Princess Mononoke

This year celebrates the 20th anniversary of the 1997 release of Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film Princess Mononoke (in Japan, the US release was 1999). Although most of Miyazaki’s films are for children and a broader audience, Princess Mononoke was meant for adults.  There are many discussions that can be held over this tale, and many interpretations which can be made. So without getting too detailed, it takes a look at how human industry and hate affect the planet as a whole.

A friend and I saw this film once, long ago in the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California. Although it is animated with many soft lines, there is violence and a certain harshness. However the violence is non gratuitous and the harshness reflects the callousness that people tend to show towards others and to nature itself.  Few films have echoed so often and so strongly within my memory. Perhaps this is because to me, the story is hugely relevant today.

I’m not able to share the complete film with you, but have a look at the trailer via YouTube here:

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Kulning is Beautiful

Kulning is beautiful. An ancient art of herding calls used in Scandinavia, it is usually used by women in order to call herds back home after a day of grazing.  Women were most often the ones tending the herds and instead of roaming the high mountain pastures, they could call out through the valleys with this most haunting of sounds.  The cows, sheep, or goats (each has a special call, as they react differently to the sounds) being called would make their way back home.

I was able to hear some live examples in the Royal Festival Hall a few weeks ago during the Women of the World festival.  Johanna Bölja Hertzberg and Ulrika Bodén gave a stunning performance of the high-pitched vocal art that is a part of the deep folk tradition in Sweden.  Their otherworldly singing washed over the entire hall in a way that I will never forget.

It’s a bit difficult to describe so I have attached below a youtube link to a short video of Joanna Jinton performing. The cows are lovely too.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace is a rather crazy place to visit. Hidden away in Southeast London, it is a blend of 1930’s Art Deco, Medieval and Tudor architecture. It was first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 as the manor of Eltham and it grew in size as many royals frequented it up until the days of Henry the eighth.  It went out of fashion and over the following centuries it sadly fell to ruin. The only surviving building seems to have been a great medieval banqueting hall.

Until millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld found it and decided it would be the perfect spot for a country pile - not directly in town but close enough to easily reach London. A new mansion was designed, which was connected to the banqueting hall (or rather, the music room). Its exterior was cleverly made to look much older, while the interior was drawn up as one of the most fabulous art deco homes in the UK!

The final product was the height of fashion, modernity and elegance. Legendary house parties were held there with royalty, film producers and musicians like Stravinsky staying over. The house had central heating, a loudspeaker system, internal private telephones, and a centralised vacuum cleaner (very cool). Virginia’s pet Lemur even had it’s own heated quarters and enjoyed biting guests at random.

The rooms and bathrooms were luxurious like no others - meant to mirror the Cunard style of ocean liners of the time, everything was plush, smooth and streamlined.  The entrance hall became so famous that it’s been used in many films and TV shows (Poirot fans, please note photo below).

The gardens are dreamy and expansive, evocative of the past with a moat and ancient bridges spanning across ancient outer walls.  It’s perfect for a summer picnic.

Although an odd jumble of eras, this place is haunting (if not thoroughly haunted already) and well worth a visit in the sunshine when the gardens are at their best. And the house, well, it’s always at it’s best.

Image Source, National Trust

Image Source, National Trust

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Most of us know the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  In short, in the year 1284 the town of Hamelin, Germany was plagued with rats. They hired the Pied Piper who played his magical flute and led the rats out of town and into the river where they all drowned.  When he returned for his fee, the town refused to pay him for his services. As an act of retribution he again played his magical flute and with all of the children being captivated by the tune, they followed him out of town and never ever returned. There are varying endings to this famous legend and it seems that there is some truth in the fact that the town lost an entire generation all those centuries ago:

Perhaps it was simply that many young people moved and settled in the north and east of Germany, where they were better able to make a living for themselves (some bits are Poland today)?

Perhaps it was a children’s crusade which went horribly awry.

Perhaps the children followed a pagan cult leader to dance in the forests of the Koppelberg hills. It is said they were swallowed up by an avalanche or a sinkhole!

Perhaps it was when many 12th centuty Saxons were invited to settle in Transylvania by the Hungarian king who ruled at the time?

these lead to the fun one…

Romanian legend has it that the children who were led away by the piper (to a cave in the Koppelberg hills) re-emerged from under the ground, in the Meresti Cave of the Varghis Gorge in Transylvania.

I know what I like to think!

“In Transylvania there’s a tribe
Of alien people who ascribe
The outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbours lay such stress,
To their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
But how or why, they don’t understand.”  
- Robert Browning

Here is a link to one of my favourite childhood videos which tells Robert Browning’s version - starts about two minutes in! 

The Man Who Planted Trees

This is a story of new life and replenishment in a place which seems desolate and hopeless. An allegorical tale by Jean Giono, it was published in 1953. In 1987 it was released as a short animated film and apparently won an Academy Award.

Having seen it as a small child, it has happily haunted me ever since.

Xmas in Oz

Xmas in Oz.

Where did you go, what did you do?

She asked with her eyes and not with her mouth.

My ears pricked up and I thought and I thought.

In my mind flashed christmas bells and rings and things.

There were lords a leaping while maids were milking.

I thought of trading places with skipping christmas

And fishing boats on turquoise water pulling up their lobster pots

During white wine sipping time by the pool.

Vanilla crescents and a million stars sparkled over pomegranate pavlova

As, in the end, the oysters ran away with the cholula-stealing kangaroos.


Happy New Year.

Children of the Stones

Having been a small child in the 1980’s, I was very excited about the prospect of watching “The Box of Secrets.”  It did nothing less than to captivate me in full.  There were a lot of fantasy films and stories floating around back then, and this is certainly a long-forgotten favourite of mine. I put it on and was immediately taken into a strange Christmassy world that might not exist (but I hope it does somewhere).  After that, I was advised that I might also like “The Children of Green Knowe.”  This was new to me and also quite a bit of fun, but not quite like “The Box of Secrets.”  After all - the first love is the first love, right?

Then came the suggestion for “Children of the Stones.”  This is not a Christmassy story but oh my was I hooked! It was made for children, produced in 1976 and is one very spooky journey!  The other evening I spoke about it to an acquaintance who had seen it when he was ten. He said it gave him nightmares for quite some time after.  As I am no longer ten so I thought I might be able to watch it without having the same reaction.  I ended up having a wonderful time trying to figure out the whys and wheretofores (am prone to being easily entertained).

All I can say is that there is an ancient English village which is surrounded by neolithic stones, rather like Stonehenge…

If you have some time over the coming holiday season, kick back and enjoy the retro storytelling and cosmic, ever so slightly scary adventure that Children of the Stones has to offer.

p.s.  You’ll need about 2.5 hours and maybe some whiskey/eggnog etc. and cookies within reaching distance.

The Old Los Angeles Zoo

The picnic area of the old Los Angeles Zoo is in a hidden corner of Griffith Park.

After having read about it on the Atlas Obscura website, I knew it wasn't something to be missed. They said you could eat your pack lunch in the old abandoned cages!

You would never know that a zoo had once been there, but if you pay attention it's easy to find.

When I arrived mid afternoon, everything was a bit creepy. The old leaf-filled and graffiti'd spaces for animals gave off a lonely feeling.

Also there was some sort of preparation for Halloween going on, with a few of the cages being used for gory scenes. Only occasionally did I see anybody walking around. Speakers had been placed around and were playing weird and vague "horror" sounds.

The stage was certainly set, as these old cages haven't been used for many years. It was built in the early part of the 20th century and left empty in the 1960's, when the current Los Angeles Zoo was opened.

It's a beautiful place and although it was a hot sunny day, I was spooked all around. I ate my lunch and high-tailed it back down to the car.

I had a wonderful time letting my imagination run away with me and I will certainly go back someday - with someone else so I don't spook myself out again!

The Connie Blair Mysteries

This vintage series features a teenage sleuth who is a bundle of energy and bursting with positive attitudes. Each story is set between the late 1940's to 1950's. They were written by Betsy Allen (Betty Cavanna in real life) and are similar to the Nancy Drew mysteries in that a young female takes the lead role.' Connie is rather independent and enabled for the era in which she was written. She is employed at an advertising agency and throughout the books she works her way up through the ranks. Also, she has a female boss or two, which is inspiring and encourages Connie to be ambitious in pursuing a career.

She is an artist and special attention is given to colours, style, materials and textures throughout. In each volume she finds herself drawn to a mystery of some sort, which she naturally manages to solve. They are all short, light, easy reads and are in general entertaining due to their dated-ness. They're funky experiences in a Barbara Stanwick sort of way.

Although there has been a certain amount of criticism concerning specific moments where Connie uses her femininity to achieve her goals, a significant amount of praise has been given for her interest in carving out her own professional path. She is not on the immediate lookout for a boyfriend or husband. If you find one in a used bookstore, give it a try and see what you think - it'll probably be fun!

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Radio Brockley

Radio Brockley isn’t in Brockley.  It’s in the famous Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital on Brockley Hill in North London. Completely run by volunteers, it is London’s longest running hospital radio station.  Many hospitals in the UK have their own radio stations, which are there for the patients’ listening pleasure!  Back in the olden days (before everyone had the opportunity to entertain themselves with TV/their own personal devices),  larger medical centres developed independent radio stations so that patients wouldn’t be stuck in silence all day - or stuck with the random beeps and bells one tends to hear down the halls…

Anyway, the variety of music and programs is impressive.  They are not bound by playlist regulations and so they can play most anything! Request shows are on every night, and they even do a show called Bedside Bingo.  Also, the show “Alpha Sessions” is a super series of interviews with up-and-coming musicians (more about that later).

Radio Brockley is a registered charity and depends fully on funds raised by members.  This year, which is their 50th, they were awarded in four categories of the annual Hospital Broadcasting Association.

They make a point of providing a personal and inclusive entertainment service to the patients, as many travel from abroad especially for treatment and don’t have many visitors, if any.  After all, where else can you hear “The Bare Necessities”, followed by a Frank Sinatra song?

I recently was interviewed by The Alpha Sessions and found the concept of hospital radio to be inspiring (they gave me a cool coffee cup too). This radio station is run by truly dedicated people who love music and who support an incredibly noble cause.  May they long continue their inspiring work!

Check out Radio Brockley here:

Check out the Alpha Sessions interview with Hazel Iris here (my three fav phrases seem to be “like”, “umm”, and “you know”):

A Perfect Day

The sun was shining high in the sky without a cloud coming to steal the show. This is a seldom occasion, not to be taken for granted. After a quick breakfast, we hopped into the car and fired up the tiny old engine.  Then we were off like a herd of turtles in our little green thing.  There was a warehouse designer furniture sale to get to, and a queue to join.

Parking was easy to find, as it was early yet.  One of us joined the queue and the other went off to find coffee. The one who went for coffee came back empty-handed. Too early for the foodie market, they were still setting up. So we queued together in the sunshine. We could wait.

Finally the doors opened and all of the people in front of and behind us ran for it, grabbing tabs and claiming first dibs on sofas and shelves and things. There was nothing we wanted so we took off.  Did we wait for nothing? Perhaps. Although simply having the luxury of time to wait in the sunshine was, well, a luxury.

With the long-awaited coffee and a chocolate twist in hand, we wandered through the maze of the Southwark streets.  When it’s quiet enough, you can hear the other generations still at work and going about their business.

After that came a picnic and nap in a sunny garden, accompanied by a neighbouring cat who seemed to think that our lunch was hers by right. It must have been the tuna and tomato sandwiches because she completely ignored the cider.

A trip up north of the river was next on the agenda.  After a train ride, a tube ride, and then lots of walking, we received our wristbands and became one of the anointed.  Catching a few late afternoon acts and grabbing a spicy bean cake and plantain wrap went hand in hand with a generous amount of people-watching.

Time passed and the perfect sun began to set as we stood on a balcony, waiting for the last act to begin.  The air became cooler and the sickle moon danced its way into view.  Finally we went inside to hear and see the spectacular way in which Anna Calvi fused vocals and guitar into one - a perfect way to end a perfect day.

It’s only August, there must be room for more.

I can feel it in my bones.

Pollock's Toy Museum

There is a tiny world of wonder and past childhood delights.  It is called Pollock’s Toy Museum and it lives on a quiet corner in Fitzrovia, London. Mainly a collection of Victorian toys, the upstairs museum has dolls, doll houses, teddy bears, tin toys, folk toys, puppets, toy theatres and toys in general from around the world.  Some are pretty spooky-looking but I suppose they weren’t at the time they were made, and it’s definitely part of the fun now!

Originally a printing shop dating from the 1850’s in Hoxton, Benjamin Pollock hand printed, constructed and coloured much of the toy theatre material housed in the museum today.  Just over  a hundred years later, the museum was established north of Oxford Street.

There is a shop on the ground floor and stepping through the door, you immediately enter a very different world to the one on the street. It feels as though you’ve gone back in time or wandered onto a period movie set.  There are vintage toys of every kind - masks, tops, jack-in-the-boxes, games, puzzles, books, mobiles, zoetropes, and they are to be found in every nook and cranny. There are lots of nooks and crannies.

Everything in this shop is fantastic (even some rare Star Wars toys have found their way to some shelves).  Each item is special and evokes long-forgotten memories (or makes you wish you had some memories about playing with a toy like that).

There is also a Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop in Covent Garden (which you enter after climbing an old narrow staircase!), but the museum with its ground-floor shop is well worth discovering.  You feel as though you have the place to yourself and you can’t help but leave with a smile on your face whether you have something in hand or not.  At least, I couldn’t.

Dungeness, Kent

Dungeness, Kent is strange, spooky, and lonely. As a visitor you could be standing in a ghost town in the desert but really, you’re on the southernmost point of the Kent coastline. The wind blows, the water is choppy and you’re standing on gravel and small stones. The light is weird.  I didn’t smell the sea.

Abandoned boats and fishing huts lie on one of the longest pebble beaches of the world, with a huge energy plant looming in the background. It feels as though it is dry but there is an amazing nature reserve, where plant life (over 600 different types), wild birds and invertebrate animals are studied.

Lighthouses have been built here since the early 1600’s as the headland is extremely dangerous: the sea has been retreating over the centuries, leaving the shoreline to grow slowly but surely.

There is a small village. Really small.  There are a few scattered houses occupied by fisherman and others who just want to be away from crowded society.  The late artist and film maker Derek Jarman built a house here.

It’s a wild place and it’s left me feeling truly haunted.  I’ll go back again sometime to take some more photos, eat some fish and tank up on the strangeness factor.

Piano Lesson

The other day I meandered down memory lane.  It led me to piano lessons. Always (for the most part) on time, I would knock softly on the door to Mr X’s teaching room and enter with a certain amount of trepidation. You see, I never really practiced enough.  My technique was horrible. I didn’t have the patience to do the drills the way I should.  Scales and finger exercises were torturous and I wasn’t too keen on practicing them religiously.

Until that one day. It was possibly raining. Very Drab.  In that particular session there was a short phrase I just wasn’t getting right. The notes were all there but no music was coming out of my fingers. Poor Mr. X was becoming more and more impatient.  Finally he stood up and went to the window.

He stared out of it.

I stopped playing.

Not bothering to turn around, he sighed and said “play it again”.

The rest of the session continued with me playing the same phrase over and over again while he sighed and stared out the window.

This was much worse than when he would become angry.  It was absolutely excruciating. I deserved it.

A repeat of that day’s lesson was not something I ever wanted to live through again, so I quickly re-thought my practicing strategy.  It was about the energy. Scales and such were back on the menu in a different kind of way!

In the end I had exams and I passed. It was without a doubt by the skin of my teeth but I was simply happy to have them behind me.

It’s been a while since then and thinking about it has inspired some nostalgic ambition. Scale book coming off the shelf in 5, 4, 3, 2, ….