Saturday, 23 May 2015

In which there is a Lot Of Dust

When I moved house last year I knew that the place was going to need redecorating, and it was fairly clear that this would (unless I were willing to live with painted woodchip wallpaper for ever) also mean lots of plastering. 


Before starting work
 It took a while to get quotes, and to work my way up to taking the plunge, but I did, so this weekend just gone I spent a lot of time putting things into boxes.

End of day 1
Then on Sunday, watching while 2 removal men carted virtually everything I own out to be stored in the garage. 

And on Monday morning, work started.  I went off to work, leaving the house to the tender mercies of the builders.

It turns out that if you are to have new plaster on your walls and ceilings that this means that the old plaster all gets removed. Which I knew in principle, but that had not really prepared me for coming home to discover that my bedroom walls were down to bare brick. 
End of Day 2
Or to the new experience of seeing the loft insulation from underneath.

It is all rather alarming.  And they haven't even started on the living room yet. (when they do, that will be even more dramatic. 

End of Day 5
The bedroom decor looked OK from a distance (or in a photo). The living room will probably look better even at the 'bare brick' stage, than it does now!

In the past day or so they have started putting the new walls on, and I am sure that the extra space where the chimney now isn't will be nice, once the room is finished.

Meanwhile, I am getting used to sleeping out in the garden shed, (which is, I should add, built of brick and has electricity and light, so is fairly comfortable for a shed. Especially as it currently contains all my bedroom furniture) I find that I am remarkably efficient at getting up in the morning, due to a terror of being caught in a state of undress by the builders (they arrive very promptly in the mornings, and the bathroom is,despite dust, still in use. (Except for that one morning when they turned off the hot water and forgot to tell me, or to turn it back on afterwards, which resulted in my having an extremely fast, and bracing shower!)

I am, however, looking forward to my trip to London next week, when I shall get to sleep indoors, and will almost certainly not 

Now, if only I can find a reliable local painter and decorator..

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Louvre - Pyramids and Beautiful Things

As our visit drew to a close we decided to visit the Louvre. I'd been once before, when I was still at school, and had a vague memory of visiting the Mona Lisa, but that was all, and I don't think that my mother had ever been before.


Last time I went was before the Pyramid was built, so I had not seen that before, in person.
I liked it.

Particularly the spiral staircase leading up to ground level, under the pyramid.

We decided that we would start by visiting some of the better known masterpieces, so we started with the Mona Lisa, (beautiful, but unsurprisingly, rather crowded)

In order to get to her, we passed through galleries of other Italian art - I particularly enjoyed Ucello's Battle of San Romano, (not least, I must confess, because I correctly identified it as being by Ucello before looking at the label!)
The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We then visited the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is a little bit headless, but otherwise glorious. She is Greek, dating from around 190 BC. Apparently she may originally have stood above a pool of water, so that the (stone) ship on whose prow she stands may have appeared to float. I would love to see the Louvre display her that way..

As we were on a roll with ancient Greek sculpture, we moved on to visit Aphrodite of Milos, more famous as the Venus de Milo who manages to look very serene despite the huge crowds around her! 

I also found  this lovely little blackwork vase of an owl. I should have been very happy to take it home with me had that been permitted! 

There was an exhibition on, about the discoveries made in Bulgaria, of a number of Thracian burials - there were vast quantities of grave goods, many of them in gold or silver gilt, and none marred by any trace of restraint! 

Fascinating stuff! 

We then visited the wonderful Islamic Art department (via Coptic Egypt). 





Unlike the famous highlights, this section of the was almost deserted, and we were able to admire the beautiful tiles, woodcarvings and mosaics almost alone.   
Which was a treat.

By this stage, we were starting to become exhausted - there is only so much art one can take in at any one time, so we wandered back through the courtyard to visit the Horses of Marly, before heading out of the museum and into the Tuileries Gardens for a late lunch.


We then spent the final afternoon wandering around the ile de France. We had thought we might visit Notre Dame, but after seeing the queue to get in, decided that we didn't want to go as badly as all that!  

Instead, we wandered along the banks of the river, watching boats go past, and admiring the various bridges, including those where the railings are collapsing under the weight of 'love-locks'. . .

It made for a rather nice, relaxed finale to our holiday!

Our journey home  the following day was slightly marred by a security alert at the Gare du Nord which resulted in our standing in a very large queue for 40 minutes, while the security services carried out a controlled explosion on someone's luggage, but fortunately this was done swiftly enough not to delay our train. 

(More photos of the trip, for anyone who is interested, on Flickr)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Science and other Interesting Things

On the Sunday we decided to visit the Musée des arts et métiers, which is another museum situated in a redundant church, and which is one of the world's oldest science museum.

It has lots of fun stuff, including 18th Century clocks trying to tell decimal time (I knew that the French revolutionary government renamed the months of the year, but had not realised they also introduced decimal time. It didn't catch on.)
Clement Ader's 'Avion 3' - 1890

There are also lots of weights and measures, many of them very beautifully decorated, and lots of bits and pieces from Lavoisier's laboratory.

I enjoyed the architectural scale models of bridges and windmills, and the baby steam engines.

There are also more modern exhibits - early televisions and computers, not to mention M. Lumiere's film.

My favourite part of the museum came at the end of the museum, however, where there are some early flying machines and vehicles. 

There was Clement Ader's 'Avion 3', which looks like an inspiration for Batman, and is displayed very strikingly above a staircase. It didn't quite achieve flight, but it does look impressive.

Then in the body of the church itself, there are further planes, (Including a reproduction of Louise Bleriot's plane, in which he crossed the Channel)  and Foucoult's pendulum, hanging from the centre of the Apse.

There's a walkway which allows you to climb up to see the planes 'face to face', as it where, and also to view various vintage vehicles.



I am not certain it would have occurred to me to display vintage aircraft in a deconsecrated church but it works beautifully!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Tall Places

No trip to Paris would be quite complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. We were originally only going to look at it from the bottom:



We had not pre-booked tickets, as they were sold out by the time we looked, but once we got there, my dad decided that we wanted to go up.

So, we queued for tickets, and then for the lifts, and then we went Up a Very Tall Thing.  Which is always fun. (Well, it is for me. I like Very Tall Things).  There were views, letting us play 'spot the famous landmark', plus you get to peer down at people below.  Did I mention that I like going up very tall things?       Having gone right to the very top, we then came down to the lower levels, including walking on the new glass floors at level 1 (which wasn't an option last time I visited) It gave more opportunities to look down at all the people still queuing, down below!                                                         

Then back down, just in time to eat crepes and avoid being rained on. Which I think counts as a win all round!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

More of my Holidays

We moved on (after lunch, of course!) from Cluny to the Musee D'Orsay, which started life as a railway terminus, and which now holds lots of 20th Century art, including lots of Impressionist paintings, and sculptures.

It's a nice building. I like that the exterior still has the names of all the towns and cities that the trains used to go to. And I like the big clocks, and the fact that you can go inside and peer at out Paris through the clock face.

Oh, and the Art is pretty good, too.

Seeing famous artworks in real life is always a little odd - there is that shock of recognition,at seeing something so familiar for the first time. And then you start to look more closely, and realise that the eyes in Renoir's paintings are always and distinctively Renoir's, for instance.

(and, slightly embarrassingly, I realised for the first time that Monet actually painted that woman with the parasol twice, once facing left and once right..)


I enjoyed the Art Nouveau exhibits, which included a wonderful plate by William de Morgan, with Eagles (there was a glorious dish with griffins, too, but the angle was wrong to get a picture of that (it was much richer in colour than the picture at that link suggests)


And then we could wander past the Degas's and the Rodin sculpture, and past the Polar Bear, and then there were the Van Goghs, and I do love Van Gogh's work.

There were some Gaugins as well, but it is the Van Goghs I was really drawn too.

After all of the art, we were exhausted and had to have some very expensive tea in the museum restaurant (with another Big Clock!)

There comes a point when tea is, at least temporarily, more important even than great art.

Monday, 4 May 2015

What I Did on My Holidays: Cluny

Day two of our trip started with a visit to theMusée national du Moyen Âge (which used to be known as the Musee de Cluny). 

The museum is housed in the former Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, near the Sorbonne, in very attractive buildings.

It is famous for housing the 'Lady and the Unicorn' series of medieval tapestries, but also has a huge collection of other artifacts.

Swabian wood carving
When we visited, the museum was holding an exhibition of Swabian wood carvings. 

These were impressive by virtue of their age and state of preservation, but I have to admit that they did not appeal to me very much aesthetically - it is extraordinary that they have survived since the 1500's.

Stained glass - Partridge
The Abbey was built on the site of a Roman Bath-house, parts of which remain,  and the museum also has a number of pieces of Roman carving (mainly the heads and bases of various columns) as well as later additions such as statues from various churches around Paris. (Apparently a lot were removed as they were seen as Royalist, during the revolution)

Ivory Casket - 1300
There is some stained glass (I enjoyed the Partridges), and other art work, including reliquaries, a few illuminated manuscripts and some works in ivory. 

I particularly liked an intricately carved ivory box from around 1300, illustrated with scenes of knights and ladies, and courtly love.

And a gold rose, which is delicate and perfectly formed. 

Then there are the tapestries themselves.

The 'Lady and the Unicorn' series consists of 6 linked tapestries, 5 of which illustrate the five senses, and the 6th, "À mon seul désir"  which has been interpreted in a number of ways, including as love, free will, or even renunciation of the emotions or passions raised by the first 5 senses.

Taste
The tapestries are large, and all show the arms of the Le Visite family. They have been dated to the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th Century, and are charming.
"À mon seul désir"


As well as the Lady, and the Lion and Unicorn, the tapestries all have lots of other birds and animals in the background 

Mostly rabbits, but there were also hawks, storks, foxes and a  magpie. 

There was also something which the guide said was a baby unicorn, although how they decided it wasn't just an ordinary foal (it had no horn) they did not disclose.

I have a particular weakness for the rabbits, although there was also a rather nice stork or heron, lying on it's back in order to fit among the flowers!

The 'Lady and Unicorn' tapestries are not the only ones, there are also a whole series of 23 tapestries detailing the life of  St. Stephen, completed in 1490. (There is a scene where his body is exposed to the beasts, which features a rather lovely porcupine).

There are others showing daily life, including one of a woman spinning using a drop spindle, which includes a cat playing with the thread - obviously cats have changed very little since the 1500s!

There is also the Abbot's chapel, which is small, but exquisite.

I loved the delicacy of the stone carving in the ceiling.

It is not a museum I am familiar with - this was my first visit, but it is well worth it. We spent most of the morning there, and it would not have been difficult to stay longer. We mostly only left because we got hungry! 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

What I Did on My Holidays - Versailles

I got home yesterday after spending long weekend in Paris, accompanied by my parents (OK, not the most romantic option, but fun!)

We travelled by train, including the Eurostar, which I haven't been on before. It was, if I am honest, a little underwhelming - the train was comfortable, but a great deal of the track runs through cuttings so  you don't see as much of the landscape as I had hoped.

On the other hand, it is less stressful than flying, and brings you into the heart of Paris, which is nice.

Once we arrived, our first day was spent visiting Versailles, as I'd never been, and have wanted to see it for a long time

It is extraordinary.

It would, I think, be fair to say that it is not marred by any touch of restraint. 


Chapel, Palais de Versaille
The Bourbons may have been aware of the concept of understatement, but if so, it can only have been in order to avoid it at all costs.

It is not difficult to understand, wandering around the palace, why the French Revolution happened...

I have never seen so much gilt in one place.

I am not a big fan of the rococo or baroque styles, but it has to be admitted that this place is impressive!

As well as the main palace, we also visited the Grand and the Petit Trianon (giving us a chance to see the Napoleon's taste in furnishings was no better than that of the Bourbons) 

Also Marie-Antoinette's little Hamlet, where there are half a dozen 'cottages', all almost painfully picturesque - it isn't possible to go inside any of them, so I cannot say with absolute certainty that nothing there is gilded, but they are a little less blingy from the outside, at least! 

I had not previously appreciated that the Petit Trianon had been built for Madame de Pompadour,(although she died before it was finished).

It was occupied by her successor as Louis XV's mistress, Madame du Barry, before being passed on to Queen Marie Antoinette..

We ended the trip with a visit to parts of the gardens. If  I happened to have several acres of garden I might be tempted to add a parterre or two, with lots of little yew trees clipped into perfect cone shapes..

But Louis and his friends can keep the gilding.

We spent the entire day at Versailles, and could have spent longer - we didn't spend much time in the park and only visited parts of the gardens.  It was a very interesting day.
Hall of Mirrors

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Magna Carta Again

After my night at the theatre, I had the morning free before heading home, so took the opportunity to go to the British Library, to see their Magna Carta :Law, Liberty, Legacy Exhibition, which opened on 13th March.
The exhibition is, of course, part of the celebrations of the 800th Anniversary of the Charter, and it is both fascinating and comprehensive.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically, starting with some background reading - a beautifully illuminated scroll setting out King John's genealogy, Henry I's coronation charter, and the Laws of King Cnut, reminding us that Magna Carta didn't emerge from a vacuum, but built on previous ideas and legal agreements. There were contemporary accounts of John's first forays into warfare (in Ireland) and of his murder of his nephew Arthur, and documents relating to the political and financial issues which led up to Magna Carta (the Papal Interdict, documents relating to the treatment of Jewish moneylenders, and so on.) The Papal Bull which put England under the Pope's overlordship is also displayed, as the the Statute of Pamiers, which was a charter issued by Simon de Montfort to his French subjects in 1212, guaranteeing rights similar to those in Magna Carta.

Thomas Cromwells's remembrances:
Photo British Library
Then there were documents relating to the Charter and its implementation,such as the Articles of the Barons, (effectively a first draft of Magna Carta), documents relting to the dissemination of the Charter,  the Papal Bull annulling it, King John's will, (and his finger bone, 2 teeth, and a fragment of his shroud, all taken from his tomb when it was opened in 1797).

There were also copies of the later Charters, reissued in 2017, and by Henry III.

The next stage of the exhibition moves on and looks at how Magna Carta was used and invoked, including a handwritten note by Thomas Cromwell (believed to relate to Sir Thomas More's trial), The Petition of Right of 1628, to King Charles I, (and printed details of his trial) and the Bill of Rights of 1688, (which invited William and Mary of Orange to take the throne, and set lmits to their power if they did)
Declaration of  Independence :
Photo from NY Public Library 

And then moved on to the Colonies, starting with transcripts of the trial of William Penn (at which the Judge notoriously imprisoned the jury for failing to give the guilty verdict he felt appropriate!),and including Thomas Jefferson's handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence, and contemporary printed copies, together with material relating to the laws of various of the original States, some of which, such as Massachusetts and Virginia specifically invoked Magna Carta.

There are also political cartoons relating to the French Revolution, and to to the Chartist movement in this country.

The remaining section of the exhibition relates to more recent developments - documents relating to the East India Company, and, later, the Colonies. There are also documents relating to Churchill's suggestion to give the Lincoln Magna Carta to the USA, in the hopes this would encourage the US to join the War, and modern political cartoons, as well as, on a lighter note, Magna Carta themed jigsaws, games, a Ladybird Book, and of course Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 and All That which notes that John was a Bad King,  but that Magna Carta was a Good Thing (which, now I come to think of it, is srguably the message of this exhibition, too!)

Right at the end of the exhibition are the British Library's two copies of Magna Carta, the 'London'and 'Lincoln' copies.
The 'London' Magna Carta - British Library
It is a very interesting exhibition. Many of the items on display have been loaned by other institutions, from the NY Library, to the French National Archives, Parliament, several Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and any number of Cathedrals, so the chances of seeing them all together again seems slim!  

The exhibition continues until September, so I am hoping that I shall have a chance to go back, perhaps when the exhibition is a little less crowded (well, a girl can hope!). If you are in or near London between now and September, I'd strongly recommend going.

Monday, 6 April 2015

In Which There are Museums, and an Atom Bomb

I impulse bought a theatre ticket about a month ago, for the RSC's production of 'Oppenheimer', which has just transferred from Stratford to London.Tickets for the first few nights were half price, and I was tempted. (of course, the cost of tickets is relatively low to start with, compared to the cost of trains and accommodation, but one doesn't always think of that!)

Which  meant that last Saturday I caught a train to London, for a weekend of exhibitions and theatre.

I started with a quick visit to the Wallace Collection , which was a little disappointing, as unfortunately several of the rooms were closed to visitors, including the majority of their collection of arms and armour, which I would have liked to see, so I quickly moved on.

I went on  to the Petrie Museum, which was founded under a bequest to University College London by Amelia Edwards, an early Egyptologist, and co-founder of the Egypt Exploration Society.

It is a small but interesting museum, dedicated to ancient Egyptian archaeology and  artifacts. I admit that my enthusiasm for potsherds is rather limited, but I loved seeing the fragments of stone and plaster, some of which still show the original colours. The museum also has a number of portraits from (later period) coffins, amazingly well preserved after 2,000 years or so! 

I also enjoyed seeing the collections of jewellery, ranging from gold to glass and ceramic beads.

After leaving the museum, I had time for a leisurely meal before heading out to the theatre for the evening.

I have very impressed indeed with the cast. The play starts in around 1937 and follows J Robert Oppenheimer ('Oppie') in his progress towards the creation of the Atomic bomb, with the play ending just after Nagasaki. 

Oppenheimer is played by John Heffernan,who I last saw in 'The HotHouse', about two years ago. I thought then he was worth watching, and I stand by that opinion! His Oppenheimer is not a particularly likeable man, sacrificing his own political principals, and his Communist friends and colleagues in order to achieve his own ambitions, and not, it would appear a natural husband or father, but he is a very human man, tormented by the weight of the work he is doing.


The play is almost 3 hours long, (which at the Vaudeville Theatre is no joke!) but it is gripping, and well worth seeing.

I'm not entirely sure about the part of the play where the atom bomb is exploded - there is a large model bomb which is winched up above the stage, and there is then a blackout as the 'bomb' goes off - I admit that I think it might have been more effective had the 'bomb' remained offstage, but over all it is a gripping production, and does address the moral issues raised by the building, and dropping of the bomb.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Grumble Grumble Grumble

This is just me having a bit of a rant. Feel free to scroll past if you are not in the mood ;)

I moved house in April last year, which meant registering with a new GP. Registering was fine. All seemed good. The practice has a surgery in my village, which *is* good, and they have a small dispensary there, so if necessary you can get your prescription at the surgery.All good.

But.

Ever since moving, I have had trouble with my prescriptions. Initially, the problem was that my registration with the online ordering system wasn't working. After about 4 phone calls and 3 in-person visits to the surgery it turned out that they had mis-transcribed my email address. 

Which I would mind less had it not been for the fact that I had suspected, the first time I had a problem, that they might have done exactly that, and had specifically asked them to double check, and had been assured, multiple times, that it was correct.

Then, when I finally got access to the online ordering system, I found that it would not let me order one of my repeat prescription.

Another phone call plus visit to the surgery and I worked out that this was because the dosage was wrong, so the system thinks I use 25% of my actual dosage, so of course it thinks I only need to reorder a quarter as often as I *actually* need to reorder.

So I made an appointment to see my new GP, who I'd never previously met, and explained the issue (and also that this time, the problem seems to be too accurate transcribing - I think the error was actually made by my old GP, but no one there ever checked it against the actual prescriptions I was requesting, or noticed that the numbers didn't add up.)

And I thought he had corrected it. Except - I ordered a prescription, and it didn't get sent to the pharmacy requested, and as I found when I called in at the surgery to enquire, and it was wrong. So I reiterated what I had requested, and they promised to correct it and get it sent to the right pharmacy.

I went to pick up my medication from the chemist yesterday, and found that the prescription they sent to be filled included both my medications (so ended up paying a prescription charge for something I hadn't ordered, and don't currently need.) That's not the end of the world. It doesn't go off, and I can stockpile it. 

But it is a little worrying that they can't get it right.

But. I checked the copy of the prescription and the dosage is *still* not right. It's improving. We're up to 75% of the correct dosage. 

*Sigh* So now I shall have to write another letter to them, and hope they can get it right.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Terry Pratchett : 1948 - 2015

I was updating our company's twitter feed on Thursday afternoon, saw retweets of posts from Terry Pratchett's account and realised, after some frantic googling, that it was true, that PTerry, Sir Terry Pratchett, had died.

I kept googling, hoping against hope that I'd find the site, the news story, that said it was a lie, or a malicious hoax, or that Terry's family had checked, and discovered that he was actually clasping a little sign saying "I aten't' dead" but of course I couldn't find one, because it wasn't.

Later, when I got home from work, I was able to turn on the news, and there could be no more doubt, (or hope). The story was a leading headline on the national news , and as Terry lived here in the West Country, it was also the lead on the local news, with soundbites from the Doctors at RICE, in Bath, where Terry's embuggerance was researched and treated. 

And it feels like losing an old friend.

I first encountered Terry over 25 years ago, in an English Literature lesson. Of course, they were not teaching us his work. We were supposed to be studying Oliver Twist, but were in fact not studying it, so much as reading it aloud, V.E.R.Y.     V.E.R.Y.    S.L.O.W.L.Y. and with absolutely no expression. I was very bored (and lost all interest in Dickens for a decade or so). And a friend offered to lend me a paperback book, small enough to read discreetly inside my copy of Oliver Twist (It is easier to get away with this stuff when you have the reputation of being quiet and studious). 

I wasn't immediately taken by the book. The cover was a bit garish, and had wizards, and big muscly men with double-headed axes, which made me think it was likely to be a sub-Tolkien swords-and-sorcery story - not my favourite thing. But  still, anything seemed better than slow motion Dickens, so I started to read The Colour of Magic... And realised that it was not, after all, quite what I expected. And that I wanted more.

I think I borrowed the next two or three books over the following weeks, and then (because this was 1988 or '89, and there were only 5 or 6 paperbacks) I ran out, and the wait for each new book began.

I think Wyrd Sisters was the first Discworld book I bought rather than borrowing, when it first came out in paperback, and I spent the next 10 years buying each new novel as it came out in paperback (I could not afford the hardcovers). Good Omens  is how I found out about Neil Gaiman, so I have Terry to thank for that, as well.

I got to meet Terry in 1999. I was newly qualified, and living in Manchester, and not terribly happy. I had been in Manchester city centre, for a court hearing, and decided to go and spend a little whole browsing in Waterstones, and perhaps having a coffee in their cafe, to avoid having to drive home in heavy traffic, as there had been a road closure on my route home. 

I got to the cafe, and discovered that all of the seating had been rearranged in neat rows, and learned that this was because Terry Pratchett would be coming, for a signing of his new book, The Fifth Elephant. 

So of course, I had to stay. I bought a copy of The Fifth Elephant  (my first hardback Pratchett) and a copy of Eric as mine had filed to return from a loan to a friend. And over the next hour or so, I started to read, the room filled up, and the Terry arrived, and spoke briefly, and signed. And signed, and signed. I am pretty sure that his minder had brought a packet of frozen peas along for him to rest his wrist on, knowing how much signing would be necessary.

I told Terry why I was buying a new copy of Eric, so he wrote 'Give it Back' in the new copy. (Of course, I didn't lend out *that* copy, after that!)  And he he was kind, and friendly, when I babbled about how much I enjoyed his books, just as if he hadn't heard exactly the same thing from hundreds of other people.

I had been near the front of the queue, and as I left I realised that the queue was not simply the 150 or so people sitting in the cafe, nor those winding their way around the whole of the 3rd floor. The queue continued down the stairs, around the 2nd floor, down a second flight of stairs, around the 1st floor, down another flight of stairs, and around the ground floor. It did not stretch out of the door into the street, but only because they had closed the doors. . . 

It was the first time I had ever been to a signing, for anyone. It was around the same time, I think, that I discovered that that 'Neil Gaiman' bloke, who Terry had written Good Omens with had also written some other stuff, ensuring that I found The Sandman and was properly hooked by the time American Gods came out.

The second time I met Terry was nearly 10 years later, in 2008. Terry was to be featured on a BBC Radio 4 program, 'With Great Pleasure', which was broadcast on Christmas Day 2008. The program featured him talking about books and writers which were important to him, and was recorded at the Forum, in Bath. 

I wrote about it at the time - it was a fascinating evening in which Terry talked about pieces of writing which had interested or inspired him.

This was, of course, about a year  after Terry had gone public about his Embuggarance, and the script from the evening was auctioned off for Alzheimer's, and Terry himself explained, at the end of the evening, that while he would be happy to sign things for people, he would not be able to personalise them, as while he could sign his name, adding other details 'derailed' his hand/eye coordination, and slowed him down.

I continued to buy and read Terry's books (buying them in hardback on publication day, by this time: one of a very small number of authors I will do that for) and continued to be frequently moved to laughter, and to tears (and sometimes to tears of laughter) by his work.

It is almost impossible to pick a favourite Pratchett book - I have a very soft spot for Reaper Man, for all of the Sam Vimes books, perhaps particularly the later ones as Sam deals with marriage and fatherhood. Nation stands as perhaps one of the most thoughtful, and The Unadulterated Cat is, of course, unmatched as a truthful reflection of life with cats. 

I can think of only one or two other authors who have been such close and constant companions to me in my reading life. 

I didn't know Terry in person. I loved the stories he lived, as well as those he wrote. It is deeply satisfying to know that he chose to mine the ore for, and help to forge, his own sword when he was knighted, for instance. And I suspect that many of his thousands of fans will, like me, be smiling through our tears as we re-read he work, and remember.




R.I.P. Terry. 
Thank you for everything

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Bath Festival of Literature Part #3 - Aspects of WWII

The final events I attended at the Bath Literature Festival were both based on books about WWII, but couldn't have been more different.

The first event was Rick Stroud, speaking about the events around the kidnap of General Kreipe on Crete during WWII, by a team led by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Stroud gave a summary of the incident. Originally planned as a kidnap of General Müller 'the butcher of Crete', the target changed when Müller was replaced by Kreipe.

Stroud described the (often bizarre) group of young SOE men who planned the kidnap, and the extraordinary Cretans who assisted them, risking everything.

It's a fascinating story - famously made into a film 'Ill met by Moonlight' . 

It wasn't, ultimately, particularly useful in terms of the war effort, but it was a heroic effort, with a very interesting cast of characters. I  didn't buy Stroud's book, although I think I may borrow it from the library, and perhaps also look for Leigh-Fermor's own account, too.

The second event was about a very different element of the War - the women who worked at Bletchley Park. The event was withTessa Dunlop,who has tracked down many of the women of Bletchley Park who are still alive, and persuaded them to tell their stories, and the resulting book, The Bletchley Girls has now been published.


Tessa Dunlop has a wonderful enthusiasm for the women she met, and she brought them vividly to life as she spoke about the work they did, and  their post-war lives.

The women undertook a range of jobs at Bletchley, from transcribing intercepts, to working as a messenger, to working on the 'Bombe' machines, and came from a variety of backgrounds: in the beginning, the majority of the women were the wives and daughters (and wives and daughters of friends) of the men who were working at, or who knew about, Bletchley Park, and so were mainly middle or upper class, but over time, as the number of people working there increased, a wider range of girls and women were recruited.

As well as speaking about the women and their roles, Dunlop played  recordings of several of the women themselves, and showed us a number of photos of them, then and now. She also pointed out that as the work was secret, none of the women told anyone what they had done until maybe 30 years after the end of the war, and that many of them had, in the mean time, married and had husbands who were not particularly interested in what they may have done in the war!


I was already broadly familiar with the work of Bletchley Park, but Dunlop's enthusiasm and knowledge of her subject made me want to read the book and learn more about this particular aspect of work there.


By a happy coincidence, the event was held a a venue I have not been to before - the former chapel (now a small museum) at the Mineral Hospital (Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases). It is rather nice, and has some lovely stained glass, including the delightful gentleman on the right, in the fez! 

I shall have to go back to look around the museum when I have time.