Roman soldiers and ghostly creatures in Chester

Christmas trees and decorations are always a good sign that Christmas and the New Year are just around the corner. Another indicator, however, are the Saturnalia and Winter Watch Parades in Chester.

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The streets of Chester were quite busy with late night shoppers

I love to go and watch it, especially on a mild evening like yesterday, and combine it with a visit to the Christmas market and maybe through in some Christmas shopping . Unfortunately I was a bit late yesterday so the best places for taking pictures were taken but it is more about the atmosphere anyway.

Saturnalia was a popular Roman midwinter festival celebrating Saturn, the god of agriculture, and worship of him hopefully encouraged prosperity to come. It was a time to eat, drink and be merry and there was a tradition of tomfoolery and role reversal, where masters became servants and vice versa.

Dating from the 1400’s the Winter Watch Parade was originally held at Christmas. The City leaders would hand over the keys to the City to the City Watch (early police force) after processing around the City to ensure it was secure. There followed a banquet and celebration of Christmas, knowing the City was safe. (more info and pics here)

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Three Queens in Liverpool

Celebrating the 175th anniversary of Cunard Line the three queens, Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria made their way to Liverpool for the first ever three Queens meeting on the River Mersey. I had been warned that many spectators were expected but wasn’t quite prepared for this. Getting to Liverpool by public transport felt like using the London underground during rush hour whilst there’s a strike. And once I joined the crowds at the waterfront, I was acutely aware that I was about a foot too short (or at least a couple of inches), that the memorial/statue with people on its walls was definitely obscuring my view, that the loudspeakers weren’t working and just another obstacle in my view and that the crowds were moving in closer and closer. I loved every second of it. Sometimes I miss living in a big city. It was quite a spectacle though with live music, live commentary (we unfortunately couldn’t understand because of said loudspeakers), gun salutes and even a bit of sunshine. I do apologize for some pictures in advance. In order to take them and see anything at all I had to stand on my tiptoes and stretch as high as I could. I couldn’t actually see what I was photographing. So if there are any eye-watering hairdos or people picking their noses, I am sorry. I got a better view towards the end when people were already leaving.

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Queen Victoria (I think) was the second ship in the procession which was lead by Queen Elizabeth.

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Queen Mary 2 arrives again. She had spent the previous night in Liverpool and had sailed to the mouth of the river to greet the other Queens.

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The crowds. The building in the middle is the Cunard building.

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Meet Queen Mary 2. I wasn’t that far back, just too short.

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A bit of water ballet. The ships were turning around – synchronised. Quite impressive considering their size.

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Red Arrows fly-past. Only thing I heard was “Here they come?” “Where?” “There. Straight ahead.” I was lucky I caught them on camera as I couldn’t actually see them at that point.

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Meet Queen Elizabeth

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Queen Mary 2 leaving Liverpool

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Queen Elizabeth on her way to the Cruise Liner terminal. On the right you can still see Queen Mary 2.

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Queen Victoria anchors in the river. She will leave Liverpool tomorrow.

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Queen Elizabeth tied up at the berth.

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Queen Elizabeth and the derelict wharfage offshore from Princes Dock.

The tragic love story of Rhys and Meinir

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View from Llanddwyn Island towards the Llŷn Peninsula in the haze.

Recently I told you the story of St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers and Welsh equivalent to St Valentine, and with Valentine’s Day fast approaching I think it’s time for another love story. Unfortunately a tragic one. When I was sitting on the shores of Llanddwyn Island looking over to the Llŷn Peninsula, I remembered a love story I had heard whilst visiting Nant Gwrtheyrn a couple of years ago.

The secluded Nant, which lies in isolation by the sea at the foot of Yr Eifl, is the setting for one of Wales’ most tragic love stories and tells the tale of Rhys and Meinir, who grew up in Nant and after being childhood friends, fell in love and decided to get married. They had a favourite spot under an old oak tree, on the lower slopes of Yr Eifl, the highest mountain on the peninsula.

Yr-Eifl

Yr Eifl hidden in the clouds

A date was set for the wedding and preparations began with neighbours being invited down to Nant the day before the wedding to give gifts to the couple. Everyone was looking forward to this joyful occasion. The people of Nant Gwrtheyrn still kept the tradition of the ‘Wedding Guest’.

But what does this mean?
On the morning of her wedding, the bride would run and hide. While everybody gathered in the church, Rhys’ friends played their part in the tradition and went searching for Meinir, who had headed for the hills. But they couldn’t find her. Rhys kept searching for his sweetheart for months, slowly losing his mind, but to no avail.

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Then one stormy night, while he was out wondering in the hills, he took shelter underneath their favourite oak tree when a bolt of lightning struck the the trunk, splitting it in half.
Rhys couldn’t believe his eyes when the splintered tree revealed a skeleton wearing a wedding dress. He had finally found his Meinir. Overcome by emotion, he collapsed and died beside his beloved bride.

There is a symbolic tree in the village which commemorates Rhys and Meinir and visitors claim to have seen two ghosts holding hands on the beach.

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Now you might be thinking, she didn’t just drive all the way there to tell us this story and you’re right so let’s start at the beginning and Yr Eifl

Island of Lovers – Llanddwyn Island

In the 5th century AD a story of love and heartbreak was the reason for a young woman to retreat to Llanddwyn Island, a small tidal island off the coast of Anglesey, and follow the life of a hermit.

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The modern celtic cross commemorates the death of St Dwynwen in the year 465.

Dwynwen was the most beautiful of 24 daughters of King Brychan Brycheniog. She fell in love with a prince called Maelon Dafodrill but because she was already betrothed to another man, rejected his advances. Maelon was furious and attacked her and for this sin was frozen in a block of ice.

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The ruins of the church. In the background you can see another cross.

Her heart broken, Dwynwen ran away to pray when she was granted three wishes by an angel: 1. that Maelon be revived, 2. that she could help people who were unhappy in love and 3. she never wanted to be married. She then retreated to the solitude of Llanddwyn Island.

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Dwynwen’s Cross. It is inscribed ‘On the sixtieth year of Queen Victoria’.

Dwynwen became known as the patron saint of lovers and pilgrimages were made to her holy well on the island. Legend says that the faithfulness of a lover could be predicted through the movements of some eels that lived in the well. Llanddwyn means “The church of Dwynwen” and the ruins of a church can still be seen. But there is more…

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Llanddwyn Island Lighthouse. The tower is from around 1873.

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The old lighthouse.

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Pilots cottages – this row of four cottages was built for the pilots who guided ships into the Menai Strait. From 1840 a lifeboat was stationed here and manned by the pilots as well as volunteers from Newborough. The cannon was used to summon the lifeboat crew

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Panorama of the island with the two lighthouses.

As this is such a magical place and named after the patron saint of lovers what better way to end the day than with a sunset.

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Unfortunately you can’t see the wind. It was freezing!

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Shortly afterwards the sun vanished behind some clouds.

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It really is a magical place.

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Dwynwen’s Cross and the lighthouse one last time.

As Dwynwen is the patron saint of lovers, she is the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine. Her Saint’s day is 25th January and is often celebrated with cards and flowers, it is after all the Welsh Valentine’s Day.

Llanddwyn-Island-Sky

Time to go home.

‘The same procedure as every year’ – Happy New Year!

As every year I will celebrate New Year’s Eve with the probably four funniest dead people, a butler and an elderly upper-class English lady. Doesn’t sound like me and ever so slightly weird? Maybe…

The table in a country house is lavishly set for a dinner party. It is the 90th birthday of Miss Sophie (as many women she doesn’t like to reveal her real age and has been celebrating her 90th birthday for over 50 years now) and she has invited her 4 best male friends: Mr Pommeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby, and Admiral von Schneider. Unfortunately the chairs are empty, Miss Sophie has outlived her friends long ago. James is the stereotype of an English butler, looking immaculate in his black tie and tails, but even he isn’t the youngest any more and a bit unsteady on his feet. Getting drunk doesn’t help this fact. And drink he does. A lot. Because Miss Sophie, all dressed up for the occasion, insists that (besides serving her) he fills and drinks down the glasses of the absent guests while impersonating them. Admiral van Schneider clicks his heels and shouts “Skål” each time he downs a drink; the bluff Englishman Sir Toby shouts “Cheerio” and Sir Winterbottom will “kill that cat” when he mistakenly drinks the water from a cup with flowers instead of the alcohol.

And so James struggles through four courses with different drinks, tripping over a tiger-skin rug on his ways between the sideboard and the dinner table and asking his ladyship each time “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” while she relentlessly replies “The same procedure as every year, James.”

Basically this applies to most Germans because watching ‘Dinner for One’ on TV is a cult, a ritual and the quintessence of a German New Year’s Eve. When the curtain rises on the stage scene and we watch Freddie Frinton and May Warden perform the British comedy in English in this black and white live recording of 1963 (or newer remakes and variations in colour or different dialects), we know there are only a couple of hours left in this old year before we celebrate the arrival of a new one with loads of sparkling wine and fireworks.

I wish you all a very happy New Year and Guten Rutsch! And if you are a bit curious and would like to meet Miss Sophie and her friends, here is the sketch for you. Even though the short introduction is in German, keep watching, the performance itself is in English.

I was just made aware that the video doesn’t show in Firefox so you might want to use Safari or click on the shield symbol next to the web address at the top and disable the protection for now.

Classic books transform the streets of London

Books about Town launched in London today with 50 classic novels transformed into BookBench sculptures. The BookBenches feature stories linked to London and vary from children’s stories to classic adult titles. The BookBenches were decorated by professional illustrators and local artists and form various trails to explore.

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Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories. Artist: Freyja Dean. Image © Books about Town.

The idea was launched by the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity dedicated to raise literacy levels in the UK, in co-operation with Wild in Art, one of the UK’s leading producers of spectacular, mass-appeal public art events. Marking the occasion, the National Literacy Trust unveiled a new research revealing that children’s enjoyment of reading has increased for the first time in eight years.

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What child doesn’t like Paddington Bear – “Please Look After This Bear.” by Michael Bond. Artist: Michelle Heron. Image © Books about Town.

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The edge of reason? Helen Fielding got us laughing with “Bridget Jones’s Diary”. Artist: Paula Ruiz Bressell. Image © Books about Town.

The BookBenches can be enjoyed all over the capital this summer (2nd July – 15th September 2014) and will be sold at public auction on 7th October 2014 at an exclusive event at the Southbank Centre.

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Dystopian science-fiction novel “1984” by George Orwell. Artist: Thomas Dowdeswell. Image © Books about Town.

More information, pictures and maps of the trails can be found on www.booksabouttown.org.uk

And if you spot any, I would love to see some pictures.