Saturday, 23 July 2016

Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner

  • Medium

Sally Gardner (The Red Necklace, I Coriander etc) is a wonderful writer for young adults.  This particular book strikes me as one that would make even a "I Hate Books" kind of kid would want to read on to the end!

Set in a alternative dystopian country, possibly England, but never stated;  now ruled (in 1956) by a  country similar to Nazi Germany, with a leader similar to Hitler;  tanks in the streets, men in long leather coats who may knock on your door at any time, fear making people behave in a way that surely we would not tolerate now? ..... In this world lives our hero, Standish Treadwell, who's parents have "disappeared", who shares his broken down home with his Grandfather, he's a boy who can hardly read or write but is a very clever indeed.  His friend Hector lives next door, and on an illegal television set, they watch programmes from another country - a country with Cadillacs to drive - and I Love Lucy comedy shows.  A country called Croca-Cola Land. 

For Standish, Hector, and anyone else who is not important enough to be "disappeared", or watched day and night, life just has to be endured, beauty and joy are out the window (even if you could remember what it used to feel like) and bullies of all kinds are the people that populate your life.  One particular bully is a toupe wearing cane wielding man who replaced their well-liked teacher and, having tasted a bit of power, takes it out on the kids in various cruel ways.  The day he beats up a small boy is the turning point for Standish.

It's easy to read word-wise, not so easy to read of the cruelty wreaked on others, but it just does make you want to keep reading, cheering Standish on and hoping for the best of luck to come along to help all those ordinary people.  250 pages, but shorter than you'd imagine because lots of the chapters are only one paragraph, it never left my hands till I had read the last page.  Recommended to all good readers from age 10 onwards, but of course that includes any kid of any age at all up to 99 years, young adult or not! 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Home - in the evening sun

How do you like the new header picture?  Same house, some 10 or so years on.  Similar, but garden looking much nicer these days!  Anyway, I was in the garden taking a picture of something or other ......... oh yes!  a furry something (moth or butterfly) hatching from it's chrysalis, and was disappointed as it steadfastly moved under a group of leaves every time I  got it into focus, so no pic.  It was quite a big something too, would have liked to capture it, but no luck.

Anyway, as I turned to walk down the garden, this is what I  saw.  That lovely evening sunshine, and of course I had the camera in my hands, so - New Picture!Home

The Dunmow Flitch - eccentric behaviour

Are the English really eccentric?

Well yes, they are!  but no more than the Irish, the Welsh, the Scottish, the French..... etc. etc. etc.
and here is a lovely little eccentricity that happens every four years in Great Dunmow, Essex.  The next one is 2020.  Here is a pic of two of this year's worthy winners, their bearers and the flitch, also with it's own bearers. and to find out more about the Dunmow Flitch, what it is, and how you go about trying for it, here is a link which will tell you much about the history.

And when Dunmow says The Dunmow Flitch Trials it means just that, with a judge, a jury, barristers and so on, and although I have never been, it just looks so much fun!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Lulworth Cove, Dorset

Right on my doorstep and never been there before in my life!  We were out visiting a NGS garden open to the public for charity today and decided to come a different way home from Swanage.  The road we chose is often closed as it belongs to the MOD, but today, in glorious sunshine, the signs said ROAD OPEN! 

On this road you pass a turning for Kimmeridge and then you will pass a road with a gate saying No Entry.  That way lies the lost village of Tyneham sitting in a valley.  The entire village was requisitioned during WW2 and villagers were told they could come home when the war ended.  But of course they never did.  You can attend a church service there once a year, but otherwise it is gone but not forgotten.  A novel about the big house at Tyneham is The Novel In the Viola by Natasha Solomons - well worth a read, good on the facts, writing a delight, and just a slight tweek in the name of the village.

Anyway, on past that turning, a lovely drive if the road is open, all the way to East Lulworth where there is a castle, and then on down to the coast at Lulworth Cove.  And after parking the car and stopping for a cuppa, we walked down through the village and stood on the steps down to the little beach just watching people, the water, the birds and generally drinking it all in.

And what a glorious little bay it is - it looks like an almost perfect circle from ground level  - and as though a giant just took a bite out of the coastline!   This part of the coast is dark, as there are no towns to pollute the night sky - I think I must aim to go down one night and look at all the stars I never see.

Anyway, a fascinating detour for us, and a place to go back to again and  again.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Etta and Otto and Russell and James - Emma Hooper

Three of the characters of the title are humans, and one isn't.  I will leave it to you to find out a) what kind of "other" the character is, and b) whether or not he is real.  For Etta is eighty-two and is losing her memory.  Like many dementia sufferers, the long term memories are those that still stick, and this becomes obvious as the book progresses, with memories of Etta's early life; how she connects with Otto and then Russell, and what happens to this trio.

It describes how Canadians went off to WW1 and what they found and lived through when they got there.  Not in too much detail but enough to confirm that all wars are hellish but if you live through to the end, you have to live with it for the rest of your life.  It describes what love feels like for some people.  It describes how some  are braver than others in different ways, and of course, it describes the workings of a demented mind and all it's mixed up memories.  I only had one question mark whilst reading this - and you may ask the same question as you read it..... Etta leaves home to find the sea (which she has never seen) and I wondered, however fit she was, whether she could really have managed so many nights in the open and without too much food.  Nitpicking by me of course, as this is certainly a wonderful book, Etta's journey perhaps reminding readers of Harold Fry's journey, although this is not so much the story of her journey but a journey through her memories.

 It isn't a difficult read, but people either like this kind of book (which jumps around in time and also has different character's views) or they don't.  When I am going to review a book I go to Amazon to look at the 1 and 2 star scores.  It is there that I find that some low scores are from readers who don't like the style a book was written in and therefore don't really read that particular book at all.  I mean they read it, i.e. they devour the words on each page; but they don't feel it -like eating a slice of lovely cake but not tasting any sugar.

Friday, 1 July 2016

What to read in July

Well now - the start of the holiday season!  Or, if you have no children, or none at school, the start of that period of the year when you may be able to take the book into the garden, maybe with a jug of Pimms....

And for July, I suggest you find and read  

                                                  a book about families

Any kind of family, any size of family.... whatever.

If you can find it, a newish book from last year springs to mind -

The Truth According to Us - Annie Barrows 

*By the way, Annie Barrows is one half of the team that wrote the Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society and whilst it was a best seller, I must say that I feel this is the better book.  Look it up - I loved it, and maybe you will too.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

We know from the opening chapters of this book that St Malo in France is bombed by the allies in WW2 (August 1944) because it is believed that it is a German stronghold. We also know that a German soldier and a blind French girl are in St Malo at that time.  What we don't know yet is how they got there, and we don't know yet if they will ever meet.

And then we go backwards. To an orphanage in Germany before the war, and a small boy who finds out how to make a radio.  Werner will become the German Soldier, and his sister Jutta will remain in the orphanage until near the end of the war.  In Paris, Marie-Laurie has lost her sight, and her father has built her a model of the arondissement where they live, so that she has a map for her hands, to teach her to navigate her local streets.  The war comes, and each life is described, jumping backwards and forwards, so that we can see how these two arrived in St Malo, and how they both, in small ways, contributed to their country's war efforts. 

The cruelty of any dictator is shocking.  But it is the efficiency of Hitler and his ministers that shocks here.  How boy soldiers were trained and how the weakest were weeded out, the strongest pushed for greater glory.  Man's inhumanity to man is well described in the chapters concerning Werner at his training school, who has to get through training or there will be nothing for him.  I found every page worth reading, but every page had it's own heartbreak.  These two children.  Will they ever gain adulthood?  And after the war, what then?

Superb telling of a war we know a lot about but in a way that perhaps we never thought about.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The One-In-A-Million-Boy - Monica Wood

Monica Wood (author of We Were the Kennedys) dragged me straight in from the first page, and kept me reading until I put it down with a sigh of pleasure at the end. The premise of this book is that a father, estranged from his ex-wife and son, is going to finish up some odd jobs that his son couldn't. That's it. The characters are what make this a delight. The one in a million boy, a scout who on discovering how old Ona Vitkus is (104 and counting) realises that he may be able to get her into the Guinness Book of Records for something or other; Ona herself, who has a very interesting story to tell, and does so, on a tape recorder that the boy produces. Quinn, the boy's father, a session musician and "fill in" for groups, always dreaming of the bigtime; Belle, his twice ex-wife and father of the boy; and other, not quite so rounded but essential characters which pop up from time to time. This is really Quinn and Belle's story - although it is Ona that tells hers. I loved the chapters with Ona's voice on the tape, the recognition that old age does not come by itself (there is a passage at the beginning where Ona explains to the boy that the highest notes of bird songs are lost to her now, and a very moving couple of lines right at the end where the boy will ask his father to enable her to hear those songs). This was such a wonderful read, easy to say "just one more chapter" every time I stopped. Told in a quirky style which I loved, I hope that as many readers as possible will get to know and remember Ona and the others. I am certainly recommending it to the many readers I come across. Oh, and don't forget to read the last list at the end.


Friday, 17 June 2016

Death of Jo Cox MP

Not often that real life moves me to tears.  Yesterday and today, listening to people talking about this woman, mother and Member of Parliament, I just kept asking myself WHY?,  as I always do when something makes me question the power of the universe and your God. 

 I say yours, because I believe we are all entitled to live out our lives on this planet free of fear, and with love in our hearts. I believe we should be free to worship in any way we please too, whether the old Pagan way, or called to prayer by your Imam, or entering into your temple, your church, your synagogue.  I believe that different days of the week should be celebrated by people in the way that they choose, and I continue to believe that somewhere there is a good heart in most humans.  Not all, we know that, but most humans.

So sad that a bitter heart, full of spite for someone else's belief in their fellow man, can take away someone who cares about more than just themselves.  I am sending out karma here, looking for the good hearts.  There are more of them than the dark hearts;  we just have to gently make our views known.

Jo Cox knew that - this is the quote that is being used:  "“While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

Just change the word constituency for world ............

Early June in the Garden - Part 2 of 2

So..... more of what's on offer at Pine Tree Cottage in early June.  This is Achillea millefolium or commonly, yarrow.   Lovely bright colour in my yellow and white border - one of the earlier things for early summer.  

 And can we talk about hardy geraniums?  Two years ago, I bought "Zoe", a prizewinning (Best Perennial of the 20th century or something) and supposedly a ground covering geranium. No picture of her because she's pouting.  Now I know I have an odd garden, different soils in different places and very odd in what likes it where.  I also know that roses have been in the garden before, as some I have planted don't thrive until I move them.  But Zoe?  She sits in a moody little pile, doesn't smother weeds and gives me around 4 blooms each year.  Whereas these little fellas just bloom and bloom and spread and spread.  I have loads in different sizes and colours, and even though I didn't start them
out for ground cover, that's what I got.
They will bloom all summer if I give them a haircut after the first flowering and they are all different.  The hues range from white to purple, although for some reason I seem to like the pinker shades best (or was that what was on offer when I did the shopping?).  The garden here has been divided up into different themes.  I have three beds which were planted first - and for a specific purpose, because they are the three I can see from the living room window, and I got what I wanted - a sort of living water colour, a
 sort of three beds full, if you like. There are all
 sorts of things in those beds, but they are choc-a-block and with no colour theme, just a lovely cottage garden kind of tumble.    There are roses in there too, but at least one of them is due a move at the end of the season as they are unhappy.  Graham Thomas (yellow) has been in the same place for 13 years, but never performs as I feel he should, so he will get moved up the garden.  Chapeau de Napoleon (pink) is lovely, but hit and miss.  Some years only one blossom some years 4 or 5 on this moss rose.  But not enough, so he will have to move too.  Then I have Nuit de Young, a small flowered dark dark red which is usually the earliest to bloom but this year is way behind, although full of bud.  And the smell!  Perfumiers must have used this one in the past - it is so tiny but so fragrant.  Only one flowering per season though, so it is in a bed with lots of other things.  Then comes a rose that shouldn't be where it is (she loves a wall), and this is Zepherine Drouhin.  Again, full of perfume.  I have given her a nice wigwam, and that seems to work.  Sorry, this shot is sideways, my pc has thrown a wobbly!

And another smelly lady here - Gertrude Jekyll which is such a perfect bloom - and sits in a border with day lilies each side and scabious underneath.  I love flowers in the house, and once in a while I will cut a rose and bring one in, but they are never so beautiful as they are on the bush.

And finally, sisyrinchium striatum which is a plant every garden should have.  The reason for this is that it self seeds, loves a dry patch, doesn't need watering, and gives some height to a border.  I just pull out the seeded plants when I spot one in the wrong place.  The bloom colour is cream/pale yellow, and it's about two feet tall.  I have to confess that this is not my picture, but I'm sure you won't mind!  Again, my PC won't let me turn pictures.  
At the top of the garden are several roses that I will take pics of later, all different, all grown for different reasons. And next month we are having hard standing laid for parking .... for 14 years we have fought against this but last winter was so wet the area around the car was just a mud bath.  So we have taken the plunge.  But plant-wise it requires some thought.  I don't want just a huge slab of something, and in any case, non-porous surfaces not only need planning permission, but would be silly knowing how much rain could sit in that area.  So it's got to do the job, and it's got to look good afterwards.  More on that at another time.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Early June in the Garden - part 1 of 2

When we first moved to Pine Tree Cottage, 14 years ago, we had 100 feet of grass, ivy and weeds, plus some hedges.  At last it's now getting to the point where I can say "that's right!".  Not "that's done", because you never are, but It's looking like I think it should.  Above is a Huechera, Limeade, I think.

This is a new-ish rock rose (commonly) or Helianthemum, sorry no name, which I put in only last year.  Slow to spread, but got more flowers than last year, so I am pleased.  It's a vibrant red - this pic doesn't capture the colour so well.

 When I said nothing in the garden.... that's not strictly true.  This peony appears every year in two places.  I get two flowers on one, and one only on the other.  But it's such a lovely deep red, and one of the old fashioned kind, I don't have the heart to move it out - anyway, I have plenty of room.  You can see in the background some lily of the valley.  Didn't know I had them, either, they took about 5 years to show themselves, and now they are rampant - those I do have to dig a few out every year now.  Oh and a few old faithful tulips come up every spring, although I have added many more.

And here, amongst lovely lime green euphorbias are two alliums - the only two that ever appear out of a dozen planted!  But no matter, every early summer they are suddenly there, so delicate and every year a surprise!

Below, a little patch of common oxalis, showing their faces to the sun.  I love the little yellow one with the red leaves too, and though some regard it as a weed I do not.

 Finally the last picture for Part 1 of this June tour is a Geum (sorry no name) which I put in this spring, and which formed a huge clump very quickly and gave me so many flowers I thought it would make itself sick!!  The leaves you see are not from that, but from a perennial sunflower which I was given last autumn.  It stayed in its pot through a very wet winter here and frankly, I thought I had lost it.  Anyway, I planted out the root and hoped for the best and here it is, growing like a mad thing.  It goes up to about 7 foot tall when in flower, so I am rather looking forward to that.  it is in a small area which will have yellow, orange and white flowers mostly, including the blossom on the Amelanchier which went in in March.

You may have noticed as you scrolled down that most of these plants have small flowers.  I love bigger stuff too, and my roses look as though we'll have a decent show this summer, but somehow I am softhearted when it comes to small flowers.... My Mum loved alpines, and if she had to look at the flower through a magnifying glass, that was so much the better!  That's a bit too small for me, but I do love the smaller flowers, and so do the bees. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Birth House - Ami McKay

Not to be mistaken under any circumstances with The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom (Please!), I can recommend this one wholeheartedly.  This is a book of the kind I love - a lot of facts woven in with the fiction.  Good research of the real stuff always makes a better read, I find.

Miss B. is an elderly woman, a descendent of an Acadian - that is, one of the French settlers that lived in the northern part of Nova Scotia until the British removed them, put them on ships and sent them down the Atlantic coast of America. They resettled in Louisiana, and from Acadia, we get Cajun, the music and the food.  Miss B's forebears came back to Nova Scotia and settled on the Bay of Fundy coast.  She's a midwife - of the old fashioned kind.  She has lots of old fashioned remedies, she brings babies into the world, she nurses sick people and brings them back to health if she can.  And she is close friends with Dora, who at the beginning of the book is a young child, and by the end is a midwife herself, a widow at 19, and with an adopted child. Miss B. has taught Dora everything she knows, but Dora is not sure she wants this kind of responsibility.  Like witches of folklore, everyone loves a midwife until something goes wrong, and then she's spurned.

The majority of this story has for it's background WW1.  No-one Dora cares for is lost, and there is little about the war itself although there are some nice details here, including the Newfoundland socks that men on the front would barter for, as they were warmer than any other.  During the course of Dora's story, the Halifax Explosion occurs.  This was a huge and dreadful even in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1917 when 2,000 were killed, 9,000 injured, and 6,000 left homeless.  The Spanish Flu is also touched upon whilst Dora is living in Boston, Mass.

Descriptions of births are explicit, but why should they not be?  This is a story of rural midwifery, and the fight to make medical practitioners understand that sometimes women did know best..  From time to time an advert from a newspaper of the time is included in the book's pages, and also reports from the newspaper of deaths, perhaps murders, and of course, all the news that's fit to print.  A curl up and read to the end without stopping kind of book, but anyway you choose to read it, it's a good one.

Friday, 10 June 2016

John Prine and Iris DeMent - In Spite of Ourselves: Mrs Mac's Tune Choice

Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm puts a song up from time to time, and, imitation being the best form of flattery, I am following her lead.  So when I found a favourite on YouTube, I thought you might enjoy it too.  Love the thinking behind the words.... listen carefully!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 8 - Last Days

29 April
Bags packed.  Breakfast eaten.  Now we will check out,  and the hotel will hold our bags in that big cupboard they all have, whilst we pop out and get the tram for a last shot of culture!

At the Theil Gallery on the Djurgarten island, we discover first, the house itself  which was just so beautiful and calm, and secondly, a sad story of money won and lost - Mr Theil was a merchant banker who made a lot of money and lost it all again.  The house was specially built for his collection of Scandinavian paintings and when he lost his money he offered the house and paintings to the nation.... who took up his offer.  Of all the lovely stuff I found, Larsson and otherwise, I was struck by this small pen, ink and watercolour sketch for a full sized portrait of the second Mrs Theil.  Larsson's portrait of her is about 7 ft tall and meant to be imposing;  this is just a little 18 inch x 12 inch sketch for it.  But this is the better piece.  Glorious, every pen stroke can be seen, and it's a little gem, seldom mentioned.  The whole gallery was interesting, mostly paintings, but a few pieces of original furniture displayed on modern rugs, which worked really well. Nice cafe here too.  By the way, Djurgarten is a lovely island, sort of the city's play area, loads of lovely walks, some cafes, the ABBA Museum (no, we didn't), loads of grass and trees, theatre, lovely views of the city just across the water, and just a great place to be.  Easily reachable by tram. 

Back to the hotel, have a chat with the guy behind the desk who told us about this gallery, and then off again on the Stockholm Express to the airport, flying off to Copenhagen so that John can drive that bridge.

30 April
And we're here! We are staying two nights in a room with it's own front door and bathroom, and upstairs our host has two small children.  On both mornings it is lovely to lay in bed and hear them running through their home full of the joys of life.  The house is just a short way from the airport (say 7 minutes by car or a ten minute walk to the metro and 2 stops).  This bit of the trip is for John, but we both have a lovely day out.  We hire a car and take the road for THE BRIDGE.  The Oresund Bridge is really two things.  A tunnel first, out into the channel between Denmark and Sweden, coming up into a man made island, and then the bridge itself.  16 kilometres from Copenhagen airport to the Swedish side, and after paying the hefty toll (around £50 but if you have 4 in the car not bad at all) we arrive back in Sweden in Wallander's stamping ground, the county of Skane.  Don't let's turn round and go straight back!  Let's stay a while.
himself on the bridge
We bypass Malmo, keeping on the motorway until we spot a sign for a town called Lund.  We don't know it, but we take the slip road and find ourselves in a charming little town on a sunny afternoon, and decide that this will do nicely.  We walk across the cobbled market square.  There is a little fountain, people are lunching outside, the staff in the tourist office are charming, and on one side of the market square is a food hall....
 It's like all those covered markets you find in Europe, but it's very small.  Not too small to squeeze in several restaurants, a Konditori (yes we did!), a butcher, a baker, a farm shop, a rotisserie chicken stand (the best chicken we have ever tasted) and a couple of chocolatiers.  Upstairs in the attic, the alcohol shop.  On your left, in the square, that little red car is the one we hired for the day.  Bloody awful gearbox.
And probably the oldest building in town, which now forms part of a restaurant.  If you look careful you will spot four lovely blondes, out for an afternoon cocktail.  Much flicking of hair, and all of them very very attractive.  The kind of blondes John dreamt about back in the day.

We love this little town.  But now it's time to switch the sat nav back on and head for the bridge again to get our money's worth (you don't pay on the way back).  It's fun, the sun is shining and it's a great end to a lovely holiday.  We'll definitely come back, and we never saw Denmark at all.... We missed the plane on the way out and so only stayed overnight near the airport before flying to Stockholm, and our only full day on the way back was spent in Lund.  So we need a Danish trip now - although we are definitely going to do Sweden again.

Here are the final shots of the bridge......

We go back to our little room, repack for home and get a good night's sleep.  We leave in sunshine, arrive back in the UK to torrential rain and cold, cold, cold.  Great trip.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 7 - And more!

27 April
Up, breakfast and out!  Out on the metro to Globen, and a short walk to the Ericson Globe for a ride in the pod.  Even though we are early, we have to wait an hour for "our" turn.  Each pod will take 15 people, and there are only two pods.  So we get the tickets, and then go for a drink.  Coffee for John, hot chocolate for me.  "large or small?"  I don't know why chains ask you this question, because even small is so large we both have to leave half of it in the mug.  Such a waste - grrrrrrrr!

It's time.  We are the first in the queue and we are shown into a small cinema for a film about the Globe and the adjacent arena and public spaces.  Not riveting, but there you are.  And then, on round the corner and into the pod.
 This is the view up through the roof of the pod so that you can see the curve.  This is not the ride of a lifetime, but if you like engineering, and views, it's worth a look.  The views across the city are there for the taking of course!  Below is a view as we get to the top.  Disappointed to find that it doesn't actually go right over and down the other side..... just up to the top and a stop for the views, and then back down again.  Of course, thinking about it, if it went over the other side and down, the riders would be standing on their heads, and so it would be a more complicated mechanism to turn the pod over.
 I can't solve that one, and presumably neither could the designer!  Fun ride though and I am sure that kids would love it.  Everyone in our pod did.  And if like me, you are not that keen on looking down from a great height, there is a seat in the middle so that you don't see the ground.  Anyway, here is Stockholm from the top!  We see a little box on the handrail near us inside the pod and quickly realise that it is a tiny "go pro" camera, the kind cyclists and adventurers use.  A guy has taken it out of the strap and perched it on the hand rail so that it takes a movie of the entire journey without a wobble!  Great stuff.  Mr Mac now thinks this kind of camera might be a very good idea. Mmmmmm.

We pre-planned our route for the day, and the next place to have a look at is SoFo, lauded in the guide books as an area with a Soho (London) feel.  Sadly not.  It is about 6 blocks in an area that in recent years has been taken over by trendies, but frankly, we walk a lot and find little.  There's a street market, and some food on offer, and every so often a second hand shop (whichis right on trend now in Stockholm);  and sometimes an art gallery but those were closed.  The oddest thing we find is that every so often there is a stall manned by a person or a family with personal things to sell - the equivalent to a boot sale (UK) or a yard sale (US).  We press on, seen enough and now hungry and stop when a delicious smell crosses our path.  It's a greek restaurant and we go in.  Nice food, but oddly, no humous?!  Home made bread comes to the table with a dish of pink stuff - Taramasalata? Now that I don't eat, so I ask the waitress to take that away and replace it with humous.  "We don't do humous, sorry".  Well!  so I tell her I don't like fish and she says "But it's cheese!".  Each to his own, but for us, far too salty and so we left that.  Good food, and pleasant staff.

Next stop Gamla Stan  or The Old Town.  Island of it's own, cobbled streets, the royal palace, probably the place most tourists want to see.  Interesting, couple of gift shops with not too much tat which is a pleasant surprise, and people everywhere (of course!)  In this picture some of the oldest buildings (and probably the most photographed) in Stockholm in the old town square.   We press on and find ourselves at the back gate of the royal palace just at changing of the guard. A bit of senendipity!  It's just as much a ceremony  as it is at Buckingham palace, but on a teeny weeny scale, because they change just 3 guards.  And as they march away, out of the back gate and right past us, I smile to myself as one of them is short, and is..... a woman! Yay!  equality despite height!

So, we have seen enough now, and my legs ache, so we make our way slowly back to our hotel.  In one of the back streets nearby, I spot this clock over an arch.  Odd I think, because it's on the wall of the arch which is the entry into a quite ordinary building, and I don't think it is as old as it looks.  But I rather like it.

  We stop on the way for a beer and a juice (always the equivalent of £10 in Stockholm and I guess even more in classy places), and then that's it for today.  Tomorrow, my quest for Carl Larsson may reap a result, as a wonderful bloke at hotel reception tells me there is a gallery on one of the islands that has around 24 of his watercolours permanently on show.  We can just about fit that in I think before we fly off tomorrow to Copenhagen in Denmark.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Swedish Adventure 2016 - Part 6 - More Stockholm!

27 April
After breakfast, we test out the Stockholm Pass, and take the one of the metro lines out to the very end and come back again.  Testing, testing, 123 testing.  We note that the stop for a ride on the Ericson Globe is actually called "Globen", so that's easy to remember.  Mr Mac is looking forward to that so we'll do it first thing tomorrow.  Today is about being in town and inside shops.  We spend some time in a big department store and more particularly it's watch department.  There Mr Mac dribbles over expensive watches that could grace his wrist if we win the lottery any time soon.  For me, most of them are overdecorated and overpriced, but - horses for courses.  

And then, as we are leaving we see the most extraordinary thing.  A queue.  A queue for a bog-standard choc-ice on a stick - but with a difference.

This is a queue to get yourself a hand built Magnum.  WHAT?????  Yes sirreebob!  a hand built Magnum by Walls Ice Cream.  It gets a special coating, and then artistes decorate it with stuff.  And the stuff is so normal.  Marshmallows, chocolate buttons, sprinkles, etc.  Gawd, I could do that!  But the artistes have special uniforms, special gloves and they take a huge amount of time to produce this ...... Just. For. You.

Come ON!  Someone is taking the mickey, surely?  But no, as you can see from the queue, people really are wanting a fancy dressed choc ice and paying over the odds for it too.  This is a two month special here in Stockholm, so I guess other Capital Cities will be seeing this phenomenon shortly.  Hahahaha!  Coming from the West Country, where speciality ice creams and sorbets are in abundance, why would I want a decorated Magnum from Walls Ice Cream?  Well obviously not me, but someone does.  What a brilliant sales pitch, eh?

It's a bit of an exciting day all round, what with the hand built ice cream and all, because very soon we are standing at a pedestrian crossing and we hear an explosion.  A bomb?  A gun?  A split second of fear and then there is another, and another..... and it's a 21 gun salute because it's the naming day for the latest Swedish royal baby!  And round the corner comes the mounted silver band, tootling and drumming away on their way to the palace.
I snap a few interesting things as we walk down to the water and to the State Museum, where there are some paintings I want to see.  Closed for restoration, and no sign on the website of where they have sent the collections.  With only a few days here I cannot go to every museum searching out Larssons, so may have to come back sometime.  So here are just a few shots of Stockholm.  Very random.

 Long day, interesting, legs hurt!  More tomorrow for our last full day when it's a ride up the Ericson Globe for starters.

The Return of Captain John Emmett - Elizabeth Speller

This was Speller's first book, and a good one too.  An amateur detective, some red herrings, and a friend who rates Mrs Christie (Agatha) highly was only part of the joy I discovered between the sadness of the story.  Laurence Bartram escaped death in WW1, and several years later finds himself with a lot of time on his hands, and a book to write.  A book about ancient churches of England.  The manuscript is not finished, and sits under a layer of dust in his small flat in London, whilst he stares out of the window, thinking about his past. A past which includes the death of his wife and child, bravery in the war, a book to write and somehow nothing to urge him on.   Until, that is, a letter from the sister of an old schoolfriend arrives, and he is asked to find out why that friend committed suicide.                                                                                                                                                    
When he gets to re-meet Mary Emmett she asks if he could possibly find out for her.  He remembers John Emmett fondly because of a great kindness when he was a young teen.  He remembers Mary Emmett from that time, and marvels that she is still the attractive woman he remembers from his teens.  He agrees to make a few enquiries and in modern parlance, that's when the can of worms is opened.  What he uncovers is a dreadful perversion of justice, much cruelty and a great deal of revenge.

There are descriptions of some of the horrors of war, but not such much the death and destruction caused by the battlefield, but a good deal about those soldiers "shot at dawn" - meaning that they were sentenced to death because of extreme cowardice or desertion.  In fact over 300 servicemen were executed in WW1, although over 3,000 death sentences were issued, most were commuted.  Only three officers suffered the same fate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   This was a book I couldn't put down, and Speller has a lovely style.  Some good read herrings make the final reveal a bit of a gasper,  and it is then that all the loose ends are knitted together - including a rather shocking epilogue which must not be ignored.  And does Laurence get the girl?  for that is the side story in this book.  He is attracted, but does not think it seemly at first.  She seems to like him but there are mysteries about Mary.  You'll find out.