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Stowe House – "Most Perfect Interiors Ever Witnessed"

Stowe House in Buckingham, is one of those few places that I visited without having any ideas of what to expect – however, it has been a long time since I have been quite so surprised by the sheer scale and beauty of a place. Starting out as the home of simple sheep farmers, this house became the host to Queen Victoria, countless Rembrandt paintings and the present day Stowe School.

Keep in mind, we are just coming out of winter, there was a freeze in the air, it had rained all day yesterday and there was a lot mud to walk through but somehow this all added a bit of a fun element to the day trip – there were lots of families with kids in wellington boots, splashing about in the mud and even taking part in a teddy-bear hunt, regardless of the weather.  You get the feeling that the grandeur and scenic open-air environment of Stowe just naturally lends itself to people enjoying being outside – and why not, Stowe Landscape Gardens are incredible.

When you arrive at Stowe you are greeted by a Roman style arch, which really sets the theme for what lays ahead. Having taken a leisurely walk past the lake, through the sleeping woods up the path (which today was somewhat a dirt-track) I was met by the majestic looking Grade I listed country house.

The arch and the walk up to the house build the expectations but even these fails to prepare you for the pomp and ceremony of the main hall of Stowe House itself. I won’t give any spoilers except to say that I lay on my back on the marble floor with a pair of binoculars for a good ten minutes taking in the scene.

Off to the left of this room is what was once known as the “Rembrandt Room” and although in need of some restoration now, in 1829 Queen Victoria said it was “…one of the most perfect interiors ever witnessed” and instructed the royal artist to paint it (pictured above).

If all of this fails to impress, the history of the Temple family linked to the house is an amazing story of rags to riches and back to rags again.

Yet, in all of this I think one of the most amazing facts, is that this is still a working building in the form of Stowe School.

Having made my way back down the hill, as I sat in the bustling coffee shop, I was left with this strangest thought: everything about Stowe House and Gardens is about scale and display and yet there is the odd paradox that this is one of the truly understated places in the history of England and great English homes.

The only bit of bad news of the day was that there is so much to see you can’t take it all in with one visit. The good news is that my annual membership with the National Trust means I can visit again at any time free of charge. Something I am looking forward to and I suspect that Stowe House will be a little piece of heaven on a sunny summer’s day!

Post by Patrick James

Poet On Ice – A New Year's Day Skate

When the decision was made to leave Dublin and move to the UK to work, the one thing that was certain was that it was going to be an adventure – if myself and Maria had to move away from our beloved home, then we were going to make the best of it and have fun.

One of the things we wanted to do was go ice skating and the great thing about where we are in Milton Keynes is there is a local Garden Centre, “Frosts at Woburn Sands“, just down the road from us and every year at Christmas time they have an ice skating rink which was great news for us.

We booked our tickets for the morning of New Year’s Day, which included breakfast afterwards. My first time ice skating and a few falls later, it turned out to be a lovely way to start the New Year. It was a lot of fun, as the tongue-in-cheek title of this post might imply!

Wishing you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Code Breakers & The National Museum of Computing

Code Breakers & The National Museum of Computing

The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park has to be one of my favourite places to visit since arriving in England, so we thought it might be a nice place to visit again on New Year’s Eve. The home of British Codebreakers, with Colossus and the Tunney, it is easy to be inspired by Bletchley Park’s fascinating history and its contribution to the world of computers.

As someone who loves technology and tends to build my own computers, I was like a kid in a sweet-shop in the Museum.

Colossus Bletchley ParkUsed during World War II in complete secrecy, Bletchley Park served as focal point for Britain’s code-breaking operations and during those years, thousands of people worked at Bletchley to crack the codes and ciphers being sent by Germany.

Bletchley Park has been the inspiration for many recent TV shows and films including “The Bletchley Circle” and Benedict Cumberbatch’s “The Imitation Game”.

It was at Bletchley that Enigma and Lorenz encoded messages were deciphered to reveal the enemies’ plans and was crucial to the Allies’ eventual victory in the war. This was achieved using human ingenuity and several top-secret machines. Among them was Colossus, but it was not until 1975 when the first information about Colossus was declassified could the story begin to be told.

Possibly the highpoint for me had to be the opportunity to see Colossus. The world’s first electronic computer, Colossus had a single purpose: to help decipher the Lorenz-encrypted (Tunny) messages between Hitler and his generals during World War II.

Colossus Women of Bletchley ParkAnother incredible addition at Bletchley is Harwell Dekatron computer, affectionately know in the computer world as the “WITCH”. With its flashing dekatrons for volatile memory (similar to RAM in a modern computer), personally I think this is one of the most beautiful computers I have ever seen and it really is a sight to behold.

Amazingly, this pioneering computer first ran in 1951 and by 1952 was using 738 Dekatron tubes for program and data storage, relays for sequence control and valve-based electronics for calculations.

The museum doesn’t stop there and contains a number of galleries including “Women in Computing” and other galleries that continue to chart the history of computers right up to modern day.

Their website also has a lot of interesting reading but if you are into history or computers, The National Computer Museum is definitely one for the bucket list.

Post by Patrick James

A Walk Among The Tombstones – Highgate Cemetery

A Walk Among The Tombstones – Highgate Cemetery

This journal entry from my ongoing exploration of famous historic locations of England, saw us take a walk among the tombstones of Highgate Cemetery today.

Douglas AdamsDescribed as “One of England’s Greatest Treasures” and divided into the East and West cemeteries, Highgate is the final resting place of many famous names including writers Christina Rossetti, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Douglas Adams, Radclyffe Hall, Karl Marx and my own personal favourite from today, chemist and physicist Michael Faraday.

Located in North London, Highgate cemetery quite interestingly has a de facto status as a nature reserve and is designated Grade I on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. After a few minutes there it is easy to see why as the cemetery is filled with wild-growing shrubbery and trees.

Despite the cemetery’s desperate need for funding, this historic site is really well cared for by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, which itself is run by volunteers, supported by paid staff and countless volunteers who do everything from guiding tours to helping maintain the landscape.

Highgate CemeteryThe price of entry is very affordable and goes towards conservation of the Cemetery as well as an ongoing work to secure the repair, restoration and preservation of the Cemetery for the public benefit.

The tour of the cemetery is well worth the price, as it takes you around the West, which is presently closed to the public and if that is not enough incentive, your tour ticket also allows you to visit the East Cemetery free of charge, for up to thirty days after your purchase date.

Highgate Cemetery is an enjoyable and worthwhile day out.

Post by Patrick James

A Christmas Carol in Charles Dickens’ Home

Christmas just would not be Christmas without the annual viewing of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – the ultimate Christmas tale; it has had such a profound success, which is evident in the countless retellings and adaptations, including the likes of one of my own personal favourites: “The Muppets Christmas Carol”.

In fact, I have a strong love of all things Christmas and enjoy the traditions, especially the culture of kindness towards each other, when it is allowed to happen. Christmas is a special time in our home.

This Christmas, however, something a little extra special took place and is a memory I think I will carry with me for a long time.

This December, I had the opportunity to visit Charles Dickens’ old home in London and watch the classic 1951, Alastair Sim’s version of “A Christmas Carol” – an unreal and haunting experience just to sit there and watch this picture in the same place where Charles Dickens would sit and write.

Our visit to the Georgian terraced house in Bloomsbury, was part of the Dickens’ Museum Christmas festivities and took place after hours, which really help set the scene. The Victorian writer’s house was authentically decorated for an 1838 Christmas and included a range of activities.

Our small party of guests was given free range to wander in the house and do their own thing but our night began by making a plum pudding in the washhouse by candlelight. Later in the evening we enjoyed carol singing around an old piano, adding to the genuine Victorian atmosphere of the evening.

48 Doughty Street, the beautifully restored London home of Charles Dickens, is an amazing place to visit at any time of the day.

Charles Dickens’s only remaining London family home was fondly referred to by Dickens himself as ‘My house in town’ is now the home of the Charles Dickens Museum. This is the house where some of his best-loved novels were written, including Oliver Twist. The collection of rare books, paintings, photographs and memorabilia on display here give a unique insight into the life and work of the author.

Post by Patrick James

Shakespeare's Birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Since my earliest memories as a poet and writer I have always been intrigued by the writing of William Shakespeare but also by his place in literary history. I have also been extremely inspired by the Bard’s prolific ability to produce a vast amount of notable plays.

All my life I have been hearing about Stratford-Upon-Avon and must confess to being nervous about the idea of visiting – after all, what if it was an anti-climax and didn’t live up to my expectations? And yet, I have felt drawn to visit, since arriving in the UK… it was something I had to do.

So after a little bit of planning, we decided to take a day-trip and spend it exploring Stratford-Upon-Avon and believe me when I say it did not disappoint – in fact, it was even better that I had imagined it would be. There was so much to see, so we decided to settling for visiting 3 of the 5 places of historic interest: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Hall’s Croft and Nash’s House/New Place. We could visit the other locations on another day which our tickets allowed us to do as they remain valid for a year from the date of purchase which is a nice touch. We also took a leisurely walk around the village of Stratford-Upon-Avon and it really is a beautiful town – you get a hint of how Shakespeare could have been inspired!

Shakespeare’s birthplace is itself enchanting with magnificent grounds and we even had readings and re-enactments out in the gardens. A lot of fun and all the staff went out of their way to make sure everyone felt welcomed and took the time to talk about the history of the place and answer questions – you got the feeling everyone there was very passionate about what they did and that all added to the experience.

Shakespeare’s birthplace really spoke to the writer and poet in me and I really hope other writers get the the chance to visit this historic site and get some inspiration!

Post by Patrick James

Writing Mania – Intriguing Words For Lalomaniacs!

What’s in a word?

Whether it is Verbomania or Typomania, a love of words is nothing new for writers… but what about a mania to do with words? Here’s a list of Wordy Manias for all you Lalomaniacs!

Some intriguing word!

coprolalomania: the use of foul language

graphomania: morbid desire for writing

hellenomania: using cumbersome Greek or Latin terms instead of readily understandable English words

klazomania: compulsory shouting

lalomania: abnormal interest in speech

logomania (or logomonomania): overtalkativeness

metromania: mania for writing words

onomatomania: mental derangement with regard to words (inability to recall a certain word, attaching special significance to a word, and so forth)

scribblemania (or scribbleomania): mania for scribbling

scribomania: writing a long succession of unconnected words

typomania: mania for writing for publication

verbomania: morbid talkativeness

So how many of these described the writer in you? For fun, next time you sit down to write, see how many of these you can use in your writing and let me know how you get on.

post by Patrick James

Ireland Again by Jessica Baron Hughes

Ireland Again painting – From mind to canvas

This beautiful painting “Ireland Again” by the talented Cork painter Jessica Baron Hughes always manages to engulf me.

It was specially commissioned for the cover of my most recent poetry book by the same name but deserves to be enjoyed for its own merits – it is a wonderful piece of artwork.

When it came time to do the cover-art I had a vision in my mind of exactly what I wanted – I never thought I could get it painted as I imagined it – when I saw the painting I was bowled over – it was as if Jessica had read my mind. Perfect.

Click on this link to see Ireland Again on Amazon.co.uk

post by Patrick James