This path – how soft to pace! This May – what magic weather! Did he take a walk around Regent’s Park, steps away from the Marylebone church where he’d married his wife Elizabeth (now, long dead) wishing her to be with him…in this time, this place, on these paths? I wish I could ask him. Parks are full of lonely wanderers & poets love them. They clear your head & stimulate new ideas, mix these ideas with a dreamy countenance, a play on words, nature & love, and poetry flows… ‘Through the magic of May to herself indeed!’

‘The finest hour’

Overlooking the beautiful cliffs & countryside of East Sussex, all is calm & peaceful, it is difficult to imagine over 75yrs ago this English Channel was a great defence against the threat of invasion & the scene of horrific ‘dog fights’.
Today we commemorate 70yrs since VE Day, Victory in Europe, & gaze happily on our magnificent Great Britain with pride. We must always give Thanks & Remembrance for the generations who sacrificed their lives for the Freedom we enjoy today; in everything we do the course of history plays a significant part. May we all take pleasure in many more ‘fine hours’.

‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’

Without seeming too political, the title of Shakespeare’s play ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ is all too fitting in the present light of the 2015 election. Much like his plays, the UK election has been a mix of goodies, baddies, wit, wisdom, intrigue, laughter, tears & surprises, with plenty of participation and anticipation. Let’s leave politics alone & focus on four wonderful & perfect lines from ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ Act IV Scene III

Berowne:’And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.
Never durst poet touch a pen to write
Until his ink were temp’red with Love’s sighs…’

Politicians come & go, Words on Love are found again & again. Brush up your Shakespeare & your half-remembered love poems! They are still there, ready to move forward & breathe new life.

‘All the world’s a stage’

Here at The Globe on the banks of the River Thames, just as it was in the 16th century, the stage is set for a fabulous performance of ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Through high winds, rain, & sun, the show must go on.

Love, laughs, money, religion, tragedy, cross dressing, jests, wit & merriment all encompassed in Shakespeare’s great play.
‘The quality of mercy is not strained, it dropeth like gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath’

The Pen versus The Sword

‘The pen is mightier than the sword…’ coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for his play ‘Richelieu’
How many many people today pick up the pen & write something powerful, beautiful, moving, life changing? Today a hand written letter or note is a rarity, making the one you do receive all the more special & precious; yours to keep for life & maybe to pass on.
Anyone can do it, but too few do. The pen is a wonderful, immediate tool which has the ability to capture our unique creative thoughts & feelings of a single time that will one day be the distant past.

‘Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword.’ Thomas Jefferson (1796).

Peace versus War.
Love versus Hate.
The Pen versus The Sword.

‘The darling buds of May’

Poetry in nature, Nature in poetry; the two so intricately bound, they preserve each other beautifully.
In everything we see & do, we find poetry: a word, a line, a couplet, a verse; our language is peppered with worn phrases & quotations, part remembered & stored in our minds ready to be recited just at the perfect moment.
Be amazed! We have an incomparable poetic heritage and however young or old the poem or ourselves, there is a poetry moment waiting inside us all.
We can think & breathe the same life as our chosen poet has all those years ago; we too see the same beauty or feel the same pain.

‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date…’
Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare, 1609

William Shakespeare & I agree: the winds are whipping up the delicate apple blossoms & an English summer never lasts long enough. Kate Barnwell, 2015

‘ In Flanders Fields’ 3rd May 1915

In the commemorative years of the First World War, let’s take a 2 minutes silence to reflect on the extraordinary poetry created during this horrific period, 1914-1918.
It is 100 years today since the distinguished Canadian doctor & War poet’s poet John McCrae wrote ‘In Flanders Fields’ first appearing anonymously in the magazine ‘Punch’ in 1915.
These are perhaps some of the most famous & quoted lines of the whole war: eloquent, detached, evocative, uncluttered by personality & unfettered by individual experience. They were, ‘born of fire and blood during the hottest phase of the second battle of Ypes.’
He has left us a remarkable legacy; it makes you shudder & cry to read these words, the reality so striking and so vivid.
It is also interesting to note that in MaCrae’s autograph manuscript (above) he has misquoted his own poem changing ‘blow’ to ‘grow’, already the poem has a life of its own, belonging to us all.

‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.’

This youthful, energetic, committed young man died in 1918, he was ‘so old, so worn, his face lined and grey, his expression chill, his actions slow and heavy.’ A little piece of him will live forever in the poetry he gave to us.

Blue Plaque & Sudden Light

If it wasn’t for Blue Plaques, history books, local knowledge & talking, how would we know about the wonderful history that lies on our doorsteps?
Here in the High Street in Hastings Old Town is the house where painter, designer, writer, translator & leading member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti stayed with his poet & artistic model wife Elizabeth Siddal, they were married in the local St Clements Church (1854).

‘I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.’

The first verse from ‘Sudden Light’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

This poem holds one of his most deeply held beliefs: true lovers occupy an eternal space which defines their relationship, much like a ‘déjà vu’ experience.

[Hastings Old Town, local history, poetry, blue plaque]
[Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, artists, poets]

‘The bluebell is the sweetest flower’

The Kent & East Sussex counties of England are embracing a soft touch of Spring rain allowing these peaceful purple & blue bells to stir in the wind. If they had a sound they would be a noisy clump! They carpet the deep, rich green woodlands as they have done for years, it is worth taking the car out just to catch sight of them.
American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86) found her inspiration, across the Atlantic Ocean in New England, from that same little blue bud…

“It is the slight and stately stem
The blossom’s silvery blue
The buds hid like a sapphire gem
In sheaths of emerald blue.”

Short, simple & effective: this is the hardest kind of poetry…now one can look at this tiny flower with an even deeper affection.