day out: The wimbledon book festival

Introduction:

The Wimbledon Book Festival is different this year. It normally lasts 10 days but this year it’s happening in 2 parts. The first part – the Sunrise Festival – has just happened and was very well attended when I went. The second part – the Sunset Festival – will be taking place in September 2021.

The Sunrise Festival:

I chose the hottest day of the year to attend a talk by 2 local novelists. The first was Jane Thynne, author of Widowland, which was set in 1953 in London under Nazi rule, and the second was Aliya Ali Afzal who has written a novel set in Wimbledon called Would I Lie to You which is about a woman spending all her money. They both sounded very readable and we had a choice of one of the books included in the ticket price.

The event took place in the Robert Graves Tent, named after the poet and novelist who was born in Wimbledon in 1895. Everyone working there was very friendly and social distancing rules were followed to the letter.

Other speakers who appeared at the book festival this year to talk about books they had written included Ed Miliband, Michael Morpurgo and Frank Skinner. I attended several years ago for a talk by Alison Weir, who writes novels set in Tudor times. She’s a wonderful novelist and speaker.

The Sunset Festival:

The second part of the Wimbledon Book Festival takes place from 15-19 September 2021 and details of speakers will be announced nearer the time. I always enjoy it and intend to go again.

A few practical details:

The venue is a couple of huge tents on Wimbledon Common near the war memorial. Tickets for the Sunset Festival will be available on the website. There are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants in the High Street nearby.

It’s easy to get to by public transport. Any bus between Wimbledon and Putney will take you to the war memorial and from there you can see the big tents. The nearest overground railway station is Wimbledon and the tube stations are Wimbledon and Wimbledon Park.

Other things to do in Wimbledon include tennis, scenic walks on the common and visiting Wimbledon Windmill which re-opens on 3 July 2021. It is a beautiful historic building and entry is free.

And Finally:

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the pandemic is coming to an end…

Introduction:

Spring is here and the daffodils are out and Easter will soon be here. Things are starting to happen again. There are various exhibitions and events planned from April 2021 and let’s hope they happen this year. Here’s a few of them.

Sporting events:

The Epsom Derby is scheduled to take place as normal on Saturday 5 June on Epsom Downs. The Wimbledon Tennis is happening in the first two weeks of July. The Olympics, which was postponed last year, will be taking place in Tokyo at the end of July.

London Walks:

Guided walks with a theme, such as Harry Potter in London and ghosts in London, take place round our capital city and are starting again on Friday 2 April. I’ve been on lots of these and they are always very interesting and often end in a pub. Some of them are currently taking place online.

Country Walks:

Nonsuch Park near Epsom in Surrey is huge with lots to see and do. There are lots of paths through trees and across fields, the site of Nonsuch Palace, the rose garden and it even has a cafe. It is on several bus routes and very near Cheam railway station and is easy to get to.

Exhibitions:

The Postal Museum in London has an exhibition about postcards, including seaside postcards and handmade postcards. It starts on 20 May and the tickets last for a year.

Meanwhile there will be an exhibition about trainers at The Design Museum in London starting on 18 May. I once went to the shoe museum in Toronto, Canada, and saw shoes made out of leaves and found it fascinating.

If you like sculpture you will be able to visit The Making of Rodin at the Tate Modern in London which begins on 29 April. There will be 200 works displayed on loan from the Rodin Museum in Paris. The Tate Modern is unusual because it is a converted power station and still looks like one from the outside.

And Finally:

We’ve all had a difficult year but these events and exhibitions planned for this year show that soon we will be able to go out with friends and family and enjoy ourselves again. See the menu on the left for more ideas about places to go and books to read.

Book review: Young prince philip by philip eade

Introduction

Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life by Philip Eade was published in 2011 to co-incide with Prince Philip’s 90th birthday and is the first book to concentrate on his turbulent life before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

Early family life

Philip’s parents were Andreas and Alice, the Prince and Princess of Greece and Denmark.  He was born in Corfu and had 4 older sisters. However, Andreas was court martialled and they all had to leave Greece when Philip was very small.  They lived together all over Europe including the UK until 1930 when Alice had a breakdown. She was hospitalised and the whole family were split up. 

Philip was sent to boarding school in the UK and his sisters all married Germans. Andreas went to live in France and Philip spent the school holidays with various Mountbatten relatives.

Philip saw very little of his parents after they separated and his mother spent much of her time in psychiatric hospitals and then became a nun. Then one of his sisters died in a plane crash with her husband and family, so he experienced a lot of upheaval when young.

After leaving school he joined the navy and saw active service during the Second World War. He became a commander and gained a lot of respect from his colleagues.

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth are 3rd cousins in the line descending from Queen Victoria and 2nd cousins once removed in the line descending from Christian IX of Denmark. Philip had become a self confidence young man despite his turbulent childhood and Elizabeth was a teenager when she fell in love with him.

They married and started their life together at Clarence House in London, Philip’s first proper home, and they became parents to Charles and Anne. Philip was still serving in the navy but then his father in law died suddenly aged 51, and Elizabeth became queen much earlier than expected. Philip reluctantly left the navy so he could be home to support his wife and they moved to Buckingham Palace. However, he found himself playing second in command but adapted well to his role and took up flying as as a way to maintain some control over his life.

Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life by Philip Eade ends with the coronation in 1953 and is very detailed and well researched. It is written in a very factual way and shows Philip just got on with life despite the traumas he experienced. The book illustrated with photographs and family trees at the beginning. However, there is no evidence the author spoke to Prince Philip himself or the rest of the family while writing it.

I learned a lot about Prince Philip from reading his biography. He has had a very long and interesting life, and is due to celebrate his 100th birthday this summer.

Philip Eade

The author Philip Eade read history at Bristol University and has worked as a criminal lawyer, a teacher and then became a writer and editor of obituaries for the Daily Telegraph. He has written guidebooks and other biographies including Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited published in 2016. You can find them on www.amazon.com.

And Finally

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Book review: the secret by rhonda byrne

Introduction:

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne is about the law of attraction.  The author says if you want good things then think positively about them and you will get them. Likewise if you think negatively you will attract negativity.   I find some of her ideas very relevant but others are very unrealistic.

Visualisation and Gratitude:

Rhonda Byrne sees visualisation and gratitude as the 2 most powerful ways of getting what you want.  It starts with imagination.  The Wright Brothers invented the aeroplane and Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone by creating the ideas in their heads and visualising them first.

She suggests that to make lots of money you need to visualise yourself with lots of money.  Personally this doesn’t work for me.   However, if I tell myself to be happy, I do feel happier and I am more positive about life.

The author also says that by being grateful about everything you have means that you will attract more of what you want.  Say thank you for your day, and your life, and mean it.  It doesn’t matter if you say it to yourself or to a higher being, just be grateful and you will be happy.

The Secret and relationships:

Rhonda Byrne states the obvious in this section, pointing out that if you feel bad about yourself you attract people who make you feel bad.  On the other hand when you have self respect and love yourself then you will attract people who treat you with love and respect.  I can relate to this section and agree that people treat me better when I behave in a confident way. 

The Secret and health:

The author believes that you can cure illnesses by visualisation.  If you want to stop wearing glasses then imagine yourself with perfect eyesight.  She gives an example of a man with a terminal illness who cured himself by laughing at comedies instead of worrying about his health.  I find these ideas interesting instead of realistic and the author does not provide a scientific explanation for them. 

The Secret:

The Secret was published in 2006 and sold 19,000,000 copies in the first year and has been translated into 50 languages.  I read some of the reviews on Amazon and people either love it or hate it. There is also a film with the same name which I haven’t seen.

Rhonda Byrne:

She was born in 1945 in Australia and is a TV and radio producer.  She has written other books on similar subjects, including The Greatest Secret, and her website: is http://www.rhondabyrne.com

And finally:

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Book review: diary of a lone twin by david loftus

Introduction:

David Loftus is a photographer and his identical twin John died 30 years ago when they were 25 years old.  Diary of a Lone Twin is written in the form of a diary, detailing his present day activities with anecdotes about his early life and his close relationship with John, and other family and friends.

Their childhood:

John was 10 minutes older than David and assumed the role of older brother. They grew up in Carshalton Beeches, Surrey, and played together in Nonsuch Park and on Box Hill. They were very close and read the same books and enjoyed competing against each other in cricket matches.

Early adulthood:

They dressed alike until they were 15, and were then put in different classes at school so developed different friends and tastes in music.  John became a graphic designer while David was an illustrator and later a photographer.

David as a lone twin:

However, John developed a brain tumour and was in hospital on their birthday when a doctor gave him a fatal injection by mistake.  He died 10 days later age 25.  David suffered from survivor’s guilt, and felt people would think the wrong twin died.  He distanced himself from people and developed post traumatic stress disorder as a result.

He married and had 2 children with the first wife, divorced and found happiness with the 2nd wife despite feeling no one understood what it was like for him as a lone twin.

David’s friendship with Timothy Knatchbull:

Timothy Knatchbull is also a lone twin and the grandson of Earl Mountbatten.  In 1979 the IRA blew up the family boat off the coast of County Sligo, Northern Ireland.  Earl Mountbatten and Timothy’s identical twin Nick were killed and Timothy was seriously injured.  He also wrote an autobiography about his experience as a lone twin, entitled On a Clear Day, which I have written about before on my blog.

David and Timothy met after both their twins had died. They had an instant connection and became close friends, and were each others best man when they got married, and have also been mistaken for twins.

Diary of a Lone Twin by David Loftus is an intensely moving story about bereavement and survival, with lots of details about his work as a photographer and holidays with his family.

And finally:

After I read David Loftus’s book, and the statistics on my blog kept telling me somebody had been reading my book review of Timothy Knatchbull’s autobiography.  It was as if they were telling me to write about Diary of a Lone Twin, so I have.

The photography of David Loftus can be seen on his website: www.davidloftus.com and both books are available on Amazon.

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Day out: The Langdon Down museum of learning disability

Introduction:

The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability in Teddington, Middlesex, is a huge Victorian building surrounded by mature trees and would be of interest to anyone who likes architecture, local history and museums which are a bit different. Click here for pictures.

The historical bit:

It was the home of Dr John Langdon Down (1828-1896) who began his medical career at The Royal Earlswood Asylum in Redhill, Surrey, where he identified the condition now known as Downs Syndrome.

He and his wife moved to Teddington and founded the institution at Normansfield in 1868 and it became a home for people with learning disabilities, where they were cared for and educated instead of being sent to an asylum. The building was a hospital from 1951 to 1997 and is now the head office of the Downs Syndrome Association and has a beautiful theatre and a very interesting museum.

The touristy bit:

The most interesting section is Normansfield Theatre which was built in 1877 and it still has the original painted Victorian scenery, very detailed and in good condition, with ornate fixtures and fittings.  The stage has Victorian side flaps in working order.  The architecture is beautiful and has lots of wood pannelling.

Dr John Langdon Down and his wife loved it. Their residents and staff put on lots of plays and other performances over the years, and the venue is still used today.  There is an exhibition of adverts and photos of past performances showing how popular it has been.

A separate display tells the visitor all about the Langdon Down family and the development of Normansfield over the years.  In the basement there are exhibitions boards with accounts of residents’ life stories, large model ships made by some of them and information on different sorts of learning disabilities.

Click here for pictures.

The practical bit:

The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability is easy to get to.  From Hampton Wick railway station, turn right and walk along Upper Teddington Road for about half a mile and you find the museum on your right.  There’s a bus stop outside and a car park.

I went there for the London Open House event, which is held every year in September.  Normally the museum is open to visitors once a month and they have talks, classes and theatrical performances, details of which are on their website.

And finally:

The museum isn’t well known and not really on the tourist route, being across the river from Kingston, but is definitely worth a visit.  I enjoyed it and found it very interesting.

See the menu on the left for more ideas about places to visit and books to read.

Book review: Too much and never enough by mary trump

Introduction:

Mary L Trump is the niece of American president Donald Trump.  Her book about the family is entitled ‘Too Much and Never Enough’ because there was too much verbal abuse and never enough love. 

In the Trump family there are several members with the same name, so to summarise…

  1. Fred and Mary Trump – Donald’s late parents
  2. Fred and Mary’s children – Maryanne, Freddy (died 1981), Elizabeth, Donald and Robert
  3. Mary (author) – daughter of Freddy

Fred Trump – Donald’s father

Mary describes the family background in detail.  Fred was a successful business man who made his money in real estate but was tough and unemotional towards his 5 children.  Fred’s wife was hospitalised for a while when Donald was 2 and a half years old, but Fred was more interested in running his business than in being a hands on father.

The children were emotionally neglected and when their father did pay attention to them he was very critical, especially of Freddy, and Donald learned to get attention by being a bully and a liar.

Donald and Freddy:

Freddy, Donald and Robert all worked for their father.  However, Freddy wasn’t happy and became a pilot instead.  Freddy married and had a son and a daughter, Mary, but wasn’t successful as a pilot, got divorced and became alcoholic. 

Fred Trump had little respect for Freddy and gave Donald much more responsibility in the business. Donald treated his older brother the same way his father did, with contempt. When Donald heard Freddy was seriously ill and probably wouldn’t make it, he went out to the cinema. Freddy died at the age of 42 when Mary was 16.  The family refused to discuss Freddy after he died.

Her grandfather’s will:

I had sympathy for Mary having to put up with her dysfunctional family, until I reached the chapter about her grandfather’s will.  Fred Trump died and left his estate to his 4 surviving children.  Mary and her brother received the same amount of money as their cousins.  According to Google this was $200,000 each, but Mary and her brother wanted their late father’s share.  They sued the family and eventually received enough to cover medical expenses for Mary’s nephew.  As a result of the lawsuit she had no contact with her relatives for 10 years.

Mary Trump:

Mary was born in 1965 and has an MA in English and a PhD in clinical psychology and teaches the subject.  She has written the book in an informative and detailed way, sounding rather detached when describing the deaths of her father and her grandfather. 

To write about her family in such detail and to describe her uncle as the world’s most dangerous man is a very brave and shocking thing to do and I wondered how it would affect her relationships with her relatives.   However, I found it very interesting to read about Donald Trump’s childhood and early life and it explains why he behaves the way he does.

Too Much and Never Enough‘ by Mary L Trump was published in 2020 by Simon and Schuster and is available on Amazon.

Day out: Kensington Palace, London

Introduction:

This summer is a good opportunity to visit London while it is quiet without lots of tourists and heavy traffic.  Some of the tourist attractions are open, with reduced hours, and one of them is Kensington Palace which would appeal to anyone interested in  historic buildings, art and culture.  Visits need to be booked online first and are good value for money.

I arranged to meet a friend at High Street Kensington tube station and we had lunch together first in Kensington Gardens where the local pigeons wanted to make friends with us and share our sandwiches.

Highlights from Kensington Palace:

There is a new exhibition about Queen Victoria who was born and raised at Kensington Palace by her mother.  When she was 8 months old her father died and she was educated alone under the Kensington System which was very strict.  We saw the toys she played with and lots of paintings of her and her family.  She moved to Buckingham Palace when she became queen at the age of 18.

The grand King’s Staircase in Kensington Palace is decorated with William Kent’s paintings of architecture and people in the royal court of George I, including the artist himself holding a palette.  The steps lead up to the King’s State Apartments with ornate ceiling paintings also by Kent, portrait busts of George II and Queen Caroline, and huge wall tapestries.

The Queen’s State Apartments were slightly less grand but also had impressive paintings and architecture.  They were home to King William III and Queen Mary II who bought the property when it was a small villa and transformed it into a palace.  They hosted many balls and other events there which were attended by lots of important people at the time.

The layout of Kensington Palace:

We followed the one way system from the displays about Queen Victoria, through the King’s State Apartments and then the Queen’s State Apartments, back in time to King George II and Queen Caroline and then back further to William and Mary’s time, a century before.  It was interesting but a bit confusing and we felt we needed a family tree to refer to.

We left the palace itself and went for a long walk around Kensington Gardens, which is huge, and we saw monuments such as the Physical Energy sculpture and the Albert Memorial opposite the Royal Albert Hall.  There were other people around but it wasn’t as busy as it normally is in the middle of summer.  Click here for pictures.

A few practical details:

The Palace has a small gift shop and a cafe with an outdoor seating area. There are other facilities nearby.  It is on a bus route and there are several tube stations nearby including High Street Kensington to the south and Queensway to the north.

And finally: we spent all day practicing social distancing, wore masks when necessary, washed our hands at every opportunity and at the end of the afternoon we parted with an elbow bump.

See the menu on the left for more ideas about places to go and books to read.

 

Day out: London without the tourists

Introduction:

London in the summer is normally very hot and very busy but 2020 is a bit different.  Lots of closed shops, businesses and tourist attractions, but we have to be positive.  I decided to go sightseeing to see what London was like without the tourists.

Starting point… London Bridge Station:

I hardly ever go to London Bridge Station and they keep rebuilding it so every time I go there it looks completely different.  It’s one of the oldest railway stations in the world and the original was built in 1836. It’s now very modern with a few historic brick arches.  During one of the rebuilds they found Roman pottery and mosaics which are displayed somewhere at the station.

Tower Bridge:

Tower Bridge is beautiful with Gothic towers and wonderful views of London. Many years ago I visited the Tower Bridge Experience.  I was surprised to see it’s open at the moment so you could have the whole place to yourself, go up one tower, walk across the glass walkway and down the other tower and visit the engine rooms.  The bridge is opened 800 times a year for river traffic to pass through.

On the other side of the river you will find the Tower of London on the left and St Katherine’s Docks on the right.

St Katherine’s Docks:

St Katherine’s Docks was a commercial shipping area from 1828 to 1968 and has been redeveloped to include shops, restaurants and a pub which used to be a brewery.  In normal times it would probably be a lively place but everything looked closed so  I didn’t stay very long.  Residents have included David Suchet, the actor, and Jo Cox, the MP who was murdered, but not at St Katherine’s Docks.

The Tower of London:

The Tower of London is partly open to tourists and you can visit to see the crown jewels, the White Tower dated 1078 and all outside areas.  The Beefeaters at the Tower, who provide demonstrations for tourists, are under threat of redundancy because there are so few visitors at the moment.  Now is your chance to visit while it’s quiet and support them.

London Bridge:

There has been a bridge on the site since AD 50 which has been rebuilt many times, like the station named after it.  It has been closed to cars and lorries since March, for maintenance.  Maybe it’s falling down again.  It’s scheduled to re-open in October.  Use Southwark Bridge instead.

Borough Market:

Borough Market near Southwark Bridge is one of the largest and oldest food market in London.  There’s been a market here since the 12th century and the present one dates from 1851.  There weren’t many people there but it’s still very atmospheric, with cobbles and is surrounded by railway arches.

Southwark Cathedral:

The cathedral is next door to Borough Market and at present is open for services and private prayer only.  When life returns to normal it is worth a visit as there are interesting things to look at inside and it has a cafe.

And finally:

I tend to avoid London in the summer because it’s normally too hot and too busy, but the reason for my visit was to experience it without all the tourists and although I enjoyed the unusual experience, I hope all the people come back because all the businesses, cafes, restaurants and tourist attractions need them in order to survive.

 

Book review: The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Introduction:

The Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad went to Afghanistan after 9/11 to report on the situation. While she was there she met Sultan Khan and bought books in his bookshop.  After the fall of the Taliban a couple of months later he invited her to stay with him and his family in Kabul. She was with them for several months and as a result wrote The Bookseller of Kabul, a factual account of how different the Afghan lifestyle is compared to ours.

Sultan Khan – the bookseller:

Sultan Khan wanted everyone to share his passion for books but in a war torn country where most people couldn’t read or write, it was challenging running his bookshop.  He was imprisoned for it several times.  He was also passionate about the culture of the country and strict about his family following the rules for arranged marriages.

Family life in Kabul:

Asne Seierstad describes family life in detail, the extended family living together, the arranged marriages enforced by the men which the women are expected to agree to, and how women are treated as second class citizens and have to accept the male domination without complaining.

Sultan Khan married his young second wife when the first one was beginning to show her age.  The two wives live together and manage to tolerate each other. Like all women they are expected to wear the burka at all times.  They are not allowed out on their own and can only visit relatives if their husband agrees to it.

Miriam, for instance, is one of the youngest in the family.  She never went to school and like her sisters she isn’t allowed to speak until she is spoken to.  She is unlikely to have a marriage arranged for her because her hands are deformed and is told no man will want her.

The book itself:

The Bookseller of Kabul is written in the present tense.  It is non fictional account of life in Kabul but conversations are quoted verbatim like a novel although it is not a story with a beginning, middle and an end.  None of the characters are happy and no one can change things for the better.

Although it is called The Bookseller of Kabul, it focusses more on the lifestyle in Afghanistan than on Sultan Khan and his bookshop and I learned a lot about the culture of arranged marriages.  It is a way of life totally different to ours in the UK and hard to imagine how people can live like this. Many books make me want to visit the places described in them but this one doesn’t although I did find it interesting and well written.

The author Asne Seierstad:

Asne Seierstad is Norwegian with a degree in Russian and an ability to speak 5 languages. She is a journalist who has written about a number of war torn countries.  She was treated well while living with the Khan family in Kabul.  As a Western woman she was able to go out alone and as a journalist she observed everything in detail and discussed it with the local people but she admits she was angry with some of the things she saw.

She has also written One of Us: The story of Anders Breivik, a man who murdered 69 children at a summer camp in Norway.

And finally:

See the menu on the left for more of my book reviews and ideas for places to go for a day out.

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