Our flag representing the union of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales which has been flown since 1603 when Scottish King James VI inherited the English and Irish thrones and ruled the countries as one becoming King James I. Pay attention at the back there!

So I have been hunting down Jack (as if I haven’t got enough to do!) because it was the first question that came to my mind. To have the national flag named after him he must have been important, a peer in the land, a Jack that everyone looked up to. But my research has only thrown up that Jack is the name given to any flag hoisted at sea. It’s a navy term… how deluding! There was I thinking up magical stories of a heroic Jack who saved us from unknown Armageddon, but alas I am stopped in my tracks in a screeching halt. However one theory is that the “Jack” part of the name may also have come from the name of King James I/James VI of Scotland which is a little bit more satisfying.

I believe every population holds their own flag in special esteem and one only has to mooch through the local shopping centre to see that our Union Jack is reproduced EVERYWHERE. Leaving to one side that we have a royal wedding this year and therefore merchandise of every imaginable possibility is supporting our flag proudly; plates, napkins, t-shirts, tea towles, bed covers, rugs, throws, you name it – someone has produced it with the Union Jack on it.

It’s not just a recent fashion either, not something just ‘in’ for Kate and William, oh no, I have had a beautiful Union Jack vintage cushion for about two years now and I believe Kate and William were even seperated at that time. Cast your mind back to the Spice Girls era and Geri Halliwell infamously wore the inciest, winciest Union Jack at the Brits and has practically gone down in history for it. Our Flag is also very popular overseas, in fact so much so people don’t realise it is the combination of three flags that make up our Union Jack, St George’s red cross on white, St Andrew’s white cross on blue and St Patrick’s red diagonal cross on white. Whilst in Lake Garda last year, the football (British) World Cup was underway and we proudly displayed our English St George bunting around our temporary home only to be asked by staff if we spoke English!!

I would expect a lot of us have a product with the Union Jack on it lurking somewhere. in my time I have had t-shirts, funny sunglasses (which strangley enough I can’t find now) wooly ski hats, pencils, exercise books and a mug. So tell me, have you got a Union Jack in your house and what form does it take?

So for this week’s Alphabe Thursday I proudly present you the Union Jack, below a slide show of various articles currently for sale should you be tempted – let’s go shopping :)

So S is for Scary, Stories and Supplies today for my entry in Jenny Matlock’s Alphabe Thursday now all I need is a monster aged 8 or over…..

Have you ever heard of 826 literacy project? I hadn’t until yesterday, quite by chance via Twitter and that gives me a fourth S today Serendipity but I digress dear reader. The 826 National is a nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization, set up to assist students aged six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Work is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

Sounds brilliant doesn’t it? This is one time that I want to be 10 years old again!

Currently there are 9 centres dotted all over the USA and now, luckily for us, some very hard working people who you can read about on We Made This have secured funding from the Arts Council and The JJ Charitable Trust the author Nick Hornby jumped on board and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies –  Purveyor of Quality Goods for Monsters of Every Kind opened back in November 2010 for the delight of kids across the land and I WANT TO GO NOW! Only I need to be aged 8 – 18…even my best attempt at a monster disguise won’t let me get away with the loss of that many years!

The shop was established in 1818 and has been supplying Britain’s extensive monster community since. In fact you can find a whole range of Tinned Fears each containing a specially commissioned short story from authors like Nick Hornby and Zadie Smith, there is a wonderful selection of Human Preserves and a very handy Neck-Bolt Tightener amongst other necessary monster wares. The beadier eyed beast will note that the shelves of the shop conceal an entrance. A secret and well disguised portal that leads to the Ministry of Stories which has been architectured and designed in the smallest detail to feel really special and it certainly looks special.

The Ministry has already held numerous workshops which monsters both locally and from afar have given their thumbs up. The BBC themselves were suitably impressed and the journalist from The Guardian gave a glowing report. But let’s be honest – would you dare write a bad review on a monster supply shop? – not me!

So if you have some monsters lying around who need a little inspiration or a creative outlet to create the next Harry Potter then you really should rush down to this place…I’m going to kidnap my niece and nephew (aged 9 and 11) whilst they’re sleeping and leave my twins in their beds so their parents won’t realise, that’ll get me my ticket into the Ministry of Stories. How are you going to get in?

I confess to stealing each and every single photo from the We Made This blog and I am now on a 24/7 monster watch. Aaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhhh

Guru Nanak Darbar Gravesend

I was born into the Catholic religion and my Nana was so staunch a Catholic that she practically lived in St Patrick’s church at the end of her south London street. On seeing us every other weekend her first question would be, ‘Have you been to mass?’ We replied yes because this made her happy and we would go on to make fairy cakes but the truth was, Mum was Church of England and she didn’t practice so nobody made us go when we weren’t with Nana.

I remember after Nana died in 1989 I asked Dad, ‘Do you think nana’s in Heaven Dad?’ His reply that made me smile was, ‘Blimey, if she didn’t make it love, we don’t stand a chance!’

All three of us went to the local RC comprehensive school; the education is second to none but R.E classes always started with ‘…and stand up if you weren’t in church this weekend’. Invariably I had to stand up and I would be questioned, my reply being ‘I was in London at my nana’s, we went to St Patrick’s.’

The older I got the less it bothered me and by the time I was in the 6th form I had lost any love I may have had for the Catholic church and set out to search for something more meaningful to me.

I am constantly on the lookout for information and interested in how others practice their faith. Because even if I am not a church goer, I do believe. I believe there is a bigger plan, I believe in karma. I believe in Love thy Neighbour and treat as you wish to be treated. I have come to my own constantly evolving conclusion that maybe there’s a little truth in all religions.

guru nanak darbar gravesend

I live in a suburb of London and I grew up here. It’s a busy town, home to many London commuters and people from all walks of life. Nowhere was this more obvious than at our comprehensive school where the mixed classes brought together many children from the popular surrounding communities.

Our local Sikh community has grown extensively and if you ever come to Gravesend you can bet your last penny that the curry will be one of the best in the land, we have award-winning chefs, contemporary Indian restaurants and more take aways than you can shake a stick at but, it was when the Sikh community started to build the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara that people started to have an opinion and many didn’t like the idea.

Guru Nanak Darbar Gravesend

If you ever have the chance to visit you will be taken with the beauty of this temple, years of planning and community spirit to make this one of the most beautiful temples in Britain. The project was entirely funded by the local community. they set up their own construction company to make best use of the skills available to them and for the more detailed stonework and woodcarving, specialist companies in India were contracted.

I went to have a closer look for myself and fortunately the sun came out for me. I found great beauty, I found a place of worship that brings families together. Whilst I walked around the outside, I saw men enter, groups of old women chatting and I saw parents with their children.

I think it’s pretty amazing what people can do when they put their minds to it.

Guru Nanak Darbar Gravesend

I read the inscriptions that had been translated for the English speaking and reading visitors and on returning home I visited the website dedicated to the Gurdwara and found this

Name – From Punjabi sikh, “learner” or “disciple”
founded – c. 1500 in India by Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539)
adherents – 23 million
main location – Punjab region of India
original language – Punjabi
purpose of lifeOvercome the self, align life with will of God, and become a “saint soldier,” fighting for good
afterlifeReincarnation until resolve karma and merge with God.
major holidays – Vaisakhi Day, Birthday of Guru Nanak, Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh
five cardinal vices1. lust 2. anger 3. greed 4. worldly attachment 5. pride
Does anything sound familiar to you? It does to me and I’d like to think that we’re all working for the same goal at the end of the day, that of making this world a better place for our children to live in.
Peace be with you.

Quaint is pretty much a great word for summing up the countryside surrounding our area. Although we would be classed as suburban and close to London with immediate access to the A2, the main route into the capital, just a 5 minute drive in the opposite direction takes us to the countryside and we find villages like Cobham, Kent where the houses are ‘Once Upon A Time-ish’ and the pubs are… well, quaint.

In fact what better than on a bright Spring sunny afternoon to mosey on down to a local pub and drink a cool beer in the pretty garden? Luckily for us, these local pubs all have outstanding food too which means phoning well before hand to make sure you get a table!

A closer look at Cobham reveals that it is a hamlet of Sole Street, the parish church is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene – my favourite saint ever and the most important woman in JC’s life, the church is also home to brasses reputed to be the finest in England. Charles Dickens, one of Britain’s finest writers used to walk out to the village and set part of The Pickwick Papers there. Another claim to fame is the artist Richard Dadd, the insane artist, used to live here and murdered his father in these parts in 1843.

One last thing that must be mentioned about Cobham is it’s hall, Cobham Hall  A manor house has stood on these grounds since the 12th century but  it has been home to a public girls’ school since 1957. Once the 17th century home of the Earls of Darnley and in fact the 8th Earl of Darnley was the first cricket captain to attempt to recover the Ashes from Australia.

If you are ever on route to dover via the A2, this beautiful quaint, quintessential English village is well worth a stop off, just make sure you book a table atone of the pubs beforehand

I wish I had this shot for yesterday’s Gallery post!

Quirky is one of those descriptive words that explain a whole way of being in 6 letters and for me it’s a perfect word for describing your average British woman.

quirk (kwûrk)

n. 1. A peculiarity of behavior; an idiosyncrasy: “Every man had his own quirks and twists” (Harriet Beecher Stowe).

2. An unpredictable or unaccountable act or event; a vagary: a quirk of fate.3. A sudden sharp turn or twist.4. An equivocation; a quibble.5. Architecture A lengthwise groove on a molding between the convex upper part and the soffit.

The ability to take something out of context and add a little soupson of imagination and create a brand new identity. If there is one thing I adore about being British it’s our love of creativity, our passion of trying something new and more than that – not being afraid to give it a go.
I did a quick Google search which brought up some very interesting and quirky links, for example Quirky Travel, a blog only started up at the beginning of the year but already caught my eye. Then there’s the Quirky Traveller’s Tales offering a different insight to places you may have already been to but worth reading.
Do you have a quirky friend who you never know what to buy for when it’s birthday time? Here’s Quirky Gift
or Quirky Cakes

Group photo in Tate Modern, London

I only have to think the word Italiani and I have a smile on my face. I can say, hand on heart, they are the friendliest, noisiest, chattiest and most patriotic people I know. You cannot BUT be pulled to them and their view on life. They are convinced theirs is the best diet in the world and turn their nose up at our poor English cuisine, you will not, I repeat, will not win a discussion with them over food, trust me just leave it, even if your dad is Gordon Ramsey. They know their country is one of the most beautiful in the world, after all it offers everything, sun, sand, mountains, skiing, countryside, good food EVERYWHERE and they produce most of it themselves. And I would urge anyone thinking of a visit to go, having worked for a few years at the Italian Tourist Board and lived in Italy myself for close to 20 years  it’s like a second home to me.

I was lucky enough this week to have my very own ‘italiani’ over in London for a few days. My best friend Enrica with an entourage that puts Madonna to shame, her husband and their beautiful daughter Vittoria (asleep in her buggy) Max’s two children from his previous marriage and Enrica’s sister who has a very impressive camera and I dread to think how many photos she took home of London with her. Sadly for us, the weather wasn’t palying ball, as we stepped out onto the South Bank to make our way to the Tate Modern the heavens opened and as we raced for the final tunnel that would lead us to the Art Galleries’ entrance we found it was blocked off for repair! Aaaarrrrggghhh! We lugged the two heavy buggies up steps and raced them round to the old power station that houses this marvellous Exhibition house and that is why dear reader we look like drenched rats in our photo :)

We were lucky to catch up with Serena too who is over for six months to improve her English and work/live the London life for a while. And as we stood here for our photo, in the Turbine Hall below us a carpet of sunflower seeds laid out wall to wall. It’s only on closer inspection you see the artist Ai Weiwei has hand crafted each seed from porcelain. 100 million seeds forming a seemingly endless landscape. Go here to see a video fo the man himself and the beauty of his sculpture.

This is my entry for I in Alphabe Thursday over at Jenny Matlock’s and now I’m heading over to see what everyone else came up with.

Photo credit – Tate Modern