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Archive for July 2009

Kew Gardens: a marathon, not a sprint

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It turned out to be a bigger task than first anticipated.
As we walked over Kew Bridge, moving from Brentford to leafy Surrey, we thought: a family day out at Kew Gardens. Lovely. How difficult could it be?
But when we barely crawled out six hours later, we realised just how huge this venerable botanical garden was.
And there were still some areas we hadn’t explored.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which are celebrating their 250th anniversary this year, are massive: 326 acres to be precise – that’s the equivalent of 150 football pitches. It’s no wonder we didn’t quite get round to seeing everything.
The statistics, too, are mind-boggling. There are 30,000 different species of plants to see (the largest living plant collection in the world), as well as 14,000 trees, including seven (known as old Lions), that date from 1762 when Princess Augusta first created the botanical garden.

Judging by our aching feet and legs, we saw quite a few of them. But there were still a few tantalising corners that remained unexplored, including the Wildlife Observation Centre and stag beetle logger.

Normally, I would not dream of recommending a day out to a botanical garden if you have small children in tow: once they’ve seen a few trees and walked through a couple of hot houses, they have had enough.

But Kew is different. There are plenty of activities to keep younger people amused while their parents take note of the varieties of plant species.

Climbers and Creepers, an indoor play area with a horticultural theme, is a good little bolthole for when you need to have a sit down and let your young charges let off some steam. A play area is being redeveloped and should open this and there are plenty of interactive boards for the children dotted about for them to read.

While not specifically for children, mine loved the latest addition to the gardens, the innovative Xstrata Treetop Walkway, was inspired by the Fibonacci sequence.

Standing at 18 metres high and 200 metres long, the walkway gives you a bird’s eye view of the gardens and some fabulous distant views – including Wembley Stadium – of London landmarks.

This summer is an ideal time to visit the gardens as it celebrates its 250th year as a world leader in conservation and horticulture.

There is a fascinating exhibition detailing the work that its 200 scientists are carrying out with 800 partner organisations in more than 100 countries to conserve seeds of rare plants. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank has more than 1.5 billion seeds from ten per cent of the world’s wild flowering plant species.

Kew is also working with Albrighton’s David Austin Roses to re-plant the rose garden behind the Palm House, which dates back to 1848, to its original footprint by William Nesfield.

The new rose garden will feature ‘Rosa’ Kew Gardens, a celebratory rose – thornless with a profusion of white and yellow flowers – for Kew’s anniversary.
There were no roses where we were staying at Holiday Inn, Brentford Lock, a 40-minute walk from Kew (or ten minutes on the bus, we discovered on our return), but a nice enough view from the revamped canal basin where ducks swam and cormorants swooped.

While it may not be the most obvious place to stay in London, the four star hotel, which specialises in Asian cuisine, is just five miles from Heathrow Airport and a rugby ball’s throw from Twickenham.

A sparkling new building at the end of the dull Brentford High Street, it offers a standard of accommodation you expect from a chain. The bar and cocktail lounge would not be out of place in any trendy city and the restaurant serves decent food, albeit not a vast choice and there is a good children’s selection.
The rooms were spacious and comfortable and there was a menu for guests to choose their perfect pillow. Not that we needed it. After all that walking, we slept like logs…

Jayne Howarth and family were guests of Holiday Inn, Brentford Lock, which is offering a Kew Gardens package to mark the 250th anniversary of the botanical gardens. Standard rooms cost from £72, including VAT and breakfast and a ticket to Kew, while the standard doubles are from £85 and include two tickets. Parking costs £10 per day. For details, visit http://www.holidayinnbrentford.co.uk or telephone 020 8232 2000.

Kew Gardens is open Monday-Friday 9.30am-5.30pm and weekends from 9.30am-7.30pm. Glasshouses, galleries and walkway close earlier. If not staying at the Holiday Inn, Brentford Lock, admission is £13 adults, £11 concessions and children under 17 free, if accompanied by adults.

This piece appeared in the Express and Star on July 14, 2009

Written by CommonPeople

July 15, 2009 at 9:01 am

Staffordshire author wins Solihull Book Award

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Staffordshire children’s author Barbara Mitchelhill has won the Solihull Book Award for her novel Storm Runners.

The award, run by Solihull Borough Council for the past five years and sponsored by John Lewis, is voted for by youngsters across the town from years five to eight.

Avid readers have spent three months reading the shortlisted three books: Broken Glass by Sally Grindley, Grim Gruesome: Viking Villain by Rosalind Kerven and Mitchelhill’s novel.

John Lewis donated copies of the three shortlisted books to every primary and secondary school in Solihull, as well as the prize of an engraved vase for the winner and Champagne for each of the runners-up.

Storm Runners (Andersen Press) is one of two books Mitchelhill has written for older children. She is famed for her Eric stories and Damian tales, funny stories aimed at children aged between six and nine.

In Storm Runners, the story centres on two girls who discover a group of scientists on a Scottish island who are trying to control the weather.

They need to escape from the remote place and get back to Edinburgh to alert the authorities before the evil scientists use their powers for no good.

Mitchelhill was presented with her prize at an award ceremony and tea party in the town on July 3, 2009.

Written by CommonPeople

July 6, 2009 at 9:34 am

Source of UFO scare revealed

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A ten-year-old girl from Walsall has been revealed the source of the UFO scare in the town this week.
Josie Webb, from Pelsall, said she had had no idea that her £6.49 balloon from Argos had been the cause of alien-life speculation.
The Express & Star revealed the story on Monday, June 29 http://bit.ly/rFgbn after retired teacher Mike Tunnicliffe took photographs of the cylindrical shape in the skies over Sutton Road.
He admitted he had been at a loss as to what it could be when he saw the 30ft balloon float towards the Mellish Road area.
But last night, it was discovered that the balloon was accidentally loosed by Josie and her eight-year-old brother Ben when they visited Aldridge Airport on Sunday lunchtime with their father, Chris.
Josie said she was surprised when she heard that her balloon, a present from her father, had resulted in so much UFO talk.
“I was only playing with it and let go of it by mistake,” she said. “I think it’s really funny that people thought it might be aliens.
“I didn’t mean to let it go; it was an accident.”
The original story in the local newspaper led to 10,000 hits on its website as UFO lovers watchers from across the world read about the mystery.
But the mystery was quickly solved when it was found to be a Science Museum balloon, sold widely around the country.
Josie’s mother, Julie, a foot health practitioner, said she had did not know her daughter’s accident had caused so much media speculation.
“So long as it didn’t cause an accident, I can see the funny side,” she said.


Written by CommonPeople

July 1, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Wolverhampton author makes book prize longlist

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Wolverhampton children’s author Paul Dowswell has won a place on this year’s BookTrust Teenage Prize longlist.
His book, Auslander, is vying for the prize with 12 other titles. They are:
Exposure by Mal Peet
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
The Vanishing of Katherina Linden by Helen Grant
Solitaire by Bernard Ashley
The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine
Bloodchild by Tim Bowler
Ostrich Boys by Keith Grey
Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith
The Graveyard by Neil Gaiman
Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley
Numbers by Rachel Ward
Three Ways to Snog an Alien by Graham Joyce.
The shortlist is announced in September and the winner, who will win £2,500, will be announced at a ceremony in London in November. Last year’s winner was Ness’s book The Knife Of Never Letting Go.
The prize was launched in 2003 to celebrate modern fiction writing for teenagers.
Former judge, author Matt Whyman, has described the prize, which is judged by a mixed panel of adults and teenagers, has, “fast become the benchmark for quality young people’s fiction in the UK.”
Booktrust, a charity, is run with the support of The Reading Agency, which publicises the Teenage Prize in libraries across the UK, primarily through coordination with public and school library services.
It is now inviting young writers to enter a short story competition to win a place on the judging panel for this year’s prize.
It is challenging young writers aged 11-16 to write a 500-word short story with the title President for a Day.
The deadline for competition entries is July 27, 2009. The guidelines and entry form are available for download from the website http://www.bookheads.org.uk
The authors of the four best short stories will win a place on the judging panel for the Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009.
They will join Times journalist Alyson Rudd, author Marcus Sedgwick, librarian Judi James, writer and translator Daniel Hahn and Aniketa Khushu, a young judge whose short story won her a place on the judging panel last year.

Written by CommonPeople

July 1, 2009 at 5:06 pm