Saturday, 31 May 2008

Basque separatists?

A new shop is opening across the street - offering an intriguingly inclusive range of merchandise.

'Lingerie for women and men'...?

Mr Gnome, ever eager to promote equal opportunities in all areas of life, came up with the headline above....

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Seize the day - and the dog...

Mr Gnome admires the skill and creativity of all in the hairdressing business.

Browsing through the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, his eye lighted on these intriguing ads.

Hurrah for Linda who trims those so-mobile pooches. A challenging task when a crisp 'Sit!' proves ineffective.

And three cheers for Brian, Matt and their new venture.

I'm sure they'll seize the day, and their scissors, with style.

But Carpedeum?

Seize the god?


Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Prime number

Along with the ruby-slippered Dorothy, Mr Gnome has learned to look for the good things waiting to be discovered 'right here in my own back yard'.

Eleven, in Leamington Spa's Regent Place, is small, unpretentious and of tip-top quality - aspects that Mr Gnome is always eager to celebrate. And the food and ambience are so French that Mr G now refers to this splendid bistro as Onze.

The evening had an element of serendipitous discovery. Booking at the very last minute, we discovered that the special feature of every Tuesday evening at Eleven is the £13.50 menu terroir. (By the way, terroir means 'of the earth'.)

The other special feature of the terroir menu, is that it offers le choix de Hobson - one dish per course - no other choices!

We began with a pork and duck rillette - that's a kind of coarse pate, served with a salad and some dinky slices of toasted bread. Jolly good portions as well. Scrumptious.

Next was rump steak (top-quality) accompanied by hearty, golden, perfectly cooked potato chips.

Finally a blackcurrant mousse, served in generously proportioned tumblers. Wow!

Glance back to the price per person. Yes, £13.50.

Excellent, friendly service from our French host.

Mr Gnome will return.

All the info you need at

Monday, 26 May 2008


Tranquillity is not, I guess, the first word that comes to mind when thinking of the vibrant centre of Birmingham.

And yet, for me, it's the noun that best expresses my impression of the newly restored Birmingham Town Hall.

Architects Joseph Hansom (of cab fame) and Edward Welch based their design on the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome. The architect Charles Edge had a hand in the later stages of the project. The Hall was completed in the late 1830s.

Mendelsohnn's Elijah was premiered there, as was Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. Dickens packed it out for his public readings. Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Led Zepellin have all played BTH.

Once again I'm stunned by the generous spirit of our Victorian forebears: determined to create public buildings of great beauty at the heart of our industrial cities.

Hurrah for BTH.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Norman service has been resumed....

Fed up with coin-hungry parking meters? Depressed by dreary, scary multi-storey car parks? Yearning for an old-fashioned, friendly, supervised, flat-earth place to leave your vehicle?

Well, no need to dream if you're in central Birmingham. Simply head for the parking lot in Bromsgrove Street, a short step from the Hippodrome Theatre, and all the delights of this splendid, vibrant city.

I arrived just after midday and my £2.50 bought me a space for the rest of the day.

No worries about finding change, the ever-cheerful Norman was delighted to sort out my proffered fiver.

Always dapper, Norman clearly takes a pride in 'his' car park - and cares about the security of his customers and of the vehicles placed in his care.

Anyone in a 'service industry' could learn a thing or two from Norman. Hurrah for him!

Fortunes of war

One of many Red Cross 'letter forms' via which my mother kept up contact with family members in the German-occupied Channel Islands.

So glad to hear all well. Recovered from sad loss of our dear ones. We have adopted Ann. See Marsie daily. All love and thoughts.

Keeping exactly to her ration of twenty-five words, she sketches in as much as she can to reassure her aunt Clementine of the well-being of her niece (Ann) and sister (Marsie).

The 'sad loss' refers to the Exeter blitz of May 1942, during which my mother's home received a direct hit. Four members of the household were killed, including Clementine's sister Kath, as well as her niece and great-niece.

My mother and her first husband adopted Kath's daughter Ann.

For me, the enforced brevity of these messages, combined with the absence of specifics (see below), only serve to increase their poignancy.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


It's April 1951 and I am being cuddled protectively by my brother John, while our brother Barrie concentrates on the lens of our mother's box Brownie.

Does the fact that my right arms is flailing somewhat indicate my feeling that this tender embrace (around my neck) has gone on long enough, thank you very much?

The picture below was snapped exactly twelve months later.

Three boys, three tricycles. Hurrah!

What has happened to the tricycle? Way back then, they were standard issue for small children.

We had endless fun on ours, in the narrow, paved garden of our house on Sidmouth's sea wall, and farther afield in the Byes, the park beside the River Sid.

My brothers, I'm told, were tiny trike terorists, careering down slopes, six wheels mashing anything unfortunate enough to be caught in their path.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Mr Gnome scrubs up!

Today Mr Gnome relished accompanying his chums to an upscale-but-informal family celebration at Great Fosters, a top-notch hotel in Surrey.

Though more familiar with cafes and diners, Mr Gnome found the ambiance of this historic Tudor pile to be not in the least intimidating. The young staff were cheerful, attentive, friendly and efficient.

There's polished wood a-plenty, beams and latticed windows - but the dining room is bright and airy. Please do NOT think 'medieval banquet'.

The Humans polished off a splendid three-course lunch before wandering through the very beautiful gardens.

Prices? GF isn't cheap - neither is it extortionate. Terrific value if you're looking for a venue for an extra-special family celebration.

Mr Gnome awards three robust Hurrahs!

More info about Great Fosters.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Home front

My mother, daringly be-trousered, doing her bit on the 'home front' in the early 1940s.

She's in the garden of the home in Exeter, Devon, that she shared with her first husband.

Several family members moved in 'for the duration', evacuated from other parts of the country.

During the Exeter blitz of 1942, the house received a direct hit.

Four people were killed: my great-aunt Kath, my cousin's wife Olive and her daughter Faye - and a non-family member, a young evacuee.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

A century away

A sunny back garden in Stroud, Gloucestershire, in the spring or early summer of 1908.

Well, that's how my late mother dated the reverse of the photograph.

My guess is that she's correct. A year earlier and I doubt my grandmother (on left) would have been in the picture. A year later and my mother, born August 1908, would surely have been included in the family group.

I'm wondering if Daisy's leaning-forward posture and the presence of the big cat on her lap indicate a modest wish to conceal her bump.

Her twenty-one-year-old husband Harry stands just behind her.

My great-uncle Fred is on right, with his father Herbert Henry Rowe in the middle. My great-grandmother sits on the right. I've no idea as to the identity of the other adult and the little girl.

I am intrigued by the abandoned book on left.

The image zings across the years, fresh and poignant in that clear Edwardian sunshine, the twentieth century still relatively untarnished.

Nancy Mitford's famous comment comes to mind: 'I often think there is nothing quite so poignantly sad as old family groups.'

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Short films

The small, independent local cinema: sadly a thing of the past in most places. But alive and kicking in lucky Leamington Spa.

The cinephiles of this leafy midlands town can choose between a town-centre multiplex for mainstream offerings and the Royal Cinema, pictured here, which specializes in the 'art house' end of the market.

No prizes for guessing that Mr Gnome is a regular visitor to the Royal: low, low prices, non-noisy confectionery and a comfy auditorium - and a five-minute walk from home. Hurrah!

And although he has nothing against the DVD format, he feels that there's no excitment to match that of viewing a tip-top film on the big screen.

By the way, ever eager to promote small-but-splendid technological development, Mr G draws readers' attention to the stylish Brompton folding bicycle in the background above.

Back to the cinema: any must-see recommendations for the months ahead?

Monday, 12 May 2008

Radio daze

Today Mr Gnome was privileged to meet presenter Annie Oathen during a live broadcast on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire.

In fact, so great was Mr G's dazzlement at being caught in the media spotlight that he temporarily 'went Trappist', obliging the Human Being to answer Annie's questions on his behalf.

Packed with useful features for gardeners and allotment keepers, the programme aired from Annie's allotment on the northern fringe of Leamington Spa.

Producer Stewart Kingscott and his team opined that three hours of horticultural broadcasting would be incomplete without some gnome-related input. A short phone call followed and Mr G was booked.

Annie, a true professional, 'connected' instantly with Mr G and the Human Being, putting them at their ease as she quizzed them on a variety of topics as they toured the allotment, pausing to encounter a nearby resident gnome.

Like to hear the broadcast? Really? Please contact the HB by clicking the e-mail link to the right (under Contacts).

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Bequest stop

Within a couple of miles of the centre of our teeming capital city is a sylvan retreat of woods, meadows and ponds: Hampstead Heath.

Occasionally the HB has the privilege of acting as a tour guide to overseas friends who are visiting London.

Hampstead, both the village and the Heath, never fail to impress. On a clear day there is nothing to beat the view of the whole of London from Parliament Hill.

It's a genuine 'earth has not anything to show more fair' moment.

Here Mr G is posing in front of Kenwood House on the northern edge of the Heath.

Once the home of the Guinness family, it was bequeathed to the nation as a free-entry art gallery housing the family's far-from-insignificant collection. Small but unquestionably exquisite: there's a perfect Vermeer and one of the greatest of the Rembrandt self-portraits - and much, more more.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Dream on

Our early heatwave provided a balmy evening for Saturday's preview performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the RSC's Courtyard Theatre.

Director Gregory Doran and his production team create an onstage world of shadows, reflections and surprises in which a tip-top team of actors are set free to bring an ancient text vividly and hilariously to life.

The four lovers (Lysander is a dead ringer for the young Rupert Everett) are crisply characterised, with Kathryn Drysdale providing a memorable mighty atom as Hermia.

The punky fairies have the requisite allure and hint of danger, each one manipulating a tiny 'daemon' in the form of a jointed doll. Titania's Indian boy (the cause of her big-time fall-out with husband Oberon) is an exquisite life-sized puppet, manipulated with great delicacy by the cast.

Joe Dixon's Bottom is, er, magnificent - as are all his fellow 'actors' in the interlude of Pyramus and Thisbe - with special mention to Ricky Champ whose underwear-related issues as the all-important Wall bring the house down.

Note to RSC gift shop: 'Stock up on red Y-fronts now - you'll make a fortune.'

In short, a glorious, magical Dream. Hurrah!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Small but exquisite...

No surprise to learn that Mr G is particularly keen on small-scale works of art.

Today his (and the HB's) spirits were lifted by the arrival of postcard depicting the gorgeous Wilton Diptych, to be seen in the National Gallery. (The two hinged panels are roughly the size of a medium-sized computer screen.)

It's one of those very special objects that makes one stop and simply gaze and gaze.

The unknown artist has created an image of ravishing beauty, the colours undimmed by the passage of 600 years.

The young King Richard II, flanked by his patron saints (John the Baptist, Edward the Confessor and, get the pointy red shoes, Edmund the Martyr) is granted a vision of a blue and gold heaven, where the child Jesus leans forward to bless the earthly boy king.

Anyone familiar with Shakespeare's depiction of Richard II might be forgiven for wondering if the Bard had caught sight of this piece, so closely does it chime with his exquisite, poetic, 'self-iconising' monarch.

In London soon? Drop in to the Sainbury Wing and allow your senses and spirits to be entranced by this glorious treasure - sole property of you and me!

Monday, 5 May 2008

Mass wisteria

Mr Gnome hitched a ride today aboard the HB's bicycle for a sunny excursion to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Parts of the town were a-shimmer with delicate mauve beauty.

Mr G refused to leave before posing with this splendid specimen that clings to the exterior of the Shakespeare Institute in Church Street.

Dark Fire

When one's feeling under the weather, few things are more welcome than a totally tip-top book.

Over the last week or so I have been immersed in Henry VIII's London - its sights, sounds and pungent panorama of pongs. As Henry sought to settle the English reformation, the capital seethed with power struggles, intrigues and plots.

Spies everywhere and stray remark could take you on a fast ride to the rack, stake or gallows.

Scholarly, complex, crookbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake is Sansom's Morse - charged by the king's chief minister Thomas Cromwell to investigate the whereabouts of a top-secret Tudor WMD: 'Greek Fire', a kind of early napalm, to which, naturally enough, the king wishes to have exclusive rights.

Sansom deploys a rich array of characters with deft skill, interweaving an affecting second plot with that set in the public arena.

The narrative drive never slackens.

Terrific. And (hurrah!) there are three further books in the Shardlake series.