Blast from the Past – World War I Postcard with Tsar Nicholas

21 October 2014 23:52


I think the above postcard is an interesting one, if you look closely the Russian Tsar Nicholas II is on the right hand side, just below the mouth of the cannon, he’s the one with his cap askew. I think he has some of his family with him too.

This postcard crosses two interests of mine, the First World War and Russia, pre and post revolution. The photo seems to have been taken outside the Kremlin. Sadly it hasn’t been used and has absolutely no writing on the back of it so there are no clues to the date but it must have been before March 1917 as that is when the tsar abdicated. I wonder if that cannon was ever intended for use, it seems amazingly ornate for a weapon of destruction. Maybe everything way back then was embellished in what we think of as that heavy Victorian style.

It’s a bit confusing date wise because the Russians were still using the Gregorian calandar which makes it March the 2nd when he abdicated but in the Julian calendar which we all use now it was March 15th – oh who said beware the ides of March?! Obviously it wasn’t an unlucky date for Julius Caesar only.

If you’re interested in Russian history have a look at

The Road to the Hook of Holland

19 October 2014 23:42

In the Netherlands whoever wins a contract to build a motorway must provide artwork as part of the deal, which is why there are several enormous concrete elephants by the side of the motorway near where my brother lives. They are much bigger than lifesize. I took this photo as we were driving past on our way back home so it isn’t the best, in fact most of the photos I took are quite blurry.

landscape  elephants

The one below is of a rusty ship, rust seems to be quite a theme because there were a couple of rusty houses too.

landscape / sculpture

Below is a photo taken from the motorway on the road back to the Hook of Holland.

landscape  water

And the last three I took from the ferry as we were sailing back to Harwich from the Hook of Holland. It was a flat calm the whole way, much smoother than a train journey, which I found a bit disappointing as I do enjoy a good heaving sea but it does seem to make a lot of people heave in a different way altogether so the lack of rough seas probably came as welcome to most of the passengers.

Hook of Holland 1

Hook of Holland 2

Hook of Holland 3

Woodstock in the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, England

19 October 2014 00:00

We visited Blenheim (Churchill’s birthplace) on the way back home to Scotland after our trip to the Netherlands (more of that trip at a later date but if you want to see photos of a wonderful railway station have a look over at Jack’s blogpost here) and after seeing Blenheim we looked around the village of Woodstock which is on the edge of Blenheim estate. It’s one of two villages which are on its doorstep, the other one being Bladen.

Woodstock street 1

It was a gorgeous evening, perfect for showing that golden Cotswold stone at its best.

Woodstock street 3

It was getting on for our dinner time and touring Blenheim had given us a good appetite, so it’s just as well that we found the Woodstock Arms which turned out to be a wee Scottish oasis in the Cotswolds as it had a very Scottish menu with fare such as cock-a-leekie soup, smoked salmon, chicken stuffed with haggis and cranachan. The owner of the place is of course Scottish and I must say that the food was very good.

Woodstock Arms

The village stocks are now only for show so folks like me can take photos of them. These ones don’t seem too bad as it was obviously only your legs which were locked into them, sometimes it was your head and arms too.

The house below is called Chaucer’s Cottage and it was lived in by Thomas Chaucer, Geoffrey’s brother, Thomas was Speaker of the House of Commons. I’m sure the house wouldn’t have had wooden louvre shutters on it in his day, they spoil it I think.
Chaucer's House 1

But the doorway is very attractive.

Chaucer's House 2

I had no idea that Coleridge had based his Ancient Mariner on a real person, apparently one Simom Hatley who lived in Woodstock.

mariner's house 1

In fact, this is the building which he lived in.

mariner's house 2

These ancient houses are still being used as family homes, there should be plenty of echoes of the past going on in them, but I always wonder if they have been gutted with all the history removed from them or are they still recognisably old internally.

We didn’t have enough time to see everything we wanted to see while we were in that area so we’ll be going back again. I’ll have photos of Blenheim on here soon though.

Jezebel by Irene Nemirovsky

17 October 2014 00:24

Jezebel by Irene Nemirovsky was first published in 1940 and the main character is obviously based on the author’s mother.

Gladys Eysenach is on trial for the murder of her young lover. She’s still a beautiful woman although no longer young herself but she has never been able to accept that she is growing older and pretends to be much younger than she actually is. She’s self-centred, narcissistic and probably a nymphomaniac and she makes her daughter dress as a little girl so that nobody will realise just how old Gladys must be.

This is a good read although I do find Nemirovsky’s books to be so sad, you can’t forget that the author’s end came in a concentration camp. Her novels are so autobiographical, often involving a ghastly mother, and I end up thinking that every cloud has a silver lining as the author’s mother obviously gave her so much copy for her novels.

I don’t want to say too much about the book itself but after reading the introduction, which I always do after finishing a book, I was surprised to read that Nemirovsky’s mother actually had a copy of Jezebel and another of her daughter’s books – David Golder, both of which were found in her safe after her death. So the mother must have known exactly what her daughter thought of her and it wouldn’t improve the relationship, in fact I believe that when Irene was arrested her mother was busy having a high old time in the south of France, ‘entertaining’ Germans. No doubt the mother would not have risked associating herself with her daughter for fear of being discovered to be a Jew herself. At no point did she lift a finger to help Irene or her family, in fact this book must have made matters a lot worse but no doubt at the time it helped Nemirovsky to get a lot off her chest!

Deborah Mitford/Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

16 October 2014 00:06

I’m way behind with my blogposts and I meant to comment on the sad news of Deborah Mitford’s death when it was announced a few weeks ago. After watching that BBC programme about Chatsworth last year I really thought that she looked good for another good few years but it wasn’t to be.

Well, she was 94 so she definitely had a good innings but she was far and away my favourite of the Mitford sisters and despite the fact that her family thought of her as being rather brainless she was actually the most talented of them all I think. She was the youngest of course so I was obviously going to have a bit of an affinity with her as I’m also the youngest of a large family – but that’s as far as the similarities go though!

If you’re interested in reading her Guardian obituary have a look here.

You can read a report of her funeral here.

Dolly by Susan Hill

14 October 2014 23:01

Dolly by Susan Hill was a random choice from the library, it’s a ghost story and I thought I would give it a go in the run up to Halloween. I can’t honestly say that I was very impressed with it.

I must say that I’m not a big fan of ghost stories or anything spooky really, I’m not keen on being frightened especially as until recently I did live in a house which gave me more than a few spooky experiences over the years!

Dolly seems to me to be very deja vu-ish, there are elements of lots of old well known ghost stories, such as The Turn of the Screw, if I’m remembering correctly, but there are really no likeable characters so I wasn’t too bothered what happened to anyone in it. Young cousins Edward and Leonora are sent to stay with their aunt for the summer. Her house is in a remote part of the fen country.

So the setting is good and you can’t go far wrong with an old house in a ghost story, but I found the story itself to be unremarkable, not very scary at all and a bit boring as far as I was concerned anyway.

Summerhouse/shed – progress

14 October 2014 00:09

The summerhouse/shed has been an ongoing project for a while now as you can see in the photo below I still had some painting to finish.

summer house b

The colour of the paint is not at all what it was supposed to be, I wanted something more greenish and less shiny but it’s blueish and I’m getting used to it. The garden fence which you can see has since been woodstained.

summer house c1

All of the fence which you can see in the above photo has been painted now too and as you can see although it’s now autumn there’s still quite a lot of colour in the garden.

summer house c2

I’ve just dumped some books and stuff in there, between the bookcases there is a sewing table/desk underneath the covers and I intend to put my old hand cranked sewing machine on that, you can just see its case, it was obviously originally owned by someone in the RAF.

summerhouse c3

After all the painting of the summerhouse and the fence I was in dire need of going anywhere away from the smell of paint. A trip to St Andrews fitted the bill nicely and as you can see it was a beautiful day. We walked down to the beach where there were actually a few hardy souls wild swimming and I took this photo from there looking over the harbour to the town on the far side. It was a gorgeous sparkling autumnal day and actually quite warm, about 60 F or more.

St Andrews harbour 3

As usual we went to the secondhand bookshop and amazingly I didn’t buy any books, but Jack bought two; Ringan Gilhaize by John Galt and Wish I Was Here by Jackie Kay.

De Kruidhof Botanic Garden, the Netherlands

10 October 2014 23:41


I don’t think I’ve seen anything like the fungus above, outside of a children’t book illustration. There was quite a colony of them, all shouting “poisonous” with their vibrant red colour.

De Kruidhof 9 butterfly 2

This butterfly was having a drink from a sedum flower.

And below it’s a different butterfly on a buddleia. It was a good day for butterflies considering it was mid September.
De Kruidhof 10 butterfly 3

The sedums are in the foreground. We almost had the whole of the botanic gardens to ourselves, I suppose if we had gone in high summer it would have been much busier.

De Kruidhof 11

There’s also a great museum attached the the botanic gardens . It has loads of wonderful geological specimens and ancient artefacts going back to neolithic times, well worth a look.

De Kruidhof – Botanische Tuin Fryslan

10 October 2014 00:13

We had really good weather while we were in the Netherlands, it was that Indian Summer which we often hope for but rarely get, this year it turned up in the Netherlands and Britain.

De Kruidhof

So although it wasn’t quite the best time of the year to visit a botanic garden we decided to visit one anyway. De Kruidhof Botanic Garden was still looking good and it has a great plant nursery attached to it, of course I just had to buy some.

De Kruidhof 2

It must be nice to have a house which backs on to such a lovely botanic garden. Spot who got into the photo above.

De Kruidhof 6

The apple/pear walkway had the most amazing crop of fruit, this is a really beautiful way of growing fruit, if you have plenty of space of course.

De Kruidhof 14

I took lots more photos, but more of those ones sometime later probably. De Kruidhof is a lovely place to visit if you happen to be in that part of the Netherlands.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

8 October 2014 22:52

This isn’t normally the sort of book which I read, I suppose it’s SF – ish in that it’s about a chap who time travels, unable to control when and where he goes. It seems to be triggered by stress, he first time travels when he is a small child travelling in a car which crashed, killing his mother.

It’s a chunkster (far too long) which jumps around a lot in time as you would expect but it isn’t difficult to follow, and that is probably because not a lot happens really. It’s a good idea which doesn’t live up to the possibilties. This isn’t a book which you would want to give to your granny to read. I do wish that authors would leave the bedroom doors shut. It is soooo boring.

I said to Jack that I was finding it weird but in some ways quite compelling. He said – is that in a car crash sort of way compelling?

I said: You mean sort of rubber necking?

And I think for me it was the bookish equivalent of rubber necking because apparently people do that to learn something from the situation – don’t do whatever it looks like that driver did. It’s a survival instinct I suppose.

I must have hoped that I would learn something from the book, but I don’t think I did, unless it was – stick to what you know you like!