Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red: The Ceramic Poppies at the Tower of London

The Tower, the Shard and the Poppies

I’d heard of the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London and I’d seen numerous photos but nothing prepared me for the first time I saw them. I was on a bus speeding past the Tower and suddenly I could see them before me and they took my breath away. I knew that I had to go back.

And so on the day when I tracked down the Books About Town and revisited St Dunstan-in-the-East, I slowly made my way across London to the Tower. As I approached the Tower, they took my breath away again. The sight of the red ceramic poppies against the green grass and grey walls of the Tower is really quite impressive.

The White Tower and the poppies

There were volunteers below planting more poppies. I know that Sue Hillman from It's Your London was one of those volunteers but try as I might, I could not spot her!

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London

I was pleased to discover that despite the large number of people lining the walkway to get a view of the poppies, people were very patient in allowing each other to take photos or simply stand and reflect.

Ceramic towers spilling out of the Tower of London

I stood at this point and reflected for a very long time. In 1918, my great-grandfather Corporal John Quinn was on his way home after serving in World War I when he was shot in the eye by a sniper in a French village.

He survived and a year later my grandmother was born. I can’t begin to express how profoundly grateful I am that he survived and that his blood line continued down through the generations. You can read more about my great-grandfather and about my grandfather’s brush with Kamikaze pilots here.The outer Tower and the poppies

The late summer day was certainly turning blustery and cold and eventually I decided to make my way around to the main entrance of the Tower. I love this photo below, it shows the unique style of the Tower so well. That is the White Tower you can see there, just left of the flag.

The Tower of London

I was able to get quite close to the poppies to see some of the detail on them. Definitely click on the photo below to see how beautifully they are designed.

The ceramic poppies up close

At the front of the Tower, the poppies cascade over into the dry moat.

A cascade of ceramic poppies

It really is an excellent visualisation of the anonymous poem written by a World War I soldier Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red:

The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

By Anonymous (Unknown Soldier)

The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As I put my hand to reach,
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.

As the tears of mine fell to the ground
To sleep with the flowers of red
As any be dead

My children see and work through fields of my
Own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.

It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell, to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around
And the rain so thick with black thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more

I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back
So sleep, kiss the boys for me

Ceramic poppies cascading into the Tower of London

In homage to the poem and to honour the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the installation is named “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”. The poppies are created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins with setting by designer Tom Piper.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

From 17 July when the first poppy was planted to 11 November 2014, a total of 888,246 poppies will be planted in the moat, each poppy representing one British fatality in World War I. The poppies will then be sold and the proceeds will be divided equally between 6 charities that provide support to those in service and the armed forces.  You can click here to Buy a Poppy.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Revisiting St Dunstan-in-the-East

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (9)

St Dunstan-in-the-East didn't always look like this. I say this with confidence although I will confess that I don't really know what it looked like before. Instead, I sit within these walls where the outside is inside and I reflect on the former glory of this place.

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (3)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (12)

St Dunstan-in-the-East is almost as old as modern London itself, built shortly after the Norman invasion in about 1100. The White Tower in the Tower of London was built in 1078. Over the years the church was repaired and added to until it was gravely damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (7)Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (6)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (11)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (10)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (14)

They decided not to rebuild the church at that time, opting instead to patch it up. The late 17th century was a glorious time in London and Sir Christopher Wren headed many of the projects to rebuild London after the Great Fire. St Dunstan-in-the-East did not entirely miss out and was blessed with a gothic Wren-designed steeple which was added between 1695 and 1701.

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (5)

And then there was the Blitz. Starting on 7 September 1940 and continuing for 57 consecutive nights, the Luftwaffe bombed England and destroyed thousands of buildings and homes including many of London's iconic churches.

I wonder if his fortunes would have been different after the Blitz had they decided to rebuild the church after 1666? Would St Dunstan-in-the-East have been more valuable, more worth saving? No, I suspect that the losses London experienced were so great and seemed too insurmountable that the decision not to rebuild would have been made anyway.

In 1967 the City of London Corporation chose to turn St Dunstan-in-the-East into a public garden. Here we can remember a church that was devastated in the Great Fire and ultimately destroyed in the Blitz but still stands to enclose a place of quiet reflection.

Today St Dunstan-in-the-East is surrounded on all four sides by modern buildings. If you do not know where to find it, the church can be quite difficult to locate.

All the photos above were taken from inside the church. A final two photos from the outside looking in…

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (4)

This doorway would have once lead to you in to the back of the church.

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (13)

St Dunstan-in-the-East is probably my favourite place in London. You can read about my first visit to The Bombed Out Church of St Dunstan-in-the-East in February 2012. The garden looked very different in late winter!

St Dunstan-in-the-East
St Dunstan's Hill
Nearest postcode: EC3R 5DD


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Tracking Down the Books About Town

Well hello! It feels like ages since I was last here when in reality it was just five days ago. The reason for that would be that I took a much-needed break from my studies and work last week to spend time with friends, explore London and Kent and relax on the sofa watching TV and reading. It totally worked because it felt like I took several weeks off, not just nine days.

At first I feared the rain was going to ruin my plans for the whole week but luckily it cleared up towards the end of the week and I went off in search of the Books About Town and the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London.

Books About Town is a summer long initiative by the National Literacy Trust to highlight the city’s literary links. The benches each depict a famous book or author and will be auctioned off at the end of the summer to raise money for the Trust’s work to raise literacy levels in the UK.

If you’d like to follow one of the four trails to track the benches down, you should hurry! The benches will only be displayed until 15 September 2014.

Brick Lane book bench

My walk took me from Charing Cross to Holborn to the Tower of London and back to Cannon Street. The first bench I saw represented was Monica Ali’s Brick Lane illustrated by artist Charlotte Brown. It was in one of my favourite hidden locations in London – Postman’s Park.

Mary Poppins book bench

Next I walked down to St Paul's Cathedral where I encountered P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins illustrated by Darel Seow. The bench was right in the sunshine on a lovely bright day so I must admit that I struggled to take a good photo and avoid glare.

Peter Pan book bench back

Peter Pan book bench

I think most of you know about my Peter Pan obsession by now and I was thrilled to discover J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan illustrated by Laura Elizabeth Bolton. You’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t actually ask the man in the top photo to move off the bench – one of the mums did that! I was part in awe, part terrified of all the mothers that day. They were very assertive in asking people to vacate the benches for photo opportunities but ultimately the benches are there for the benefit of children.

Fever Pitch book bench

I quite liked this photo because I managed to capture the chap in the red shirt too. I’m still very shy to take photos of people but I’m learning to be more casual about it. This is Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch illustrated by Sophie Green. The quote on the bench says, “real life contains less potential for unexpected delirium”. I haven’t read the book but I quite like this quote; it reminds me of why I explore and discover and chronicle my travels. You never know what hidden treasures and unexpected deliria await.

Jacqueline Wilson book bench

Jacqueline Wilson book bench back

Gosh, even the super mums struggled to get this bench free for their precious photo opportunity! These girls were very determined to enjoy their lunch and by this stage I was happy to stand in the shade and watch the interaction between the diners and photographers.

This bench celebrates the work of Jacqueline Wilson and is illustrated by Nick Sharratt and Jane Headford.

Alex Rider book bench

Now I know that I said before that the benches are there for the children but I evidently looked so happy to discover this bench that a fellow bench-tracker insisted on taking my photo with it. This bench represents Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker, the first in his Alex Rider series. Anthony Horowitz is one of my two favourite authors, along with Garth Nix and yes, I was thrilled to discover this bench.

The Wind in the Willows book bench detail

The Wind in the Willows book bench

The final bench I tracked down on this trail was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows illustrated by Mik Richardson. The bench was located right outside the Bank of England where Grahame worked his whole working career until his retirement in 1908. This bench was an absolute work of art and definitely the most beautifully illustrated of all the book benches I saw that day.

I love it when we get these exciting installations in London and in the past I’ve tracked down the Elephant Parade, the BT Artboxes and Wenlock and Mandeville. I think my favourite was the Gifts from the Olympian Gods during the Olympics but I tragically didn’t manage to track those all down before they disappeared!

I still have to tell you all about the ceramic poppies and all the other things I got up to in my week off but that is a story for another day. At the moment it is back to work and back to studying. I have to admit that I’m more than slightly overwhelmed and not a day goes by that I don’t think about giving up blogging.

What are your tips for when it all gets too much? I worry that if I give up my hobbies then nothing will break the pressure of studies and work. What do you do to make your hobbies more manageable and when do you fit in the time to exercise?


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The London Ghost Bus Tour: Review and Giveaway

The London Ghost Bus Tour

Do you like a good scare? I certainly do and I can't get enough of scary films, books and TV shows. Recently life imitated fiction when we hopped aboard the famous London Ghost Bus Tour for an evening of scares and tall tales. Let me start by assuring you that we had a frightfully good time and I'm just glad that the menacing Mr Hinge managed to restrain himself from strangling me although he certainly seemed likely to at one point.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, am I not?

The London Ghost Bus Tour departs every evening at 19:30 & 21:00 from Northumberland Ave, just off Trafalgar Square. Booking ahead is essential and on the evening we were there, they had to turn people away and tell them to come on the later tour.

Ben Hale

Our host for the evening was the dapper Ben Hale and he regaled us with stories ranging from the terrifying yet fascinating to the gruesome and downright fantastic. For instance, did you know that they exhumed the body of Oliver Cromwell two years after his death, hanged him, beheaded him and displayed his head on a spike above Westminster Hall? London's history is nothing if not grisly and I love it.

We were also treated to several ghost stories, of course, and these are my favourites. The thing about ghost stories is we love to not believe them but when your attention is being held by a fantastic narrator weaving his tale about unexplained phenomena and shared experiences, it is hard not to believe just a tiny bit.

Most chilling for me was the story of Sarah Whitehead, the Black Nun. Sarah haunts the Bank of England but as a child we did not know that and she was the ghost that my friends used to keep each other in check. I was terrified of the roar of flushing toilets for years after being told a particularly nasty story about Sarah Whitehead coming up through the pan.

I digress.

Mr Hinge

The London Ghost Bus Tour is a lot of fun and is made all the more enjoyable by audience participation. We were joined on our tour by the seriously unhinged Mr Hinge and he was absolutely fantastic, despite the rather murderous glare he shot me when I tried, repeatedly, to get a decent photo of him.

Would I recommend the Ghost Bus Tour? Of course I would, so much so that I'd definitely like to go again one day. In the meantime, I have excellent news for you, dear readers - I have a pair of tickets to give away for the Ghost Bus Tour!  The giveaway will run for the next three weeks and you have loads of easy ways to enter.

Feel free to enter as many times as you like – you can enter using each of the options below and you can also gain an extra 2 entries per day by tweeting about the competition.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Ghost Bus

The Ghost Bus Tour – London
Departs daily at 19:30 and 21:00
Northumberland Avenue, just off Trafalgar Square
Fares : Adults £21 | Child, Concession & Students £15 Child | Family £57 (2 adults 2 child)


Friday, 15 August 2014

Visiting Krušedol Monastery in the Fruška Gora

Krusedol monastery doorway

When we were planning our time in Serbia, my friend Aleksa asked me what I wanted to do during my time there and I immediately knew my answer. “I want to eat lots of Serbian food”, I said, “visit some monasteries and spend as much time with my friends as possible”. He was pleased because he could help me with all three.

But visiting the monasteries was not without its controversies.

Serbia is primarily an Orthodox country and the church is important from a religious, cultural, historical and political standpoint but just like in any country with a strong, established religion, there are those who feel that the church aids in the oppression and exploitation of vulnerable communities. One of my friends decided not to join us on our excursion to the monasteries on these very grounds, citing a prominent patriarch who had blamed the recent catastrophic floods in Serbia on the fact that Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision song contest.

I completely understood and respected my friend’s point of view.

It was interesting because it made me examine my reasons for wanting to visit the monasteries. I am interested in both history and politics and have, for example, read up on Byzantium and the rise of the Orthodox church in order to understand relations in Europe during that period. I will often visit churches, synagogues and mosques in foreign countries because I find that it helps me to understand the history and architecture in a country.

Krusedol Monastery, entrance

I was also aware of the religious aspect of the difficult history of the Balkans and how it fed into the conflict in both the Second World War and the conflicts in the 1990s. In short, I knew just how important the Orthodox Church is to Serbians and I wanted to see the monasteries for myself. Little did I know what an emotionally wrought day it would turn out to be.

Our first stop was the distinctive red  Krušedol Monastery in the Fruška Gora. Krušedol Monastery was founded by the Despot Đorđe Branković in 1509 and he built it as a mausoleum to his family. The monastery was attacked by the ruling Turks in 1716 and many important relics were destroyed.

The church spire at Krusedol Monastery

The church steeple at Krušedol Monastery

The entrance to the inner monastery at Krusedol

The entrance to the monastery from the grounds

I have never seen anything like I saw in that church that day. Every inch of space on the walls, ceilings, arches and columns was covered in depictions of saints and important holy figures. The paintings are extremely old, some dating back to the 1500s, and they are badly in need of restoration.

The lighting in the church is kept to a minimum, to prevent further damage to the paintings and when the patriarch bent down to show us the age of a piece of work, paint and mortar crumbled away to the floor. It was painful to see and no doubt painful for the patriarch to experience.


For obvious reasons of conservation, there is no photography allowed inside the church and this is the reason I’ve included the post card above. Perhaps it would help to click on the postcard to view an enlargement.

I was able to take some of the outside of the church, depicting artwork from perhaps the last restoration in 1750.

Paintings of exterior of church at Krusedol Monastery

Paintings on exterior of church at Krušedol Monastery

The monastery was a quiet place, certainly a place of reflection and while my friends lit a candle and prayed, I observed the patriarch in a moment of peace. Well, to be fair, he was peaceful until he spotted me taking his photo and so I quickly put my camera away.

Grounds at Krusedol Monastery

Patriarch at Krusedol Monastery

After visiting the church itself, we decided to walk around the grounds. Krušedol is a self-sustaining monastery and the monks grow all of their own food, plus they own pigs and chicken too. I had a bit of a moment when I came face to face with a cherry tree. I had never seen a cherry tree before and assumed that they grew on smaller bushes like tomatoes or strawberries! We ran into another patriarch and a young monk and they encouraged me to help myself to a cherry. Oh my word, I can’t express how divine they tasted!

Cherry tree at Krusedol Monastery

I followed this up with a drink of water from the miraculous underground well. It tasted chalky and strange as it is full of minerals but it is said to have healing properties.

We knew that we had another two monasteries to visit before lunch that day and so it was with some reluctance that we made our way back to the entrance and towards the Velika Remeta monastery.

Krusedol church


Have you ever visited a place that was considered controversial or unfavourable by your friends and family? What were your reasons for doing so?


Sunday, 10 August 2014

An Afternoon Tea at the Queen’s House, Greenwich

Afternoon tea with a view at the Queen's House

Have you ever had a perfect afternoon? Perhaps I can describe mine to you.

The Queen's House Greenwich

Two friends Kat and Mandy sit on a balcony of The Queen’s House, Greenwich.

Greenwich observatory

A sitar player performs on the lawn below as the friends chat and gaze over Greenwich Park towards the Royal Observatory in the distance.

Sandwiches at the Queen's House

Afternoon tea is served with the freshest of homemade sandwiches, delicious petit fours and the lightest of scones.

Peppermint tea

All of this is served in quaint, mismatched Paragon china and washed down with peppermint tea.

Steampunk couple at the Queen's House

All around them there is merriment at The Queen’s House for this weekend is the Steampunk summer fete. Next to the friends sit a Victorian couple in all of their finery…

Steampunk at the Queen's House

… while a walk through the house afterwards will introduce them to dashing gentlemen in waistcoats and pantaloons.

Steampunk airgun at the Queen's House

There is even a chance to spy an authentic Steampunk airgun.

Henrietta Maria Regina keystone Queen's House

After their sitting, the friends take a long walk around The Queen’s House to see the impressive selection of artwork.

Artwork Queen's House

In addition to the portrait of Queen Ann of Denmark, there are works by Gainsborough, Turner and Hogarth. One of the friends quite likes the puritans in the paintings on the right.

All in all it is a perfect afternoon and one that will live long in the memories of both of the friends. When later pressed, they might not be able to pinpoint exactly why it was so lovely. The food was certainly delicious and the atmosphere one of languid enjoyment but perhaps it will just go down as a moment in time, shared by two friends in London.

How would you describe your perfect afternoon? Would you join me on mine?

Afternoon tea at the Queen’s House will run throughout the summer on Sundays and selected Saturdays until the 28th September. Booking is essential but I would say that this is the must-do event of the summer.

Afternoon tea at the Queen's House
The Queen’s House Loggia
Romney Rd
SE10 9NF

Cost: Afternoon Tea £22, Prosecco tea £27.50, Tea & tour £30, Prosecco tea & tour £35.50
Open: every Sunday and selected Saturdays. Sittings 12.30, 14.00, 15.30

We were guests of the Queen’s House during our visit. As always, I promise to share sincere and honest opinions with my readers.


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