Saturday, 7 June 2014


It was a tough job getting Emi talked into going to see Maleficent this afternoon.

It's a re-imagining of the Sleeping Beauty story, Mr B had explained patiently, but that really didn't cut the mustard with an eight year-old who'd spent all weekend imagining what D-Day had been like for his two great-great uncles who had landed on a Normandy beach seventy years ago. Emi's head was filled with tanks and guns and soldiers. Sleeping princesses and their wicked fairy godmothers really didn't feature.

But Mr B, who had his own Jolie-focussed agenda, persisted. Admittedly he had to resort to bribery in the end: popcorn and something called a frozen Tango changed hands before the deal was sealed.

Having finally got everyone to the cinema I enjoyed Maleficent much more than I ever remember enjoying Disney's original Sleeping Beauty. I was never much of a one for pretty princesses who spent their lives passively waiting around to be rescued by passing princes. I think they were rubbish role-models for young girls, to whom we ought to have been telling stories about the sisters who were doing it for themselves in life.

And that sentiment neatly leads me on to Angelina Jolie, who is a truly magnificent Maleficent: she totally carries the movie. And it's great that Disney has moved past its black and white view of the world as somewhere filled with only very good people (who were invariably blonde, thin and beautiful) and very bad people (who were usually dark, fat and ugly).

This Maleficent comes with back story, which helps explain why she places the terrible sleeping curse on Aurora, the blameless new-born baby. Like most of us, she's dragging along her fair share of emotional baggage. And when it's all explained, we end up rooting for her, especially as we can see her working through her issues during the course of the movie.

The special effects are pretty amazing, but, as is so often the case with these things, the script could have been tightened up a bit here and there, and personally I found the Sleeping Beauty's unblemished, blonde, smiley goodness a bit too prissy.

As for Emi he gave the movie an enthusiastic thumbs up having greatly enjoyed the monster battle scenes and the beautiful queen with the horns (Maleficent), for whom he'd been rooting throughout. I think he's taking after his dad ... .

All the best,

Bonny x

Friday, 6 June 2014

Shepherd's Bush Market, London, W12 8DG

Just a stone's throw away from the glittering, marble-clad shopper's paradise that is Westfield is Shepherd's Bush Market, a traditional London street-market. And it would be hard to conceive of two more different shopping venues even if you resorted to tripping on hallucinogenic drugs (which, to be very clear, I am NOT recommending that you do). They are the retail chalk and cheese of the rich and varied spectrum of shopping that our great capital has to offer.

Don't take my word for it, have a quick look for yourself:

The glittering halls of Westfield's Village, admittedly the swankier end of the complex

The colourful life of the market
Now I'm not going to say that one is brilliant and the other is rubbish. They're clearly pitched at two very different types of shopper, and I think that both of them deserve to exist. I'm also not saying that I'm going to buy a load of stuff in either of them: I'm not. Westfield Village is way too glitzy and over-the-top for me, and Shepherd's Bush Market sells a lot of stuff that I don't have much use for. I don't wear hijab, eat Halal meat, enjoy Ugandan-hot chillies, or look like I belong in the many, lovely, but very brightly coloured textiles that they sell.  If I lived round the corner I'm sure I'd buy my fruit and veg there, I'd pop in if my mobile phone needed to be fixed, and from time to time I'd buy things from the haberdashery stall.

The sad thing is that the market's future is looking very uncertain. There's a regeneration order floating around, which may just do away with it altogether. And I for one think that would be a crying shame. It's a really colourful place, built along the side of a railway viaduct. It's been there since 1914, and is clearly a popular shopping venue with many of the locals who can't find what they want in the fancy boutiques down the road.

There's a real textiles buzz about the place. There are numerous stalls selling fabrics and haberdashery, and what really made my heart sing was the number of enthusiastic young ladies in their late teens/ early twenties who were shopping for their next creations. They had that lovely, excited, anything is possible attitude as the bales of fabric sent their imaginations into overdrive.

The market leads out onto the Goldhawk Road, where there are another half dozen established fabric shops.

And while we're out on the Goldhawk Road it's worth checking out the traditional pie, mash and eels cafe. Jellied eels are a traditional dish in the East End of London. And, whilst I've lived here for most of my adult life, it's a taste I have yet to acquire, so I resisted the temptation to pop in for a mid-morning snack.

Instead I wandered back down the market for another look at what it had to offer.

There were hats; lots and lots of hats in every colour, size and shape.

There was some street art.

Now to some this street art may be nothing more than graffiti. I looked at it carefully and decided that it had some merit, and then I wondered how they'd managed to paint it up there. Did they scale the roof, and then daub it on upside down with one guy dangling the artist over the edge by his ankles, or did they come in the dead of night with ladders and do it by torchlight?

I was impressed with the carpet shop that was also selling astroturf. It's good to diversify, don't you think? And I can tell you straight up that you have no chance of finding astroturf in the designer halls down the road.

There were more stalls selling the foodstuffs and things that the local folk want to buy ...

... and so many things caught my eye, like the special offers on goat meat and boiler chickens. You certainly wouldn't find anything to match that down in Waitrose or the M&S Food Hall, but again this is the type of food that the people who live round here eat. And without the market those communities wouldn't be able to find it in the quality and quantity presently available. There's clearly a rich culture of home-cooking going on in local family homes and it would be a shame to do anything that might interfere with that.

People were selling makeup, umbrellas, sweets and everything in between.

As you can see the two shopping centres couldn't be more different. Separating them in a sort of retail frontier-land is Shepherd's Bush Green ...

... which boasts a few unique shops of its own that also cater for the specific cultural requirements of the neighbourhood in a way that the designer shopping centre doesn't.

Personally I think it's marvellous that such diversity can exist in the stretch of a few city blocks. We live in a truly multicultural society here in West London, and I think the planners ought to think long and hard about how the local, maybe not so well-off, folk in these parts would be affected by even the temporary closure of their market. It would be a travesty if it were to be regenerated into another characterless shopping mall selling over-priced coffee and little that was of any real use to the locals.

And, to change the subject, I really love our groovy new red buses. Aren't they wicked? 

Have a super weekend!

Bonny x

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Benjamin Franklin: my hero and his autobiography

Now I have a confession to make straight out of the blocks: I am a huge fan of Benjamin Franklin. He was, in my opinion, a true giant among men, not simply in terms of his physique (which I understand to have been large) but in terms of his intellect, his wisdom, his moral character, his good humour and his compassion for his fellow men. For me he epitomises all that was good about the Enlightenment. Let's just take a quick roll call of his many occupations: Founding Father of the USA, inventor, politician, philosopher, civil rights activist, scientist, newspaperman, linguist, traveller, diplomat, writer and no doubt a few more that I've overlooked along the way. In my view he was a true polymath, who, when he passed away, left the world significantly better off for his having lived in it.

His autobiography, which is written in an accessible, discursive voice is now well out of copyright - and some! If you'd like to read the great man's personal account of his own life you can download it free from Amazon kindle:Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

I've just finished reading it, and I have to say that I've enjoyed it enormously. It evidences how he remained down-to-earth and proud of his humble beginnings for all of his long life. There's nothing flowery or melodramatic in there. It's the account of a matter-of-fact character who was very comfortable in his own skin.

He had a very twenty first century enthusiasm for self-improvement, which I found rather endearing. If you download his autobiography on page 71 (Loc 1187 of 2513) you'll find his list of the 13 virtues that he tried to cultivate throughout his life. He tells us that he started on this little list at the age of 20 and kept going, never having totally perfected them to his own satisfaction. They were as follows:

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what your resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths or habitation.
11. TRANQUILITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He explained that he tried to work on these individually in the sequence outlined, hoping that when he had mastered one it might help him master its successors. He openly acknowledged that he fell short of the standards set on numerous occasions, but concluded that the attempt to live by them made him a better and a happier man. He devotes numerous pages to these 13 virtues in the hope that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.

His tone is that of the fellow sinner. There's nothing hectoring, pompous or arrogant about the way in which he imparts his wisdom. He not only quotes Pope: Men should be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown propos'd as things forgot; but he also puts that principle into practice in writing his autobiography.

And, if you consider his 13 virtues, I think you'll have to agree that they're not a bad set of rules by which to try and live your life. We have so many self improvement books on the market today. And most of them, when you actually get down to it, are ninety five percent flimflam and five percent useful information. As a genre I loathe them. I hate the way they beat about the bush quoting anecdote after pointless, self-serving anecdote, before they get anywhere close to getting down to business.What those authors could learn from the great Dr F ... .

Anyway, that's what I've been reading this week, and a jolly good read it's been.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

D is for dog ...

And mine is an angel. No, honestly, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I believe in angels. I think they walk amongst us, they jolly us through the tough times and they're there for us when disaster strikes. They come in all shapes and sizes and colours, but they're real and they're doing good stuff all over the place, even now as I sit here writing this post.

This is totally MY bed

Which leads me on to Maxi, my very own household angel. He's a constant presence by my side all day - and all night. Every step I take, every corner I turn, he's there like my little furry shadow. He makes very few demands of me, other than to be fed and go for the odd walk, which I'd be going on anyway and, in return, I have the most loyal, devoted friend on the planet. Never does he voice a negative opinion or raise a critical eyebrow. Never does he make a selfish demand or act out of spite. He is one hundred percent brilliant, and I love him to bits.

The fine art of chillaxing ... involves not sliding off your beanbag
What's more he's worked a miracle or two of his own. For one thing he's converted the initially cynical Mr B from being someone who said things like Oh I don't know, wouldn't a dog tie us down and create loads of work? to someone who's enormously proud of his dog, whom he congratulates every evening on being the cutest dog in the world. And as for Emi, well he's gone from being the boy who felt sore about not having any brothers of his own to being a happy little soul with a fur brother - his words, not mine.

Whatever you do, I can do too ...
So you see my little household angel has worked his own special brand of magic and has made us all happier by being a part of our lives.

All the best,

Bonny and Maxi xx 

As shared on The Alphabet Project and Wordless Wednesday

Monday, 2 June 2014

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

Now gird your loins if you're not a fan of the legions of creepy crawlies that we share our planet with ... . Micropolis may not be entirely your cup of tea, but, if you're in the area, it's well-worth a look.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

It was Mr B's idea to stop off at Micropolis, the city of the insects, to break our journey back to England from Spain. It's just 15 minutes from the famous Millau Bridge, about which I've enthused here: Millau Bridge.

I wasn't totally sold on the idea, but, as I could see that he was really enthusiastic, I went along with it.

Emi will love it, he said.

On being consulted Emi duly confirmed that it did indeed sound like something that would be right up his street. Creepy-crawlies or mini beasts, as they've been encouraged to call them at school, will always be a hit with an eight year-old boy.

The centre has an indoor gallery and an outdoor trail. So, even if it's raining, it's still a viable venue for an afternoon out.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

It sits on the shoulder of a hill, looking down on the historical village of St. Léons. As you can see the setting is spectacular.

The roofed gallery feels like something the insects have designed for themselves. As you walk along the pathway to enter the building the wind whistles around the structure producing a humming noise that sounds like millions of massed bugs swarming in the afternoon sun.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

And now, with the benefit of having been there, I must confess that it's a pretty cool place. Insects, spiders and bugs may not be your thing; they certainly weren't top of my hit parade, but, as they're at pains to point out in Micropolis, they've got an important role to play in our various ecosystems, so I guess we owe them some respect.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

Don't get me wrong, I'm not the sort of girl who freaks out when there's a spider in the bath. As it happens the boys in my house do that, and I'm the one who picks up the offending arachnid and deposits him safely outside in the garden. No. It's not that I've got an aversion to these little beasties; it's just that I've never found them compellingly interesting. What I have been intrigued by, however, is the degree to which my boys (husband and son) find them totally fascinating. I guess you either get insects or you don't. And whilst I enjoyed wandering around looking at the (often frighteningly) large beetles, for whom I have total respect and awe, I still don't get it. They're great, but I'm not hooked in the way that certain other people are.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

My husband was carried away on a wave of nostalgia for his childhood, and started telling us all sorts of tales about his pet insects. He'd once been an avid collector of stag beetles ... eek! He and his best mate, Albert, used to roam the woods around Montseny armed with strong knives looking for decaying wood, which they would slice open to reveal the cornucopia of life inside. Often they would find larvae as big as the first half of their little fingers. Apparently the stag beetle larvae exist in their larval state for several years, feeding on rotting deciduous wood, before they pupate.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

These trophies were then carried home in a bucket to live in a specially constructed box in the basement of the house (history does not record the views of my in-laws on this encroachment of the insect world into their garage). In any event their progress was actively and enthusiastically monitored. My husband claims that all of his friends were also busy collecting stag beetles out there in the woods and that they'd get really competitive about having the largest, fiercest male. The males, which are larger and more fearsome-looking than the females, use their jaws to wrestle rivals out of the way for favoured mating sites and for food. This territorial display of masculine prowess soon became a compelling spectator sport for Mr B and his chums. In their defence I have to explain that television reception isn't great in that part of the mountains ... .

And then, one day, they woke up, grew some facial hair ... and discovered motorbikes and girls. My in-laws no doubt heaved a huge sigh of relief as they reclaimed their garage ... and they all lived happily ever after. The End.

There are hundreds and hundreds of displays of dead insects in glass display cases, which felt a bit morbid, but there are also displays of living insects. They have a great ant city with stacks of boxes and clear perspex tubes where red ants are free to swarm around all over the shop.

Everything is aimed at being educational in a fun, funky, effortless sort of a way. Emi was fizzing with excitement over the whole shooting match. He was especially keen on the spider section, even though he's scared out of his wits by spiders.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

Perhaps I showed my lack of insect-fervour by enjoying the section with insect-eating plants. There was even a plant down there that threatened to devour Emi. Luckily we were able to prise him out of its killer clutches before the acidic juices dissolved his tennis shoes.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

The highlight of the indoor section for me was the corner devoted to bees. Maybe this was really just a function of my enthusiasm for honey rather than the little chaps who make it, but I was fixated by the natural form hive that dangled (safely) behind a glass screen as lots of worker bees buzzed in and out working their sweet magic.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

When we'd seen all the stuff inside we headed up the hill for the outdoor trail.

Now the idea of this trail is that somehow the insects have been super-sized, so that we can relate to them as not being very different from ourselves, and come to appreciate the problems that they face in their daily battle to survive. The object was to help the bugs get ready for a carnival, which might be a bit of a stretch for the adult imagination, but happily Emi was more than able to throw his mind around the notion that he could hug a housefly and show it how to throw some moves on the dance-floor.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

And help a dung beetle. Lovely work!

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

Then he had a go at rehearsing with the bug orchestra.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

And riding on the back of a stag beetle ... or is that a flee ... or am I losing it completely?

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

There are several imaginative, insect-inspired play areas where the little folk can run about to let off steam. The whole bug carnival theme was something that our straw poll of one embraced with real enthusiasm. As for Mr B and me, we enjoyed larking around in the sunshine and taking lots of silly photos.
Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

They've got a very acceptable cafe if you'd like to fit in a bite of lunch or stop for a coffee. There are also lots of outdoor picnic tables where you can have a déjeuner sur l'herbe. The exhibition is run in French, as you'd expect what with it being in France and everything, but they do pretty good explanations in English. There is good wheelchair access to the indoor section, and they also have a lift to take people up the hill to the outdoor trail, but it's not really do-able if you've got a mobility issue as the pathway is pretty steep in parts. Sadly dogs are not allowed in either the outdoor or the indoor areas, so Maxi, our pooch, had to wait for us in the car.

Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

Anyway if you find yourself with an idle moment in this part of the world it's a great way to pass an afternoon. If you'd like to visit you can find all the information here: Micropolis.

One of the best bits for me was the lovely countryside all around. The hills are teaming with wildlife. I took Maxi for a walk before we set off and enjoyed listening to the birdsong and the crickets. I even heard a cuckoo. There are loads of wild flowers. It's a truly beautiful part of the world.

Wild flowers at Micropolis, St Léons, Aveyron, France

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on Blue Monday