Sunday Sevens #138 27.5.18

Crumbs, is it just me, or is this year flying by? I can’t believe we are at the end of May bank holiday weekend already! Slow down please!!! I hope this Sunday Sevens finds you well and that you are enjoying your long weekend (if you are in a part of the world which has one). Here’s this week’s Sunday Sevens…

First barbecue of the year

And relax… feeling a little achey after the Med Steps 5 Challenge last Saturday, our first barbecue of the year, my new book and a cold beer were just what the Dr ordered!

Down by the sea

Two Little Postcards had an in service day on Monday. We headed down to Camp Bay for a bit of a kick around and ice cream. What with bank holidays and extra days off school at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘normal’ week at the moment – perhaps that’s why it feels like time is whizzing by!

Bird’s eye view

I had a trip up to the Great Siege Tunnels this week as a parent helper on a school trip. We got a bird’s eye view of the tunnel being built at the end of the runway, can you see it? There are two tunnels with what looks like a spine and ribs over the top. It was the first time I’d been to the Siege Tunnels with a guide (well a teacher who knew all about it) and I learned quite a few new things. Which reminds me, I went there with the Little Postcards a few months ago during a school holiday and I was meaning to write a post all about it…. one day!

Beautiful blossoms

I love the colour of Jacaranda blossom. This tree sits on Main Street and you could easily miss it as you go about your business. Sometimes it’s a good idea to look up!

Sandy Bay blanket

My seaside stash busting blanket now has a name; the Sandy Bay blanket. I wanted it to have a Gibraltar theme so reflected colours I see about the place. The white and yellow section was inspired by the Both Worlds housing development which sits above Sandy Bay and the green and magenta by the succulents growing above on the old water catchment slopes. Here’s the whole thing so far:

A green future for Gibraltar’s School children

On Thursday I was invited to a special reception in the Alameda Botanical Gardens. A community group I used to be involved with has sponsored a plaque to raise funds for a bio dome and learning facility for school children. It’s a very exciting project and has already garnered a lot of support, but there is still a way to go to raise all the cash needed to build it. For more information about the Alameda BioDome, you can read about it here.

A breezy trip to the beach

My Sandy Bay blanket made it to Sandy Bay on Friday morning. It was gloriously sunny between the wispy clouds skudding across the sky but the breeze was rather brisk. I had to kneel on my blanket to take the photo to prevent it blowing into the sea! Thank goodness I went while the Little Postcards were at school – they would have well and truly disowned me as I clambered over the rocks to try and get a decent photo!!

That’s all from Sunday Sevens for this week, I hope you have had a great weekend. I’m linking with Natalie from Threads and Bobbins for this weekly blog series.

A Postcard from Carcassonne

Last summer, we visited Southern France and stopped off for a few days in the beautiful medieval city of Carcassonne. It’s taken me a while, but at last, I have finally got round to writing this long awaited postcard….

Fate brought me and Carcassonne together. Several years ago, while visiting family in the UK we found ourselves with babysitters for a couple of hours one evening so we visited a nearby pub. The establishment in question had shelves of second hand books for drinkers to read and Mr Postcard perused the books as we waited for our drinks. He handed me a rather dog-eared green book with a golden circular labyrinth image on the front and said “I think that’s up your street”.

He was right. I read the blurb on the back and was immediately drawn in (we were at the pub with Mr Postcard’s brother and I was very antisocial I’m afraid, because I became absorbed by the book which had found its way into my hands). I felt a bit  disappointed when the time came to leave and go home, reluctantly I replaced the book on the shelf and made a mental note to hunt down my own copy.

Fortuitously, as we walked through the airport to catch our flight back to Gibraltar, I spotted a brand spanking new copy of the book in a shop and had just enough time to buy it before catching our plane. The book was Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.

I loved it, both the characters and the setting of Carcassonne. It sounded like such a magical, special place. For the first time ever, I felt compelled to visit a place I had read about. I had no idea when that would happen, just that I really wanted to go there. I went on to read the next two books in the Languedoc trilogy (Sepulchre & Citadel) and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I even got the members of the book club I belong to to read Labyrinth (I had to spread the love). Then, in 2015, I had the good fortune to be able to see a talk with the author, Kate Mosse, when she came to the Gibraltar Literary Festival.

I went to hear her talk about her latest book, the Taxidermist’s Daughter, but unfortunately I couldn’t stay on afterwards to meet her (as I had to dash off to collect a child). I rushed back later with said child in tow in the hope that I would be able to get my book signed.

I couldn’t believe my luck. As we arrived at the front door of the hall where Kate had been speaking, there she was, about to leave, alongside another literary heroine of mine, Joanne Harris. Totally star struck, and full of apologies for detaining her further I asked if she would mind signing my book. She was very gracious and obliged.

And so, several years had passed since I first laid eyes on Labyrinth and last summer we were planning a trip to France. There were two direct flights available from Malaga airport, to Paris and Toulouse. We opted for Toulouse as we fancied exploring somewhere we hadn’t visited before.

It was only after booking the flight that the penny dropped that Carcassonne wasn’t far from Toulouse. [I may have applied a little pressure for us to hire a car so we could have a day trip out to Carcassonne ;-)]. As it turned out, Mr Postcard surprised me by booking a gîte just outside the old city walls for a few nights so that we could explore Carcassonne properly. I can’t tell you how happy that made me!

I’m not sure I have enough superlatives to describe the medieval Cité. It’s just beautiful and as atmospheric as I imagined. We had a day or so to potter around the narrow streets by ourselves, before going on a pre-booked tour with a guide, so that we didn’t miss anything.

It’s taken me a while, but at last, I have finally got round to writing this long awaited postcard….

The ‘old’ Carcassonne sat on the hill above where we were staying, beckoning us up to explore…

The first thing I was struck by, was how well preserved the medieval Cité was. Sitting atop a hill with a clear view of the River Aude, it looked magestic. It hasn’t always been so though. After its heyday, the Cité fell into disrepair and locals moved out into the modern city on the opposite side of the river. Over time the stones of the Cité walls and its buildings began to be taken by scavengers who needed the stone for new buildings in the new city, effectively turning it into a quarry. It wasn’t until 1853 that Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was given the job of attempting to restore the Cité to its former glory. It is his Carcassonne which you see today when you visit.

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Although we did have plenty of time to explore the ancient streets and buildings ourselves, we decided to pay to join one of the official guided tours which left from the tourist office on a regular basis.

We gathered together under the giant horse chestnut trees outside the main entrance of the Cité to begin our tour. One of the first questions our guide asked was whether any of us English speakers had read Labyrinth. I was the only one and put my hand up. I just happened to have my copy with me (it was at this point that the Little Postcards died in embarrassment and ever so slightly disowned me! Cue the cry of “Muuuum! I can’t believe you brought that with you!”).

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We were led in over the drawbridge (which isn’t original, it was created during the renovation works).

Our first port of call was the Lices area between the two sets of ancient walls which encircle the Cité. Once filled with housing for the less well off in society, but now cleared to make a pleasant green area.

We then headed into the rabbit warren of streets and alleyways. Full of hidden corners and nookie holes and history. The architecture is really beautiful.

I won’t give you a blow by blow account of our tour, as I couldn’t do it justice. I’ll just share a few bits with you…

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I’m so glad that we did take the tour, the significance of certain buildings were highlighted and it put the Cité into a much clearer context both in medieval times and the intervening years. The most interesting thing I learned was that it became the Southern French HQ of the Gestapo during WWII and they took over the 5* Hotel de la Cité as they explored the surrounding mountains of Languedoc in search of buried Cathar treasure. In more recent times a host of celebrities from Michael Jackson to the Queen Mother have stayed there.

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The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire nearby is surrounded with some very ominous looking gargoyles. They must have seen some sights over the centuries!

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Inside the Cathedral are the most stunning stained glass windows.

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We bought tickets to go into the 12th Century Château Comtal, which is the only part of the Cité you have to pay to enter.

Another interesting fact is that the Château Comtal (which is where Alaïs, the heroine of Labyrinth lives at the start of the novel), was actually used as a location in the making of the Kevin Costner film; Robin Hood Prince of Theives. The exterior of the Château became the outside of Nottingham Castle, home to Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham.

While much of the Château is just a network of empty rooms which tourists wander through on a trail from one section to another, the views were pretty spectacular from the windows. (There may have been some really interesting stuff in there but I had a slightly impatient 5 year old with me, who’s patience had run out, so it was a bit of a whistle stop tour for us).

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Inside the Château is a collection of archaeological exhibits from the Cité’s past.

The end of the Château tour led us out onto the inner ramparts, which afforded us lovely views across the valley and to the more modern city beyond the River Aude.

Every day we were in Carcassonne, it was busy with tourists. However, as we were staying nearby, we were lucky enough to be able to come back up to the Cité in the evenings and enjoy it while the streets were a good bit quieter, and really soak up the atmosphere among the medieval buildings.

I had high hopes for Carcassonne before I had arrived, and it didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere and the architecture are just lovely. As an old romantic who would love to live in a castle, it was marvellous to spend some time there. So that was last summer, and as luck would have it just two weeks ago this beauty was published….

…. another Kate Mosse novel which is partially set in Carcassonne. This time I can read it knowing exactly what the places are like which are described in it’s pages. I had to patiently wait for my copy to make it down to Gibraltar, but now it’s here, and I’m off to put the kettle on and start reading!

Thanks for stopping by, and if you made it all the way to the end of this particularly long postcard – thank you! You deserve a pat on the back!!

So many books, so little time… Gibraltar Literary Festival 2015

 The past four days has seen Gibraltar at the centre of the literary universe (well sort of) as it hosted the 3rd Gibraltar International Literary Festival. This was only my second experience of the event as, I’m ashamed to admit, the first one passed me by. Last year though, I was determined to get a bit of the action and I was lucky enough to meet two of my literary heroines, Kate Mosse and Joanne Harris. I am still star-struck to this day. Kate Mosse borrowed a pen from Joanne Harris to sign my copy of The Taxidermist’s Daughter at the end of a very long queue! (It’s a great atmospheric read by the way).


The Festival brings with it a real buzz to the town and there’s always the chance you may bump into someone famous in the street, on Thursday while waiting to meet my son from school, Maureen Lipman walked past and Nicholas Parsons got out of a car in front of us.

I think the reason why I find the Literary Festival so energising and magical is that not only does it all take place within the small sphere that makes up my day-to-day life here in Gibraltar, but these clever individuals come all this way to speak to us about their work and do it in our everyday venues which my sons have done school plays and sung concerts in! Imagine if a big literary name came and gave a talk in your local village hall or church, it just doesn’t happen – except for here that is.

My first talk this year was at the Garrison Library and was given by William Chislett. Entitled ‘The Curiosos Impertinentes: 19th and 20th-century British Travellers in Spain’ Chislett looked back at accounts by eight British writers who travelled at length in Spain and documented their experiences. The term ‘curiosos impertinentes’ translates in this instance to mean the ‘annoyingly curious’ and comes from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The writers in question ranged from Richard Ford who travelled across the country in the 1830s on horseback wearing a lambskin coat and with two layers of brown paper lining his hat during the summer (presumably to protect it from his sweat) to Michael Jacobs, who died last year, and relied on public transport to traverse the nation as he couldn’t drive and felt it was a better way of meeting real Spaniards than travelling everywhere by car.

The well received talk covered Spain’s clichéd representation as a land of conquistadors, flamenco, and bull fights before touching on more subtle aspects of the Spanish character like the sense of belonging to one’s village, town or city of birth, ahead of a sense of national identity and the national obsession with food, which according to one author was beyond that of the French or Italians. It was interesting to note that in some cases the observations and paintings recorded by the early British travel writers are the earliest documents available on certain parts of Spain, particularly within the rural centre.


(Photo courtesy of  gibraltar-stamps.com)

Friday morning saw the launch of  a commemorative set of stamps to mark the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta. Minister for Business and Employment, Neil Costa officially launched the stamps as an introduction to Dr Dan Jones’ talk on Magna Carta – The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter.

With a backdrop of the beautiful King’s Chapel, Dr Dan Jones’ conversation with Paul Blezard was highly entertaining and really brought to life what happened 800 years ago. His insight into the character of the “warlord and despot” King John was at times highly amusing and put a human narrative into the story rather just being a staid history lesson. He told how the Magna Carta was created in an attempt to halt a civil war (which it did, but only for two months) and that the King made promises ‘to his faithful subjects and free men’ which are still of legal importance today. Dr Jones spoke of how the ideas within the Magna Carta have “transcended the Middle Ages” and are believed to have formed the thinking behind the United States’ Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.

In February this year, all four known remaining 13th Century copies of the Magna Carta were brought together for the first time, and Dan Jones was invited to see them. He explained how each one was very different as they were written on vellum (animal skin) and as animals come in different shapes it leads to different sized and shaped pieces of vellum. Also the styles of writing differ due to the use of different scribes and some are in much better condition than others. There could though, still be more copies out there just waiting to be discovered in library archives.

Dan Jones also discussed his newest book; Realm Divided – A Year in the Life of Plantagenet England which looks at what was going on six months before and after the Magna Carta was drawn up at Runnymede. Among the events he mentioned was the siege of Rochester Castle when King John broke through the castle walls by having his soldiers mine underground and fill the tunnel with wooden struts smeared with pig fat before setting fire to it and collapsing the walls above. He asked us to imagine what it must have been like for the desperately hungry people stuck inside, who had been without fresh food or water for weeks, to smell the roasting pig fat burning below them!

Last year, a number of my friends (who are also Mums) spoke very highly of Christopher Lloyd and his What on Earth? wallbooks. This year was his third visit to the Gibraltar Literary Festival and this time he brought his newest books The What on Earth? Wallbook Timeline of Shakespeare and The Magna Carta Chronicle. The presentation I went to, along with my offspring, was The Complete Plays of William Shakespeare in 60 minutes… at the John Mackintosh Hall. The festival shows which are directed at children are offered free of charge and I can certainly say that the one we experienced was fantastic.

Presented by a man who is clearly passionate about his work and in front of the colourful backdrop of his Shakespeare wallbook, the audience of reception aged children through to grandparents were enthralled.

From early in his presentation, Christopher Lloyd had the audience participation cracked, picking out children (and amazingly remembering their names) to help illustrate his points and bring the stories of Shakespeare’s 38 plays to life. He talked about themes which run through the stories they tell like ghosts and death, love, doubt and fear.

When he donned his trademark ‘coat of many pockets’ he engaged the young members of the audience by getting them to guess the emotions connected to the colours and find out what symbolic item lay inside; a rose to symbolise love (pink pocket), a magician’s wand to symbolise magic (black pocket) and confetti to symbolise happiness (yellow pocket).

After collecting an ensemble cast of willing actors (adults and children) he put on a couple of performances, a potted version of Macbeth and another of Much Ado about Nothing. A rather stunned couple of middle school-aged pupils got married in Much Ado and a suitably attired trio of witches in pointy hats got to cast the famous spell of “Double, double, toil and trouble/ Fire burn and cauldron bubble” from the Scottish play.

I can now see what my friends were talking about when they raved about Christopher Lloyd’s previous performances at the festival. He was funny, engaging and brought the things he was talking about to life, whether it was the Big Bang, the extinction of the dinosaurs or Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream being turned into a donkey. I do hope he returns to next year’s festival as personally I’d like to see him again, never mind the kids!

The climax of my Gibraltar Literary Festival experience was a special edition of the BBC Radio 4 panel show ‘Just a minute’. It was held at lunchtime today (Sunday) onboard the Sunborn Yacht Hotel in Ocean Village. Despite being the ripe old age of 92 years old, the show’s chair for the past 48 years, Nicholas Parsons, held court brilliantly and was ably assisted with the stopwatch and whistle by his wife Annie.

The panel of Dame Esther Rantzen, novelist Felix Francis (son of the late Dick Francis) and comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Miles Jupp (who’s best known in our house as Archie the Inventor on Balamory) were welcomed by a sell-out audience packed into the Aurora Ballroom on the yacht. (Many apologies for the grainy quality of these photos but the lighting wasn’t particularly conducive for a phone camera!).

The show was kicked off by Marcus Brigstocke who was given 60 seconds to talk about the subject of Gibraltar without hesitation, repetition or deviation. He began a humourous monologue about being able to buy a bottle Advocaat on Main Street for £8 before being interrupted by Miles Jupp. During the performance, which lasted for well over an hour, the starting subjects were diverse (cricketing phrases in everyday use, Hallowe’en and conkers) although somehow the topic of Gibraltar, and it’s resident barbary apes made frequent appearances, much to the delight of the crowd.

On the subject of  Literary Festivals, Brigstocke commented that “they are ten a penny” and allowed “bookworms to come together and pretend they’re ok with social interaction” which was much appreciated by the audience.

Felix Francis’s background was obviously taken into consideration when he was asked to speak about the subject of Thoroughbreds. This was hilariously turned around by Marcus Brigstocke who changed the meaning completely to ‘thorough breads’ and talked about toasted Hovis rather than racehorses. Also Miles Jupp’s account of school conker matches brought howls of laughter from the crowd.

Esther Rantzen won over the audience with her witty and very sharp knowledge of grammar and found every excuse to interrupt the other contestants on account of their misuse of the English language.

During the second half of the performance (it was separated into 2 ‘shows’) Marcus Brigstocke took a slightly more risqué approach on the subject of Getting up in the morning, much to the delight of the sell-out crowd. The topic in question was touched on again several times by other panellists and each time brought titters and howls of laughter. Nicholas Parsons described the comments as “suggestive naughtiness” and was grateful for the fact this edition of the show wasn’t being recorded to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

On the subject of the ‘real’ Just a Minute shows, Parsons said it was probably the least edited show on radio, as you can’t edit something that’s timed and commented that he’s “incredibly proud of the fact he’s part of such a show”. Today’s performance was testament to the fact it’s a great format and with such witty contestants it’s no wonder it’s clocked up 1,200 recorded shows over 48 years.

Looking back over the festival this year, it’s been great fun for me and I’ve only been to four events. There was such a diverse range of talks to chose from and I was spoiled for choice on what to attend, it was family commitments and timings which stopped me going to more. Well done to the organisers, the festival really does appear to be going from strength to strength and I can’t wait to see what the Gibraltar International Literary Festival 2016 has to offer. Thank you, it’s been a blast.