Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when you were a tender and callow fellow,
Try to remember and if you remember the follow.
After the conference, I took a few days off to recharge my batteries. It was lovely waking up to a golden blanket of fog and mist. Temperatures reached a balmy 24C after the blanket lifted to reveal glorious sunshine. I could feel Autumn coming especially with the mist lingering and that dampness in the air that heralded the change of the season. The weather was so lovely and warm that we got up at the ‘crack of sparrows’ to make the sun-filled days as long as possible. I was hanging out the laundry when I heard a melodious, warbling song from the elderflower tree at the bottom of the garden. I stood there watching this slim and delicate warbler flitting quickly from leaf to leaf searching for insects and spiders. It was my first sighting of a Wood warbler in the garden and I’m pleased to have seen it before it overwinter in tropical Africa, south of the Sahara.
It was the 20th Heritage Open Days festival weekend. The Open Days celebrated England’s fantastic architecture and culture by offering free access to places that were usually closed to the public or normally charge for admission. Every year on four days in September, buildings of every age, style and function threw open their doors. It was a once-a-year chance to discover architectural treasures and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities that bring local history and culture to life. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit any but we did attend the ‘ Dame Goodyver’s Day’ organised by Coventry’s modern-day ‘ Lady Godiva ’ and city ambassador, Pru Poretta, in collaboration with the Heritage Open Days at the Cathedral ruins.
Pru resurrected the tradition in 1999 – more than 500 years after it was first celebrated on the day of Lady Godiva’s death in 1067. Lady Godiva was the most famous benefactor in the history of Coventry. In ancient times an annual feast was held by the Guild of Cappers and Felt-makers on the day of her death - 10 September 1067. It was known as Dame Goodyve’s Daye. And today, Coventry’s present-day Lady Godiva welcomed 18 wonderful Godiva Sisters from different parts of the world, each with their own different culture and faith, wearing traditional dresses.
The Godiva Sisters project celebrates the lives of women, regarded as heroines in their own cultural, ethnic or religious traditions, but not necessarily known in the wider community. The Sisters were Irish, Caribbean, Chinese, Japanese, Sikh, Hindu, Serbian, African, Latin-American, Polish, Malaysian including representations from the Refugee/Asylum, Brahma Kumaris, Elders, Christian, Disability, Muslim and Halleluyah. The Malaysian representative was a friend of mine, RR, and she looked splendid as Puteri Saadong in red songket, a traditional costume. In between breaks, we managed to have a little chat.
This celebration was unique to Coventry, reflecting our ancient past and joining the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-faith family living here today celebrating Peace and Reconciliation. Many special guests,dignitaries,local schools and communities took part. The highlight of the celebrations was a dramatic procession which set out from the Cathedral ruins through the city centre, to Broadgate featuring large banners and live drums. Crowds were also wowed by multi-cultural dances and songs as they congregated by the Lady Godiva statue to watch the spectacle. We left as the crowd began to get bigger.
We pray that children, women and men may become makers of peace
in a world that is one human community.
Let us befriend those different from ourselves,
be ready to forgive past wrongs and be reconciled,
to share new visions, new love, new hope.
~Godiva Sisters Prayer~
On Saturday, KH and I met in Birmingham to see Rudy’s Rare Record, a stage adaptation of Danny Robins' Radio 4 drama at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. This funny and touching comedy was set in an old reggae record shop in Birmingham. Owned by the irrepressible Rudy Sharpe (Larrington Walker), who was described as “an elderly, vest-wearing, music-loving hobbit” and reluctantly helped out by his long-suffering son Adam (Lenny Henry). It was a haphazardly run music store which doesn’t so much sell vinyl as scattered it about for browsers: “What’s not on the shelves is on the floor.” Its business was under threat from Amazon; its structure was under threat from a property developer; its staff looked back on threats from racists.
The record shop became a battleground of bickering, snickering, breaking-up and making up played out to the shop’s foot-tapping soundtracks. What struck everyone was the show’s good nature: whatever it had to say about social change or father-son relationships was communicated by a barrage of gags. Resentfully observing the waves of new immigrants, Rudy’s florist friend, Trinidadian Clifton (Jeffery Kissoon) said: “I remember the good old days when we were the ones who were persecuted.” The sitcom-ish gags flew thick and fast, such as “The last time you dusted, Elton John still liked girls” which had the audience in stitches.
There was a delightful comic chemistry between Rudy and Doreen (Lorna Gayle), the launderette lady fed up with being his part-time lover and who stunned everyone by singing You Don’t Love Me with real swagger. Adam, the so-called "croissant muncher", was the butt of jokes about his middle-class habits as we learnt that Rudy felt abandoned by his socially aspirational son. Adam has a son of his own, Richie (Joivan Wade) who returned unexpectedly from university. The play's turning point came after Rudy claims Ziggy Marley will play at the store and get him out of debt. Ziggy didn’t turned up but the concert went ahead complete with an onstage band and the community rallying round – singing, dancing, and selling t-shirts to raise money. The result made for a zinger of a gig, with the whole cast performing a string of crowd-pleasing hits including Desmond Dekker's "Israelites", "Here I Am Baby" by Al Brown, and "Living on the Frontline" by Eddy Grant. By the end, everyone lived happily ever after and the audience left with huge smiles.
Before we went to see the show, I accompanied KH to the Nespresso shop in Selfridges where she wanted to purchase a few packs of coffee. We also tried the Cubania Limited Edition which was so rich and strong that we could taste it hours later. Birmingham city-centre was buzzing and there were plenty of handsome aliens wandering around. Quite a few were taking the opportunity to have their photographs taken with them. We’d lunch in the on-site restaurant, the Centenary Bar and Brasserie, overlooking the Centenary Square which was full of the walking dead!!!
The ‘living dead’ took to the streets of Birmingham for the annual Zombie Walk to raise money for the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Thousands dressed in some amazing outfits crowded into the ‘zombie-ready’ Square and excitement buzzed as they queued up to become ‘zombie-fied’ with ghoulish make-up and litres of fake blood by special effects make-up artist. Then they mass marched around the city-centre with blank stares, a lot of groaning and grunting, all while slow-walking. I was tempted to have my face ‘zombie-fied’ but I don’t want to frighten the theatre-goers and also I might not be allowed on the train :-).
We also had a brief tour of the Library of Birmingham which will be celebrating its first birthday at the end of the month. It was buzzing in the library described as the largest public library in the UK, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe. We whizzed up the travelator and had a quick peep on the roof garden. In every direction, on every visible floor, elegant oak-framed book stacks fan out proudly. At the 2014 RIBA West Midlands awards, the Library was named overall West Midlands building of the year and also nominated as one of the 6 short-listed buildings for the 2014 Stirling Prize award for excellence in architecture. We’d d a wonderful day together and it was time to go our separate ways, KH to Northampton and moi back to Coventry. We made plans to meet again for the Frankfurt Xmas market and check out the new Staffordshire Hoard gallery, insyallah.
On Sunday, Babe and I popped over to Bradgate Park not for the natives but to attend a Living History weekend. It featured the Sealed Knot’s Lord Thomas Grey’s Regiment of Foote on their home turf. The civil war re-enactors had set-up camp close to the Lady Jane Grey’s ruins and were the public face of the regiment as they directly interacted with the public. They were happy to pose for pictures and informed the public about 17th century life and specifically, that of their character. They demonstrated the lives of the soldiers off the battle-field or their daily life during that time. Quite eccentric, but I am always heartened by people prepared to be individual and passionate and willing to share their enthusiasm and knowledge about this rich but sadly very widely forgotten period in British history.
Lord Thomas Grey's regiment of Foote was a parliamentarian regiment, belonging to the Sealed Knot society. In the 1640's during the English Civil War, parliament stood up for the rights of the common man against a King who would hold absolute power over them all. A King that would declare war on his own people, his own land! Parliament and the men who fought for it would be branded traitors and rebels for their defiance. To these men defeat was not an option, they had taken up arms against their King and to lose or back down would guarantee them a spot on the executioners chopping block. Lord Thomas Grey (1623-1657) was one of these men and it was his regiment that was portrayed in battle and memorial.
There are two main combat arms within the regiment, the Pike and the Musket. During the Civil wars a unit of Pikemen was made up of the biggest and strongest men. A pike was a pole arm usually made of ash between 16 and 20 feet long. A pikeman wore a helmet known as a morion and in the early stages of the war worn back and breast armour. As musket technology and tactics progressed, pikemen discarded their armour as their effectiveness diminished. The main role of a pike unit was to protect the vulnerable musketeers from cavalry during their long reloading procedure and used as heavy shock troops to seize and hold ground, where they often encountered enemy pike blocks and engaged them to try and push them from the field.
For many years the longbow was the predominant weapon of England. With the advent of black powder weapons the longbow fell out of favour as a musket had greater armour penetration. The musket was incredibly inaccurate and sometimes just as lethal to the firer as his intended target. This lead to musketeers fighting together in large blocks with the idea that "If we fire enough guns in the same direction, we're bound to hit something!" There were two main types of musket in use, these being matchlock - muskets that use a length of burning cord to ignite the black powder charge in their pan, and the flintlock - these muskets had a piece of flint that struck a steel frism that then emitted a shower of sparks into the priming pan.
Other vital roles on the battlefield were the drummers and the water carriers. Battles of the English Civil wars were extremely chaotic and noisy, with roaring cannon, volleys of muskets and the thundering hooves of charging cavalry mixed in with the screams of the wounded and dying. In this cacophony of sound, soldiers struggled to hear their orders, so officers used banks of drummers to relay their orders to the men. Every order has its own beat on the drum and the soldiers would recognised the beat above the sounds of battle and performed that order.
The water carriers were an indispensable and crucial part of any Sealed Knot regiment. Without any of these men and women no pike block could take to the field. They provided the water to the pike in between their exhausting pushes. They also kept an eye on the soldiers for any signs of fatigue and looking after anyone who may have picked up an injury or need something as simple as a chinstrap or armour adjusting.
The re-enactment was held in the deer field sans the deer. I bet the natives were thinking what on earth was going on. As usual, it was quite difficult to take photographs because you don’t know where the action was taking place. And since there were so many people, the risk of being photo-bombed was very great. We rattled a few hundreds before leaving the field. We walked to Lady Jane’s house by the back gate which was opened for the occasion. We stopped by the chapel to listen to medieval songs and later the wonderful mezzo soprano singer joined a lute musician out in the open.
Alas, that my heart is a lute,
Whereon you have learned to play!
For a many years it was mute,
Until one summer's day
You took it, and touched it, and made it thrill,
And it thrills and throbs, and quivers still!
~Anne Barnard, My heart is a lute, 1815~
Then it was time to head home. The natives kept their distance due to the large crowds and also the loud noise from the canons. We spotted a few red deer hiding in the woods on the hills looking quite agitated. I’m glad that the re-enactment was only for 2 days and things will get back to normal. Our favourite noise box was still dabbling on the River Lin, enjoying the pieces of bread thrown by the visitors. A few Fallow deer were feeding by the entrance, trying to get away from the crowd and the noise. I don’t blame them.
“Happily we bask in this warm September sun,
which illuminates all creatures …”
~Henry David Thoreau~