Guest blog post from Kensington Mums: 40 things to do during lockdown

Many thanks to Kensington Mums for sharing their recent blog post with us – 40 things to do during lockdown.

Kensington Mums, is an award winning website keeping you in the loop with the local scoop. You can subscribe to their newsletter and download their free app on iTunes and Google Play

Over to Dina from Kensington Mums now –

Dina, Kensington Mums

The schools have officially closed and we don’t know how long for. Year 11 students won’t get to sit the exams that they worked for or attend their end of term prom. Primary children are relying on their parents to teach them the curriculum and current conversation amongst all parents at the moment is ‘what will we do with the kids?’  How will we work from home ? educate them?, make sure we all stay healthy? and have enough to eat? How do we make sure they are protected from the awful time we are in as much as possible? This is uncharted territory it is the unknown and makes everyone feel uneasy.

Parents have become educators, as well as having to work from home, join Google hangouts and Zoom meetings and ensure that their families are well looked after and have enough of the necessities at home. In addition to finding ways to get through the days and entertain the children.

There is a lot of advice online, articles and Facebook groups including ours are sharing valuable advice, ideas and planning schedules and these will be invaluable to visit when the time comes and even to prepare for this inevitable event. So, what will we do with all this time? We all want to lead a stress free parenting time at home.

Time to do all the things that have been pending on your to do list. The gift of time will not last long. Use it doing what you can do, don’t waste it thinking of what you can’t do and trust that all is happening for your best. It’s ok if you are feeling like it’s hard, remember you are not alone.

Families around the UK are adjusting. We are living in uncertain times, be easy on yourself and on those around you. It’s ok if your kids are not following a proper schedule, it’s ok if they are watching TV and snacking more. It’s ok if you are losing your temper more often…what is important is that you are all safe because this too shall pass. Explain to your kids what is going on, this article this might help them understand things a bit better.

We share with you 40 things you can do at home with your kids:

  1. Reorganise the closets – how long have you been needing to do that for. Decluttering and spring cleaning its the time to do it. Read about the KonMari method here.
  2. Redecorate the house – boredom may inspire you
  3. Clean out the pantry get rid of those jars from 2015
  4. Finish all the load of laundry. Everything maybe cancelled but laundry is never cancelled.
  5. Try new cooking recipes. Check out our recipe section for a bit of inspiration.
  6. Meditate
  7. Hold online playdates via what’s app or skype
  8. Get kids creative from things you have at home.
  9. Enjoy messy play and play with play dough. Check more activities here.
  10. Pamper yourself at home
  11. Arts and Crafts. Check some activities here and here. Try colouring which helps reduces stress and boost creativity.
  12. Read your favourite book
  13. Take an online course
  14. Listen to podcasts, including one with our founder on her idea in starting Kensington Mums and another on finding your mama tribe.
  15. Watch online documentaries, National Geographic has a special site for children.
  16. Learn to play an instrument using online resources
  17. Exercise and work out from the comfort of your own home.
  18. Stay hydrated
  19. Enjoy quality family time
  20. Keep positive
  21. Catch up on some well deserved sleep. 
  22. Don’t forget to breath – there are some great apps to help with being calm
  23. Get fit and download workout apps. 
  24. Practice yoga, Cosmic Kids Yoga is great on YouTube to do yoga with the kids
  25. Chalk drawings on the pavements in the garden
  26. Recycle old magazines and make vision boards and collages.
  27. Board games – get out your back catalogue of board games and revisit them, we have shared a few on our Instagram Stories
  28. Make your own playdoh – there are so many things to learn on YouTube
  29. Body painting arts and crafts with the kid’s hand printing foot printing they will love the mess
  30. Pinterest has an entire list of Free and cheap ideas to keep kids entertained.
  31. Kids Activities blog  offers free printables and over 600 learning activities for kids of all ages.
  32. Write postcards to care home residents they will love receiving these
  33. Learn dances from apps like (TikTok)
  34. Lego building it takes time and lots of fun for the whole family to get into
  35. Free Jigsaw puzzles are very calming and self-satisfying
  36. Travel and Leisure is offering FREE virtual museum tours could be fun and informative
  37. Parents should visit Twinkle Parent hub for help with kids learning from home
  38. Enjoy treasure hunts and playing tag at home with the whole family
  39. Become an instagrammer or youtuber sharing useful information and tips with others
  40. GoNoodle, is great to move and learn at home with a bit of mindfulness downloadable curricular activities and recommended off-screen home activities

If thats not enough, you can read more fun things to do at home here, and maintaining education provision.  Sometimes, you just need to disconnect and enjoy time with your families and little ones. This too shall pass.

Make sure you follow us on Instagram and Facebook as we will be sharing more of what we are doing during our quarantine diaries. Remember you are not alone. Stay safe everyone!

Again, many thanks to Kensington Mums for sharing their post with us. We’ll be blogging soon about how we can help during this time.  In the meantime, we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with information about online resources and other exciting content.

‘Big Brother is watching you’ – a tribute to George Orwell

Last month commemorated 70 years since the passing of a giant of English literature, George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair).

George Orwell display Brompton Library

Orwell was a man of contradictions who never seemed to fit in anywhere. Born in India in 1903, into a “lower-upper-middle-class” family, Orwell grew up in the English shires, was educated at Eton yet was shot in the neck fighting for socialism. He then curiously became famous for his critique of the Soviet Union and Stalin in Animal Farm.

His writing seems to be driven by a deep desire for fairness and a relentless pursuit of the truth, and his willingness to criticise those who abuse power and language, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, made his allies feel uneasy and his enemies squirm.

Indeed, Animal Farm was initially banned from publication for politically expedient reasons in World War II (at the time, Stalin’s USSR was a useful ally in defeating Hitler and criticism was censored in the suspended democracy of war-time Britain, a situation Orwell despised). These contradictions and hypocrisies, along with experiencing first-hand the bitter betrayals and cynical use of propaganda in the multifaceted Spanish Civil War (Orwell fought with renegade anti-Stalinist Marxist group the P.O.U.M, that was later repressed and outlawed by the Spanish Communist Party), certainly contributed to the overall themes in Animal Farm and 1984.  Ironically in the 1960s, over a decade after Orwell’s death, Animal Farm was challenged in some parts of the USA for being a “problem book” with ‘communist text’ for using such language as “masses will revolt.”

George Orwell display at Brompton Library

Orwell’s determination to tell the detailed, complicated truth and inform the reader using simple, layman’s language stands in contrast to much of today’s shallow political discourse and ‘journalism’, which deliberately misinforms, and is arguably often used to protect the status quo rather than attempt to expose the truth. It must be said these problems of course existed in Orwell’s day, but are they better, or worse now? Orwell’s writing can at least help us find out, as although he died 70 years ago, the clarity of his writing is more important than ever.

Although the dystopian totalitarian Britain of 1984 did not come to pass, one must wonder what Orwell would make of the country and wider world today. Even though I have an aversion to people (often wrongly, in my opinion) ventriloquizing his views for their own agenda, I expect much of it will fill him with horror. Orwell remains relevant because we can still understand the world with his words, which have changed literature forever. What would he make of government institutions like GCHQ’s illegal mass surveillance of UK citizens, and of social media giants harvesting data and selling our privacy, all with our apparent consent? The telescreens in 1984 are now not necessarily on the wall, but in our pockets, with the ability to listen, photograph and video our private lives. And whilst Big Brother may not order us what to do, algorithms made by corporate giants manipulate how we interpret the world on social media which is awash with so much ‘fake news’ it can skew elections and referendums. The language of 1984 can also easily describe any authoritarian ‘communist’ regime that exists today: “the party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the socialist movement originally ever stood, and it does so in the name of socialism”. 1984 can perhaps also explain the seemingly endless wars Western countries are entangled in in the Middle East: “The war, therefore if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture… It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that the hierarchical society needs… The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.”

George Orwell display at Brompton Library

Although mostly well-known for his novels, he was also a prolific writer of essays, literary critiques, reportage and even poetry. Beyond politics, he also enjoyed writing about nature in his diaries, and in 1946 wrote the essay Some Thoughts on the Common Toad. Orwell also dabbled in food writing; 1945’s In Defence of English Cooking led him to be commissioned a year later by the British Council to write an essay on British food to promote relations abroad. He described British cuisine as “a simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous diet” where “hot drinks are acceptable at most hours of the day”. Further writing in 1946 instilled Orwell’s quintessential Englishness: that year he wrote an essay entitled ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’, within which he lays out an 11-point plan for making the perfect cuppa (yes, you really should put the milk in last).

David, Brompton Library



Love stories from our Biography Collection

In honour of Valentine’s Day, our February display of books from our Biography  Collection at Kensington Central Library is a bouquet of the joys and pains of romantic love.


We have stories of love transcending cultural barriers – Kate Karko left London to join her husband in Tibet, while as recounted in Sword and Blossom, Arthur Hart-Synot and Masa Suzuki breached the barriers between Edwardian England and Japan to nurture their love.  Barriers of class rather than continents were crossed by Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick, one of the rare marriages between upper and working class people in a Victorian England obsessed with class distinctions – this gulf was also negotiated by the artist Ford Madox Brown, whose unmarried cohabitation with Emma Hill raised eyebrows; Into the Frame by Angela Thirlwell examines Brown’s love for her and for three other equally unusual women.  His romantic relationships inspired his work, as did the love of Gertrude Stein for Alice B. Toklas, of W. H. Auden for Chester Kallman, and of Anton Chekhov for Olga Knipper.

Terrible circumstances have strewn some loves with unimaginable obstacles – the poet May Cannan immortalised her fiancé in poems as he served in the trenches of World War One; Helen Drysdale spent years searching for Gheorghe Cupar, who had disappeared into the brutal Romanian penal system during the Communist era; Betty Schimmel survived the Holocaust without hope of ever seeing her first love again, but miraculously re-found him 30 years later.  In An Act of Immorality, John Carr charts the suffering of he and his wife Cynthia; he was white and she was black, so in the 1960s South Africa where they met, their love was a crime.  So too was the love of Oscar Wilde for Lord Alfred Douglas; Douglas’s father’s virulent homophobia found its outlet in the bigoted laws of the time, and put in train a sequence of events that ended with Wilde in Reading Gaol.


Even without the cruel interventions of repressive regimes, we know that not everything in the garden of love can always be rosy, and we have stories of relationships facing illness both mental and physical, and crises of infidelity and deception.  Lillian Ross writes movingly about being “the other woman” of New Yorker editor William Shawn for decades, and Julie Metz discovered her entire marriage had been based on lies.  Dylan and Caitlin Thomas experienced a love triangle of a different kind, with the third party being alcohol.  David Helfgott’s wife Gillian describes loving in the shadow of mental illness, as does Elaine Bass, whose challenges were kept secret at a time when such problems were taboo. John Bayley’s tender accounts of caring for his wife Iris Murdoch as dementia changed everything except their love, are classics of understated devotion.


Some infamous love stories ended in shocking crimes of passion and, in the era of the death sentence, ended the lovers’ lives – the romantic obsessions of Edith Thompson and Ruth Ellis led both to the scaffold; both of their sentences are now widely viewed as grotesquely unjust, and both added momentum to the fight to end the death penalty. These ill-fated women’s stories kept the newspapers flying off the newsstands;  comparable scandal and obsessive coverage by the media of the 18th and 19th centuries centred around “adulteresses” Lady Wyndham and Caroline Norton.  Their stories tell us much about the messy and unpleasant complexities of aristocratic marriages gone sour amongst the glamour of silks and brocades.  On a lighter note, Round Heeled Woman tells the hilarious and surprising story of what happened when Jane Juska placed a very candid classified ad looking for a sexual partner in her retirement.

In looking at this most universal of subjects, we have tried to represent the lives of ordinary and obscure people alongside the famous.  What happens when celebrity affects a love story – as in the case of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton?  How does a marriage react to self-imposed, adventurous challenges – as when Gwyneth Lewis and her husband Leighton decided to sail across the Atlantic? How did the huge social changes of the 20th century affect the balance of power in relationships like those described by Ruth Brandon in The New Women and the Old Men?

All human love is here – come and find a love story to transport you, or to help you look afresh at your own relationships.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library




Holocaust Memorial Day 2020: Stand Together

Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong, be prepared every day to try and do some good.

Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from Nazi-occupied Europe

The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is: Stand Together. And from their website:

It explores how genocidal regimes throughout history have deliberately fractured societies by marginalising certain groups, and how these tactics can be challenged by individuals standing together with their neighbours, and speaking out against oppression.

In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Nazi policies and propaganda deliberately encouraged divisions within German society – urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish neighbours. The Holocaust, Nazi Persecution of other groups and each subsequent genocide, was enabled by ordinary citizens not standing with their targeted neighbours.

Today there is increasing division in communities across the UK and the world. Now more than ever, we need to stand together with others in our communities in order to stop division and the spread of identity-based hostility in our society.
Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – this is a significant milestone and is made particularly poignant by the dwindling number of survivors who are able to share their testimony. It also marks the 25th anniversary of the Genocide in Bosnia.

As Holocaust denial, minimisation and relativism are on the rise, it becomes increasingly urgent to revisit the eyewitness testimony of survivors. Our special Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library includes over 50 memoirs of some who survived, and some who did not, spanning the 23 countries where the Jewish communities were systematically murdered as being “subhuman”, a designation the Nazis also applied to gay people, people with congenital disabilities and mental illness, Roma people, Slavic people, people of colour and all other “non-Aryans”, all of whom they hoped ultimately to eradicate.

We also have memoirs of those caught up in genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur, and of those who though not part of the targeted groups, risked their lives to try to intervene, as well as memoirs of younger people trying to come to terms with their heritage and bravely negotiating the dark crimes of their forebears.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

Inspirations from our Biography Collection

For this month’s special display from our Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library, library staff were asked to nominate figures who had inspired them.

See what Steve Biko, RuPaul, Malcolm X, J. K. Rowling, Jimi Hendrix, Lauren Bacall, Tove Jansson, David Attenborough and many others mean to members of staff, learn more about them from their biographies – and see if we have a book about your own inspiring figure in our collection. With around 85,000 titles spanning two centuries of publishing, there is a good chance we do!

Mzu chose: Steve Biko

Bantu Stephen Biko…popularly known as Steve  Biko. Apart from teaching us that democracy is something to fight for, constantly, my inspiration,
Steve Biko, a South African anti-apartheid activist (18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977), was known for his slogan ‘black is beautiful’, which he
described as meaning ‘you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being.’ He fully understood that the foundation of any true
liberation is self-love.

Fani chose: Helen Keller

I would like to suggest one of my favourite authors, Helen Keller because this woman overcame her  dual disability and managed to live the life that she dreamt without barriers. I love the below words from her: ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world  cannot be seen or even touched- they must be felt  with the heart’.

Katie chose: Patrick Leigh Fermor

Adventurer, polyglot, lover of people and nature, Leigh Fermor  explored the world and wrote about its beauty. His ‘Time of Gifts’  books feature his walking journey from the Hook of Holland to  Constantinople and he has written many delightful books on his  daring exploits and travels.

Nina chose: David Attenborough

The most inspiring man who seems capable of uniting the whole world. People from all over the globe have grown up to the sound of his husky voice telling them about the weird and wonderful things that exist in nature, and many were made aware of dangers that threaten them though watching his programmes. He is a man so universally liked that I have no doubt he would be chosen as the President of the World if such a role existed.

If you’re nearby, do pop into the library and take a look at the display – we’re sure you’ll be inspired too.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

Chelsea Library’s special reading events: a recap

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers
who participated in Chelsea Library’s reading events in 2018 and this year. A big
thank you and here’s to many more in 2020!

Our next reading event is on Tuesday 21 January when we will meet Ruth Galloway and read from ‘The Crossing Places’ by Elly Griffiths.

What is so special about Chelsea Library’s reading events? Well, we  read extracts from the books aloud; we share favourite moments and discuss relevant issues and characters. But, if you just want to listen and comment, and do not wish to read, that is fine too. You do not have to be a book club member to join us either. Sometimes readings are linked with a film or a TV series, such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Hugo’s Les Miserables and Gerald Durrell’s The Durrells.

An Evening with Tolstoy, in September 2018, marked the 190th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy’s birthday. That was our first such event and we focused on ‘Anna Karenina’ We watched a few remarkable moments from film adaptations, and then passionately commented about the right or wrong choices of actors in these films. We read in English, Russian. Italian and Serbian, completely oblivious that one of the guests present was one of Tolstoy’s descendants. Amazing!

In October 2018 we read from the Great War diaries and letters written by female doctors and nurses.

Last December we met to celebrate the 175th anniversary of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Since that time, this Ghost story of Christmas has become an irrefutable symbol of Christmas, and Marley and his companions – ghosts of Christmas past, present and future –have become some of the most popular ghosts in literature. So, gathered enthusiastic readers took part in reading my abridged dramatized version of Dickens’ classic and we all had a great time playing Scrooge, Marley, Bob, Tiny Tim … and eating mince pies.

For this December I decided to stay within the supernatural milieu and we read extracts from the ‘Haunted house’. If you have not read it before, it is never too late. Please, read these paragraphs to give you a flavour what you can expect. It is funny, it is witty – Dickens at his best. Serve with mince pies and brandy cream, as we did. Delicious!

“It was a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden: a pretty even square of some two acres. It was a house of about the time of George the Second; as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer of the whole quartet of Georges. It was uninhabited, but had, within a year or two, been cheaply repaired to render it habitable; I say cheaply, because the work had been done in a surface manner, and was already decaying as to the paint and plaster, though the colours were fresh.”

After first few weeks of living there the narrator’s state of mind became “so unchristian”. “Whether Master B.’s bell was rung by rats, or mice, or bats, or wind, or what other accidental vibration, or sometimes by one cause, sometimes another, and sometimes by collusion, I don’t know; but, certain it is, that it did ring two nights out of three, until I conceived the happy idea of twisting Master B.’s neck—in other words, breaking his bell short off—and silencing that young gentleman, as to my experience and belief, forever.”

Back to earlier this year and to honour my French readers, I chose Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ for January 2019.


When I had ‘Hamlet’ in mind, the idea was to involve the Danish Embassy and talk about Helsingborg / Elsinore castle. For somebody like me, with English as a second language, the challenge of reading Shakespeare aloud (and not to kill the beauty of the masterpiece in the process) was a daunting prospect. That worry proved to be needless. Everyone present was reading Shakespeare with such ease, as if they were eating Victoria sponge cake and drinking English tea. Fantastic! (The Danish Embassy were too busy to spare anyone, but I had to go to Copenhagen and visit Hamlet’s castle. Could not find anything rotten there.)

Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ followed. We watched extracts from Andrew Davies’ BBC adaptation, laughed at Mr Collins, argued as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy did, and even had heated discussion with a Jane Austen-expert who was in attendance. Marvellous!

Our June reading session was dedicated to holidays, to Corfu, to Gerald Durrell and his fantastic book ‘My Family and Other Animals’. Who could blame the Durrells for moving to Corfu after this kind of August in Bournemouth?

“July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky. A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it. Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach-huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, frothchained sea that leapt eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore. The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above the house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly. It was the sort of weather calculated to try anyone’s endurance.”

So, the Durrells moved to Corfu, in 1935, ‘like a flock of migrating swallows.’ The lush green landscape greeted them on their arrival.

“Halfway up the slope, guarded by a group of tall, slim, cypress-trees, nestled a small strawberry-pink villa, like some exotic fruit lying in the greenery. The cypress-trees undulated gently in the breeze, as if they were busily painting the sky a still brighter blue for our arrival.”

Talking about people and animals we discovered that one of the readers, Emina, featured in Maria Perry’s book ‘Chelsea Chicks’, with a story that involved her very social parrot.

In September 2019 we had a guest speaker, Sir John Nott, who talked about his book ‘Memorable Encounters’, in which he selected twenty famous people who made a distinctive impression on him, from Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell, to Robin Day and Ted Hughes.

Sir Nott’s career in politics and business has given him a unique perspective on some of the key events in British public life. The gathered audience were obviously charmed by his witty comments.

In October I was so happy that Simon Brett accepted my invitation and included Chelsea Library in his busy and dynamic schedule. Simon is a renowned author of comedy thrillers, mystery who-done-it novels and has written to date 106 novels. He is best known for his Mrs Pargeter novels, the Fethering series and the Charles Paris detective crime series. In 2014, he was presented with The CWA Diamond Dagger and in 2016, he was awarded with OBE for his services to literature.

Simon talked about his career, his books and characters and we laughed and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Here is an extract from ‘Mrs Pargeter’s Principle’, which he read to the audience.
It is just after Sir Normington’s funeral.

“Helena Winthrop, in designer black, did not look prostrated by grief, but then she had been brought up in the upper-class British tradition that any display of emotion was unseemly and embarrassing. Also, her face no longer had the capacity for much change of emotion. Feeling the approach of age, she’d had some work done, which had left her with an expression of permanent surprise at how old she was.
She had acted as hostess at many public events for her husband and appeared to bring the same professionalism to this one as she had to all the others. The absence of Sir Normington on this occasion was not something to which she thought attention should be drawn… though her guests did seem to want to keep talking about him.
Mrs Pargeter, experienced in widowhood, wondered whether Helena Winthrop would fall apart into a weeping mess the minute she got back to her empty Mayfair home, but rather doubted it. Unshakeable stoicism was ingrained into women of Helena’s class. She had spent so long suppressing her emotions, Mrs Pargeter reckoned, that she wouldn’t recognize a genuine one if it bit her on the bum.”

Edited to add this part – Simon sent us this lovely quote  in response to this piece and we thought we’d share it with you.

I greatly enjoyed my visit to read and talk at Chelsea Library. The audience was acute and perceptive, a legacy of the series of events which had been set up to encourage reading in the borough. I remember, when I first started doing library talks, the plea ‘Has anyone got any questions?’ used to be followed by a profound silence and a lot of people looking at their feet. That, I’m glad to say, is no longer the case. The growth of book groups and events, like those set up by Zvezdana Popovic in Chelsea Library, have ensured a much readier and more informed response. As an author, I always find such sessions fascinating, because they always make me question – and sometimes even make changes to – the way I write. So, keep up the good work, Zvezdana.


I hope that you have enjoyed sharing this recap from our previous reading events. One of our future events is definitely reserved for the Brontë sisters. Tell me which book (or author) you would like to be included and we’ll go from there.

Once again, best wishes.
God bless us, everyone!

Zvezdana, Chelsea Library

Dogs and cats at Christmas time

As the festive season approaches, thoughts turn to cosy domestic scenes and some of us will be lucky enough to be sharing our festivities with a beloved pet, so we have had a rummage in our special Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library for memoirs of dog and cat friends – and found a treasure trove which we hope you will enjoy.

True to form, our very special collection reveals its diversity in this as in all other areas – so we meet dogs who are the reliable companions of people with disabilities, the cherished workmates of farmers and shepherds, the dear friends of some of our most familiar celebrities, and dogs who have shared wartime experiences, often with heroic fortitude.

We have memoirs of those whose work is the rescue of dogs and cats from abandonment and cruelty, and those whose have themselves been rescued by their pets from loneliness and despair, pets immortalised in beautiful artwork, pets with all their eccentricities. Curl up with one of these heartwarming stories – perhaps with your own beloved canine or female friend close at hand.

Also in the spirit of festive conviviality, we have dipped into the part of our special collection comprising of oversize books, to peep into some of the family photograph albums of the famous past and present, finding intimate pictures of family life – sometimes recorded by humble amateur snaps and sometimes by great photographers – and a glimpse of Christmases past.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

Christmas with Dickens

We have a special reading event at Chelsea Library this Tuesday 3 December, 6.30pm – we will be reading extracts from Charles Dickens’ favourite Christmas stories. Perfect for this time of year along with mince pies, mulled wine, Santa Claus coming to town, enchanted shop windows and more.

“Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail”

“God bless us, every one!”

If this event sounds just the thing to get you into the festive spirit, then come along.  You can book a free place here on Eventbite.

And as a taster, here’s an extract from ‘The Haunted House’ –

Under none of the accredited ghostly circumstances, and environed by none of the conventional ghostly surroundings, did I first make acquaintance with the house which is the subject of this Christmas piece.  I saw it in the daylight, with the sun upon it.  There was no wind, no rain, no lightning, no thunder, no awful or unwonted circumstance, of any kind, to heighten its effect.  More than that: I had come to it direct from a railway station: it was not more than a mile distant from the railway station; and, as I stood outside the house, looking back upon the way I had come, I could see the goods train running smoothly along the embankment in the valley.  I will not say that everything was utterly commonplace, because I doubt if anything can be that, except to utterly commonplace people—and there my vanity steps in; but, I will take it on myself to say that anybody might see the house as I saw it, any fine autumn morning.

The manner of my lighting on it was this.

I was travelling towards London out of the North, intending to stop by the way, to look at the house.  My health required a temporary residence in the country; and a friend of mine who knew that, and who had happened to drive past the house, had written to me to suggest it as a likely place.  I had got into the train at midnight, and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and had sat looking out of window at the brilliant Northern Lights in the sky, and had fallen asleep again, and had woke up again to find the night gone, with the usual discontented conviction on me that I hadn’t been to sleep at all;—upon which question, in the first imbecility of that condition, I am ashamed to believe that I would have done wager by battle with the man who sat opposite me.  That opposite man had had, through the night—as that opposite man always has—several legs too many, and all of them too long.  In addition to this unreasonable conduct (which was only to be expected of him), he had had a pencil and a pocket-book, and had been perpetually listening and taking notes.  It had appeared to me that these aggravating notes related to the jolts and bumps of the carriage, and I should have resigned myself to his taking them, under a general supposition that he was in the civil-engineering way of life, if he had not sat staring straight over my head whenever he listened.  He was a goggle-eyed gentleman of a perplexed aspect, and his demeanour became unbearable.

It was a cold, dead morning (the sun not being up yet), and when I had out-watched the paling light of the fires of the iron country, and the curtain of heavy smoke that hung at once between me and the stars and between me and the day, I turned to my fellow-traveller and said…

Zvezdana, Chelsea Library

The fall of the Berlin Wall

This month’s display from our special Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library is to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall .

9th November is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wall had been the most potent symbol in Europe of the Cold War separation between the Communist USSR and its satellites and allies on the one hand, and the US and its allies on the other.

The evening of the 9th of November 1989 was a decisive point in the ending of this separation, as the Berlin Wall quite suddenly ceased to function as a meaningful barrier in a divided Germany, with people from both sides starting to move freely through checkpoints and literally over the top of the structure.

Our display of books from our special Biography Collection focuses on the key political personalities associated with this uniquely resonant moment, and also memoirs of ordinary people’s lives behind the “Iron Curtain”.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

Extra ordinary lives from our Biography Collection

This month’s Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library gives us a holiday from the famous, the illustrious, the eminent, the idolised, the household-named, the great, the infamous and the notorious that inhabit our collection.

As well as housing many books about those we are likely to have heard of, the collection is also home to many memoirs of ordinary people with no special claim to being remarkable.  Often the only publication of a person who, perhaps looking back on a childhood in a long gone age, feels moved to record what everyday life was like back then, these books are fascinating records of the lives of ordinary working men and women.  Families, school, industry, war, immigration and emigration – all of these subjects are examined by a multitude of voices.

We can find evocations of particular times and places preserved for ever by those who, without ever intruding into the public eye, shared the lives of the man and woman in the street (or in the field, or on the mountain).

Location is often important in these kinds of books, with the authors striving to recreate a very specific corner of the world. Many London neighbourhoods feature – Lambeth in Mary Chamberlain’s record of the lives of working class women from 1913 to 1989, Bethnal Green whose atmosphere of the 1920s-40s was described by Doris M. Bailey, Blackfriars where Bella Burge ran a boxing ring from 1910, Islington where Gill Brason’s stint as a park keeper in the 70s shows us a neighbourhood on the brink of huge change.  Many regions of the UK, both rural and urban, are also given a voice – John Ackerman’s South Wales, Ralph Glasser’s Gorbals, Arthur Barton’s Jarrow, J. J. Bagley’s three centuries of Lancashire diaries; Anne Burling’s East Anglia, James Maggs’s Southwold, to name just a small sample.


We can also eavesdrop on ordinary lives around the world – a boyhood in Sierra Leone in the early 20th century is hauntingly described by Robert Wellesley Cole, Iris Gioia and Clifford Thurlow interview the people they meet on a trip to Eastern Europe at a pivotal moment in the history of the region, in 1990; the Dar family describe how their lives as carpet sellers are impacted by the tumultuous history of Kashmir; Forrest Carter leaves a unique record of Cherokee life in 1930s Tennessee, and Glückel of Hamelin recounts the highs and lows of her days in the Jewish community of Hamburg with such immediacy that it is hard to believe she was writing almost 400 years ago.

As usual, we have no shortage of local interest – read about Joe Nixon starting up a youth club in 1950s Notting Hill, Mary Wylde a 1930s Kensington housewife, and life at Holland Park School in the 80s as recounted by John-Paul Flintoff (I can vouch for the accuracy of that particular account, being an ex-Holland Park pupil of exactly Flintoff’s vintage)!

Again as always, our  Biography Collection yields a rich harvest – Isobel Charman’s “The Great War, the People’s Story” looks at the impact of that huge conflict on ordinary citizens, R. J. W. Selleck’s “Not so Eminent Victorians” finds 19th century immigrants to Australia building an education system to transform people’s lives, and there are socio-cultural studies of a typically progressive kind from the 60s, taking a sample of 14 year old school children or of young people in care and interviewing them about their hopes and dreams.  Many people have chosen to write about their working lives – so we have a survey of working people from Hackney in the 1930s, and stories of countless professions including taxi driver, station master, nurse, teacher, miner, shop assistant and cowboy.

It’s not quite true to say that all of the writers featured are people you’ll never have heard of.  Some of the people featured in these books later became famous, sometimes through the books themselves – Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie, for example, is a classic of rural British memoir, and Jennifer Worth has become familiar to all through her “Call the Midwife” books and their enormously successful TV adaptation.  But all of them are accounts of life before fame or fortune had visited, when they were deep in the obscurity of ordinary life.

What is proven by these commonplace, everyday memoirs is that, in fact, there is no such thing as an ordinary life.  These writers are visited by extraordinary and sometimes deeply strange turns of events. Some go on to do unusual things that take them far from their beginnings. They are caught up in epic moments of world history.  But even if they simply live out their lives in relatively uneventful ways, they show that every life is in its own way remarkable, and that the voices of those who have never sat at a high table or stepped on a red carpet are often the voices that tell us most about who we were and are.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

Edited to add –

If you’re interested to read more about some of the people mentioned in this post, do take a look at the eResources we have on biographies such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. These are free to use with your Kensington and Chelsea library card.