An Alphabet Of Things I Like: W

Waffles.

I first tasted waffles on a day trip to Ostend, Belgium. They were being sold from a converted vehicle on the seafront, and I had never seen nor heard of them before. I chose one with maple syrup and chantilly cream, relishing the crispy edges, soft centre, and sweet taste. They were not sold in England at the time, and I returned home raving about how good they were. When they started to appear here, they were always called ‘Belgian Waffles’.

On later trips to France, I discovered they were called ‘Gauffres’ there, and also served with savoury toppings, like cheese and ham.

This became a potential main course and dessert for me, with a delicious savoury waffle followed soon after by a sweet one. It didn’t occur to me how fattening that could be, or that existing purely on waffles for a few days was very bad for you.

Fortunately, they were soon being sold everywhere in Britain, and the novelty wore off.

But I still like them, if only for an occasional treat.

WW1: The Real Faces Of War

At the outbreak of the First World War, in 1914, many men from all over Europe went off to fight in the war that would be remembered as one of the most terrible in history.

Before they left, they often went to one of the growing number of photographic studios, to have their photo taken in uniform, as a memento for the loved ones left behind. Even as the war dragged on, and the extent of the carnage and loss of life became widely known, that tradition carried on, with the men knowing that this might well be the last image their family would ever have of them.

This young German soldier is adopting a classic pose.

A British junior officer, attempting to appear casual and relaxed.
I can’t help thinking that he was dreading his arrival in the trenches.

All the armies used Colonial soldiers. This Indian soldier would have been fighting in the British Army, and wanted to leave this memory behind.

Naval warfare was a large part of WW1 too. This sailor looks like a schoolboy. He tries to appear tough in the photo, and looks determined to do his part.

This mature French soldier’s photo was used a propaganda image by his government. He looks well-equipped, and ready for anything.

Another German soldier, taking his equipment to the studio to be photographed against a nice backdrop.

This handsome Australian soldier looks like a film star.
He may well have seen action in the Gallipoli campaign against the Turks.

America entered the war in 1917. Their soldiers were known as ‘Doughboys’. This smart soldier is actually Harry S. Truman.
In 1918, he was a Captain of Artillery.
He later became President of The United States in 1945, and ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Scottish regiments were an important part of the British Army. This soldier is posing in his kilt, before being posted to the front lines.

This particular soldier famously survived the war.
He was hit by bullets that lodged in a thick Bible he always carried, and that stopped them entering his body.
His story was widely reported when he returned.

Most of the men looking out at us from these photos were either killed or badly injured during that long and horrific war.
Even those that came home have long since died.

But we have these photos to remember them by.

Equihen Plage: The Village of Inverted Boat Houses

A holiday home with a difference, and some fascinating history too. Check out the whole link.

ALK3R

equihen-plage-boat-house-4

Equihen Plage, on the coast of northern France by the English Channel, is a small seaside village with a population of about 3,000. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, Equihen Plage was a fishing village with a dry harbor

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My DVD Films: Another stack

Six more films, lifted from a middle stack this time, and containing a varied selection once again. This has also shown me how many times I have bought films that are not very good, lured by the subject matter, or the presence of an admired actor in the cast.

Passchendaele (2008)

I would like to say something positive about this film, but I am afraid I cannot. Because I am interested in the First World War, I tend to buy any and all films relating to the period, hoping for the best. On this occasion, I was bitterly disappointed. This is ostensibly about Canadian soldiers, in the build up to one of the largest battles of the war, that lasted for almost four months, during 1917.
There is some background, an unlikely love story, and some battle scenes. That’s about it. It is impossible to engage with any of the characters, or to believe in the events shown, though they are all based on truth.

5,000 Canadian soldiers lost their lives in this battle, and this film is a poor tribute to their sacrifice. Best avoided. I might end up using this as a coaster.

The Officers Ward (2002)

By complete contrast, this superb French film (Original language, English subtitles) takes a realistic and difficult area of the same war, and examines it in detail. The pioneering experiments in plastic surgery, to try to overcome the disfigurements of injuries. Something we may well take for granted now, but at the time, it was almost unknown.

Adrien is injured early in the war, his face badly disfigured by shrapnel. He is transferred to the Officers’ Ward of the title, where he finds himself with others in the same situation. The mirrors are removed, to avoid the soldiers becoming suicidal at their appearance. Modern surgical techniques are tried, along with early prosthetics, to attempt to give these men some semblance of normality. It doesn’t always work, and even at its best, is barely acceptable. But there is no alternative, and we are there to see the struggles of all concerned, both victims, and medical staff.

Adrien is left struggling to come to terms with the outcome, and wondering what his former sweetheart will make of him, once he recovers. This film allows no happy endings though, and tells it as it was. Even with that, it is still marvellous, and a complete work, in every way possible.

Lakeview Terrace (2008)

This is a formulaic and ultimately disappointing American film. It tries to be different, by turning the idea of racism around, and having a protagonist who is black, yet racist against his new neighbours. Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is an experienced Los Angeles police officer. When his new next-door neighbours turn out to be a white man and his attractive black wife, his resentment soon surfaces.
I won’t bother with too much detail here. You can imagine the rest, I am sure. Abel begins a war of nerves against the couple, with security lights, hosepipes, and everything he can think of to disrupt their happy life, including officially harassing them when on duty. He eventually spirals out of control, with an unfortunate outcome.
This is little more than an average TV film, and best seen for free. Fortunately, I didn’t pay much for it, and I doubt that I will ever bother to watch it again.

Ravenous (1999)

Is this a horror film, a serious drama, or a comedy? In truth, it is a little bit of each of those genres, rolled into one. And it has a great cast, including Robert Carlyle, and Guy Pearce, with music from Michael Nyman, and Damon Albarn. But what is it about? (I hear you cry)
it is set in the 1840s, in the then mostly unexplored areas of California. Captain Boyd (Pearce) is an army officer, sent to a remote outpost, Fort Spencer. There are only seven others at the fort, and they are a mixed bag of characters. A stranger arrives, (Carlyle), telling of a disaster that has befallen his wagon train, and how they have been abandoned by their guide, and forced to eat human flesh to survive.

The soldiers see it as their duty to form a rescue party for the survivors, and set out to look for them, led by the stranger. I am sure you can guess the rest…I really liked this film. Despite the unsavoury subject, (excuse the pun) the accomplished cast relish their roles, (pun intended) and provide us with an unusual and entertaining film, that though set in the west, is not a western. I will leave it to you to place it in the genre that you see fit.

Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996)

This is a Serbian film (Original language, English subtitles) about the civil war in Bosnia. It looks at this tragic war through the lives of two best friends, the Serb Milan, and Bosnian Muslim, Halil. Before the outbreak of the war, the two live in the same village in Bosnia, still part of Yugoslavia at the time. When war breaks out, the friends find themselves on opposite sides, and much of the story is told in flashback, where we see the young men in happier times, and the slide towards hostilities.

Trapped with his unit, Milan remembers a tunnel, and suggests that they hide there, as they are surrounded by Bosnian Muslim soldiers. The opposing force includes his old friend, Halil, and eventually, the men meet once again, with hard questions for each other, and even harder answers.
The events of this war are well-known, but often little understood. How friends and neighbours can suddenly descend into a frenzy of atrocities, and ethnic cleansing is shown here, with an attempt to explain some of the reasons behind it. But for those of us who were not involved, the violence and the hatred remains almost impossible to comprehend. A powerful and moving film, giving much to think about.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

This incredibly moving film, written and directed by the excellent Peter Mullan, is based on real events that continued in Ireland, until modern times. The Magdalene Asylums were laundries, owned and operated by the Catholic Church. The role was to serve as a home and workhouse for ‘fallen’ girls in Ireland. This could mean anything; from girls known to have had sex with boys, to some with learning difficulties, or a proclivity toward promiscuity. They were given over to these homes by their families, who wanted to avoid the ‘shame’ attached to the wayward daughters.

The film follows the fate of four different girls, all placed in the asylum for various reasons. They are worked like slaves, and subjected to extreme violence from the nuns in charge, as well as being used sexually by the visiting priest, who is supposed to be caring for their spiritual welfare. A brilliant cast, including Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, and Eileen Walsh, all give heart-rending performances. This is a film that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

And it is worth noting that the last of these laundries only closed in 1996.

I hope that you enjoy some of this latest selection. I cannot recommend two of them at all, and one is worth watching, depending on your personal taste. But the other three are superb films, and will each reward the serious viewer.

Architectural admiration (7)

Here is another selection in this series. It takes in a vast area, from London, to Beijing. I hope that you find something to interest you. Please let me know, in the comments.

Battersea Power Station, Battersea, London.

This Art Deco monolithic structure was built on the south bank of the river Thames, during the 1930s.
The signature chimneys have dominated the skyline in that area ever since. It is actually two power stations in one, and remains as the largest brick-built building in Europe. It has been a part of my life, and the London skyline, obviously for as long as I can remember, and its imposing presence in south-west London, has attracted film-makers and architectural admirers ever since it was opened. Although it has not been used as a power station since 1983, it has a listed exterior, and many developers have fought for the rights to make it into something. From a concert venue, to a luxury housing development, many planning applications have been submitted. The most recent to gain approval includes a hotel, luxury flats, and a shopping centre. Luckily, the facade will be retained, so Londoners will be able to continue to enjoy this marvellous structure in their city.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battersea_Power_Station

GUM, Moscow, Russian Federation.

I first encountered this amazing shopping complex during the late 1970s. This was a department store on the grand scale, built during the latter part of the 19th century. By the time of the Russian Revolution, it contained more than 1,000 individual shops, trading under one fabulous glass roof. The different levels were connected by walkways, and even after it was nationalised, it was still a wonder to behold. Since Russia became more commercialised, it has only 200 stores remaining; most being over-priced, and with goods out of the reach of ordinary people. Nonetheless, it remains an imposing edifice in Red Square, and a wonderful building in its own right.

http://www.gum.ru/en/history/

The Ascension Cathedral, Almaty, Kazakhstan.

When I visited Kazakhstan in the late 1980s, Alma-Ata, as it was then known, was the capital. It has since been replaced by Astana, after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. At the time of my trip, there wasn’t a great deal to be seen there, for a tourist. The Kazakh people were unusual, to be sure, as many were descendants of the Mongols. We were mainly there as a staging point on a trip around Central Asia. However, they were exceptionally proud of one particular building, and took us on an excursion to view it. In Panfilov Park, stood one of the largest all-wooden structures in the world, the Zenkov Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Of The Ascension. It was very impressive indeed. Built in 1903 as part of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is a majestic wooden structure, which even today, is the second tallest wooden structure still standing. We didn’t get to go inside, as at the time, it was not being used as a church. It remains in my memory as one of many outstanding buildings we saw during that trip.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascension_Cathedral,_Almaty

The Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic.

This iconic structure dates from 1357, and is a landmark of this famous Czech city. Dominated by large watch-towers, it is a pedestrian only bridge now, but once carried traffic. No trip to that city is complete without taking a stroll across this famous bridge, which spans the Viatva River. In the 18th Century, a series of thirty statues were erected, lining both sides of the bridge. Although now mostly replicas, they still give the bridge a unique style, which is not replicated anywhere else. It is rich in history, having endured wars and floods, and played a significant part in the Thirty Years War, when the Swedish army fought there, attempting to take the city. If you ever journey to Prague, it is unlikely that you will not go to see this magical bridge, and take your own walk across it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bridge

Beehive Kiln, Walmer Road, London W.11, England.

The area known as Notting Hill in London, is now a very trendy place. Made popular by Hollywood films, and used as the location for many TV shows, it has become fashionable over the last few decades. At one time, it was a poverty-stricken district, just on the western fringes of an expanding London, during the 18th and 19th centuries. This was an area where the main industry was the firing of pottery, to make cheap kitchen items, and in particular, bricks. The soil contained thick deposits of London Clay, ideal for this purpose. The area was considered dangerous, due to the slum dwellings and rough inhabitants, and it even gets a mention from Dickens, writing about the place in 1850. Today, only one thing remains to give a clue to the area’s past. The Beehive Kiln, with a memorial plaque, stands as the last reminder of the industrial heritage of this part of London. I used to drive past it every day, and I never ceased to enjoy the quirky building, at the end of a residential street.

http://www.panoramio.com/photo/111144544

Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China.

Situated in a lovely park in the south of Beijing, this is a complex of temples, dominated by the iconic pagoda-style circular hall. The whole area is incredibly impressive, and well-worth the effort to find it, if you are ever in that city. It was constructed in the early 14th century, around the same time that the famous Forbidden City was being built further north. It has understandably been adopted as a UN World Heritage Site, and is one of the foremost destinations for Chinese visitors to the city. For a small admission fee, you also get to wander around the vast peaceful park, and see locals enjoying the outdoors. It is a very different tourist experience, as well as being one of the best preserved examples of this style of architecture anywhere. I have added a Chinese link, with English text.

http://en.tiantanpark.com/default.aspx

Aigues-Mortes, Petite Camargue, France.

This is a fascinating walled town on the salt marshes of the Petite Camargue, completely enclosed by ancient fortifications. Believed to have been founded as a settlement in Roman times, it is in an area known for salt production. Once on the coast, it is now inland, though still surrounded by marshes, and susceptible to flooding. It was developed into its present form during the 13th and 14th centuries, when existing towers were joined by walls, making the whole town secure inside what was, in effect, a large castle. Wandering around there in the 1980s, it felt as if time had stood still. Only the souvenir shops and modern bars gave any idea of the passing of time. If you ever find yourself in this area, south-west of Arles, be sure to make time to visit this historical gem.

http://www.languedoc-france.info/030416_aiguesmortes.htm

Seven more memories of my travels, places I have visited and admired. I hope that you discover something new, click the links, and enjoy the photos and the additional information.

Architectural admiration (4)

For the fourth outing in this series, I am sticking with buildings or structures that I have actually seen, or been inside. Apologies for the bold type. Try as I might, I cannot get rid of it in edit. Grrr!

Bluebird Garage, Chelsea, London.

King’s Road in Chelsea, is now considered to be a very fashionable place; home of designer shops, smart boutiques, and stylish restaurants. During the Punk phase, it was frequented by many adherents of this style, who would visit the shops run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren. Decades earlier, in 1923, the Bluebird Garage was built at number 330, in the very latest Art Deco style of architecture. It had petrol pumps on the forecourt, and sold and serviced cars too, as a main agent for Chrysler. I had always liked this unusual building, painted white, with the obvious Deco references. When I first joined the London Ambulance Service, it had been taken over by the Greater London Council. They had put an Ambulance Station on the lower floor, and used the upper areas for the storage of the vehicles used to take children to school. On my first day after qualifying, I was told to report there, to meet the divisional officer in charge. I later worked out of there on many occasions, and we even used the petrol pumps to fill up our ambulances. When a modern Ambulance Station was later built in Fulham, the building was closed up. It was later acquired by Terence Conran, and extensively redeveloped into the Bluebird Cafe and Restaurant. This name was from the connection with Donald Campbell, who was one of the owners of the original garage. Luckily, the facade is listed, so it remains available to see in all it’s glory, to this day.
http://www.bluebird-restaurant.co.uk/gallery/

Church of St Joan of Arc, Rouen, Normandy, France.<

Rouen is a place full of history. Crammed with wonderful buildings, home to a huge cathedral, and enjoying a picturesque riverside location on the River Seine. It is a place that I would really recommend you visit, the next time you are in northern France. In the former ancient market place, is the site of the execution of Joan of Arc, later St Joan. This legendary young woman led French resistance against English occupation during the early part of the fifteenth century. She was later betrayed, and given over to her enemies. They tried her as a heretic, and burned her at the stake. A large cross marks the exact spot where she died. In 1979, a new church was opened in her name. It was a striking design of modern architecture, yet used the traditional feel of an upturned boat, one of the earliest styles of Christian churches. Inside, the nautical theme continues with the exposed wood, but there is also the delightful addition of original stained glass windows, from the 16th century. Kept safe during both wars, these windows were installed in this new building, and are a marvellous complement to the 20th century design.

http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/France/Haute_Normandie/Rouen-94667/Things_To_Do-Rouen-Eglise_Jeanne_dArc_Vieux_Marche-BR-1.html

A La Ronde, Exmouth, Devon.

Many years ago, I visited this house as a tourist, and it has always stuck in my memory. It is unusual, in that it has sixteen sides, giving a circular appearance, hence the name. Built in 1796, it was the home of two spinsters, and contained twenty rooms. They helped conceive the design, and worked with local architects to realise their dream. If you can imagine two children designing the perfect dolls house, and then living in at as adults, you will get the idea. They decorated the interior with souvenirs of their travels, including feathers and shells, creating a gallery entirely covered in shells in the process. They used the redundant triangular areas for storage, and even included diamond-shaped windows in the design. The house has been owned by The National Trust for many years, and has recently been extensively refurbished. It is due to open to visitors again this year.

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/a-la-ronde/

Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

There are lots of castles in Wales. Most were erected by the Normans, and later English rulers, to help subdue the rebellious Welsh. Many of them are more impressive than Manorbier, and lots more are better restored, and often suitably imposing too. But this small castle has something great going for it. it is on the beach, almost literally, as the sand is a stone’s throw from the walls. It is privately owned, and inside, there is still private accommodation for the owner. But it is open to the public, and well-worth a look. Despite being damaged after the English Civil War, the battlements, towers, and main gate are all still impressive. When I went there in the late 1980s, visitors could walk anywhere they pleased too, a nice bonus. It is one of those few places where I would love to live. I would close it to the public though, and just be my own version of the Lord of the Castle, wandering around the fortifications, and making the most of the coastal outlook. What a place!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manorbier_Castle

The Cenotaph, Whitehall, London.

A popular expression in many crafts and trades, is ‘Less is More.’ This simple memorial, designed by Lutyens, and erected following the Great War, in 1920, is a good example of the wisdom of that saying. This monument only really gets the attention it deserves once a year, when it is featured as the centerpiece of the Remembrance Day Parade, on the closest Sunday to November 11th. It is on one of the busiest streets in London, but can be approached easily, and anyone can stand safely in front of it. The building material is Portland Stone, seen on many of London’s finest structures. This replaced the wooden structure that was there the year before. Simple carved wreaths, and the words ‘The Glorious Dead’, are the only decorations, though flags are also placed on it too. It is not very tall, and could even go unnoticed by someone passing in a car or bus. It is dignified though, understatement making the most powerful statement possible, about the tragic loss it reminds us of. It is just right.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cenotaph,_Whitehall

Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain.

High on one of the hills that surround the center of the Catalan city of Barcelona, you will find Parc Guell. It is hard to describe this public park; part fairy-land, part acid-trip, part childish fantasy, and I am still not close. It is none of these however, but an architectural oddity designed by the famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. This man is synonymous with the city of Barcelona, also designing the famous Sagrada Familia Church, The Palau Guell, and the Casa Mila, as well as many other outstanding buildings. Any visitor to the city will soon be familiar with his unusual style, which is definitely unique, and also in the ‘love it, or hate it’ category. With the Parc Guell, built over fourteen years, and not officially opened until 1926, he let his fertile imagination run riot. I have honestly seen nothing else to compare with this unusual place, and I am struggling to describe it in a way to do it justice. There is a heady mix of religious symbolism, iconography, and surrealism, that just seems to all come together so well. Colourful mosaics, unusual features, and panoramic views all add to the experience. Have a look at the link, and then look at Google Images. If you have never been there, I am sure that you will be amazed. I was.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_G%C3%BCell

The Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg, Russia.

When I visited this place, the city was still called Leningrad, and in my mind, it will always be that.
This was first created by Peter The Great, in 1703, as a bastion against attacks from Sweden, then a major player in international events. It was later rebuilt in stone, and has existed pretty much unchanged, since 1720. As well as its intended military purpose, the complex has also been used as a prison, and a garrison for the city militia. During the early days of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the fort was captured by the Bolsheviks, who imprisoned many Tsarist officers there. In the Second World War, the famous siege of the city by the German Army resulted in a lot of damage to the buildings, all of which was carefully restored after 1945. In the grounds is the marvellous cathedral, burial place of many former Tsars. It has a gold cupola, and a huge spire, visible from much of the city. Situated where the Riva Neva opens towards the gulf of Finland, this really is a striking and historically important building, and one well-worth your time to visit.

http://www.saint-petersburg.com/museums/peter-paul-fortress/

There you have seven more architectural recollections from my travels over the years. I hope that you find some of them, if not all, enjoyable to read about. Please click the links to see more. This has been quite a popular series, so I will be sure to add part five, in due course.

Architectural admiration (2)

As I received enough positive feedback for the first post in this series, I have decided to compile some more, starting now. They will still be, for the moment, things I have actually seen, and stood before. The selections will continue to be varied, both chronologically, and architecturally, so please bear with me.

Fort La latte, Brittany, France.
This Breton castle is an absolute delight. Built in the 13th Century to defend the coast of Brittany from attack by the English, it is remarkably well preserved. The coastal location also provides amazing views over the sea, and it is small enough to enable the visitor to get a real feel of life for the defenders. If anyone has ever seen the 1958 film ‘The Vikings’, with Kirk Douglas (and who hasn’t?) it will be immediately familiar, as the scene of the climactic battle. I first visited this castle in the early 1980s. when staying in a gite nearby. I was entranced by it then, and I still am today.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort-la-Latte

Frinton Park Estate, Essex.
Back in the 1930s, and Art Deco houses, with no apologies. The Frinton Park Estate contains some of the best remaining Art Deco housing in England. Built in 1934, in the sedate seaside town of Frinton, on the Essex coast, this development is just breathtaking. A series of Art Deco and Modernist housing, all still occupied, and as pristine today as when they were built. I made a special trip to this sleepy town, just to enjoy and photograph these houses. I could happily live there, and if I ever win the lottery, I just might.
http://www.art-deco-classics.co.uk/frinton_artdeco.php

City Hall, London.
This building was created for the new Greater London Authority, in 2002, on land adjacent to Tower Bridge, called Potters Fields. It was designed by Norman Foster, one of Britain’s most famous architects, and though it does not have any connection with the City of London at all, it serves as the meeting place for the Greater London Assembly, and houses the office of the Mayor of London. (Though not the Lord Mayor, who is Mayor of The City). It is confusing for non-Londoners, I appreciate that!
The building stands alone, and is easily viewed from outside, or from the nearby vantage point afforded by Tower Bridge. It seems to be collapsing, as the various layers appear to be incapable of supporting its weight. This is part of the architectural genius behind the design, and serves to make it all the more appealing. (At least to me.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Hall,_London

Thiepval Memorial, The Somme, France.
Another Art Deco structure, but with a solemn difference. Opened in 1932, and designed by the marvellous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, this is a memorial to over 72,000 British and Colonial troops killed during WW1 who have no known graves. I cannot describe the feeling of the first viewing of this memorial, one foggy day in November. It loomed from the mist, like a cathedral to the fallen, and made me stop and stare. There was a lump in my throat as I approached it, and I found it hard to speak, as I walked beneath the central arch. I cannot say a lot more, in all honesty. Few structures have ever moved me with their magnificence, and their palpable sense of importance. This is one to experience, and perhaps to feel it as I did that day.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiepval_Memorial

Trellick Tower, London.
Designed by the wonderfully named Erno Goldfinger, this 1960s ‘Brutalist’ tower block was finally opened for habitation in 1972. Dominating the surrounding area in the Ladbroke Grove district of west London, it remains as one of the largest and most iconic housing developments anywhere in Europe. Love it, or hate it, you cannot ignore it. Although nominally having 31 floors, the design of the flats, many having an upstairs section, makes it a lot higher. The lift tower is separated from the main block, meaning that access is provided by a walkway, affording amazing views over London. Originally designed as a community in the clouds, it once had laundry rooms, a community centre, and its own extensive car park. Though much of this is no longer used, the tower is still a very desirable place to live, and much sought after by local residents.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trellick_Tower

Hotel Ukraina, Moscow.
Since I first saw this imposing building in 1977, it has been much improved, and re-named. Now known as the Radisson Royal Hotel, it is a five-star luxury hotel, on a par with anything on offer in the West. On the banks of the River Moskva, this amazing Stalinist edifice, opened for business in 1957, after Stalin’s death, is enough to take your breath away, with its sheer size, and belated Art Deco architecture. Like many buildings in Russia, since the end of WW2, it is enormous in scale, and built with no expense spared. Until 1976, it was the tallest hotel in the world. I haven’t seen it inside, since the redevelopment, so I can only go by the pictures available, to admire its current opulence.
http://uk.hotels.com/ho133660/radisson-royal-hotel-moscow-moscow-russian-federation/

Tower Bridge, London.
I did say that there would not be any Victorian Gothic architecture included in these posts, but this is an exception. Often wrongly believed to be ‘London Bridge’ by outsiders, this iconic structure is immediately identifiable with London, and unique the world over. Not only does it span the Thames, it is the first bridge visible on arrival in the city, and it also opens in the centre, to allow tall ships to pass into the Pool of London. I was brought up a stone’s throw from the south side of this bridge, and it was a part of my life for sixty years, until I moved to Norfolk. I can honestly say that I love nothing more about London, than this wonderful bridge. It looms over the nearby Tower of London, and dominates the surrounding area, in an imposing fashion. For those interested in detail, it is a bascule suspension bridge, opened in 1894, near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. Since 1977, parts of it have been painted in red white and blue, to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. It houses a museum, and is one of the premier tourist destinations in the capital.
But forget all that. It is simply wonderful.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_Bridge

There you have seven more to consider. there will be more to come, another time. Please enjoy these, and do explore the links.

World War One: A Centenary

I hope that nobody is unaware of the fact that 2014 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War, in August 1914. To many of you, especially those still young, it might seem like a dusty old piece of history, played out on TV in black and white. You may well consider that it has no relevance any more, and it is of no interest to you whatsoever. You will have no intention of sitting through the endless documentaries, dramatised reconstructions, or worthy coverage of commemorations. Please think again. We can all learn much from the follies of this tragic conflict, and the reasons that it began.

My own grandparents were born in the year 1900. Both of my grandfathers were lucky enough to not have to serve in this war, as they only reached the required age of 18 as the war ended. Other relatives, some uncles and cousins of my parents, did take part in this war. When I was very young, one of them would tell me of his experiences in the Royal Flying Corps, as part of the crew of an early type of bomber. I would read books about the battles, which ranged from France to Africa, and across the mountains of Italy, to the deserts of Arabia. Even the outbreak of the terrible Second World War, from 1939, could not diminish the impact and legacy of this first global war.

Look hard enough, and you will see that many problems experienced in the world today, stem from unresolved issues after allied victory. Instability in the Balkans, power struggles in the Middle East and Arab lands, all have roots that can be traced back to the time immediately after the armistice, in 1918. Once-great empires. such as those of Turkey and Austria-Hungary, were shattered by involvement in the Great War, and eastern Europe was splintered as a result. Russia experienced its revolution during this war, and the world changed completely as a consequence of that alone. American involvement late in the war changed the relationship between that country and Europe irrevocably. German resentment at their post-war treatment led directly to the start of the Second World War, and the ‘Cold War’ that followed it for decades.

I used to think that all this was something not to be dwelt on, to be constantly reminded of. Patriotism and Nationalism are not healthy in extremes, and every Poppy Day and Remembrance Sunday seemed to be celebrating the past, instead of looking to a better future. We lived in fear of a nuclear Armageddon, and the flickering footage of troops digging trenches before I was born had little relevance. So it seemed. A little over twenty-five years ago, I went on a five-day trip with a friend. We had decided to make our own tour of the battlefields in Belgium and France, to see for ourselves these cemeteries and monuments, and the preserved sites of these immense battles. Within seven hours of our arrival in Ypres, my mind was changed forever, by something that happens every day, and has done since 1927, interrupted only by the Second World War.

Every night at 8pm, the road under the Menin Gate Memorial is closed. Buglers from the local Fire Brigade arrive, and play ‘The Last Post’ on their bugles, the sound resonating inside the arch. This short ceremony is well-attended , by curious visitors like ourselves that night, and by war veterans; though sadly no longer from that actual war. The occasion is incredibly moving. Surrounded by the carved names of those who died but have no known grave, it was impossible not to get caught up in the feelings and emotions under that arch. The fact that it continues to this day, a tribute by the local people, to those who came from other lands to fight in a mutual cause, is tradition made flesh. We returned to a nearby bar, visibly shaken, close to tears, and quietly reflective.

The rest of the week was spent visiting cemeteries, mostly maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They are immaculately kept, and the rows of neatly carved headstones go on into the distance, overwhelming in their scale. We saw preserved trenches, huge craters caused by massive explosions, and everywhere still, pieces of barbed wire, and the metal posts that it once hung from. We visited the massive Thiepval Memorial, like a cathedral in a field, and the monumental memorial at Vimy Ridge for the Canadians who died, again with no known graves. We stopped at tiny isolated cemeteries, containing small groups from one company, then on to massive graveyards on the Somme. It was all too much to take in. The enormity of the loss was beyond all understanding. After that week, everything changed for me. My attitude to remembering this conflict became completely different, and my respect for those involved increased dramatically. So much of Belgium and France contain these cemeteries, it is impossible to appreciate them, unless you see for yourself.

So please don’t disregard the commemorations of this war. Count yourself lucky that you never had to be a part of anything like it, and spare a thought for those that were there. Whatever we may think of the reasons and justifications, with the benefit of hindsight, and the information available to us now; they did their best, for something that they believed in.

Foreign students

In 1978, we had moved to a house in Wimbledon, an affluent suburb of South London. The mortgage was manageable, but with interest rates above 12% and climbing, any help with finances was always appreciated. My first wife, then working as a college lecturer, had planned to take on examination marking during the holidays; a temporary, albeit well-paid extra job. I was working as a company representative, on a fair salary, with a new car supplied. Still, we had to run the other car, and the house needed repainting, as well as some other minor jobs. We considered our options to generate extra income, and they were few. My wife noticed an advertisement in the local newspaper. Host families required, for French students visiting the area, to improve their English skills. The remuneration offered was £40 a week, almost 70% of what I was getting, as an acceptable salary. It was only for two-three weeks at a time, but should last for up to eight weeks, depending on demand. This meant a tax-free income of £320 for the summer period, which would pay for the house painting, or tax both cars, with cash to spare. My wife applied immediately.

We were visited a few days later, by a serious man, with a beard and sombre demeanour. He inspected the house and facilities on offer, and declared that he would prefer us to have had children of a similar age to the students. As we were both only 26 years old at the time, this was impossible. However, he was swayed by my decent skills in the French language, and the fact that my wife would be at home. He signed us up, and said that we would be collecting our first visitor the following week. We asked for a girl, so as not to compromise my wife at home, and he confirmed that this would be OK, and that she would be with us for three weeks. We went to the Language School one evening, and met a pleasant 15 year old French girl, who would be staying with us. The brief was to supply accommodation, English food, conversation, and a ‘normal’ life; interaction with our friends and family, and involvement in our everyday lives. The school arranged lots of visits and excursions, as well as language classes most afternoons. There were also evening trips, to the cinema, theatre, and arranged events. Our responsibility would be mostly during and after dinner, and at weekends. We also had to provide a packed lunch, in addition to breakfast, and an evening meal.

My wife had reasoned that it would not cost a lot more to provide the lunch, and one more place at dinner. We should be at least £300 pounds in profit at the end of the summer, a substantial sum in those days. We had a comfortable home, an Edwardian terraced house, with lots of original features. We had a large living room, a dining room of similar size, and two large bedrooms, with the third bedroom being so small, it was used as a study. There was a small neat garden, and parking was on-street, with no garages. This was a very sought-after area, a stones throw from the famous tennis courts, with an underground station nearby, and Wimbledon main line only fifteen minutes walk. We considered it to be an excellent place to live, and the house to be substantial, and desirable.

The first student was somewhat underwhelmed. We had no en-suite bathroom for her use, and no bidet. She thought the house was ‘small’, and her bedroom ‘basic’. I explained to her (in good French) that she could consider herself lucky to be here, but she was unimpressed. It was only after a few days, that she realised her good fortune, as her classmates described being accommodated in shared rooms, in bunk beds, with up to three other children, mostly very young. We could not warm to her. She was sulky and withdrawn, spending all her spare time in her room. There was no point attempting to use the weekends to broaden her experience, as she declined to go anywhere with us, which meant that we had to stay home. At the end of her time with us, we were pleased to see her go, and doubtful that we wanted to continue. The school asked us to try again, saying that they had someone much livelier, and that it would be more rewarding. The second girl was a nightmare. She thought that she was a punk, and acted as if she was. After one day, I managed to ascertain that she was from a very affluent bohemian background in Paris. She lived in a huge apartment in  a fashionable area of that city, with her own two rooms, separate bathroom, and the home had servants as well; a housekeeper, and a cleaner. Indulged by her habitually absent parents, she more or less behaved as she liked, an attitude she brought to our home.

Talking to her in the evenings, when she could be bothered to interact, I found out some interesting facts. As well as the fees for studying English, the parents were paying almost £150 a week for meals and accommodation. This was more than three times what we were receiving. We later discovered that this girl was stashing all the packed lunches we gave her under the bed, as she did not like the bread, or the fillings, but did not want to say so. She was unhappy generally, almost never saw her parents, and had her own bank account, buying and spending whatever she wanted. She was a spoiled rich kid, in every sense of the word.  Her English was appalling, and she made no effort to improve, alleging that our accents were impenetrable. This could not be said of my wife, who spoke and enunciated perfectly, with what we English would call a ‘posh accent’. I was having to speak French constantly, and although this actually improved my skills, this was far from the point of the exercise. The climax came, when my wife went to change the bed. Thinking to turn the mattress for comfort, she found the underside completely stained by blood, as the girl had simply had her period over a few days, before turning it herself; at no time bothering to explain the situation to my wife, or bothering to sleep in pads. We had to involve the school, who removed the girl, before paying for a new double mattress, with some reluctance.

We advised them that we would not be taking any more students, as it was simply not worth the effort. The man came to see us, and pleaded with us to take one more, for two weeks, as he had already arranged it. He pledged to deal with any issues, and offered us an increase in the fee. With some trepidation, we eventually agreed. The last girl was so different from the others, and we took to her within minutes. She spoke good English, and wanted to as well. She had a lovely demeanour, a friendly personality, and she literally lit up our lives. This sixteen year old girl was from Marseille, so she did not have Parisian street cred, or the attitude that went with it. She was not only keen to learn, she wanted to be part of our life, and to go out with us, meet our families, and participate in social events. Despite the fact that her father was an important official in local government, and she lived in a luxurious apartment outside the city, she loved our suburban house, and fitted in perfectly with our lifestyle. She was soon accompanying us to the cinema, and to restaurants, also meeting friends, and going shopping with my wife. Although we were only ten years older, she became like a  cherished daughter to us.

At the end of her stay, we were sorry to say farewell to her, and invited her to return, as a non-paying guest. We informed the language school that we were very happy with her, but that we would not be staying on their books, as one out of three was not worth it. The next year, she came back to visit us, this time for four weeks, as a treasured friend. The year after, we went to stay with her and her parents, in their lovely flat in Marseille. They laid on a wonderful programme of events for us, and we had a marvellous time. The following year, we rented a gite in Brittany, and she came up to stay with us, for two weeks. Our friendship was sealed. I am happy to report that I am still friends with her today, After three marriages, and long absences, we have never lost touch, and never neglected our friendship. She is now fifty years old, looks thirty, and is as vivacious as ever. I also stayed with her in 1990, in her flat in Paris, where she moved for her job. She lives there to this day, now married to a successful lawyer, with two sons. She runs her own company, and retains her wonderful bubbly personality. I last saw her before I moved to Norfolk, and it was as if we had met the previous week.

So, taking in the foreign students had its ups and downs. In her case, it was an up; one that lasted a lifetime.