More of Bruges

Second square

Bruges – or Brugge if you prefer, depending on whether you are speaking French or Flemish – they both mean ‘bridge’ anyway – smells mainly of chocolate due to all the chocolate shops around, and the cafes and restaurants serving waffles with chocolate sauce. I have to admit that occasionally there is a whiff of what I will politely call drains, it’s a fact that old places also have ancient drainage systems.

Second square

Bruges is full of grand buildings set around several squares, some of these ones are just local government buildings I think.

Second square
Others are really old like these two, there were queues of schoolkids going up the stairs most of the time we were there, so we decided to give that sightseeing opportunity a miss – whatever the building was!

Second square

At Dusk All Cats Are Grey by Jerrard Tickell

At Dusk All Cats Are Grey cover

At Dusk All Cats Are Grey by Jerrard Tickell was first published in 1940 but it has been published as an e-book by Odyssey Press and when they asked me if I would like to review it I jumped at the chance as I’ve enjoyed reading some of his books in the past.

This is yet another book set at the beginning of World War 2, I seem to have been reading so many of them recently, I suppose the novelists of the day felt the need to write about it and how it was affecting people.

Joanna is the twenty-two year old daughter of Lady and Sir Robert Shirley. Sir Robert is a gentleman farmer in the Cotswolds but he is very poor and he is almost certainly going to have to sell off more land. Joanne decides it’s time she got out and earned a living. She has a rare talent (for a Brit anyway) in that she picks up languages very easily and as she has spent time in Austria and Germany skiing in the past she’s fluent in German.

She gets a job in an advertising agency in London but while she is socialising in the city she meets up with Colonel Seymour who offers her an undercover job when he discovers that she can pass as a native German or Austrian. Joanne isn’t at all keen to spy on Austrian refugees as she is asked to, but with mayhem ensuing across Europe she’s only one of many who have to do things they would rather not.

Of course there’s a lot more to the book than I’ve said, there’s also some romance thrown in. I’ve noticed that some other people who have reviewed this book have been disappointed that Tickell didn’t spell out exactly what Colonel Seymour’s department was up to. For me that just added to the authenticity because so many people were involved in ‘hush hush’ work, and at the time nobody questioned the fact that people couldn’t talk about the work they were doing. Walls have ears – as the slogan said.

My thanks go to The Odyssey Press who provided me with a copy of this book for my Kindle. I enjoyed it a lot, although maybe not quite as much as Tickell’s Villa Mimosa, Appointment with Venus.

Berlin Game by Len Deighton

Berlin Game cover

Berlin Game by Len Deighton was first published in 1983. I can remember it being published, in fact as I recall it, some people seemed to be waiting with bated breath for the next Len Deighton book to be published in those days. I think we have all of his books but this is the first one I’ve ever read. I had meant to blog about it before we went away on holiday, or during the holiday, but just didn’t get around to it.

I did think as I was reading it though that it was much more straightforward than I had imagined these espionage books to be. Written during the Cold War, at a time when people were still wondering if there were more ‘Establishment’ English public school Oxbridge spies still to be discovered – or to leg it to the USSR, Berlin Game would have been quite topical when it was first published.

An agent in east Berlin wants to leave and take up a new life in the west. Bernard Samson is given the job of getting the agent out safely, it’s the sort of thing he used to do years ago before he became desk bound in London. He’s reluctant to get involved with something so dangerous and his wife who also works in British Intelligence tells him to avoid the task, but there is no alternative.

Everybody and everything in this book is suspect, Samson knows there must be a traitor in London – possibly it’s his wife, or is she just having an affair with a colleague? He’s suspicious of everyone.

I enjoyed this book but I did think that if it had been written by a woman then these books would have been unlikely to have been as wildly successful as they were – back in the day I think Helen McInnes and Evelyn Anthony wrote more suspenseful espionage books, but I must admit that it’s years since I read any of those books so I might be completely wrong about that. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

Bruges in Belgium – by water

Like many towns in Belgium and Holland Bruges is ringed by water, it’s part of the charm of their towns. Bruges is in west Flanders and is known as the Venice of the north. The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mind you, I don’t think I would like to be living in one of the houses that have water lapping at their walls, they must be terribly damp. There have been settlements in this area since the Bronze Age.

Boat trip

Anyway, we decided that a trip on the canal was a must although as the boat filled up with fellow tourists I was looking over the edge and wondering if it was safe, they don’t half pack people in! I think it is partly the boat trip that made me think that Bruges was so busy with tourists because when I look at the other photos it doesn’t look too crowded.

Boat trip

The name Bruges actually means bridges – obviously because there are so many small bridges all over the town, they’re all quite low but there’s only one that you have to duck your head to get under it though, when you’re in the boat.

This is definitely the best way to get a view of the many ancient buildings around the town. It must be quite annoying though for the people living in the houses with constant tourist filled boats going past – with a guide talking through a microphone.
Boat trip

Boat trip
The swans mainly seem to congregate in this area, probably they take to the water when the boats retire for the evening.

Boat trip swans

We noticed what seemed to be two Swaene Hotels, a bit confusing.

The Swaene Hotel, Bruges

The Swaene Hotel, Bruges

A lovely lilac tree overhung the canal.

Boat trip

More photos of Bruges will be forthcoming, eventually!

I’m Back! – and Bruges, Belgium

In fact I’ve been back home for a couple of days now, but I’ve been busy getting back to ‘normal’ and doing the garden, it looked very lush when we got back – and I had been worrying that it would all be frazzled up as I knew the weather had been dry while we were away. It’s amazing how much everything had grown in the two weeks we were away in Belgium and Holland.

We got the car ferry from Hull in the north of England, sailing to Zeebrugge in Belgium. You might know that I enjoy a good rough sea, I keep saying that but for all I know I might suffer from sea-sickness now as every time we sail anywhere it’s always a flat calm, even when we were in the notorious Bay of Biscay. Luckily I don’t seem to suffer from claustrophobia as the cabins on the car ferries are teeny, definitely not even space to swing a cat – if you were that way inclined.

We sailed into Zeebrugge at 9.30 am and in no time Jack was driving towards Bruges which is just ten or so miles away from the port. There’s always that slightly hairy few minutes before you get used to driving/being driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
Square in Bruges
Neither of us had ever been to Bruges before but had heard from loads of people that it is well worth visiting, and they were correct. It’s actually much bigger than I had imagined it would be – lots of tourists of course, but also plenty of locals around. Bikes are almost as popular in Belgium as in Holland and I saw a tandem that was for hire amongst a pile of bikes, I was tempted by it, but J isn’t a cyclist so we explored by foot. Well the horse drawn carriage trip cost 50 euros, so I settled for taking a photo of them, but loads of people did hire them.
Square  in Bruges horses
Between us we took over 500 photos, but I won’t inflict them all on you – honestly, these are just a few of them for now.

Square in Bruges

Everything here looks slightly misty. I didn’t think it really was even if the sky was a bit overcast.

Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash

Batavia's Graveyard cover

Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash is a book that I would almost certainly never have picked up to read – but my brother gave me it to read while I’m here staying with him in Holland. The book is subtitled THE TRUE STORY OF THE MAD HERETIC WHO LED HISTORY’S BLOODIEST MUTINY.

It’s the story of the shipwreck of a Dutch East Indiaman called Batavia in 1628. It was a time when shipping in the Netherlands/Holland was a huge part of the country’s character, something that I had never really thought of before with my ‘Britain ruling the waves’ education. Completely silly really when you remember that Tasmania was ‘discovered’ by a Dutchman and they rivalled Britain with their empire in the East Indies and elsewhere, such as the Caribbean.

As ever though, it was a harsh life aboard ship for the ordinary sailors who were doing the actual work for very little money to get to the destinations. Keelhauling and lashing were common punishments for small misdemeanours and consequently mutinies were quite frequent.

As Batavia sailed out on her maiden voyage she was full of treasures bound for Java, as well as some disgruntled and murderous ship’s company. Mutiny was being planned by some of them but before it took place the ship struck a reef just off an unexplored chain of islands off the coast of Australia.

Miraculously most of the passengers and sailors managed to get to the islands safely, but water was nowhere to be found and so those in a high position within the VOC – the very powerful company who owned Batavia sailed off in one of the ship’s longboats to seek help. Of course they were just making sure that they wouldn’t die of thirst on an unknown island.

It wasn’t long before the would-be mutineers took over and mayhem ensued.

This is a gripping account which the author has managed to piece together from the many documents that still exist, from survivors and mutineers too.

Apparently the history of this shipwreck is well known in Australia and Holland, but it was news to me and I found the book to be a gripping read and I’ll be trying out some more of his books. Have you read anything by Mike Dash?

Starting From Glasgow by Rosemary Trollope

Starting from Glasgow cover

Starting from Glasgow by Rosemary Trollope is a collection of reminiscences of a very comfortable Glasgow childhood by the author Joanna Trollope’s mother. Rosemary Trollope was a prolific letter writer and it seems that when she ran out of news to write about she took to including tales from her childhood in with the letters. Joanna Trollope sent one of those stories to the literary editor of the Glasgow Herald who decided to publish it and others he was sent.

Glasgow is more usually portrayed as a violent, rough working class city so it’s particularly pleasant to read about the genteel life that was also lived there. As Joanna Trollope says in her introduction Glasgow is a city, still remarkable for its personality and its warmth – a very good city, in fact, from which to start.

There are some photographs in this book but Rosemary Trollope has illustrated it herself.

It’s not all privileged fun and frolics though, at one point a deranged cook tried to kill the children of the family with arsenic!

This is an interesting and entertaining read, especially if you know Glasgow although as Rosemary Trollope moved to England when she got married, the reminiscences aren’t exclusively about the west of Scotland. One of the many things that she preferred about Glasgow/Scotland was the fact that people could say her name properly. In Scotland Rosemary is pronounced with equal emphasis on each part of the name, whereas in England she was always Rosem’ry. She’s right about that but I hadn’t realised it before.

A blog holiday

We’re off to Belgium and Holland again soon so blogposts will probably be a bit thin on the ground for the next couple of weeks although I intend to try to do a few – particularly bookish ones – in case I forget what I wanted to say about them!

A Chasm in Time by Patricia R. Andrew

 A Chasm in Time cover

A Chasm in Time: Scottish War Art and Artists in the Twentieth Century by Patricia R. Andrew is a beautifully produced book and a great read. Anyone interested in art and history will find it fascinating I’m sure, you don’t have to be Scottish!

I was most interested in the World War 1 art which features such images as warships in Scapa Flow and the Firth of Forth, but it isn’t only war and weaponry that feature in the paintings. I particularly like James McIntosh Patrick’s Tay Bridge painting, but I hadn’t realised that this was the view from the front of the artist’s house. The government had commissioned art which showed the civilian side of life during the war.

The Tay Bridge from my Studio Window

Tay Bridge
The domestic scene below is of the view from the back of the artist’s house, showing his wife hanging out the washing and their wee daughter helping.

A City Garden
a city garden

There was only one thing that annoyed me about this book – it should have been proof read more closely. I know, I know, you could say that for almost any book nowadays. I think people run a spell checker and think that will sort things out but it doesn’t weed out such things as abroad when aboard should have been printed, or panting instead of painting. There were also quite a lot of hyphenated words where no hyphens should have been, such as wit-nessed, com-bination and Cran-ston. I think these must have come about when the book was being set out differently and not corrected when the design was changed. But that’s me being nit-picking, it’s just that I know that if I had written such a lovely book I would have been furious at these mistakes.

I borrowed this from the library but I intend to buy a copy of it as I know I’ll want to dip into it now and again.

St Athernase Church in Leuchars, Fife

Leuchars in Fife is a village just five or so miles from the far bigger and better known town of St Andrews, and probably that’s why we had never been there before, as St Andrews is my favourite place in Fife and by the time we’ve had an afternoon out there I’m usually tired and just want to get home.
St Athernase

Last Wednesday we planned to visit Leuchars at last, mainly to see St Athernase Church, we had seen an information leaflet about it, aimed at tourists I suppose but you know what it’s like – you rarely visit the places on your own doorstep. The really ancient part is the rounded area with the tower. Until recently I had assumed that all these old churches had originally been Roman Catholic but of course there was a Celtic church originally and at some point the RCs took over.

St Athernase

There has been a church on that site since around 1225 and although quite a lot of the church from that date is still surviving it was damaged during the Reformation, so there has been some rebuilding done over the years and the main part of the kirk which houses the congregation was built around 1745. It’s the really old bit that has the most charm for me though. I love the gargoyle-like faces on the wall which is where the original altar would have been. To me they don’t look at all Christian, more Viking or Celtic.
St Athernase

The next day was Maundy Thursday and although I’m not at all into organised religion it seemed apt to visit an ancient church around Easter. I think all of those really old churches, or kirks as we call them in Scotland, were built on the highest land in the settlement they were located in. So you have to walk through a gate and up quite a few steps to reach the churchyard. Almost as soon as we got into the churchyard a man approached us and asked us if we were documenting the graves, we aren’t of course. He was thinking of doing it if nobody else is, and I can’t find any evidence that it has already been done, I hope he takes on the task.

St Athernase

We were just looking around the churchyard, never thinking that the church would actually be open, but the minister – Rev. John C Duncan – hailed us and asked us if we would like to look around the inside – and so he ended up giving us a very interesting guided tour. I’m usually quite wary of ministers but this one couldn’t have been nicer, perhaps his previous experience of being a minister in the army made the difference. He was awarded an MBE for his service.

Luckily it seems that the Christian fundamentalists (the equivalent of those maniacs destroying everything they don’t approve of in the Middle East) didn’t spend too much time trying to destroy St Athernase because they were probably in such a hurry to march on to the more important St Andrews Cathedral – and they certainly well and truly smashed that.

If you’re interested have a look at the images of Leuchars here. There used to be an RAF station there but recently the army took over from them.

St Athernase