Thursday Doors – St Leonards Church, Shoreditch

This little green door stands in the porch of St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, one of London’s oldest churches.

The original church is thought to date back to Saxon times, but was rebuilt in the early 1700’s after the steeple became unstable, resulting in the glorious building you see today. And if you’re familiar with the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’, you’ll know how the bells sound – St Leonard’s is the church referred to in the line, ‘When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch.’

There is a story, we were told, that Shakespeare was partially inspired to write Romeo and Juliet while in the church. However, I’ve been unable to find any corroboration for this and, as the building in its current state was created long after Shakespeare’s death, it’s most likely untrue. However, it doesn’t detract from the church’s strong theatrical history – there are several notable Tudor actors buried there, with a plaque to their memory from the London Shakespeare League. In the 1500s, two of London’s original theatres, The Theatre and The Curtain Theatre, were located nearby, where several of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed.

I visited the church this past weekend for a family wedding. Inside the paint was peeling, the floors back to bare boards. Apparently, they’re about to spend a fortune restoring the building. However, I like it how it is now, all the layers of history apparent, and feel fortunate to have visited when I did.

And as for the Shakespeare story? Well, it may not be true, but you never know…

This is my entry for this week’s Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,ย  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Making Magic

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It’s been a funny sort of month. A mixed bag, if you will. Oh, nothing too full on awful – simply a combination of things that have left me feeling a bit down, less inspired than usual. But really, who am I to complain? With the state of the world as it is, I know that I, in my comfortable life, am very fortunate. Plus, I think a post with me burbling on about general feelings of malaise just wouldn’t be that interesting, to be honest.

So today I decided to make some magic. Now, before we go any further, I don’t consider myself any sort of expert practitioner. I have read and experienced some fairly esoteric things, and I certainly believe in Shakespeare’s assertion that ‘there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ I’m also open to the idea of changing one’s energy, of choosing to pursue a more positive path. I know that there are things in life for which it is just not possible or easy to say ‘oh well, I choose to be positive about this,’ but for general feelings of just being a bit down, a bit off, I believe that focus and a positive attitude can make a difference.

And so what is magic, after all? There are varied schools of thoughts on this, but most seem to agree that it comprises both intent and ritual. Intent, in that there is something you wish to achieve, and ritual, a series of steps which focus power and attract the right sort of energy to get things done. And when you think about it, intent is another word for choice, at least when it pertains to our own lives. And ritual is a route to focus, which is what we need to effect change.

Our whole family has been sick this month with a virus that refuses to go away, mutating and moving from head to throat to chest, a fever that comes and goes, chills and tiredness. A month of spluttering and coughing and broken sleep, the house closed against the cold weather. So this morning I woke up and said to my husband, ‘I think I might smudge the house today.’ He nodded in agreement. You see, we’ve had success with this ritual before. When we bought our first house in Australia, it was a busy time. We were both working and living in Melbourne, planning our wedding, then heading down the coast on weekends to renovate our new place, supposedly getting away from the bustle and stress of city living. Yet, every time I slept in our new house, I had the most awful blood-soaked nightmares, the kind from which you wake shaking, wondering what the hell is going on. Our new neighbours had told us some of the history of the house and its previous owners, and what was clear was that it was a place that had not been loved for quite some time. So I decided to give smudging a try. I had read about it but never tried it before – if you’re not familiar with the practice, it involves burning a tightly tied bunch of herbs (usually sage and/or lavender) then wafting the smoke through the rooms of the house, letting open windows take the smoke away and with it any ‘bad energy’ that might be bringing the place down. So I smudged our little beach house, lavender and sage wafting through and out into the blue yonder. Then I slept the most peaceful sleep I’d had there. We ended up living in that house for seven years, and people would always comment on what a nice feel it had. The nightmares never returned, either.

What’s really interesting about smudging is that, even though it’s an ancient practice dating back several thousand years, scientific research has recently discovered that the medicinal smoke generated by the burning herbs actually does cleanse the air of harmful bacteria and pathogens, with the effects lasting up to a month after the initial smudging process. Sounds about perfect for a house full of sick people, don’t you think? So this morning I dug out my smudge stick, picked some extra herbs and flowers then took advantage of the fresh breeze, opening doors and windows and letting the warm scent of burning sage fill the rooms. The house certainly does feel fresher, so it will be interesting to see how my family react when they get home later. And, interestingly, my mood has lifted with the cleansing, my writing kicking back into gear.

That seems pretty magical, don’t you think?

 

Wednesday Wander – Stratford-Upon-Avon

DSC_0494This week’s wander is to the West Midlands town of Stratford-Upon-Avon, famous as the birthplace of William Shakespeare. However, he was not the only luminary to come from this small town – do you notice the American flag decorating the front of this fine half-timbered house?

DSC_0496This is Harvard House and, as the sign states, it was once the home of Katherine Rogers, mother to John Harvard, who founded Harvard University.

DSC_0497I grew up not far from Stratford-Upon-Avon and have been there many times, yet it was only on a visit a few years ago that I noticed Harvard House. It just goes to show how much history is packed into the winding streets and ancient buildings. As you can see, Harvard House was built in 1596 and has some wonderful carved decoration on the front – the initials A.R. stand for Alice Rogers, Katherine’s mother. The house was privately owned until 1909, when it was purchased by the American millionaire, Edward Morris. He restored the house and presented it to Harvard University as a gift – it is now managed on their behalf by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and is open to the public. We didn’t end up going inside that day – something for a future visit.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time ๐Ÿ™‚

Wednesday Wander – Ford’s Hospital, Coventry

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This week I am wandering to the city where I grew up. Coventry, in the Midlands, is a city with a long history. It is where Godiva rode the streets naked, where the original Peeping Tom first looked at what he shouldn’t, where kingmakers, nobility and powerful abbeys once ruled together. It’s where the phrase ‘true blue’ was coined, said to refer to a particular type of blue dyed cloth made in the city during the middle ages, which held its colour very well. Coventry was also a major stopping post on the way to London, so prisoners of rank, including Mary, Queen of Scots, were held here for a time before being transferred to the Tower for execution. During that time, no-one would speak to them for fear of being seen as a sympathiser, hence the idea that no-one speaks to you when you’ve been ‘sent to Coventry.’

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In the 1930’s, three acres of some of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe were razed to accommodate new, wider streets and modern businesses. At the time, it was denounced as an act of vandalism in the press. Then the Second World War came, and much of the remaining town centre was destroyed in a single night of bombing on November 14, 1940, codenamed Moonlight Sonata by the Luftwaffe. There are theories that Churchill was aware of the bombing before it happened, but chose not to alert the city as it would have signalled that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code, so the city was sacrificed ‘for the greater good.’ However, these claims have never been proven.

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After the war Coventry city centre was rebuilt, with modern architecture covering most of what remained. However, there are still little pockets of history hidden away, and Ford’s Hospital is one of them.

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Built in 1509 as an almshouse for women, the hospital was badly damaged during the 1940’s blitz. Restored in the 1950’s, it is now seen as one of the finest examples of its type in the UK. When attempting to rebuild Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the designers came to Ford’s Hospital to understand Elizabethan doorways (thanks, Wikipedia!).

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So on a recent trip home, I went for a wander through the town centre, taking the alleyway down by what was once Habitat and is now just a shop selling tat, to find myself outside the hospital. It’s still in use, a modern (and fairly sympathetic) extension extending the original living quarters. The little garden on the side was green and well-tended, while Christmas lights sparkled in the ancient inner courtyard. And I took these photos, to share with you.

Thanks for joining me on another Wednesday Wander! ๐Ÿ™‚

Three Quote Challenge, Day 3

Couldn't resist the opportunity to use my star sprinkles photo again!

Couldn’t resist the opportunity to use my star sprinkles photo again!

Men at some time are masters of their fates.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

William Shakespeare

When I was in Year 10, we had to study Julius Caesar (the play, not the man) and memorise these lines as part of our homework. Cassius speaks them to Brutus, as part of a discussion about Caesar and how it is that he is their ruler, rather than some other, more worthy, man. What he is saying (as I understand it) is that they have only themselves to blame for not pursuing a path to glory, rather than it being the result of some divine twist of fate. We studied other Shakespeare plays during my time in high school – The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet – but these three lines have always stayed in my mind.

I have a single tattoo. It’s on my hip, and is a circle with a Celtic knot pattern. I chose it to honour my Celtic heritage, and it stayed fairly circular even through my pregnancy (though I did refer to it as the ‘celtic egg’ for a while). But the interesting thing is that, after I’d already chosen the design and had it inked on my skin, I discovered a bit more about it. It is actually called The Llewys Design, and is a representation of the twists and turns of fate, something significant to my own life.

So I think the reason I’ve always remembered these lines is that they speak to the idea of choice. That we have some say in what happens to us. Though I think Shakespeare also leaves things open to the idea of fate intervening, when he writes that ‘men at some time are masters of their fates.’ At some time, but not all the time. Sometimes, you can open a door and walk into a room and your life changes in an instant. That’s what happened when I met my husband. Oh, not because we had some lightning bolt moment of ‘this is it, you are mine forever!’ Rather, when I walked into the room and shook his hand my path shifted without my even knowing it, as did his, a pure twist of fate. The choices came later, when I decided to go to Australia for ‘a year,’ to see what it was like. Seventeen years, a marriage and a child later we came back to the UK, another unexpected twist.

While I agree with Shakespeare that we are, at some times, masters of our fate, I also believe that the fault does, at times, lie in our stars. That things happen to us that cannot be explained by choice or determination, but rather as part of some larger picture we are not yet permitted to see. And so, while we can make conscious choices that shape the paths of our lives, at other times it is as though the choices are being made for us, and we can either face them, or turn away.

And that’s my final choice for my Three Quote Challenge – thanks for reading along with me ๐Ÿ™‚

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I was nominated by the lovely Eilis Niamh to take this challenge, the rules of which are as follows:

First, you thank the person whoโ€™s nominated you.
Then, you post a quote you love.
Finally, on each of the three days you post a different quote, you choose another blogger to carry on. (ooh, not sure about that last one โ€“ however, we shall see)

Thank you Eilis! Once again,ย  I donโ€™t have a nominee today, but if youโ€™re reading this and would like to take up the challenge, please do ๐Ÿ™‚