Rooted – a short story

BarefootDiariesissue6I’m very happy to share the news that my short story Rooted appears in The Barefoot Diaries ‘Into Winter’ edition.

This beautiful quarterly journal explores our relationships to nature and the seasons through writing, musings and art, plus tips on foraging and recipes, all compiled by creative duo Verity and Stu McLellan.

Such a lovely, contemplative thing to have my words be a part of.

Get your copy for £7 including postage from

Brescia – 10 Top Experiences

Brescia Capitolium cr Judy DarleyLocated in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, not far from Milan, Brescia is a city favoured by Italian holidaymakers for its ancient streets, inspiring edifices and culture-rich surroundings.

Here are my top ten recommendations for Brescia. It’s not all about the pasta (though some of it inevitably is…)

1 Explore the past

Brescia has some impressive Roman sites, including ruins of several villas discovered beneath the nuns’ garden with the Santa Giulia museum and a rather striking structure called the Capitolium, a religious temple and theatre built in AD 73 by Roman emperor Vespasian. It was rediscovered in 1823 thanks to a single visible tower, the rest being buried far below the city’s present level. Today, you can hire special Smart Glasses that offer glimpses into history for an impression of past and present layered over one another.

Sampling the smart specs cr Edith Koechi

Sampling the smart specs with local guide Cristina Boschetti. Pic by Edith Koechl.

To me it brought to mind Daphne Du Maurier’s beautiful novel The House On The Strand, but others may find themselves channelling a certain time travelling Doctor’s sonic specs…

Santa Maria dei Miricoli mermaid carvings

2 Hunt for mermaids

Brescia has a huge number of churches, (25 in the city centre alone) almost all of which are Catholic. One of my favourites is Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the exterior of which is covered with these extraordinary carvings. It’s worth taking a moment to eye up the mythical beasts – intended as warnings of the dangers that could befall you should you dare to stray from the faith. These mermaids are particularly foreboding, with their tiny wings and clawed feet.

Convent of San Francesco cr Judy Darley

3 Seek serenity

While fewer than the churches, there are plenty of convents to visit –even the city Santa Giulia museum is a former Benedictine monastery. This particular one is part of the San Francesco d’Assisi religious complex. Peaceful and austere, these sites provide the opportunity to stroll the walkways and courtyard while contemplating life, love and mortality.

Cherubic Brescia fountain cr Judy Darley

4 Count the cherubs

There are many – inside churches (occasionally swinging from chandeliers in a rather decadent fashion perhaps better suited to the Roman days of feasting), guarding the exterior gates of splendid buildings, and spouting with water from the ornate fountains. I’m not sure why they’re quite so numerous, but they’re amusing, in a slightly sinister way, and very photogenic. This fountain sits behind the church and convent of San Francesco in Piazetta dell Immacolata.

Brescia architecture cr Judy Darley

5 Play ‘spot the architectural style’

Brescia boasts examples of architecture from every era imaginable, including pre-Roman, renaissance and stunningly modern. One of my favourites, which resembles a ship about to collide with the facing building, can be seen down an alleyway northwest of Piazza Paolo VI.

Brescia astronomical clock cr Judy Darley

6 Watch an astronomical clock strike

In the centre of Brescia’s beautiful old quarter is an elegant square named the Piazza della Loggia and flanked at one end by the Renaissance Palace of the Loggia – now the town hall – and at the other by the astronomical clock. Each hour (or, rather, a little while after – the clock is typically laidback about punctuality), two figures strike the bell atop with hammers to remind you to take your final sip of espresso and get on with your day.

Brescia dogs cr Judy Darley

7 Meet the locals

Many Brescia residents are incomparably chic, occasionally dauntingly so, but the dogs are always friendly. This said, be aware that cooing over and petting an Italian’s beloved canine will be greeted with as much warmth as though you’d ruffled their own painstakingly coiffed hair.

Osteria del Savio casoncelli cr Judy Darley

8 Feast on casoncelli

This typical local dish is like a form of ravioli made with paper-thin pasta, and stuffed with cheese and breadcrumbs, meat or vegetables. The ones shown here, served at former convent hospice Osteria del Savio, cradle pumpkin, saffron cream and are perfumed with orange. Not so much the peasant fare then.

Brescia cathedrals cr Judy Darley

9 Compare the old with the new

Why have one cathedral when you can have two? In Brescia’s Piazza Paolo VI you can’t fail to spot the elegant white structure topped with one of the tallest domes in the Italy. Work on the Duomo Nuovo began in 1604 when it was decided the Duomo Vecchio, or old cathedral, wasn’t fancy enough. And yet, of the two, the old version, also known as the Rotonda due to its circular shape topped by a conical roof, is by far the more atmospheric. Build in the 12th century on the ruins of a former church, it has an entrance at street level with a flight of stairs leading down into the belly of the building, where services are still held today.

Dario Fo exhibition cr Judy Darley

10 Revel in an art duet

Within Brescia’s Santa Giulia museum, you can currently experience a dialogue between two creative greats – Marc Chagall and Dario Fo. The exhibition showcases paintings and sketches from Chagall’s childhood and early adulthood with response pieces created by his devotee Fo. Resembling scenes from colour-drunk dreams, the pairing seems like an artistic match made in heaven. The duel exhibition is on until 15 February 2016.

Where to stay
NH Hotel- Brescia

Where to eat
Trattoria La Buca
Osteria del Savio

Find local guide Cristina Boschetti at

Discover more about Brescia at


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Writing prompt – flotsam

To The Isle cr Claire LuxtonYou may recall that last week I published a piece on the art of Claire Luxton. I held this particular piece, To The Isle 2, back because it somehow cut to the quick of me.

The way the fragile bones of the woman’s spine show through her translucent flesh suggest she is an integral part of this marine landscape, as though she may well breathe saltwater more easily than air.

Is she shipwrecked, washed up, or simply enjoying the thin sunshine on her skin? What will happen if someone finds her here, while she seems so vulnerable? Or does she have a hidden sting or bite that will keep her from harm?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on

A festive dungeon experience

The London Dungeon TavernThis time of year seems awash with twinkling lights, good cheer and best wishes, but what of winter’s darker side? Relish the dreary weather and settle in for a chilling experience at The London Dungeon Tavern when it opens on 12th December 2015.

This decidedly dodgy Victorian pub will offer a sprinkling of vintage festivities with decorations and seasonal drinks, but far more than that you can look forward to raucously comic, spooky and immersive 360° storytelling.

What a fantastic idea! Apparently “you’ll be right at the heart of the drama as the ‘regulars’ weave a web of secrets, scandal and gob-smacking gossip all around you.”

Sip a traditional Dungeon brew of beer or non-alcoholic lemon-ale, as the landlady shares tales of her tragic-comic life and her henpecked husband weaves his own tall tale amid a waft of criminally bad jokes.

Round the corner there’s a card game in full swing while at the bar people mouth off about the latest Ripper murders and the bootleggers on the streets.

With action unfolding in every corner of the tavern, each table of guests will get a bespoke experience of the tavern’s dark history that you’ll be able to hear, feel, smell, and see.

For full information and to book your tickets, visit

Theatre review – Bristol Old Vic Christmas plays

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter cr Jack Offord2

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Fairies, woodland creatures and wise women rampage through Bristol old Vic’s Christmas plays this year, shedding irreverent joy as they go.

I attended the press launch last week, and it was pure pleasure – what better way to spend a drizzly December day than in a theatre crammed with light, cascading streamers and baubles (kudos to the decorator), a gigantic fragrant Christmas tree and even a small bed to take selfies on?

Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway in The Night Autumn Turned To Winter Photo by Jack Offord

Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway in The Night Autumn Turned To Winter Pic cr Jack Offord

The first treat of the afternoon was The Night That Autumn Turned to Christmas, a visual and musical feast. While aimed primarily at tiny tots, like all the best children’s fiction, it included plenty of humour for grown folks too, thanks to the talents of the three multi-tasking performers, Clare Beresford, on the double base Miriam Gould on the violin, and Dominic Conway playing guitar, banjo and ukulele.

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Miriam Gould and Clare Beresford as opera-singing rabbits photo by Jack Offord

The show is a collaboration between the celebrated Little Bulb Theatre, Farnham Maltings and Bristol Old Vic, and is crammed with moments to treasure, regardless of age.  Want opera-singing rabbits? They’ve got those. A moral conundrum between a fly, a frog and a spider? It’s in there. A Scottish owl quoting poetry by Robert Burns? Absolutely (and this one was a particular pleasure). There’s also a smattering of audience participation as we aid the woodland wardens (who happen to be fairies, though not of your usual fey and Disney-fied variety) in helping the animals prepare for the long winter ahead, but just enough to keep the smaller audience members entranced.

As clever lighting shifts the timescale from day to night, one final treat may be in store – a glimpse of the winter unicorn. Give yourself up to the magic of the spectacle and you’ll feel a shiver run down your spine as it finally trots into view…

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - David Emmings as Prince Percy Photo by Steve Tanner

David Emmings as Prince Percy Photo by Steve Tanner

And then onto Sleeping Beauty, a slightly weightier affair suitable for ages seven and up, directed by the much-lauded Sally Cookson. The scene opens on Prince Percy weeping bucket-loads of tears, and ended, as all the best tales too, with the beginning of a new adventure.

In this version, more than gender is changed. The fairy godmothers, or good fairies, have morphed into wise women – often caught chatting via the clunky telephones they keep in their equally enormous handbags.

The prince’s first birthday is approaching, and a party is planned, the invitations dispersed. Naturally, the invite to wise-women-gone-bad Sylvia (Stu Goodwin on dazzling form) goes unwritten and unsent, with familiar results. The prince is doomed to prick his finger before his 16th birthday.

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - Stu Goodwin as Sylvia, Joe Hall as King Derek and Lucy Tuck as Queen Vanessa - Photo by Steve Tanner

Stu Goodwin as Sylvia, Joe Hall as King Derek and Lucy Tuck as Queen Vanessa – Photo by Steve Tanner

In fact, the prince’s sleep lasts only to the interval thanks to passerby Deilen, with the whole second half drawing inspiration from a Welsh folktale and taken up with Deilen’s quest to find ‘the leaves that hang but do not grow’. Before she can achieve her aim, wicked Sylvia saunters back into the mix, resulting in the floods of tears we witnessed at the beginning and giving Deilen one more task to perform.

Kezrena James as Deilen is an independent, strong-minded, believable heroine who serves as a strong antidote to the usual female fare of fairytales and pantomimes alike, while David Emmings’ Prince Percy is kind-hearted and just gutsy enough not to be irredeemably annoying.

Sleeping Beauty Bristol Old Vic David Emmings as Percy and Kezrena James as Deilen photo by Steve Tanner

David Emmings as Percy and Kezrena James as Deilen Photo by Steve Tanner

But, (along with the musicians Brian Hargreaves, Ruth Hammond and Pat Moran who deserve a special mention for sweeping the action along) it’s the wise women who steal the show – hats, handbags, oversized feet, wings and all. They’re a delight joy to watch – old biddies doing their best for the young prince they’re determined to see find a happy ending.

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic -  Wise Woment Photo by Steve Tanner

Sleeping Beauty’s Wise Woment Photo by Steve Tanner

Sleeping Beauty is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until the 17 January 2016.
The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter is on until 10 January 2016.
Find out more at

Elemental art

Avalon exhibition by Claire LuxtonAn obsession with water and a love of colour impact on the paintings and sculptures of Claire Luxton. There’s a fantastical quality to her work – a sense of the unreal and, at times, hyperreal. Fairytales and myths live among her brushstrokes, suggesting a creativity that owes more than a little to a beguiling childhood.

“Growing up I was always very creative and was brought up in an imaginative household,” she says, “I was also lucky enough to have some super inspirational art teachers throughout my education too.”

Her major influences, she says, were the artists of JMW Turner and Antony Gormley.

“Antony Gormley’s work never fails to impress me,” she comments. “To me his pieces are always ambitious and command a certain attention. I  love the skill and craftsmanship involved in his work and his choice of strong, rustic, beautiful materials. And I always find Turner’s work to be dramatic and beautiful, yet often with an undertone of pain or sadness. I’m drawn to his interests in the sea, industry and the way he romanticises the ocean and sailing at such a poignant period in history.”

Landscape Goddess 2 by Claire Luxton

Landscape Goddess 2 by Claire Luxton

The ocean has played a vital role in many of Claire’s own creations, often paired with unexpectedly jewel-like colours. To me, her use of these vivid shades make them seem like a wild element in their own right – one she’s attempting (successfully) to harness the power of.

Lady of the Lake 3 by Claire Luxton

Lady of the Lake 3 by Claire Luxton

“Colour has always been an integral part of my practise and is deeply entwined with the way in which I physically interact with the creation of my work,” Clare explains. “I often use myself within my work, so it can feel like a tiny piece of myself on show.”

6_squares by Claire Luxton1

Claire moves between different mediums with ease, employing the techniques of painting, photography or sculpture/installation depending on the vivacity her work requires. “I find each discipline allows me to explore my practise in a different yet complementary way,” she says. “My paintings often have a symbiotic relationship with my sculptural pieces, one informing the other – drawing form the texture, aesthetic energy and strength of that material.”

She adds: “I’m captivated by the way in which steel and other metals evolve differently over time and I like to investigate and navigate these effects and physical qualities through my paintings. Much like the way I interact with my sculptures and photography, painting involves me being very physical, translating this relationship and energy onto the canvas or surfaces that I work on.”

Fall by Claire Luxton

Fall by Claire Luxton

Other than physicality and colour, myths and legend play an important exploratory role within Claire’s work. “My third year dissertation centred on the relationship between the sea and mythology, and that research really nurtured my love for both topics,” she says. “Historical and cultural stimulate me to explore the void between mythology and reality, and also allow me contemplate notions of the romantic and the sublime.”

The Lost Pools Diptych 1 by Claire Luxton

The Lost Pools Diptych 1 by Claire Luxton

Claire admits to relishing the opportunity to access her studio at all hours. “I often love working into the night or early in the morning – I really love my freedom and flexibility as an artist. I love being able to work whenever I have an idea or am feeling inspired, so having a studio set up at home is perfect for me.”

You can see more of Claire’s work online at and on Instagram. Her solo exhibition Avalon Is about to launch at Rhode Island, Cambridge.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Writing prompt – grave news

Arnos Vale sunken grave cr Judy DarleyAn eerie news story caught my imagination last week. Newspaper headlines often make great #writingprompts, and this one on the Guardian website read: Police seal cemetery after grave disturbed.

You can read the full report, what little there is of it, here:

What could have happened in this Durham cemetery, and with what aim in mind?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on

A meeting of minds

Dario Fo exhibition cr Judy DarleyI’m an ardent admirer of the inspiration one art form can fuel in another. Occasionally these prompted pieces can take the form of a dialogue with the original works, adding meaning and verve to those earlier pieces.

At the Santa Giulia museum of Brescia, a duel exhibition is performing just this feat, showcasing 35 works by 1997 Nobel prize winner Dario Fo created in direct response to the work of his hero Marc Chagall.

Rather like a duet of piano and cello playing out to exquisite effect, with one passage of notes echoing and building on the other, the exhibition features celebrated pieces by Chagall reflecting moments from his youth and early adulthood, with dreams and impressions woven into the paintings and sketches, many of which have never been displayed before.

Marc Chagall sketchbook

Marc Chagall sketchbook

I entered this gallery first, accompanied by dozens of members of the Italian press, all jostling for a closer look and a quote from curator Eugenia Petrova and artist Dario Fo.

The images, which include stunning early works from Chagall’s childhood in Russia, resounded against the walls of the narrow space, presenting scenes of farmland against portraits of Jewish workers – this is the artist whose painting The Fiddler inspired the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a detail I rather love, and which demonstrates the visceral energy of his work.

L'ebreo in Rosa by March Chagall

L’ebreo in Rosa by March Chagall


Fo, you may recall, is most celebrated for his work in the theatre (as a playwright, set and costume designer, director and even composer) explaining in part, perhaps, this match made in heaven.

Many of Chagall’s works speak of love, too, which is also an enduring theme for Fo.

Blue Lovers by Marc Chagall

In a separate hall, I strolled amid the 20 works by Dario Fo, each created especially for the exhibition. Accompanied by 15 preparatory paintings, the companion pieces draw from Chagall’s work but also Fo’s own life.

Dario Fo exhibition

They fizz with vigour, revelling in their colour-saturated canvasses. Even pieces depicting traumatic events (such as this one by Fo showing the new-born Chagall being plunged into an ice-cold bath to shock him into breathing), are packed with humour.

Dario Fo birthThere’s a wonderful sense of Dario’s personality imbuing the pieces, a wry wickedness and a glint of mischief. This is, after all, the man who muddled together European languages to create a brand new theatre experience.

Dario Fo cr Judy DarleyWhile Dario (pictured left) claims to have learnt storytelling from fisherfolk and glassblowers, his passion for the work of Chagall means much of his mark-making has been influenced by the artist described by Pablo Picasso as “the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

It’s a legacy that lifts both segments of the conjoined exhibition, along with a passion for the fantastical and surreal.

Dario Fo was born in March 1926, and discovered Chagall’s work when he was only in his twenties.

It’s such a happy and harmonious union that I can only wonder that this collaborative exhibition didn’t happen earlier, and be glad that it happened at all.

Dario Fo's signature

Marc Chagall. Russian years 1907-1924: with a story in pictures by Dario Fo is on at the Santa Giulia museum in Brescia until 15 February 2016. I can’t think of a more delightful excuse to flit over to this beautiful Italian town than an exceptional spot of culture. Find out more about Brescia at

A Chagall-inspired writing prompt.
A Chagall-inspired play.