My birthday yesterday and we went to see the Tutankhamen exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. I had really been looking forward to seeing this, but I was a bit disappointed, as there were not as many items as I’d hoped. I think perhaps that as I have seen the Tut displays in Cairo museum several times I may have been expecting too much. But anyway I did enjoy seeing what was there. The workmanship used to make these objects never ceases to amaze me.
Outside the Saatchi Gallery.
Afterwards we went to Madame Tussauds where I met my hero John Wayne and others!
Last week we went to Cordoba in Spain. The Alcazar ( de los Reyes Cristianos) is one of my favourite places. It has been the residence of Roman governors, Moorish calliphs and Spanish kings – Ferdinand and Isabella lived there for over eight years. It has a castle, beautiful gardens and an old Moorish bathhouse. It was built on the banks of the Guadalquivir river. The beautiful Alcazar gardens were added by Ferdinand and Isabella and given a Moorish design with gurgling fountains and aromatic plants. We walked in 30c heat last week, the soft murmuring of the waters helped to make us feel cooler.
I lost my dear friend Carmina on Saturday. She had been fighting melanoma cancer which started on her foot some ten years ago.
Carmina Broadfield, Crawley, Sussex. C.1969
I first met Carmina on a school exchange. I was learning Spanish, ( O-level), she English.
I remember making the journey to her family villa in Castelldefels near Barcelona. It was by train, across France, and I had to sleep on the train, sharing the compartment with people I did not know. It was all very strange. I was only 15.
Anyway, her family made me very welcome. She had four brothers, all very good looking!
The villa was near the sea and we used to go to the beach a lot. Her dad owned a small boat.
In the evenings we went to discos or the cinema. Once when we went to the cinema we took baguettes filled with Spanish omelette ( tortilla de patatas). I wasn’t keen on the idea of cold omelette sandwiches but they were delicious.
I met a few Spanish boys at the discos and got told off by Carmina’s father for dancing too closely to one. Those were Franco days and you were not allowed to even kiss in the street.
Carmina came to stay in my home next, in Crawley, and I showed her the sights of London and Brighton, which she loved.
I have naturally curly hair and hated it. No hair straighteners back then. Carmina showed me a way to straighten it using what’s called an ‘ensaimada’. An ensaimada was a Spanish type of cake made of twisted pastry.
So, you wet the hair and coil the hair tightly round and round your head and clip it down tightly. I don’t think it did a lot for the hair’s condition, but it worked and I often dried my hair in that way, with a big hair roller on top.
Carmina and I kept in touch after the school exchange and wrote to each other often. Carmina would send me my favourite turron at Christmas time.
I went out to Barcelona a few times over the years to see her and she visited the UK , once with her parents, but not lately, due to her illness.
We had so much fun when together. She was always laughing and full of life, with a twinkle in her eyes. I will miss her very much.
I am writing a history of Broadfield House. My dad was caretaker and gardener on Broadfield estate and we lived in a cottage not far from the house. We had the whole estate as our garden, this included the beautiful gardens, lake and woods. Behind our cottage were fields and we could walk miles without seeing a soul. Sadly, all that has now gone, replaced by the houses of Crawley, a new town began in 1947.
The house was built in about 1820 and various families lived there.
In early 1948 my Dad and Mum were actually living at Broadfield House, which had been a country club and hotel. It had just closed, as it was going to be the offices for the new town architects and they were looking after the house until the office workers arrived.
Late one night there was a knock on the door, when my dad opened it there were two men standing there. One was John Haigh and the other man, he later found out, was Haigh’s friend Doctor Henderson. Haigh was taking Henderson to his work shop in old Crawley, on the pretext of showing him one of his latest inventions.
“I’ve booked a table for dinner” Haigh told Dad.
“No, you can’t have done, we are no longer open,” my dad answered.
“Well, then may I use your phone?” Haigh asked.
“Yes, of course,” Dad replied.
My dad heard Haigh book a room at ‘The George Hotel’ in Crawley town centre.
Haigh gave my dad two shillings for the phone call and then he and Henderson went on their way.
My dad told us how he was later interviewed by the police when they were investigating the Haigh murders, as he was the last one to see Henderson alive. Henderson was probably murdered in Haigh’s work shop that very night! Shortly afterwards Haigh also murdered Henderson’s wife. He murdered nine people in all and disposed of their bodies in vats of acid.
That’s just one of the stories in my book, there are plenty more!
Sir Walter Raleigh was an English writer, poet, soldier, explorer and politician. He was beheaded in 1618. His head was embalmed and his widow Elizabeth carried it around with her in a velvet bag until she died. This poem is based on this story.
My love, you are with me always.
This leather bag is like a second womb
and bulges with your head.
It weighs the same as our son at birth,
but you are stillborn.
There are black-cowled whispers.
‘Widow Raleigh is insane,’ they say.
‘Why not a lock of his hair?’
I am undeterred, your embalmed head
will accompany me everywhere.
I like to slip my fingers inside
your crackled cocoon and explore
the geographies of your exquisite face.
My finger tips linger on the curve of rictus lips.