Thursday, 26 February 2015

Poems in the Waiting Room

The good news is that comments seem to be back, but I'm using IE instead of Chrome, just to be sure!

If you read my other blog, you might know that it is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland this year.  And I am pleased that the charity, POEMS IN THE WAITING ROOM has agreed to use a poem by Lewis Carroll in 2015.   POEMS IN THE WAITING ROOM supplies leaflets containing four or five uplifting, interesting or amusing poems to doctors' surgeries.

The poems are a mixture of light and serious, and they aim to give patients something good to think about at a time when they might be anxious and worried; to remind them that there is more to life than illness, and that we can face difficulties with courage and humour.  For instance the leaflet above had poems about the First World War, and contained this one, by Sara Teasdale, (1884 - 1933), which I liked very much:

Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore
It is mine for evermore
It ebbs not back like the sea.

I am the pool of blue
that worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you

I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies -
You are my deepening skies;
Give me your stars to hold.

We have supported PITWR for years and it seems that the poems are much appreciated. So anyway,  I have been talking with other members of the Lewis Carroll Society to try and find a poem to submit.  It is surprisingly hard!  Although we are of course all big fans of "Alice," the fact is that not everyone likes the books, and in fact some people can find them rather frightening.

So my favourite is this one, which is not from "Alice" but was written when Lewis Carroll was watching a little girl playing with her doll.    It's a simple little thing called BESSIE'S SONG TO HER DOLL.  I never played with dolls myself much as a child, actually, but this little poem reminds me so much of when I used to sit watching my own daughters playing with their beloved dolls, and it makes me feel happy.

What do you think?  Do you think it's a good topic for a waiting room poem?


Matilda Jane, you never look
At any toy or picture-book.
I show you pretty things in vain--
You must be blind, Matilda Jane!

I ask you riddles, tell you tales,
But all our conversation fails.
You never answer me again--
I fear you're dumb, Matilda Jane!

Matilda darling, when I call,
You never seem to hear at all.
I shout with all my might and main--
But you're so deaf, Matilda Jane!

Matilda Jane, you needn't mind,
For, though you're deaf and dumb and blind,
There's SOMEONE loves you, it is plain--
And that is ME, Matilda Jane!

I imagine Matilda Jane - the real one - was a wax doll.   My elder daughter got entirely into wax dolls when she was 3, and we read an Edwardian picture book about a wax doll whose owner took it in the sun. It melted in the heat, and this idea completely fascinated her.  We had nothing but wax dolls for about a year after that!

And thinking about dolls, I realised I hadn't ever shown you the dolls I photographed a couple of years ago when I went to the wonderful doll museum in Coburg, Germany.  Any favourites in the following photos?


Seem to be having a bit of a run of toy museums at the moment!   I recommend this one, and also Coburg, which is a most interesting town. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Comments not appearing - and New Zealand.

I'm sorry if your comments are not appearing.  I haven't had a comment for days. Usually I get quite a few. I'm wondering if it is the end of the relationship for me and Blogger. I've had problems with it for ages, and now if the comments are just disappearing, well, it means I can't have any contact with you all .... I've posted a query on Google Help and I'll try moving to a different template. If that doesn't work, well, I don't know. It might have to be a divorce!

Meanwhile, if you want to contact me (hopefully with suggestions) then try a comment... or else,  I hope the contact button is still working on my profile!  And meanwhile, I'm posting a few photos of New Zealand. I would have told you about that ages ago if I hadn't had so much to say about Japan. 

What a lovely place it is - it really seems as if every bend in the road you come across another amazing bit of scenery.  All the pictures in this post were taken in November, within easy driving distance of Christchurch.  Summer was coming, Spring flowers were out but the weather was pretty windy.

This below is a Kea, a kind of parrot. They're pretty mischievous, and very tame.  Underneath their wings they have a wonderful blaze of red, and I have a photo showing this. But I also like this one, which shows how their colouring blends with their natural habitat.  The bird had snaffled some crackers from someone who had parked nearby

This is near Godley Head

And this is a range of mountains near Castle Hill
The resort of Akoroa

The coastline near Lyttleton

 and windsurfing near a place called Taylor's Mistake. I wonder what his mistake actually was?

A hiking path through acres of dazzlingly yellow gorse bushes (they stretched all around, in all directions) which I'd have loved to trudge along, looking at the sea views down the hillside. 
This path one by the sea was even more inviting, and after the faded colours of so much autumn vegetation in England and Japan, the new Spring colours were almost blinding
One of my favourite spots was a little settlement called Otira, in the hills. Here are some horses on a smallholding bypassing that ancient tractor, coming to see us

And this seemed quite Lord of the Rings...


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Pollocks Model Theatres and the Polyphon

Yesterday I recorded a podcast for History Today magazine, something I have never done before. And afterwards,since it was a nice day,  T and I took a really pleasant walk around the central part of London and ended up in Whitfield Street, London W.1, at Pollocks Toy Museum.

This quirky little museum was a childhood favourite of mine, and also of my kids, and it lives in a rambling, very old house, with tiny, dark rooms.  Some of the toys are a bit creepy to be honest, but they are a wonderful selection, collected by the present owner's grandmother.

Downstairs is an old fashioned shop, of the type which has pretty well disappeared now. Not much has been changed (and in fact this is a bone of contention because the shop's owner is NOT modernising or doing very much to the museum and the trust which owns the toys wants him to.... but I won't go into all this.) Let me just say that Pollocks also specialises in toy theatres, and the characters for them, and the toyshop grew out of the print making business.

Below are some of the toy theatres, made up, and hung around the entrance parlour. The characters  in model theatre plays are cut out separately, and are printed on cardboard. They can be moved about  the stage to "act" in the plays. Very interesting.

The shop also sells vintage books and toys for reasonable prices. I got a very interesting book about old Japan and a vintage birthday card.   I didn't go into the museum this time, so I can't show you pictures of it - but it's not expensive, I think £6 for an adult and less for concessions. The shop sells a nice selection of novelty, vintage and wooden toys.

Pollocks also own one of the few working polyphons in London that still operates on "old" (pre 1971) pennies..  Polyphons are a make of  Victorian  musical box with perforated steel discs inside (as you can see below) which can be changed if you want to change the tune.

 It's typical of the shop that it doesn't even have a notice on the polyphon to say what it is, and most visitors probably don't know - but if you recognise it and ask the lady at the desk - there she is on the right, below - then she will get an old brown penny and put it in the slot at the side, and the

polyphon will launch into a merry dance tune of the 1890s.

 I filmed it yesterday and put it on Youtube so here it is below. (Sorry about the bit in the middle where I tried to show the enormous steel disk rotating inside the musical box and it was too dark - duh.).  At the end you will see the little dog who likes to guard the reception desk, walking back to his place and sitting down.

It is really very nice, AND they give away free sweets in the shop!

This type of musical box was sometimes used in pubs in Victorian days - what they had instead of the juke box I suppose.  Long ago I went into a pub in Suffolk and to my amazement there was a polyphon on the wall which was still in operational order. The pub had sawdust on the floor, and was full of local old men sitting round silently. It was a real village inn of a type that seemed extremely old fashioned even then. I suppose it has become a gastro pub or something now because I have never found it again and can't find anything about it on the internet.

Anyway. it is nice to look round Pollocks to the music of the polyphon, neither of them very modern and yet somehow both appealing. If you are in London and want to visit, it, it's open 10-5 Monday to Saturday and is at 1 Scala St, London W1T 2HL, just off Tottenham Court Road. It doesn't seem to have a website - so don't confuse it with Benjamin Pollocks in Covent Garden (which is also good -  but not the same).

Monday, 16 February 2015

Birds and Fashion

Well, my life is going on here, and I'm starting to think I'll never fnish what I could say about Japan!   "Not enough space" is the bane of the travel writer, and I'll soon have to condense the trip enough to write a mere 1000 word newspaper article. So in this post and the next, I'll just try to give a glimpse of some of the other Japanese things I saw.  Almost everywhere I visited deserves a post of its own but,  hey!  

I'll start with some birds. These life sized paper cranes fly high in the stairwell of the Abiko City Museum of Birds in Chiba, a pleasant suburb on the outer edge of Tokyo. The museum is modern and it feels as if it was designed by people whose priority was to share their passion for birds, the way they look, the way they live, and the way they are made.

It is based on a fabulous Edwardian collection of stuffed birds which was collected by a member of the Japanese royal family,  Yoshimara Yamashina. Although born into a rigid system, he managed to break free to study birds and do important research about them - one of his book is a standard field guide to Japanese birds.  There are whole cases of stuffed birds, but I'm always a sucker for dioramas. This one showed the ecology of wetlands near the museum.  

There are many models explaining bird physiology - the way wings work, how bird bones are structured, and how birds fly.  My favourite is probably this, which shows every single feather to be found on an average bird.  For some reason that really fascinated me. 

The museum is mostly labelled in Japanese, but luckily I was visiting with Katsuko and Chisako, and they patiently translated - not that I remember everything they said.  We all admired the Audubon prints on display. Here's a detail of one entitled "Summer Red Bird"

 I'm not normally massively interested in birds, yet I found it hard to tear myself away from this varied, enthusiastic and carefully planned museum.  It's worth taking the train ride to visit it if you ever go to Tokyo ... at least, if you've got a Japanese friend who will translate!

By contrast, here is Akihabara, which I visited the evening after the bird museum. It's a place with lots of "maid" clubs and patchinko (gambling) parlours. These girls have to give leaflets out and try to get people to come into the clubs. To be honest, most Japanese women I spoke to are not too crazy on this aspect of Tokyo life, but it is quite conspicuous to the foreign eye.

 They're dressed in "cute" type outfits, like sexy maids, Alice in Wonderland, Red Riding Hood, etc. - you see a lot of young women dressed like this in certain parts of Tokyo.

But there were also all kind of eyecatching clothes in the shops, too - a mixture of charming and slightly creepy

Wouldn't like to meet this lady in my dreams...

And you can have whatever kind of eyes you want

All quite Grayson Perry really

When I revisited this department store next day, it was just about to open. You see the staff are all lined up as the manager waits for the clock to reach exactly the right second to open the store.  When we walked in, they all bowed in unison.

So - off to choose some whirly coloured contact lenses like the Mad Hatter!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015


No chance to do anything right now.  Just sit and wait, like this little cat on one of the pews in Aldeburgh Parish Church, Suffolk.  Like me, I think it is happy enough. It has its paw on what might be a ball of wool.  

Have a good week!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Little Crowds

Thank you for your comments, and I did appreciate my brief trip to Suffolk! I'll visit everyone's blogs shortly.

Now, back to Japan.  There are some great museums there, (although I wished more of them had English labels) and I did want to take you along to the Edo Tokyo Museum, which tells the story of olden days Tokyo.  It is spacious and easy to wander around but it is full of crowds - tiny crowds, mostly. That is, crowds of tiny model people.  Or, intricate drawings on a huge scale of crowds and crowds of people, each one meticulously drawn, indeed, but very small.

I love models, and so I spent a lot of time marvelling at the degree of craftsmanship in the displays.   Here's part of a festival.  I don't know what sort of festival, because I can't read Japanese and I felt a bit guilty asking our friend Eiko to translate ceaselessly.

Other models showed entire buildings and complexes of buildings - shops, houses, temple compounds.  I liked this model department store of a hundred years ago. Inside are people buying goods spread out on low tables.  Something about the lighting reminded me of trudging down one of those narrow little streets on a dark winter's evening. 

For me, the most fascinating model showed the city as it used to be - in sanitised form, no doubt, because no ancient city was that clean, and this was a very clean model!     I was so impressed that each tiny figure thronging the city's streets reminded me of an individual going about their life.    

Below you see a couple of women women chatting as they do their washing, almost unnoticed in a back garden - I've enlarged this image, which was part of a vastly larger scene. 

And here, a small crowd gathers to watch an entertainment in the street. I particularly like the lion.

There are many fine two dimensional works, too.  I think that in both Japan and China, certain rulers liked making giant drawings or paintings of their entire kingdom as a sort of birds eye view, showing everyone and everything.  There are several large beautiful screens in the museum, showing everyday Edo Tokyo in painstaking and accurate detail.  I wish it was possible to show these images in close up.  There's so much to see but this section of one screen gives you a slight idea of the artistic layout, colour and detail of the screens.

I also thought this crowd looked pretty good - it is a painting of fire fighters.  It seems that the old city was so vulnerable to fire that eventually it was decreed that streams of water must criss cross the place at close intervals and fire fighting was given top priority.   

So this is people going to a fire. The white whirling thing is a kind of banner called a matoi.  There was a real matoi in the exhibition, so extraordinarily heavy that I thought it must have been more exhausting carrying the matoi than fighting the fire! But then someone said that it was really only taken to a high place to show the distant firefighters the location of the fire.  Now, matoi are sometimes used for ceremonies.   

A few of the models were life sized, as you see from the size of these visitors posing for their pictures at the front of the Noh Theatr with splendidly dressed models.  There was a tiny working model showing a Noh play in action, but I couldn't get close enough to photograph it - it was surrounded by huge crowds of schoolchildren! 

Actually, sometimes I felt as if I had walked into one of the models.  This is a reconstruction of the bridge which used to lead into the old city, in the exact size and style.  Suddenly I felt rather like one of those tiny model figures myself.  I think it was the large expanse of black echoing space all around, as though I'd shrunk to table size.

There were also crowds of real people at the museum, most of them going around in groups.  I liked this cheerful group of schoolgirls trying out a Japanese style sedan chair. 

And talking of small people,  I forgot to put the little person below in my last post. As I said, the Edo Tokyo museum is in the same area as the sumo wrestlers,  and this little sumo wrestler must be popular because it seems that many people have rubbed his tummy, and worn away all the patina! 

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