One of the highlights of the Chelsea year is the Chelsea Flower Show. Chelsea in Bloom really brings an already vibrant area to life. Here is Zveszdana from Chelsea library talking about her love of the show and sharing some of her wonderful collection of photographs from previous years. Continue reading “Chelsea in Bloom”
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
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
This is an epilogue to the Chelsea reading event – Reality more astonishing than fiction, where attendees asked me to recommend the WWI books about women that I used for my research.
We read extracts from letters and diaries – which were sad, feisty and funny.
Elsie Bowerman captured everybody’s imagination. In the style of Indiana Jones, Miss Brown and Miss Bowerman clambered onto a moving train and saved the Scottish Women’s Hospital’s equipment.
Mabel Dearmer, author and illustrator, kept a diary and sent letters home from Kragujevac (Serbia) in spring 1915. She joined the Mabel Stobart’s Hospital unit. Her husband, Percy Dearmer served as a chaplain with the unit. Several women – nurses, doctors, orderlies – from various British medical missions died in Serbia during the typhus epidemic in 1915. Mabel Dearmer was one of them. See the extract from her letter from 6th June 1915.
Finally, if you would like to hear more about Scottish Women’s Hospitals and Dr Elsie Inglis, come to my talk at Women’s Library, LSE, on 9th November, 1-2pm.
Our next Reading event is on Tuesday, 11th December at Chelsea Library, (contact the library for more details), where we will visit Mr Scrooge. Come and join us reading extracts from “A Christmas Carol”.
My recommended book list: Women and WWI / Suffragists and Suffragettes
- Kate Adie, Fighting on the home front. The legacy of women in World War One.
- Lucinda Hawksley: March women march
- Simon Webb, The Suffragette Bombers. Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists.
- Elisabeth Shipton, Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War
About Flora Sandes:
- Louise Miller, A Fine brother. The life of Captain Flora Sendes, Alma Books, 2012.
- (Book translated by LAGUNA “Naš brat”)
About Dr Elsie Inglis and Scottish Women’s Hospitals:
- Leah Leneman: In the Service of Life. The story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press, 1994.
- Leah Leneman, Elsie Inglis. Founder of battlefront hospitals run entirely by women, NMSE, 1998
- Eileen Crofton : Angels of Mercy: A Women’s Hospital on the Western Front 1914 1918, Birlinn Ltd, 2013.
- Mikic, translated by Dr. Muriel Heppell: The Life and Work of Dr. Katherine S. MacPhail
- Eva Shaw McLaren: Elsie Inglis. The woman with the torch.
- Monica Krippner, The Quality of Mercy. Women at War. Serbia 1915-18.
- Isabel Emslie Hutton: With a Woman’s Unit in Serbia, Salonika and Sebastopol.
- Mabel Stobart, The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere
Most of these books can be borrowed in local libraries and some of old ones can be read online, on the Project Gutenberg Free Books website.
Websites and documentary films
- Scottish Women’s Hospitals
- Scarlet Finders – British Military Nurses.
- Novica Babovic – (YouTube, 11 minutes)
- The women who went to war – Alan Cumming
- Scottish Women’s Hospitals – A.Cumming (YouTube, 41 minutes).
- The Story of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals by Scottish Parliament – (YouTube, 5 minutes).
Mrs Haverfield has just asked me to go out to Serbia at the beginning of August to drive a car. May I go? … I’ve been dying to go and drive a car ever since the war started… It is really a chance to go to the front. They want drivers so badly so do say yes. It is too thrilling for words.
This year’s Summer Reading Challenge launches in our libraries tomorrow, Saturday 14 July. The challenge is fun, free and designed for all children whatever their reading ability and it’s been designed to help children to improve their reading skills and confidence during the long summer holidays.
Children can read whatever they like for the challenge – fact books, joke books,
picture books, audio books or you can download a book, just as long as they are borrowed from the library.
This year’s Summer Reading Challenge is called Mischief Makers – Dennis the Menace, Gnasher and friends invite the children taking part to set off on a hunt for Beanotown’s famous buried treasure.
Each of our libraries will be holding special events for children of all ages, some of these are listed now on our website Pop in to your local Kensington and Chelsea library to find out more about the Summer Reading Challenge and collect a special events programme.
In April this year, Chelsea Library marked 40 years since it moved to its present site, at Chelsea Old Town Hall. We celebrated that anniversary in the Sixties fashion style, since the library is famous for its extensive Costume and fashion collection. It has a wide range of books on the history of costume from its earliest times to present days, stage costumes, the history of twentieth century dress, including books on prominent designers, and so on.
Bearing this in mind, we’ve decided to bring back fashion talks and workshops to the library. We invited John-Michael O’Sullivan to give a talk on ‘Parties, Presents and Peers: an A-Z of London’s Mid-Century Models’.
He spoke about top Fifties fashion model, Barbara Mullen, and he has compiled an extraordinary list of celebrities, fashion models, fashion designers, film icons and aristocrats for his talk. From debutantes to Teddy Girls, and from Carnival Queens to couture stars, the lives of the women whose images shaped Britain’s beauty ideal in the 1950s, and continue to do so today, need to be better known to a wider audience.
The audience at Chelsea Library was, indeed, very much impressed by John-Michael’s captivating talk. Charming and witty he led us through this extraordinary alphabet of mid-century models, occasionally interrupted by loud sighs and comments from the engaged listeners, several of them having personal connections with the mentioned models.
In his article for The Observer, about Barbara Mullen, the misfit model of the 1950s, John-Michael wrote:
“The era’s other great models (sex bomb Suzy Parker, platinum blonde Sunny Harnett, long-limbed Dovima, all-American Jean Patchett, exquisite Evelyn Tripp) were always reliably, recognisably themselves. But Mullen was different – beanpole-tall, with slicked-back hair, startled eyes and a rosebud mouth. Her features, in front of a lens, somehow morphed, endlessly transforming her into somebody else.”
While I was gathering information for the talk, flicking through our collection of Vogues and Harper’s Bazaars from the 1950s, I found it extremely difficult to find the names of those gorgeous models, yet, everything else was listed – from gowns, lipstick, jewellery, to location and the photographer’s name. That was the time before Twiggy, before Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Elle Macpherson, Claudia Schiffer or Kate Moss – before the times of superstars.
As John-Michael wrote:
“These days, most top models are social media stars in their own right and have the power to shape and share their stories themselves. But most of their predecessors died without ever being given the chance to share their experiences. Barbara Mullen, who turned ninety in 2017, is one of the few survivors of a remarkable era.”
Charming and modest Barbara told John-Michael that she and her friends were just ordinary girls – young, thin and extremely lucky. She was wondering why people today would be interested in their lives.
John-Michael has launched a campaign with publishing house, Unbound which is producing books by crowdfunding. He has been gathering the funds to print ‘The Replacement Girl’ Mullen’s first biography. I am sure that it will be fascinating to see that era “through the eyes of one of that pioneering generation’s last survivors”.
For more information on the fundraising campaign to publish Barbara’s story, visit: Unbound’s website
Zvezdana, Chelsea Library
Are you looking forward to doing something uplifting, something that puts smile on your face – effortlessly?
Have you seen flower displays around Chelsea?
There is no better way to celebrate the start of summer than visiting Chelsea in Bloom.
Download the map and vote for your favourite display!
Whether you want to take selfie with Frida Kahlo, peep through the gorgeous ‘diamond’ ring, giggle with the funny skeletons, admire a bus made of carnations, floral flags, regal swans or just smile and sigh while gazing at roses, camellias, lilies, freesia, sweet peas, chrysanthemums, gerbera … you will enjoy your stroll.
The flower displays are so inspirational, cheeky, lavish, splendid … Pure pleasure!
Just one thing, if I can recommend, wherever you start your tour, quickly pop to Chelsea Library and grab a book – Jessie Burton’s “The Muse” or one of Elly Griffiths’ crime novels. So, when you decide to sit and pause the leisurely walk, you have your book with you.
For more information, please visit the Chelsea in Bloom website.
A post from our Service Development Manager, Angela Goreham – about what RBKC Libraries have to offer.
R Research for a project that interests you
B Booking a PC, a place at an event
K Knowledge as we all need this
C Connect (to others in the community and the wide world)
L Lending items for your pleasure or information
I Information that will help you with your day to day or forward planning
B Baby activities and information to help new parents
R Reading – a core skill and past time in any format
A Access us at any time and from anywhere
R Resources – varied and plentiful, in different formats to suit different needs
Y Young and old – we’re here for everyone
Are you 1 in 840,344? Or maybe you are 1 in 515,004? They’re odd numbers you might say, but the first one is the number of times the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s libraries were visited between April 2017 and March 2018 and the second is how many items were borrowed during the same period – how many did you account for?
104 people from our local communities supported the Library Service by volunteering with us and over 40,000 people came to one of the events that we held.
They are huge numbers but we always want to beat our previous year’s figures so please come along to one of our libraries, find out what we can do for you and you can help us pass last year’s numbers.
There are six libraries within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – find out more about them and what we offer by either visiting us in person or our website or you can call us on 020 7361 3010.
This is guest blog post from Liz Ison. She works for The Reader and looks after the Book Break reading groups that run in Kensington and Chelsea . Over to Liz to tell us more…
Do you love stories, poems and great literature?
Would you like to find out what shared reading is?
Did you know that there are many shared reading groups going on in your local neighbourhood running every week?
Meet The Reader, an organisation that is passionate about the power of reading together.
We at The Reader are the pioneers of Shared Reading. The volunteer Reader Leaders who run our weekly groups, bring people together to read great literature aloud.
Groups are open to all, readers and non-readers alike. Come along and listen to stories and poems read aloud. It’s an opportunity to read and talk together in a friendly and relaxing environment. Free refreshments provided!
Our shared reading groups have been running locally for many years bringing shared reading to the residents of Kensington and Chelsea. We work in libraries, community centres and other organisations spreading the joy of shared reading.
Here are what our group members have to say about shared reading:
“I’ve felt really happy since the session with you —bought myself some flowers the next day…and went for a long walk while listening to music— all in one day. Our happy thoughts trigger happy chemicals in our brain.” Aysha
“An anchor during the week”
“It always makes me feel more fulfilled than the other days”
- 95 % look forward to the group as an important event in the week
- 84% think the reading session makes them feel better*
Here are some groups to try in our local libraries:
Brompton Library – Tuesday, 10.30am to 12 noon
Chelsea Library – Tuesday, 2.30 to 4pm
Kensington Central Library – Tuesday, 2 to 4pm
North Kensington Library – Thursday, 3 to 5pm
North Kensington Library – Saturday, 10.30am to 12 noon
We look forward to welcoming you to a group soon. To find other shared reading groups in your area you can contact:
Erin at email@example.com or call 07483 972 020
Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07807 106 815
More information is on the The Reader website too.
And if you’d be interested in volunteering with us, get in touch!
* 2017 Reader evaluation data for Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea shared reading groups