Changes of table can’t be effected

Lake Maggiore is not that far from Milan. It’s to the north and is one of the Big Three lakes. We’ve been to Lake Como (and loved it), we have yet to go to Lake Garda and now we’ve been to Lake Maggiore. Mind you, it was a lot to pack into a day. While we left the hotel at 11am-ish, we didn’t get back till 11pm-ish. In that time we travelled on two trains, two ferries and a taxi. And Shank’s pony, of course.

But let me start from the beginning.

When we found out we were being forced to go to Milan, Mirinda insisted that I work out a day on the lake (I’m going to call it ‘the lake’ from now on just to save having to type Maggiore every time).

I read through screeds of stuff, warnings about the lakeside boat owners who wear captain’s hats and charge at least twice as much as the public ferry for very little extra in exchange. I found out a very little about the Isole Borromee – three islands that were owned and built on by the Borromee family back in the day – and how they were a definite must to visit. And I found out about the trains. The trains were possibly the most important.

More by luck than design, our hotel is situated a short walk from the Milano Porta Garibaldi railway station which has a direct train to Stresa, a town ideally situated on the lake to afford trips to the islands and up and down the lake generally. And so, armed with little more than phones and a guide book, we set off for the station.

We found it quite easily though getting the tickets was not so easy. In fact not only did I have problems getting our tickets but I also had problems helping out a young lady who also wanted one but couldn’t work out the machine. Still, eventually I changed to a better machine (in the actual ticket office) and I soon had our tickets in my hot little hands and we then had to search for the punch machine that validates all tickets in Italy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy enough to follow whatever crazy rules a country has when it comes to public transport but the validating thing in Italy is just a pain in the arse. Especially when they hide the punch machines conveniently behind columns. It means that whatever buffer you may have allowed in your timings gets rapidly whittled away (especially if you factor in Mirinda’s need to use all toilets that may or may not appear) until you are suddenly wheezing up the platform with bare moments to spare between getting on the train and being sliced in two by the doors.

We managed to make it with a few minutes in hand which enabled us to keep walking through the train until Mirinda was happy with our seats. Unfortunately we were sat in the ‘Please Disturb Us’ carriage as with each stop we collected more bored teenagers who with whistles and bluetooth drum and bass machines were slowly driving us crazy. Then there was the giant gang of girls who almost all managed to get onto the train at one point – two in completely matching dresses – giggling, chattering and generally being all far too excited than is healthy in a young girl.

Mind you, all of them, bored boys and giggly girls, left the train a few stops before we did so we had a bit of calm before alighting at Stresa.

The rotting glory that was once Stresa

Stresa, according to our guide, was once a sleepy little fishing village (weren’t they all) before the likes of Byron, Stendahl and Dickens told everyone about it. Hordes then descended and turned sleepy little Stresa into a wide awake stretch of lakeside palazzi and hotels. Of course that’s all brilliant these days because it is now a gateway to so much beauty it’s hard to put into words though I wonder how many people actually manage to stay in Stresa for any length of time rather than moving on.

We managed to stay in Stresa for the length of time it takes to drink a red wine and a beer. We stopped at a delightful little cafe on the shores of the lake and watched the comings and goings of various boats as the weather closed in and the spots began to fall. This was when Mirinda became an expert in opening the big umbrellas that sheltered the occasional table. Not that it rained that much but enough to chase a family from Birmingham under the shelter.

By the time we left the cafe, the rain had gone on to some other Italian town, leaving us happy to walk to the ferry terminal. Naturally we ignored the chaps in white captain hats and bought our return tickets to Isola Bella.

(I have to confess to falling over on the way to the ferry. It’s the first time I’ve fallen over in about two years so I’m quite proud of that though falling over and being helped up by a man who looked older than me was a bit of a kick in the metaphorical teeth. I bled through the rest of the day but I’m not going to mention anything else about it.)

And so, onto the ferry which we found purely by accident when a group I’d overheard buying a ticket to the same place we were headed, headed for the ferry we hadn’t noticed just round the corner. We quickly followed them and boarded the ferry for the short hop to the island.

And so we arrived on Isole Bella or Isobella’s Island and every part of it is a pleasure to behold. From the enormous palace and garden to the tiny little shops and houses, the place is like a fairy tale come to life. Well, apart from the tourists I guess. And the beer. There’s plenty of beer. And ice cream.

I must confess at this point that we did indulge in more ice cream on the island. And it was fantastic. But enough of that…the highlight of the island was the palace that the Borromee built. While being huge and magnificent it somehow remains approachable. Perhaps it’s the colours or the lack of rococo swirly gigs or simply the good taste of the architect.

Mirinda does tree pose outside the palace

Whatever it is, the place is a joy to walk through (though I could have done without quite so many grottoes) with more and more magnificence the further you walk.

And it’s not just beauty that sets the place apart. It is also historically significant. For instance, Napoleon stayed here one night before heading further up the lake and destroying the Borromee Fortress and then the axis powers met in the palace in an ineffectual effort to avoid World War Two.

Possibly the weirdest bit is the display of scary looking marionettes down in the depths before the grottoes. Some of them look downright demonic. I think these soldiers were part of Napoleon’s lot.

And then there’s the garden which is simply extraordinary. Nothing prepares you for the first glimpse as you leave the palace by the automatic door.

Things get even more amazing when the inhabitants manage to put on a bit of a show for you.

So, all in all, our visit to Isola Bella was a huge success. And we concluded our visit with a long ferry ride all the way to Arona where we hoped to catch the train back to Milan. As it turned out we missed the 19:11 by almost half an hour but had time to get the 20:06 except, as we reached the station, it was cancelled. We then decided to risk everything and catch the 19:35 which went to Milan Central rather than Garibaldi. It actually took half an hour less and was fine except for the annoying family behind us.

What is it with parents? They get a child and decided it can entertain itself with some really, really annoying computer game with the volume set to 11. It’s like the parents have forgotten how annoying it can be for people without kids…or people who managed to entertain their kids without irritating everyone else on the train with a gazillion verses to the Wheels on the Bus. Seriously, people! Think of everyone else and not just yourselves…and whatever that is in Italian.

Anyway, at Milan central we had to get a taxi to our dinner stop which was a small deli cum restaurant called Quack. It specialises in goose and also does duck. It is not a place for vegetarians. It is for people who love trying something different that just tantalises the taste buds. Mind you, we were a bit cautious after our last foray into goose eating – a Christmas with Karen and Nigel that saw all of us quite ill the next day. There was nothing to fear.

Quack is a delight and the chap who runs it sure knows his goose. We had plates of the stuff in all manner of ways. It was a superbly quirky end to a magnificent day.

Now when can we go back to Lake Maggiore?

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Quick dissolving sugar

This post needs a couple of sub-titles. As well as ‘Quick dissolving sugar’ it also needs to be ‘The day we changed hotels’ and ‘The day Gaz deleted his photos.’ Still, let’s keep it with ‘Quick dissolving sugar’ because I think that’s the best one.

This morning started nice and slowly though a lot of that is because of the blackout curtains in our hotel room. They seriously block out all light so no matter what time you wake up it still feels like the middle of the night. I understand why they had them in Britain to fool the Germans during WW2. Nothing escapes through them.

Anyway, as I said, we went to breakfast just before the 10 o’clock cutoff. Not that we were alone in this. In fact there were still a few latecomers arriving as we were returning to our room.

We didn’t have to check-out until midday so we decided to use up as much of the time as we possibly could by checking out at midday. We then left our luggage at reception while we went to visit the cathedral.

The queue at the cathedral was almost as bad as the queue at the cathedral in Florence (it was actually only half as long but that still numbers in the thousands) so we decided not to go to the cathedral. After all a holiday spent queuing in the heat (or the cold) is hardly much of a holiday. We decided to go and enjoy a coffee at a conveniently placed funky cafe where they display their nuts for all to rub.

Gary rubs a nut

From here we decided to visit the queue-less Poldi Pezzoli Museum instead. It was an excellent call because there were not that many other people there and the art on display was seriously brilliant.

Pezzoli was an amazing collector of amazing artworks. He was sad that he never managed to get a da Vinci but I reckon he did pretty bloody well. I mean he had two superb Botticellis for a start. He was also remarkably eclectic in his collecting ways. From paintings to sculptures to Murano glass to old clocks, his collecto-mania knew no bounds.

This is where the post takes a bit of a sad turn. I took lots of lovely photos in Pezzoli’s place. A number of fine St Sebastiens, a fantastic photo looking down the stairs to his fountain and an award winning photo of Jesus. Sadly I subsequently deleted them in a fit of I don’t know what. I then spent ages trying to recover them but they were gone for good. I felt completely overwhelmed with sadness and inadequacy.

Still, must not dwell I suppose.

A rather odd piece in Pezzoli’s house was a figurative sculpture of how his mother imagined herself following the death of her husband (Pezzoli’s father). I have no problem with the piece per se, in fact I think it’s rather lovely however, it has to be a bit odd to keep it in your sitting room when you know it’s your mother. I’d love to include a photo of it but it was one of the ones I deleted…which is really annoying. Here’s an image I found on their website.

Not as good as mine was!

The finished piece was by Lorenzo Bartolini and was completed in about 1836. Elsewhere in the house, Pezzoli also had a far more demure and beautiful bust of his mum which was also by Bartolini.

So, room after room of extremely beautiful artworks (and porcelain and clocks) including four St Sebastiens, three of which I no longer have photographs of. Still, there’s this one:

The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian by Anon, probably a collaborator of Lorenzo de Credi (c 1490)

(I have to move on but I am so saddened by the loss of such great works of art…it’s almost as if the paintings themselves were lost. I seriously need to pull myself together.)

We spent a very long time wandering the various rooms of Pezzoli’s house, all of it massively joyful. I do rather love Renaissance paintings. I’d be rather remiss if I didn’t include a photograph of Pezzoli’s stained glass depiction of Dante, Beatrice and Mathilde from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Truly beautiful.

But, as they say, all good things etc, etc and we found ourselves out on the street and looking for somewhere to eat ice cream. And, of course, we found one. No queues here either as opposed to the ice cream places near the centre. This was the Caffe Opera and what a delight. A beer and ice cream. What more could a body actually ever want? Apart from pizza, of course.

Fully full we headed back to the hotel to reclaim our luggage ahead of our move to our second hotel (the one that didn’t cost a small fortune) that we paid for. It was during this hiatus that I deleted my photos but I’m not going to dwell on it…move on, Gaz!

The new hotel is quite a distance from the centre but still as comfortable. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s more comfortable because the air conditioning actually goes down to 12 degrees. We’ll have to see how effective the blackout curtains are. Though the bath is a bit high making it necessary to pole vault into the shower.

For dinner we went to the marvellous Alla Cucina delle Langhe which we highly recommend. The flat cutlet with cheese I had was superb as was everything, really. I even gave their creme brulee 8/10.

We then walked back to the hotel in the spitty rain, dodging the umbrella salesmen who seem to come out of nowhere at the merest hint of bad weather. (Denise might remember how bad they were in Florence.) We had a short wander by the giant espresso cups before returning to the hotel.

Tomorrow the plan is to visit a lake.

Posted in Gary's Posts, Milan 2018 | 1 Comment

Gaz Day II

Mirinda had her presentation to the board today (the actual reason we’re in Milan) so I set off for all the things my wife finds boring when indulged in for too long.

My first stop was to be the National Museum of Science and Technology where, I heard, they have a full sized sailing ship. I discovered, to my absolute delight, that it also has a full size submarine as well. But first the Metro.

And what can I say? Its pretty much exactly like every other underground train system in the world. There are swish new trains and old clattery ones, both of which I enjoyed today. The signage is very good and the price a reasonable €1.50 per journey. I thought it was an excellent way to get around for me today.

I had to change to a second line in order to reach the museum and eventually emerged at San Ambrogio. I walked towards the building emblazoned with the words Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately the door I found very easily turned out to be the exit. The lovely woman at the desk put me straight.

Mind you, as accurate as her instructions were (turn left at the lights then left again) the front door was a lot harder to locate than the back door. Still, find it I did and I entered the wonderful world of science and technology.

The first thing you realise is the size of the place. The collection is housed in an old monastery (16th century) and spread over quite a bit of acreage. The main building houses a lot of stuff about energy and materials and da Vinci. It also features an underground exhibition on how iron was made.

There an excellent exhibit of a hammer forge and water wheel as well as a 19th century condensed ironworks…but this was but a taster of the pleasures to come.

Imagine my delight when I discovered this:

It’s an actual, real life, submarine! You can go inside but it’s a separate ticket obtained back at the ticket desk which is miles away so I contented myself with just walking around it.

It’s massive. It is the Enrico Toti (S506) and was originally launched in 1967. It was never used in a war situation rather it was designed to just roam around the Mediterranean, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

It is quite odd because Milan is nowhere near the coast. It also has a resident cat. A stray was discovered near the sub so it was christened the ‘last captain of the Toti’ and allowed to live there. I didn’t see it today.

Next to the submarine is a shed containing a whole bunch of steam engines. Trains on tracks with a few carriages. A trainspotting paradise.

You can even climb into one and check out the gauges and stuff. I had quite a bit of unexpected fun.

But then it was onto the main reason I was there. The schooner Ebe. I reckon they must have built the building around it because otherwise they’d have had a ridiculous time building it inside.

It is massive and glorious. It seems to overpower the space. It is superb. My favourite thing in Milan so far.

There is also the entire bridge from a luxury liner but, sadly, it was being used for a private function while I was there so I could only see it from the outside. Still the Ebe more than made up for anything lacking.

Having spent a goodly amount of the morning and start of the afternoon, among the wonders of the museum, I decided it was time to head off for more esoteric displays. Once more onto the Metro, this time going beyond Duomo, to the Museum of Contemporary Art off Palestro. The museum is directly opposite a public park…but more of that later.

The building that houses the very small collection of modern art was, at one time, the residence of Napoleon while he stayed in Milan, the capital of his self proclaimed Kingdom of Italy. Apart from an oversized bust, there is nothing of old Bony left. There is, however, some pretty odd art. I can’t actually think of anyone but Karen who would really appreciate it.

My favourite piece by far was one made of couscous. That’s right, it was made entirely of couscous. You smell it quite strongly as you enter the room it is in. In the centre of the space is the model of Ghardaia, a town in Algeria. It is to scale and is slowly cracking and returning to the big pile of couscous that it once was. It is quite extraordinary.

Untitled (Ghardaia) 2009 by Kader Attia

In another building of the gallery is an exhibition called ‘Ya Basta Hijos de Puta’ by Teresa Margolles. It highlights the plight of transgender prostitutes in Mexico in particular with reference to the violence and inhumanity of the drug cartels. It’s very powerful yet simple. A lot of it is quite hard to take and makes you wonder why the wholesale distribution of class A drugs should suddenly make people completely lose any empathy they may have had for the human race.

The artist is also a forensic pathologist which gives her access to some pretty gruesome facts. She collects the “…last crumbs of life, the remains and the traces that violence leaves on the bodies.*” The stark truth is hard to take but terribly sobering. We have no idea how hard life is from our security of the first world. These poor people, frightened and alone, live the only way they can and are indiscriminately butchered by fellow humans who have absolutely no remorse, feelings or basic humanity. It’s sickening.

Vaporizacion. The fog is generated from disinfected water in which the sheets that wrap bodies of people who have died due to violence have been immersed.

The whole thing left me in need of something life affirming. Fortunately the park across the road was alive with the happy cries of children, people lying under trees and a bar. I decided to wash my thoughts in a couple of ice cold beers while sitting outside among other thirsty patrons and an inordinate quantity of dogs. It proved that there’s room for pleasure outside the hell that is other places.

Eventually (and happier) I headed back to the Metro for the short trip back to the hotel where I had a lovely shower, a bit of a rest then half an hour with Mirinda before heading out to dinner at the wood fired pizza place in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II which I spotted yesterday. (Mirinda was having dinner with the board…as you do.)

I make it a point to always have pizza, beer and ice cream at least once every time I’m in Italy and I figured tonight was the ideal opportunity and it was an excellent choice. I started with some perfect white asparagus in lemon sauce followed by an equally perfect pizza, a couple of beers and pistachio ice cream to finish.

The perfect pizza has an egg in the middle

Given I was on my own, I was treated like a visiting prince. I was even given a beautifully chilled glass of lemoncello to finish off the meal. And that was before I tipped the waiter.

I then sat in the Piazza Duomo for half an hour watching the world of tourists slowly go by before finally finishing up at the hotel. It was the end of a perfectly successful Gaz Day.

* This quote is directly from the museum handout.

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Caution your blast

An early start saw us board the DLR for the pain free trip to London City Airport. This marked the first time for Mirinda. If we do have our few months in France, she’ll be doing it regularly so it’s a chance to discover how smooth it is. And I can report that she was only cranky with one person the whole trip.

Being stupidly early, we settled on seats and had a coffee while we waited.

At London City airport there are a load of these signs:

When we landed, as she was the last person off the plane, Mirinda asked the pilot what it meant. He told her that because city airport is in a built up area with lots of traffic, it is a polite way of saying don’t rev your engines up. Makes sense.

It was at the end of what Mirinda described as the best and easiest plane trip she’s ever been on. I have to say it was definitely better than most. About a third full, two rows of two seats, only took just over an hour. It was excellent.

From the airport it was a very quick taxi ride to the hotel in Piazza Fontana, just around the corner (literally) from the cathedral. Sadly we’re only here for two nights but we plan to make the most of it…and we did. As soon as we’d dropped our stuff off and Mirinda had managed to send some emails and stuff (she is at work, after all) we went out, looking for food and a watch.

And we found a great lunch place rather quickly. My beer and caprese and Mirinda’s Rossini and ham and melon were ideal for such a hot day. We also had a front row seat for possibly the worst busker ever. This chap had earplugs in with some sort of music playing in his head and he stood and played his air guitar expecting people to give him money. The problem was his air guitar playing was pretty dire. And when he lifted his shirt up…well, that was it really.

Having eaten and rested up, amazed that only that morning we’d woken up in Canary Wharf and were now lunching in Milan, we headed off in search of a watch for Mirinda. And she found the thinnest ever (it’s in the Guiness Book of Records, apparently) and was finally able to stop asking me what the time is in French.

Then we were off to the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, an amazing shopping arcade of indescribable beauty. So indescribable in fact that I took a few photos instead.

From here we wandered over to the Piazza Duomo for a sneak preview of the outside of the cathedral – we’ll be returning later on – before going back to the hotel so Mirinda could do some work.

After an elongated rest (for me) we headed out for dinner. However, before we went I had a shower. I have to say that this hotel has one of the best showers I have ever had in a hotel. Okay, I admit that it would be improved if it was a walk-in shower but the bath is quite low and the shower head is fabulous. The temperature and water pressure are both perfect. It was so perfect that I had two.

Then, and only then, we went out for dinner.

We dined at Motta (1928) in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II and went a bit carboholic I’m afraid but, what the hell, we’re in Italy.

After a very filling dinner, we headed back to the Duomo and the road that leads straight to our hotel. We cast a final glance towards the Galleria before heading upstairs to bed. What a marvellous day.

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Performance art

Today Mirinda worked from the flat so, after lunch, I headed off for Tate Modern and the Joan Jonas exhibition.

Before leaving for the ferry, the day was almost ruined when an ATM ate my debit card and refused to return it. I cancelled it and ordered a new one and we’ll just have to use Mirinda’s in Milan.

Then I caught the ferry.

On the ferry

I’d never heard of her before today. I rather like finding out about new people.

Joan was born in 1936 and is very handy with the visual arts. She was one of those hippy dippy artists who hung around New York in the 1960’s doing strange things that people thought were cool.

Of all the pieces I saw today I think I liked The Juniper Tree best. It featured Joan reading a fairy tale while interacting with various things on stage. Naturally the exhibition had just the set and a short video of the original performance.

The Juniper Tree (original 1976 reconstructed 1994)

There were quite a few pieces that I found a bit beyond me but generally I liked what she did with movement. For instance there was one piece where she had dancers performing with full length mirrors which created illusions for the audience rather than just the people dancing.

She also had an amazing pet dog which features in quite a few of her later works.

All in all, I’d say I enjoyed seeing Joan’s work and finding a little bit out about her.

I then had a bit of a wander around the Tanks. This is in the newest bit of Tate Modern and used to be where the big tanks of oil were kept when it was a power station. There’s some extraordinary spaces. Not least this room:

Panno in a tank

After a quick beer, I went back to the ferry stop and caught it back down river to the wharf and returned to the flat.

A lovely day though a bit more cloudy than it has been and the temperature dropped a bit.

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Buses and babies

We haven’t been to the Big Easy for ages (the last time for me was when Sally and family had lunch with us and Will ate all the lobster) so it seemed the best choice for lunch today ahead of our expedition into deepest, darkest Kent.

Mirinda has been wanting to visit the Red House since she heard about it. It was the house that Philip Webb designed for William Morris back in 1859. It is just beyond a place called Crook Log which is on the old Roman road of Watling Street. (The only explanation for the name Crooked Log I have found is that it possibly refers to a crooked branch of a felled tree.) It is also a short DLR then bus ride from the flat. And we decided to go today given we were in town and it was a lovely day…but first, lunch.

Well, I say first…it was after Mirinda Skyped with Fiona during which quite a lot was said about Archie.

The Big Easy was busy but not crowded so we managed to score a table outside that wasn’t in the sun. I decided I wanted two starters so indulged in the calamari and the sashimi tuna, both delicious, followed by an espresso martini (perfect). Mirinda had BBQ chicken Caesar salad which look pretty lush…though possibly not as lush as her strawberry daiquiri.

Nicely full, we then headed for the DLR where we hopped aboard the train all the way to the end of the line, Lewisham. From the DLR platform it is a very simple walk to the buses where we waited for a number 89 that would take us up Watling Street to Crook Log.

On the bus we met and chatted to a lady and her one year old daughter. She (the baby) was the polar opposite of the one across the aisle who screamed a lot. The lady (and her daughter) had been to bible study and were making their way home. I have to say that their bible study class was quite a distance from home. I wonder that there’s not something a bit closer. Still, what would I know, perhaps the bus ride is a big part of it.

The child was very entertaining and the lady told us all about her other child (a six year old boy). It passed the time until we reached our stop.

The Red House is an Arts and Crafts building in the town of Bexleyheath. Morris wanted a rural retreat within commuter distance of London where his practice was. These days there’s not a lot of rural left but back in 1859, it was all farms and orchards and farm buildings.

He and Webb built a Gothic masterpiece with high ceilings, non-symmetrical features and paintings on the walls. Then, after all was done and dusted, Morris only lived there five years before moving to London. It was the family home that wasn’t…really.

Of course, Morris knew all the pre-Raphaelites and the wall paintings (frescoes…sorry Bob) are very much of that style. They do add a certain beauty to the walls where, these days, we’d have bland single hue paint wall to wall. Of course, it helps if you can paint.

We had a delightful stay, chatting with the rather boisterous woman downstairs and wandering the gorgeous garden. Actually the garden was everything Mirinda wants at home (though a lot bigger) and made her very jealous. Mind you, the eleven wheelbarrows indicated how many workers it takes to maintain it.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the flat. Another number 89 bus, this time with a very loud family, a woman sitting behind me who talked continuously on her phone and an extremely myopic chap with unbearable sniffles rather than a jolly baby and her mother.

We then joined the DLR for the short trip back under the river to the flat.


A lovely day it was.

Posted in Gary's Posts, National Trust visits | 1 Comment

Three little maids in green

Today I took the girls to the kennel before heading into London for our weekend at the flat prior to Milan.

The day was stunning and we took full advantage of it, catching the ferry up the river before wandering around Covent Garden looking for a watch. It was not a successful mission though wandering around Covent Garden watchless was still lovely. And crowded. As you’d expect.

We were on our way to the Haymarket where we were going to see Brief Encounter, a multimedia musical version of the play and film adapted and directed by the brilliant Emma Rice. We walked across from the Garden via Trafalgar Square where I spotted the new fourth plinth sculpture.

Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square

It is called The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist and is by Michael Rakowitz. It represents the winged bull destroyed by Isis, recreated using 10,500 date syrup tins. The original was called the Lamassu and stood for 3,000 years until being smashed to pieces by thugs who never had a chance to think for themselves. The date syrup tins represent the death of the Iraqi export trade because of their trade in terrorism. I think it’s quite beautiful even if the reasons are not.

From here we walked into Pret for a tea then around the corner heading for the cinema where the play was being performed.

While we were in Pret we spotted three Japanese women (they looked like mother, daughter and grand daughter) all wearing green and dressed up a bit glamorous. It made me quip “Three little maids in Green” which my wife obediently laughed at.

As we walked, Mirinda decided she wanted an ice cream, it being a special occasion. I thought it was an excellent idea. We had decided against queuing at the various shops we’d passed and found ourselves standing next to a cart selling cones. The cart was quite ornate and fancy and belonged to a hotel just behind the woman selling them.

Today marks the first time I have ever been unfortunate enough to be served by an ice cream seller who was unable to actually serve ice cream. She wanted to put two scoops in a bucket and give Mirinda a cone to scoop them out with at first. Incredulous, Mirinda said she’d have one scoop instead.

Two days later, Mirinda walked away with a rather scraggly looking cone with some bitty raspberry ripple. After the marathon effort to get just the one, I decided against wasting my carbs on one of my own. It wasn’t a good sign.

Fortunately the bad sign wasn’t anything much and we headed into the cinema.

What a beautiful, wedding cake of a place.

We were about to head upstairs when an usher told us, quietly, that if we sat in the comfortable chairs in the lobby, we would be treated to some pre-show entertainment. It’s important to note that he didn’t tell everyone this, just a select few.

About ten minutes before curtain, the band suddenly appeared on the stairs and started playing a musical medley from the 1930’s. It was a marvellous way to start the evening (and made Mirinda forget the regrettable ice cream).

While the intro was excellent it was just the beginning of an amazing production which we both thoroughly enjoyed.

Started in 2007 and finely honed by Ms Rice and her creative team, Brief Encounter has toured the world. The extremely ensemble cast interact with the audience, play and sing songs, tell the story all against the backdrops of middle class, between the wars, England. Littered with Noel Coward songs and a bit of Rachmaninoff, it is incredibly entertaining. It is also sad and very, very funny.

We saw the understudy (Peter Dukes) playing Alec tonight and he was terrific. Laura, payed by Isabel Pollen, was also perfect. In fact, the entire cast was faultless. Special mention must go to Dean Nolan who managed some amazing gymnastic prowess during his sexy dance with Lucy Thackeray.

Honestly, I loved them all. Along with the above, Beverly Rudd, Katrina Kleve, Jos Slovick, Seamus Carey and Pat Moran each gave us an amazing night out at the theatre. So, thank you.

Afterwards we adjourned across the road to our usual Haymarket restaurant (Brumus) for a late supper before getting a taxi back to the flat.

Three little maids in green

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No longer invisible

Before I go much further, here’s a photo of Emma after her visit to Kate. She wasn’t happy that I included one of Freya and not her yesterday.

Today I was going to go to work, it being a Friday, but firstly I was rather reticent to leave the girls on their own again. I say ‘again’ because they’ve spent an awful lot of time alone since my return from Oz. Sue is in France so she couldn’t take them. It was just easier to work from home…which I did.

Secondly, I had to be home to take charge of a very important delivery. The chap arrived nice and early and, between us, we carried in the precious cargo. He was no sooner with us than he’d hopped back into his van to his next stop, an auctioneer.

And what was the delivery? Well, it’s something I’ve been suggesting ever since the extension was finished. Something that will help me immeasurably. Something that Mirinda bought while I was away. And, I’m very happy to say, it is not invisible any more…Denise will be relieved to hear.

An old bit of farm machinery

While it started life on a farm somewhere, cutting up chaff (or some such) it will now be somewhere for me to put things down before removing (or putting on) my shoes. Talk about first world problems!

So I worked from home discovering all about the remarkable James Canby Biddle-Cope. James was the father of one of my fallen soldiers, Anthony Cyprian Prosper Biddle-Cope, a second Lieutenant in the Shropshire Light Infantry who died a bit of a mad hero. While Anthony’s army career is quite remarkable, it’s his father that I enjoyed discovering.

To start with there was the difficulty in finding either of them (and Anthony’s two brothers and mother). On the war memorial, Anthony is merely noted as being ‘A Cope’ which isn’t a lot to go on with. Still, with a bit of investigation which lasted quite a few hours, I managed to unravel the family story.

James was born in Philadelphia, the son of shipping magnet Alfred Cope who, with his brother, owned the H&A Cope Shipping Company, which ploughed the oceans between Liverpool and Philadelphia in the days before aircraft. James seemed to have moved between the US and the UK frequently during his life – I assume he didn’t have to buy a ticket. He studied in Pennsylvania before heading to Oxford for his Masters. He eventually married an American, Marie Louise Saunders (obviously of the Pennsylvania Saunders).

James fancied himself as a bit of a novelist. Which bit I’m not certain because I’ve read a few reports that his work was not exactly read-worthy. He adopted the double barrel surname Biddle-Cope following his father’s marriage to his second wife, Rebecca Biddle. Though his actual name was Cope, which explains why I had a bit of difficulty finding them all.

James had strong Catholic connections and a big love of the pope. For this reason (possibly) he was named a marquis in the Holy See of the Vatican and the King of Italy made him a baron. I haven’t been able to find anything that suggests he spent any great time in Italy however, in one English census his name is in Italian – Giacomo de Biddle-Cope – as are the names of his three sons. Also Anthony studied in a university in Florence.

James and Marie Louise settled on a big estate in Shropshire for a while where they employed about 12 servants. It was all very Downton if you ask me. Then, at some as yet undiscovered time, James died and Marie Louise moved to Farnham with the children…except for Anthony because he was away at war. They lived in a big house, probably with servants up until at least 1915 when news of her son’s death reached her.

The Farnham Herald ran a story on it, also mentioning the fact that the family was well attached to the local Catholic church and priest, Father Robo. A requiem service was held for Anthony in St Polycarps, the Catholic church in Farnham.

And that was my very productive day of research. Starting with just ‘A Cope’ and his regiment and a short piece from the paper, it may have taken me quite a while to ferret out the truth but I managed to drag it kicking and screaming to the surface and now have breathed new life into the bones of 2nd Lieutenant Anthony Cyprian Prosper Biddle-Cope.

Finally, ahead of creating audio podcasts for Karen, this is a test. It is a story piece from a book about dogs.

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Trim and chat

Today was our ten week date with Kate. We left the house and walked (or ran) through the park up to the top end, walked along Nutshell Lane (which features large in my WW1 research), crossed the awful Upper Hale Road and, finally, arrived at Kate’s back gate.

Babe in arms and a toddler by her side, Kate took charge of the girls while I headed back to the house to prepare for my Talking Newspaper stint, recording the Alton edition.

On the way back from Kate’s I realised how green everything is at the moment. It shouldn’t be so surprising I guess given it’s almost summer and we’ve had a bit of rain followed by steamy heat. This is always an excellent combination to ensure the deepest greens.

Start of the Avenue of Trees

Before heading out, I sowed a few seeds in the lowest raised bed and along the bed in the front garden. It was a combination of things like love in a mist, California poppies and other flowers full of coloured joy…eventually. Once they’re grown. Maybe by the time we get back from Milan they will have started.

Anyway, before too long I was heading out again, this time to the recording studio.

Today I had an excellent team with Rosemary, Mo and David providing plenty of laughs. In fact we had a very laughter filled session. It was a lot of lovely silliness.

While chatting with David I discovered he went and saw An Ideal Husband at the beginning of the week. He was as enthused as I was. It’s nice to know it’s not just me. Or Mirinda. David said he came out afterwards full of light and happiness…which is one of the things that live theatre should do.

After the session I headed back into town and popped into the Farnham Liberal Club. I’ve never been before (it’s a members only type of place on South Street, our very own Lutyens) and was only now visiting in order to check out the World War I memorial plaque they were supposed to have. It seems they do not have a World War I memorial plaque. At least not on show . They do have a Burma Star proudly displayed but, as we all know, this is for World War II.

I also want to record the memorial that is supposed to be in the United Reform Church but, alas, it closes at around 5pm. Given the club didn’t open until 5pm and I didn’t finish recording until about 5pm, visiting the church proved to be impossible today. That’s not a big problem because I’ll pop in next time I’m in town.

I’ve also discovered another memorial plaque, this time in a school that no longer exists. Actually, to be completely accurate, the school changed it’s name and is now a special needs school (I think). I am in contact with them to find out if they still have the memorial.

Sadly this means all my memorial discovery plans are on hold while more research is completed.

So, eventually I reached home to two beautiful short haired puppies.

Freya on my lap

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To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance

Tonight we went to the Vaudeville Theatre in the Strand and were royally entertained with Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. It was absolutely hilarious and delightful with some of the wittiest dialogue outside of Earnest delivered by an exceptionally brilliant cast.

Top of the list was Freddie Fox as Viscount Goring. He controlled the stage from start to finish with a deft hand and birthright as a member of British theatre royalty. Add to that the inclusion of his father, Edward (playing his father, the Earl of Caversham) and you already have a winning combination.

While we saw Edward years ago in The Browning Version in Guildford (he was brilliant) it’s our first time seeing Freddie. And what a treat it was. He delivered Wilde’s lines with utter panache and delight. Mind you, the line of the night went to the 81 year old Edward Fox as he showed everyone how to deliver the perfect line with great precision in order to claim the biggest laugh. He really is one of our greatest living actors.

Of course the rest of the cast was equal to the task including Nathaniel Parker (as Robert Chiltern) though I can’t help but think of him as Rawdon Crawley in Vanity Fair every time I see him. Sally Bretton played his wife, Lady Chiltern with an uncanny resemblance to Farelli. Frances Barber was a suitably evil Mrs Cheveley who more than rightly gets her comeuppance and Susan Hampshire a marvellous Lady Markby whose declarations on marriage and society were perfect.

The rest of the cast were equally wonderful but special mention must be made of Joanna van Kampen (Mrs Marchmont) and Rebecca Charles (Countess of Basildon) both of whom took languid disassociation to a whole new level bordering on overt lesbianism. (Joanna plays Fallon in The Archers.)

And laugh! The audience rarely stopped to draw breath. For a play written in 1895 to still have the audience roaring with laughter is a testament to the brilliance that was Oscar Wilde; to realise that when it originally opened in London (to ‘dazzling success’) he was soon jailed for being himself is a testament to the foulness of humanity.

Needless to say we dined at our usual before the show

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