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Barbican (12 August 2016)
I am always amazed at how many hidden treasures there are in the City of London*. There are several websites that I trawl regularly for information on interesting days out and events throughout the year. Last weekend* I visited a building that I would normally never have considered*, the Barbican in Central London. As it is now midsummer here in England, the emphasis of my searches for places to visit is on parks and green spaces. I came upon an entry that described a large conservatory on the upper floor of the Barbican. Tempted by a small picture of an expanse of long panes of glass with the shadowy shapes of trees inside reaching up to the apex, the decision was made to go and see it as soon as possible. We would not as a rule* spend a sunny* day inside a building, but I think this counts as almost outside.
The Barbican is a multi-arts and conference venue in the middle of the city and is a prime example of the concrete slab buildings which were considered* the height of modernity at the time, exuding a vigorous ruggedness and a determination to distance themselves from the frivolous and decorative styles of the past. Unfortunately concrete weathers to a dismal, streaked and patchy appearance, giving an air of grimy* deterioration and decay, and so it is fortunate that the vogue for monumental concrete piles did not last too long. I much prefer today’s buildings which are often almost entirely glazed, light and spacious within, and a pleasure to behold* from outside, as they gleam in the sunlight and reflect the sky and their surroundings.
We made our way to the third floor, passing all the notices and ticket/information desks for the various departments and performances, none of which interested us. We were here on a plant* mission and made straight for the conservatory entrance. We suddenly found ourselves in an indoor forest, with giant tropical plants, from pot plants to mature shrubs and trees growing up to roof height. The conservatory wraps around the fly tower of the theatre whose knobbly concrete surfaces are improved only by being almost completely covered in and hidden by the foliage, giving the appearance of a prehistoric stony* cliff or a vertical quarry face. The plants are in large soil beds, and along all the edges are hundreds of potted plants. In the middle are a large and a small pond, connected by a narrow channel, with koi of various sizes and colours, judiciously screened by the greenery, so that its edges are kept at a small distance from visitors.
Brick paths wind around in gentle curves with a few puddles and the slight smell of dampness everywhere, just the perfect atmosphere for an afternoon in a tropical looking jungle, so much better than the “concrete jungle” that we passed through to get here, and at a comfortable temperature as well. Stairs leading to an upper walkway are adorned with wall baskets and air plants. The walkway gives a bird’s-eye view of the scene and an opportunity to see the whole pond and its inhabitants. The conservatory is filled with the sound of gently splashing water, from the pond fountains and other water features. The walkway leads on to the arid glasshouse to one side, containing hundreds of cacti and succulents, in long raised beds, numerous terracotta pots and hanging baskets. I gave up reading the names of the plants and just admired the great variety of sizes and shapes. Not all are spiny and there are plenty of softer and friendlier ones, with fleshy grey-green leaves hanging in swathes from the pots and baskets, like green wigs on their stands.
We then followed a raised path past the plant- screened café area, which is unobtrusive and quiet, and came to another separate corner of the conservatory. We found a delightful shallow rectangular pond with koi and goldfish, completely clear water with clean gravel bottom. A torrent of water from the submerged filter outlet and small spray fountains in the middle provided yet more gurgling sounds. This looked to me to be the ideal pond, from a human point of view, where you could sit on the low wall close to the fish, shielded from extremes of weather, and with no ice to remove in winter or herons to defend against in summer. My own pond is completely covered in netting, so it was really a treat to be able to watch the fish ambling around between the aquatic plant containers and baskets, although they seem to have fewer interesting corners to investigate and snacks to find than my fish at home do.
We left the conservatory and exited the building onto the lakeside terrace, flanked by a long straight body of pea green water. People were sitting about at the tables and on the steps, eating, reading and relaxing. For us this was a gradual re-entry into the harsh hard world of stone, paving and asphalt, and once we left the complex, we realised that what had seemed like a large space was really a tiny oasis* of green, alive and growing, in a dry dusty city centre. Upon leaving the Barbican precincts*, we were once again* surrounded by dull grey surfaces, noisy building works and traffic. This aspect of London we are happy to leave for the tourists, and we are always glad to return to our own green and quiet part of the suburbs, and our own pond and fish. (920 words)
Short Letters 9 ( August 2016)
Dear Mr Green, Thank you for your recent email*.
I have investigated* the
matter and can confirm that the account we sent you dated 3 July is
correct. The amount includes the extra items that you added to your
order, and also an adjustment in the delivery charge, as the total
revised amount that you have spent entitled you to a reduced delivery
charge. I trust that* this
information answers your query and that the goods are to your complete
satisfaction. Please feel free to contact us if you have any further
issue with this invoice. Yours sincerely*,
Accounts Manager (100 words)
Dear Mrs* Bright,
Thank you very much for your recent email* regarding
the situation at the Green Park playground, detailing the items that
have become broken and unsafe. I informed* our
maintenance department immediately and they have visited the site this
morning to investigate* and
take action. The faulty equipment has been entirely removed and the play
area is now safe for further use. New equipment to replace this will be
installed at a later date. Thank you very much for your prompt reporting
of this danger, which helps us greatly in our ongoing maintenance work.
Parks Officer (100 words)
Dear Mrs Blackley, I would like to invite you and your family to attend
the opening of our refurbished Mother and Baby store in the village on
Saturday 1 September. There will be a short speech by our local
councillor, followed by refreshments and a special celebration cake*,
fun and games for the children, with a party bag for everyone, as well
as discount vouchers for our store, both in the shop and online. Thank
you so much for your valued past custom and we hope that you will
continue to enjoy visiting our new premises. Best wishes*,
Martha White (100 words)
Dear All, I just wanted to thank everyone for their wonderful wishes on
my retirement last month. My family and I really enjoyed all the kind
gifts and cards and we will be writing to you all individually*.
It was a wonderful event on that day and our thanks to you all for
attending. I believe there are some entertaining photos on the company
Facebook page so you can see yourselves in action, consuming the lovely
banquet provided. I shall miss you all but I shall see you all again at
the annual office dinner. With very best wishes*,
Bobby (100 words)
Dear Mr Waters, I am writing to advise you that we are still awaiting
your settlement of the invoice dated 30 November for the building work
at your premises. I understand that you had agreed to the changes to the
work suggested by our Site Manager, and that the queries on the work and
costs had been resolved after discussion with our Services Manager. As
all the work is now complete, we would appreciate prompt attention to
this matter. Payment can be made either by cheque or by credit card over
the phone or via our secure website. Yours sincerely (100 words)
Great Barn (25 August 2016)
Earlier this month* we
went to see the Great Barn in Harmondsworth, a village on the outskirts
of West London. It is not visible from the road or bus, and we finally
found it to the rear of the village and church, in a protected gated
area. The enclosure has other private dwellings in it but there was no
need to seek out the barn, it stood right before us, up a short driveway
to the right, a huge long building with dark vertical weatherboards and
a new roof of bright orange clay tiles. The enormous barn doors were
open and volunteers from Friends of the Great Barn group were sitting in
the entrance, counting and welcoming the visitors. It is open two
Sundays each month from April to October. It was a bright and warm sunny
day and I felt as if I ought to be bringing a sheaf with me as a
contribution, to help see the villagers through a bleak and hungry
winter, although a selection of my own produce would probably amount to
a small box of apples from the garden.
Records from the year 1110 show that an earlier
Great Barn and granary stood on this site. It was damaged by a storm in
1398 and then repaired. Winchester College commissioned*
William Kypping and John atte Oke to obtain timbers to build a
replacement barn in 1426. Dendrochronology testing has confirmed this
date for the timbers. This medieval aisled barn was formerly known as
Manor Farm Barn and is the largest timber-framed building in England. It
was used to store agricultural produce for over 500 years, until the
1970’s, when it was bought by two successive property developers and
allowed to fall into disrepair. English Heritage made compulsory
emergency repairs and finally purchased it in January 2012*,
thus saving it for the nation. The building was further repaired, with a
new roof and replacement of timbers where necessary. Over 95%*
of the timbers are original, and where old timbers have had to be taken
out, these are kept on display in some of the aisles.
* "2012" Optional long slash to represent current century, arbitrary sign with no phonetic value
The barn is oriented in a north-south direction with the doors facing east. It is 58.5 metres long, 11.3 metres wide and 11.9 metres high and has 12 bays and 3 double doors for the entry of wagons. The total footprint is 661 square metres and the internal volume is 4,890 cubic metres. The main posts are oak, 36 cm square and sitting on blocks of Reigate sandstone. The tree trunks were placed upside down so that the larger circumference was at the top, to help the joining of the other roof beams, and some of the posts are made of a single trunk sawn in two, making a matching pair for the frame. Three of the 12 aisles were used for threshing and the remainder for storage of the grain. The weatherboards are made of oak, elm, pine and fir, of various ages. The roof has 92 courses and a total of 76,000 tiles. The floor was originally hard-packed flint gravel, and later repaired with brick, tiles and more recently cement.
www.spab.org.uk Society for the
Protection of Ancient Buildings
News From The Pond (31 August 2016)
It has been quite a while since we sent up our newsletter to the website department. We are glad to report that everything is going very well* with us. We enjoyed the wet spring very much, with lots of rain making the water surface jump about and washing in some extra goodies for us to eat. The warm summer has meant plenty of weed growing and comfortable places to lounge* about in near the top corner. The bubbles from the air pump are doing a good job of moving the pond bottom water about, especially shifting the mud and so more of it is getting to the main pump and filter box. This makes our home much clearer and nicer to swim in, but there are still a few muddy corners that we like to poke about in. Sometimes the blanket weed can be a little annoying if it gets in the way of eating our dinner pellets, but fortunately the people drag some of it out regularly, although we are glad that there is always some of it left for us to lie in when it is sunny.
* "very (w)ell" Remains readable without the insertion of the W sign
* "lounge" Helpful to always insert the diphthong, so it is not misread as "lunch"
This has been quite an eventful year for us. In December we had two new arrivals, who had been living peacefully, unknown to us, in a pond in a neighbour’s garden. The people moved away and so the two big fish came to live with us. We were quite excited when we heard about it. The buckets were lowered in and our new friends just swam out slowly without any bother at all. We showed them around and where all the good snacks are to be found. They soon learned the feeding time routine and we are very happy to have them with us. The year has gone so quickly and it feels as if they have been part of the family forever.
About a month ago we had two more new arrivals from some other* friends. One of them can’t see his food but he is very good at knowing when there is a sudden movement, so he knows when it is feeding time or when the bread crumbs are falling past him like a snowstorm. He goes around in circles and manages to clear up quite a bit, then sinks down and rests on the shelf to eat it. He is doing very well indeed. He likes to hang around under the weed at the edges where he is finding lots of snacks. His shubunkin friend thinks the pond is a wonderful big adventure playground and he can swim as fast as the bigger fish.
* "from some other" Doubling for "other"
Our biggest oldest fish, who is in charge of the pond, has been perfecting his bread catching skills. He is not so good at lunging for the bits when they are thrown in, but has trained the person to throw a larger piece in his direction*, just as he puts his face to the top of the water, and then he opens his mouth and the piece gets sucked in. Sometimes it lands directly in his open mouth. Then he turns rapidly and dives down to spend some time chewing on it in private under the water lily leaves. This seems to be quite a good arrangement as he needs more food than us and it would be a lot of work if he had to chase all the crumbs like we do. We can’t resist a piece of bread falling through the water, we all rush towards it and the fastest one gets it. Fortunately the person doesn’t go away until it is clear that we are all chewing on something, so everyone gets enough in the end.
* Omission phrase "in his d(ir)ection", similarly "in this d(ir)ection"
We did have one fright earlier in the year, when the filter box was losing water down the garden from a leaking hose connection at the side and so our water level went down a foot or so. It was noticed in time and the pond was refilled immediately. We are glad that this cannot happen again as the pond pump is now tied up much nearer the surface, so it would stop pumping before the level could go down too much. But I don’t think we will have a repeat of that as the pipework is now very securely fixed.
There is not much to report on the frog situation. We had loads of spawn in the spring but not much sight of the froglets after that. We have heard that a few big frogs have been spotted under bits of plastic and behind pots and buckets, so we know they must be about, and the gardener is very happy with their work in eating the slugs and flies. It is very dry at this time of year, so they will only be out and about at night, and probably hiding in cool dark corners during the day. We hope that you are continuing to enjoy many happy days in your own pond where you live and that you and your friends are also making the most of the warm water and pleasant days while they last. (854 words)
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)
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