Author: David Atkinson

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How to make the most of a day out at Chester Zoo

An autumn afternoon spent wandering around Chester Zoo didn’t feel like work.

But it was: a guest blog post for the Marketing Cheshire blog with a half-term theme and timed for the return of the popular TV series, The Secret Life of the Zoo.

Here’s a sample:

I’ve come to Chester Zoo on an autumnal afternoon to meet some of the new arrivals from the zoo’s recent baby boom — some 733 mammals have been born in 2018, beating the previous highest total of 566 in the same time period.

But what lies behind the baby boom? Science, explains zoo ranger Amy Pilsbury. “We’re constantly monitoring the animals’ poo to check their hormone levels.”

Read the full story, Cute babies and half-term fun: how to make the most of a day at Chester Zoo.

Two essential events at this year’s Chester Lit Fest

A busy day at Chester’s Storyhouse, then.

It was the final full week of the Chester Literature Festival and I was running two events last week — a morning discussion [first two slides] and a lunchtime workshop [latter two slides].

The former was based around my book, Inside Fatherhood, and took the form of an audience-participation discussion about modern masculinity, fatherhood and male role models.

The latter was a writing workshop, serving as a taster for anyone trying to their idea into print, albeit fiction, journalism, blog or memoir.

Mark Chester, founder of the organisation Who Let The Dads Out, joined me.

He helped to lead the discussion and then bounce ideas in the workshop about more creative writing, while I focused on writing for magazines and websites.

Thanks to Mark and everyone who turned up on the day, including those we dragged up to join the discussion. We appreciate your support.

And we had some good feedback afterwards:

“I throughly enjoyed it and as usual, found some like-minded people to chat to. I’d enjoy any [future] event that makes me write something.”

So, here’s to the next one … watch this space.

Why 2019 is the best time to discover Ruskin’s Cumbria

I started the year with an assignment in the Lake District and I was back this weekend for probably my last freelance job of 2018 — a feature for Discover Britain magazine.

This time it was Coniston water [pictured above] and a visit to Brantwood for a preview of events to mark the bicentenary of the birth of John Ruskin in 2019.

Ruskin was a hugely influential figure but has fallen out of fashion compared to the Romantic Poets.

Next year is a chance to put his legacy back on the map of the Cumbrian fells.

Inspiring landscape

While the Romantics were busy crafting purple prose about the beauty of the Lakes, a new movement of artists was also discovering Cumbria.

JMW Turner, Gainsborough and, later, Constable all journeyed north in search of those quintessentially brooding Lakeland vistas.

Most importantly, it is the Victorian polymath, John Ruskin, who picked up the mantle and took the Romantic Movement forward to a new era.

Lakeland home

When Ruskin moved to Brantwood House, the elegant, stately home on the peaceful eastern shore of Coniston Water, the Lakes Poets had waned.

Wordsworth had become increasingly disillusioned with what he saw as the invading hordes and Coleridge, a victim of ill health and opium addiction, had settled into a steady decline.

But Ruskin, the artist, writer and social reformer, took their ideas, blending them with his patronage of Turner and his friendship with Charles Darwin.

His ideas would inspire a new generation of thinkers, writers and activists, Ghandi and Tolstoy amongst them.

Brantwood Director, Howard Hull, explains:

Ruskin evolved the ideas of the Romantics. His vital role was taking the notion of nature as an inspiration to the human spirit and reconciling it with the scientific world.”

Accommodation at Badger’s Cottage, Coniston, provided via The Coppermines & Lakes Cottages Ltd.

Making The Most Of The Amazing Light Festival In Lyon

We live in dark times.

As if the political climate wasn’t bad enough, changing the clocks to winter mode casts an even longer shadow.

But not so in Lyon, a city I hadn’t visited in over ten years.

The city hosts the world’s biggest light festival each December and I was back in Lyon, or Lugdunum as it was founded by the Romans in 43AD, for a preview of this year’s event.

With the gloom of winter setting in, it brightened up my week no end.

Light relief

“Lyon is the mother of all light festivals,” said Jean-Francois Zurawik.

I was having lunch with the Event Director of Lyon’s Fete des Lumierés in one of the low-key bistros France’s capital of gastronomy does so well — see the mural of Lyon’s most famous chef, Paul Bocuse, above.

“Light is universal. The battle between light and darkness is fundamental to the human condition,” he added.

This year’s event runs December 6-9 with 75 light and laser installations at 45 locations across the city, many focused on the historic buildings of Old Lyon.

The festival has its origins in the Middle Ages and took its inspiration from a 1852 celebration to mark the blessing of the Virgin Mary by placing candles in the windows of houses across the city.

It will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019 and has grown to a spectacle attracting some 2m people to the city, spawning spin-off festivals in places as diverse as Ghent, Hong Kong and Durham.

Come together 

For Jean-Francois, however, it’s less about the size of the spectacle and more about bringing people together.

“My job is to find light artists to create a poetic moment. It’s about emotion, not technology,” he told me, finishing his petit café before heading out to another last-minute planning meeting.

And let’s face it: when we live in dark times like these, anything that can bring people together is something to cherish.

Vive la lumiére!

More: Fete des Lumières Lyon