"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Trip to Oxford

We had tickets for an event at Oxford Playhouse on Wednesday evening so we decided to journey down to Oxford at lunchtime and spend the afternoon looking around.

Unfortunately the Museum of Natural History is closed this year for urgent repairs to the glass panelled roof. We did visit the museum many years ago when David and Emily were little and it is excellent. David was a Member of Rockwatch (a society for children interested in geology and fossils) and they used to hold a yearly event here. At the meeting we attended Jack Horner (the palaentologist whose exploits were the inspiration for Alan Grant in Jurassic Park) gave a talk and there were various activities for Rockwatch members behind the scenes of the Museum. Chris Packham was also there.

Anyway, I digress!! We decided to have a look round the adjoining Pitt Rivers Museum

The Oxford Swift Research Project takes place at the museum. Swift colonies which nest inside ventilator shafts of the Museum have been researched since 1948. It is one of the longest continuous studies of a single bird species anywhere in the world. David Lack, Head of the Edward Grey Institute, began the project and studies have contributed a great deal to our knowledge of swifts.

Along the corridors leading to the Pitt Rivers Museum there were a lot of exhibits which had been moved from the natural history section. Lots of great information of evolution, natural selection, Charles Darwin and the History of Life.

And to my delight there were lots of fossils on display including one of my favourites - Sea Lilies (Crinoids). Crinoids are marine animals belonging to the Phylum Echinodermata and first evolved in the seas of the Middle Cambrian about 525 millions years ago. They did particularly well in the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic Eras and some species survive to the present day.

Even better my favourite creature of all time - the Trilobite - was much in evidence.

This is Walliserops trifurcates. The "trident" could have had several uses, for example, frightening off predators or disturbing a muddy seafloor as the animal searched for food. This fossil is from the Devonian Period (420 to 360 million years ago)

Trilobites were marine arthropods that evolved suddenly in the early Cambrian (545 million years ago). They dominated the Cambrian and early Ordovician seas before declining and finally becoming extinct in the Permian Period around 250 million years ago.

The Selenopeltis Slab


And finally onto the Pitt Rivers Museum which was just stuffed with artefacts. It contains collections of man-made objects from every continent and throughout human history. Its on 3 different levels. Just a few photos - the flash on my camera really is quite poor so most of the photos were too dark.

As you leave the museum you walk around the edge of the Natural History Museum and can see some of the exhibits being protected during the roof work

We had time for a walk into Oxford

This is the Sheldonian Theatre built from 1664 to 1668 and designed by Christopher Wren. It is the Official Ceremonial Hall for the University of Oxford.

We had a quick look round Balliol College - the Porter kindly let us in at half price for £1 as the Chapel and Dining Hall were closed!!!!

Must admit it was rather a whistle stop tour as we were running out of time!

I hope I am right in saying this is a sundial to commemorate 30 years of women at Balliol (they were first admitted in 1979).

Fellows' Garden

The stone feature in the garden is not Princess Dervorguilla's Tomb as people sometime say but a collection of fragments from the Old Broad Street Buildings and Lodge

Nineteenth century Balliol poets include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Matthew Arnold, Algernon Swinburne and Robert Browning and 20th century novelists include Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene and Neville Shute.

Oxford is definitely a city of cyclists - there were bikes everywhere.

We had pizza and chips at the White Rabbit

and then onto Oxford Playhouse for an evening's Conversation between Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman followed by a question and answer session and book signing. It reminded me a bit of taking David to see Philip Pullman in Waterstones, Birmingham, when he was a lot younger and a big fan of the Dark Materials Trilogy. Its an event that's always stuck in my mind as Emily had a horse riding session which didn't finish till five o'clock and we had an hour to drive from depths of Warwickshire countryside to Birmingham City Centre in the rush hour, park and walk to the event. I still don't know how we did it in time - although I do remember the children saying they had never seen me drive so fast!!!

It was a very late night but an enjoyable day out!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A Hidden City Centre Garden and Centenary Square

Yesterday I was on family "chauffeuring duties" and found myself at 10.00 in the morning in Birmingham City Centre. Now I have to admit I never visit the City Centre unless going to the Theatre, Museum or Symphony Hall, so I decided instead of sitting in the car reading for an hour or so, I would take the camera and explore.

Whilst walking to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in the past I have noticed a hidden garden located behind the Theatre and this was my first port of call.

It was really lovely to see the effort that had been made to plant so many "pollinator friendly" plants - Cosmos, Buddleia, Red Hot Pokers, Nasturtiums, Calendula or Pot Marigold, Verbena bonariensis etc. etc.

A view of the rear of the new Birmingham Library - more on this later!!

The gardens were beautifully maintained and it was wonderful to find a beautiful garden buzzing with insects slap bang in the middle of a City Centre. A very tranquil haven.

Centenary Square was just a short walk away and at that time in the morning was fairly quiet. It was named in 1989 in celebration of Birmingham achieving City status in 1889.

Today dominating the Square is the new Birmingham Library which is estimated to have cost 188.8 million pounds! Once open it will be the largest library in the UK and the largest public cultural space in Europe.

When I've driven past in recent years during its construction I have to admit I was not at all impressed with the architecture and thought it was a complete eyesore. However, now its more or less completed and looking at it more closely I can see some beauty in its shape and design. Would be really interested to know what everyone thinks!

The library is due to open on 3rd September this year but it looks as though there might still be some work in progress!

Symphony Hall and the International Convention Centre

Birmingham Repertory Theatre - the theatre has recently celebrated its centenary - it was founded by Barry Jackson in 1913 and originally based at the Old Repertory Theatre moving to this building in 1971.

This building has been closed since 2011 due to the building of the new library and a few changes to the interior of the theatre although plays have continued at various other locations. It re-opens on 3rd September.

I do rather like Martin Shaw and am hoping to go and see this play

I was very pleased to see that Birmingham City Council had, in addition to more formal flowering displays, planted a meadow in the Square. Unfortunately, it did seem to have suffered probably from lack of rain during the hot spell we had.

It was lovely to see metal sculptures of two Towers located close by in Edgbaston - Perrott's Folly and a Victorian Tower which is part of Edgbaston Water Works. JRR Tolkien lived in the area for several years as a child and it has been suggested that these two Towers were his inspiration for "Minas Morgul" and "Minas Tirith" - The Two Towers after which the second volume of "Lord of the Rings" is named.

I visited these two Towers last year and here are a couple of photos

The Tower at Edgbaston Water Works and

Perrott's Folly

I thought this deckchair (also in the meadow) was a brilliant idea.

The Hall of Memory - a War Memorial built 1922 - 25 out of Portland Stone from the Isle of Portland, Dorset.

The four bronze statues are allegorical figures by a local sculptor (Albert Toft) representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Women's Service. For some unknown reason I only took photos of three of them!

Statue of Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch opposite the Square

Clouds reflected in the Hyatt Hotel

A Tower of Flowers

Baskerville House - originally the home of John Baskerville (1706-1725) a printer and type designer. The building was once used as offices by the City Council.

Statue of Edward VII


For more information on the ICC, Birmingham Rep and Birmingham Library please visit the following websites