Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Why is there no plughole in my washbasin?

Staying at the Hotel La Marbrerie recently in Caunes Minervois, southern France, I was nonplussed in the bathroom to discover that the washbasin had no apparent or obvious means of discharging its load of water.

 Taps there were, to provide ingress for the water, but means of egress I could not discover.

Then I noticed that there was a hand hold fashioned in the porcelain bowl.

Taking my courage in one hand and the bowl in the other, I lifted.

And Hey Presto!

The washbowl swung on metal pivots to reveal a second basin and drain hole beneath.

One lives and learns.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Sleeping in two countries at once.

On my recent trip to the Continent, collecting material for a forthcoming book on frontiers, I spent a night in the Hotel Arbez at La Cure. The hotel was hurriedly built across the proposed new Franco-Swiss border in the delay between the signing of the treaty between Switzerland and France in 1862 and its ratification. With one door in Switzerland and the other in France, it fulfilled its owner's intended purpose of providing him with a route for his smuggling.

The customs agreements today have removed that advantage but not moved the frontier. This is the bed that I slept in. One side is in France, the other in Switzerland. On a restless night one could make several border crossings without awakening.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

A wall covered by Ladybirds in Canterbury.

Have you ever seen a wall covered with Ladybird books? 
Pop along to Canterbury Museum at the Beaney Institute and visit their exhibition highlighting the artists who made the Ladybird Books so distinctive. 
Click here for the link.
You have until 29 September.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 35 – Civilian in a restricted zone.

During the Great War (1914-18) British citizens were obliged to carry an identity card for the first time. It was called a National Registration Card and did NOT ordinarily bear a photograph. Persons living within a restricted zone, such as in a port or near a military installation were issued with a special Permit Book under the Defence of the Realm Act, the latter known familiarly as 'DORA.'

It is 3rd. November 1916 and this is Mrs. Sophie Kernan, She is 59 years old, just over five feet tall, of slim build with grey eyes and hair described as 'dark brown turning grey.' She was born Sophie Kimber in Poplar, East London and is of 'English' nationality.

This is her portrait in her DORA Permit Book. She has permission to reside and work at 75 Folkestone Road, Dover, Kent; Dover being a restricted military zone because of its proximity to France and the war activity in the port. She probably works in or owns a lodging house. 

No 75 is today an eight bedroom guest house and currently on the market for £475,000.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Belgian Bentleys in Tenterden.

What a lovely sight! A vintage 3-litre Bentley of the type that formerly roared around the Le Mans 24 Hour circuit. I found two of them parked in Tenterden High Street on Saturday morning and they did rather look at home in their surroundings.

The Belgian owners were having a cup of tea outside a nearby tea shop whilst keeping a watchful eye on their vehicles – each one would be worth several hundred thousands of pounds. Both had been well restored and discreetly updated to render them driveable on today's roads. Inspecting the instrument panel I was interested to note that the red section on the rev. counter stretched from 3 to 4 thousand revs – apparently a long-legged motor, not a high revver. The speedometer was calibrated up to 180 mph. I tried to imagine the driver handling the vehicle at that speed with no power assisted steering.

Enzo Ferrari once disparaged this breed of Bentley with the observation that they were, 'the fastest lorry in the world.'

Friday, 29 June 2018

What is missing in this library?

My love of reading and, eventually, writing was fuelled by my weekly visits to the public lending library. I chose my three books on Saturday morning and by Saturday afternoon I would have read the first book. Each child was allowed three library tickets but I discovered a subterfuge by which I acquired nine and the librarians did not see the reason to question my allocation. Perhaps they were being complaisant for the sake of education.

Public libraries are a goldmine which should be explored by all: children and adults alike. To be able to pick a book from a shelf, sit down and read it at leisure should be one of this frantic world's most treasured activities. To have one's imagination triggered by the words of another is mentally stimulating and intellectually satisfying – you don't have to peer at a flickering screen or push buttons or stick things in your ears. You just sit there quietly and live in the world of your imagination. And it is BOOKS that provide the material.

I recently gave a talk at Wheathampstead in the Memorial Hall next to the library. A placard on the wall declared, 'come and join us, it's free'.

By the door, this notice enticed you with what the library was offering you.

Do you notice something missing from the list?