Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Marching, Music and Mauritius

So, continuing to research Mauritius and its wildlife, I have been going through the transcripts of several interviews I did with the conservationist Gerald Durrell, who you will probably know either through his books or through the  TV series "The Durrells of Corfu."  Here is a photo of him and his wife Lee which accompanied one of my articles. I think this picture conveys what good company he was.  

Mauritius and its wildlife fascinated Durrell.  When the remote Indian Ocean island was discovered in the 17th century it was uninhabited by man and full of extraordinary animals and plants that had evolved in isolation, almost like the Galapagos. Unfortunately, human beings arrived in Mauritius before anyone had heard of conservation, and so now only fragments remain of the original wonderful plants, birds, animals and reptiles. Durrell used the Dodo, the island's most famous extinct bird, as a symbol of Durrell Wildlife Trust and the zoo which he founded in Jersey. And very good work is now being done in Mauritius to conserve and re-wild ecosystems that are left.

Sadly, Durrell died in 1995.  The transcripts provided quotes for my articles, but most of them have never been published. Reading through them again after all these years, I often laughed out loud - he was so witty. I've also some found some more unexpected treasures. During one interview he mentioned a piece of music, since our interview was being held within sound of church bells ringing the changes, very loudly and very distractingly, outside.

I didn't look the music up at the time, but this time I did, and here it is!  It's called The Bells of St. Genevieve. It was written in 1723 by the French composer Marin Marais, who was being driven totally mad by his local church bells in Paris, and needed to write the piece to get his head straight.    I love its powerful hypnotic sound. What do you think?

Apart from spending hours on Durrell and Mauritius, I went on the People's Vote March in London last Saturday with various members of my family, including my cousin who came down from Rutland. 

What an incredible march it was.  I go on very few marches, but this reminded me of the march against the Iraq War, - the huge numbers of people were packed side by side across all four lanes of Park Lane and hardly able to move because more and more came flocking in.  When we finally reached Piccadilly - after two hours - the crowds stretched front and back as far as the eye could see.  

I took lots of photos but as the nearby Rinky Dink Bicycle Powered Sound System launched into another number, my camera was drawn to the dear little girl on the left who is one of the people I remember best from the march.

  Her joy and pleasure were infectious. 

 It was great the way that so many workers in nearby shops and cafes and street vendors waved at us, and even staff in the department store where we went to have a coffee afterwards, gave us the thumbs up when saw our badges.  Even the busker in the tube on the way home was covered in stickers advertising the march!   

Truth is that most people in Britain, whatever their views on Brexit, are exhausted and horrified at the way it is going, and many people just want to forget it.  So it was wonderful to see that folk of all ages, old, young and even disabled people on walking frames or in wheelchairs,  made the effort to come, not only from Britain and Ireland but also from further afield. I spoke with English citizens that had travelled that day from both France and Holland. They said they were not allowed a vote in the original referendum yet their lives are being turned upside down by Brexit,

 Revised numbers are that about 700,000 people turned up and nobody we met or saw in that huge crowd was angry or nasty, the weather was beautiful, the music was good,and the atmosphere was great, so, even though it's a very serious topic, we all agreed it was a fun day that we will remember for years.  

Monday, 15 October 2018

So, to get back to that bird....

So to get back to the little bird in my last post.  Many people guessed a bird of prey, some a kestrel, and Graham got into the whole puzzle, realising that the bird was very unusual. It's one of the rarest birds in the world, a Mauritius Kestrel.   It lives only in a few small areas of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, and catches its prey by darting through the forest at high speeds - rather like an English sparrowhawk. 

My project will involve the Mauritius kestrel, and as part of this I went to Wales last week and interviewed an eminent biologist. I loved the trip. I didn't just hear his views but he also showed me his remarkable home. Among other large birds, he owns two gigantic Andean Condors, with wingspans of around 9 feet.  He's built them a vast aviary outside, and I wish I could show you some photos that do them justice, but unfortunately it was almost sunset, and my photos are all terrible. They sort of reminded me of 19th century clerics, with the smooth,  matt black jackets, flowing white tailfeathers like robes, and pure white collars.  

His house was crammed with thousands of specimens and books, a wonderland for anyone fascinated by the natural world.  You must imagine my favourite specimens - the three stuffed giant tortoises who took up a large part of his office. They died of old age and since tortoises live for ages, they might have met Charles Darwin. What a pity they wouldn't have realised who he was.

The stuffed Mauritius kestrel in my photo is in the Tring Natural History museum, unexpectedly situated in a small town in Hertfordshire, outside London.  This view conveys the Victorian atmosphere of the place.

This was originally the private museum of Walter Rothschild (of the famous banking family), and his mum and dad gave him the museum as a birthday present. (I love that idea.  Birthday gift ideas for the billionaires in your life....) 

Walter was a passionate, and decidedly eccentric naturalist and collector of stuffed animals, and after his death he left his magnificent collection to the nation on condition that it became an offshoot of the main Natural History Museum in London.  It now houses their collection of stuffed birds, which includes some spectacular specimens. The iridiscent-feathered ocellated turkey looks as if it's in fancy dress, doesn't it? Or at least I can see it strutting around at one of those decadent  parties rich folk had in the 1930s.  

The aptly named ruffs, a type of sandpiper,  have an extraordinary mating display.

So, I have been thinking about birds a lot, and will tell you more about the project as it develops. Right now, I'm having a job just keeping on top of the paperwork.  And we've had houseguests for three days, which was a welcome diversion. 

 I know some of you read Jeanie's blog The Marmelade Gypsy - if not, do take a look.  I've followed and corresponded with Jeanie for years and, when she and her partner Rick were visiting London, we had them here for a few nights and took them to see places we thought they might like.  One was Gunnersbury Park. I visited a year ago and wrote about it here, but now the restorations are complete and the park's Large Mansion (which by coincidence, also belonged to the Rothschilds) was open for business - well, not business, since it is completely free.   It serves as the local museum and is hired out for private events. What a space to decorate for your own reception!


I was blown away by a fireplace which features glass columns; something I've never seen before in a fireplace. Have you? 

Here is a close up.  Imagine the firelight glittering in the glass.

The costume room of the museum contains some dressing up outfits. I'll spare you T., me and Rick in our hats, but Jeanie looked great in hers.

The only let down in the park was the restaurant, which looks nice but was disorganised and had run out of sandwiches!  But bring your own food and don't let it put you off visiting Gunnersbury.

We also went to the Musical Museum at Brentford, a collection of mechanical musical instruments from 1830s musical boxes to the modern day, all of which they will play for you.  It's fun to hear the juke boxes, orchestrions, pianolas, polyphons and even the splendid reproducing piano, which copied tempo and touch accurately but was "minded" by a human player who interpreted the recorded music.

Few people have heard of reproducing pianos, so I looked for one on Youtube. I found a video from at least 25 years ago, taken in the days when the museum's instruments were housed in an atmospheric abandoned church. (The collection is now in a new purpose built museum)

This video interested me, because I knew Frank Holland, the museum's founder, and visited him in this very church a couple of times. He lived in the vestry, in truly Gothic discomfort, but he was delighted to be surrounded by his instruments,  nearly all of which he had rescued from destruction, and cherished almost as if they were his own family.  I still remember him coaxing them into life as if they were shy kids.  You might be able to get an impression of what it was like there in those days from the video, with the instruments all grouped around as if part of the audience!

The museum runs lots of events, many of them featuring its Mighty Wurlitzer . The great Chris Barber explained the instrument and played for about fifteen minutes. I learned that the illuminated panels (which change colour) around the console are a particularly British thing- American Wurlitzers don't have them.

I am not a huge fan of the cinema organ or of its repertoire, but I really admired Chris's skill, and I think this would be an appropriate way to close this post - so here you are! 

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Flying on...

If you left a comment on my last post, this is just to say that I will reply!  I love getting comments and love replying, but also I like to visit your blogs and see what you are up to as well.  I can't quite do it all because I haven't been much at the computer for the last two weeks.  Must admit I do presently feel a bit like Alice being dragged along by the Red Queen in Tenniel's illustration.

I'm not complaining, because it's a good reason for rushing about.  I've suddenly been gripped by a project that pulls together a few aspects of my life, and right now I'm gathering material which will decide its exact final form. As I said last time, I can't really share it just yet, because I'm still putting it together and it might change, but it does involve a bird like this,

and also one like this. I wonder if you can guess what kind of bird it is. 

I did go out to Oxfordshire at the weekend and on the way I looked at the OS map and saw "White Lion" marked. I thought it must be a pub (since "The White Lion" is a common pub name) but if so, couldn't imagine why they had put its name on the OS map, which never usually marks pub names.   Then I saw this,(below) in the vicinity of the village of Whipsnade, and realised it was a chalk figure.

I'd never heard of this lion, but as you might be able to tell by the style,  it is modern - that is, it was built in 1933.  Which counts as modern by chalk figure standards.  It was a clever advertisement for Whipsnade Zoo, as it was then known (it's a branch of the London ZSL Zoo).  The chalk figure lion isn't accessible to the public but I read up about it here and loved the idea of a colony of wallabies living on it - don't you?

Also saw an old windmill. Don't you agree this is a strange place for a windmill, right in the middle of a field when it could be up on the hill?  I've been to working windmills before, one in Holland and one in Lincolnshire, the wonderful Maud Foster Mill in Boston, which I thoroughly recommend if you are in the area. The one below is picturesque but its sails were not turning and I didn't have the chance to pass by and see if it is ever open to the public.

As I walked around I wondered if those were beech nuts or sweet chestnuts I was crunching underfoot, and just deciding they must be beech nuts, when ....

...I realised a lot of insects seemed to be flying around. Mostly they were going in and out of the hole beneath that white stone.   

I suddenly realised the stone was covering a wasp's nest and so I beat a quick retreat, after taking a photo.

I thought it was a rather elegant insect and looked it up in case it was a special sort of wasp, but no, it's only Vespa vulgaris, "common wasp."  It is always worth looking at nature close up, though in the case of wasps, not too close.....

Wednesday, 26 September 2018


I was going to post "in a few days" about Avebury Manor.  I suppose this counts as a few days...doesn't it?   Anyway, I'm goanna get this post out today. It's about a couple of things I did (including Avebury) on the theme of re-imagining the past. The crucial word is "imagining".  The past itself is living elsewhere in time, isn't it? Which is why we cannot visit it - but we can have some fun imagining and even re-creating it.  

So here is this little fellow lying on the grandest of four poster beds and looking around at the big new world surrounding him.  

He is looking up at this - a gold and red canopy with pleated silk and gold tassels.

He's lying in a very fancy bedroom in Avebury Manor, a charming house owned by the National Trust.  This bedroom has panelled, painted and marbled walls and scarlet swagged curtains, the colours are bright, thee's a painted ceiling full of clouds, and a portrait of all kind of exotic birds - and much more.   

And nearly all of it created just a few years ago.

In case you didn't read my last post, Avebury manor is the biggest house in  a unique village in Wiltshire which is built right in the middle of a Neolithic henge and ritual landscape.  It is  a  higgledy-piggledy place, made of local stone, reflecting no - or perhaps all - periods of recent history.   

It was built on the site of a much older building, but the oldest surviving part is from about 1550, and there have been additions ever since.  When the National Trust acquired the house, decades ago, it was empty of furniture and so was not much of a visitor attraction.   However, in  a very bold move the Trust agreed nearly ten years ago that BBC television would turn nine of the house's empty rooms into a kind of stage set to reflect various periods in its history. 

The plan was to build on the original features that still remained in the empty house - the plaster ceilings, the panelled walls, the old doors - but re-imagine it with new items,  hand painted, hand gilded, hand woven, hand carved, and all of them in exact period style for each different room.  Accessories - books, plates, less important furniture - would be genuine period (but not very high value) items sourced from auctions and secondhand shops.  

So,unlike other stately homes whose contents are roped off and fitted with alarms, there would be no objection to Avebury Manor's visitors treating the house in a normal, careful way - picking up objects, sitting on the beds, lounging on the sofas, in a way that is impossible with fragile antique furniture.  And hence the reason that Baby is lying on that four poster bed.

It's really great wandering around Avebury Manor now.   Look at this beautiful Tudor room - sparsely furnished by our standards, but very appealing with the sun coming in and brightening the heraldic crests and oak furniture. 

What about the Chinese handpainted wallpaper in the 18th century dining room?  It was painted a few years ago in China to old designs, and reflects the Georgian love of chinoiserie. 

My favourite room might almost be the cosy art deco parlour with its old book-cases, specially woven geometrical carpet and emerald green sofa.

Just the place to relax, but really, each of the rooms is a delight.  

As soon as I got home I went online and bought one of the results of the BBC's work. It's a book called "The Manor Reborn" which is available secondhand, and  a four part series. It's not currently available but I hope you can access this hour of Vimeo which shows Episode 1.  Or, even better, visit Avebury Manor and see it for yourself. 

A few days after returning from Avebury, I was again wandering round re-imagining history.   To be honest, I'd  never heard of the Chiltern Open Air Museum. But there it was on the map, just 45 minutes from where we live in North London, and we had a day free.  So we went to see what it was like.

I really loved it. It is run by a charity that rescues unwanted but unusual local buildings and puts them up again in a 44 acre smallholding. It was the most enchanting little world - reminded me a bit of a children's story where cars are banned and all the grown ups are happy in their work.

The place depends on volunteers, but as you see, they don't dress up in antique costumes and re-enact old-world lives. They do work very hard on the site: charcoal burning and growing  veg (the results sold to raise money)  they look after ponds and wildlife and animals, restore old farm vehicles, re-erect and convert properties to modern use.  I even came across these guys building a modern Nissen hut as a teaching space for kids, to match an original Nissen hut parked alongside.  

In case you don't know what a Nissen hut is, it's a simple hut, semi circular in section, made of corrugated iron or similar material,  Many were put up during and after the war, and used mainly as offices, store-rooms, even libraries and canteens. The photo below shows an original hut re-erected in the museum, with tape criss-crossed over its windows, as was customary to protect it from bomb blasts.

My favourite buildings were hard to choose, but they included a splendid Victorian public toilet, a little cricket pavilion now used to house the museum's charity shop, and a prefab.  Prefabs were prefabricated houses used after the war to re-home people who had been bombed out. They had surprisingly spacious rooms and were very comfortable and convenient for the time.  They were only supposed to last for fifteen years but many survived on for much longer, with their inhabitants most reluctant to exchange them for modern flats. 

Below is the prefab's living room.  I was surprised at how many of these objects I have seen in real life - that rug with the rose design, the chair, the clock on the mantelpiece. I suppose there wasn't much choice in those days.    

It's hard to choose which photographs to put in this post. The village hall? The tin church? The straw-plaiter's cottage, the old granary, or enormous ancient barns? I did like the wooden apple store below, now sited in the museum's orchard. 

I also adored the gothick toll house complete with board giving a list of tolls. to be paid by all who passed through the turnpike gate. 

The furnishings of some of the houses also offer glimpses into a past I'm glad I don't have to live in.  Look at this innocuous glass below. Known as a Penny Lick, it is a little glass cup that street iceream sellers used. It often wasn't washed between customers - can you imagine?  Just one of the things that contributed to the huge amount of contagious disease in the 19th century. 

And in a barn, we spotted an original "cherry picker"  These days, that generally means a hydraulic crane with a platform, used for working on overhead power lines. Then, it was a long ladder with an extra wide base base.  Here is an old photo of one in use  - how dangerous  does that look?

The one we saw was stored right across the top of a large barn. I couldn't get far away enough to photograph it but I did wonder how they got it there.  

Still, despite the dangers and lack of hygiene, I would still travel back into the real past if I could. Just for a few weeks, perhaps... 

And now I am very busy working on a new and interesting project which I'll share it with you in a few weeks' time. In any spare time,  T and I are making use of the fine weather to see the English countryside as autumn comes on.     Inspired by the Chiltern Open Air museum, we're looking around this particular bit of the home counties - where Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire meet. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Chalk Horses and Ancient Mysteries

 My ankle's lots better so I'm now mobile again, and I'm really appreciating it.  Every gleam of sun there is, I try to go somewhere new and reasonably near home.  Surprising how many places there are. A couple of weeks ago we spent a couple of days near the prehistoric White Horse at Uffington, Oxfordshire.  You reach this curious creature by walking down a long track over the open downland.    

It is a very open, empty landscape, even though it is not far from London, and the slightly lonely walk to the White Horse (which is on the most distant hill in the picture, and no, you can't see it) got me into the mood for considering what might have been going on here in the Stone and Bronze Ages.

Nobody knows for sure what the  history of the Uffington White Horse is, but it's thought to be neolithic.  I'd have taken a photo of it except that there isn't any spot nearby that has a proper view, and you have to go a long way away to be able to glimpse it at all. That alone makes me think it must be very old, perhaps magical, otherwise why spend all that effort on something which will not be completely seen by ordinary mortals?

 But since we live now, in the days of aerial photos, I can show you what the White Horse looks like.  The website the photo is from has lots more background on this huge and mysterious symbol.  (Incidentally is it really a horse? I'm not quite sure. Are you?)

If you look at the photo above you can imagine me standing at the top right, just above the dot of the  eye, looking downwards. The picture below is what I saw. 

The more I looked over this landscape, the stranger it seemed.  That flat topped hill in the centre of my photo, for instance.  The hill was formed by nature, not by man, but its flat top has been deliberately created. Yes, people so primitive they probably didn't even use wheeled vehicles cut off the whole top of that hill and carted it away.  Archaeologists think that the hill was the site of important ceremonies. I don't see how we will ever know, but its name is Dragon Hill, and if you know anything about English place-names, you'll know that most of them have a reason for being called what they are. Dragon Hill's name relates to the legend that St. George killed his dragon there. The white patch where nothing grows is where the dragon's blood was supposedly spilt.
Just to the left of the hill is a weird valley with what looks like pleats down one side. I have never seen anything else like it in the area,  and there are no streams running down the gaps. The only geological information I have found about it suggests that it was formed by melting ice, but nobody seems quite sure.   It is known as "The Manger" and the horse is supposed to come down from the hill to eat from it at night.

You will by now have gathered that something extremely major was going on spread over a very large part of this landscape in 2-3000 BC or so.  So, after climbing the White Horse we decided to visit Wayland's Smithy, a long-barrow tomb also dating from the neolithic period, which is about three miles to the southwest and down a rather lonely path.    Mike's A Bit About Britain blog  had made me want to visit the area, and it has more information on this and other neolithic sites in the area if you want to read it.

It was a pleasant walk of half a mile or so down the track but when I arrived at the tomb I wasn't expecting to go round the back of the entrance and see this:

One of the large stones making the tomb mouth has a very strange, though not unfriendly presence that looks vaguely like an animal or fish.   I noticed that a stick had been placed in its "mouth" (you can probably just see the stick if you look hard) and a necklace of rowan berries had been carefully draped over its "head."  The rowan is one of the most magical trees in English folklore, and the berries for this necklace had been deftly threaded on what looked like slender stems of twig and dry grass.     Not surprisingly, modern day nature worshippers, witches and druids are fond of these sites, and it is interesting to glimpse their beliefs.  

There are several legends associated with this particular neolithic long barrow. Mike cites one from Saxon times (pre-1066 AD) that concerns a Saxon god derived from a Norse creature called Völundr, a supernatural weapon maker.  

But of course legends don't really explain these neolithic tombs and monuments.     Like the St. George and the Dragon story, they are later attempts to explain features which had already existed for thousands of years - for let's not forget the neolithic people were much more remote from the Saxons in time, than the Saxons are from us, and even more of a mystery. To the Saxons, these places might well have been put here by their gods.  

Anyhow, as we lay on the grass beneath huge old beech trees, it did indeed feel like a magical way to spend a late summer afternoon.  

Next day, still on the neolithic trail, we went to Avebury.  We stayed, by the way, at a very nice community pub in nearby Hungerford Newtown, which I  thought I'd mention in case you are ever passing.  

It's called the "Tally Ho!" and after at least 150 years as a pub it was all set to close down when the locals decided to club together and buy it.  So they did, and now it's a friendly, cosy pub, popular with locals (who of course have more than a passing interest in how well it does) but also with very reasonable prices for any of the three very nice bedrooms upstairs.  

So, onwards to Avebury.   You only have to drive into the village to spot the boulders. 

This picture of Avebury village from the air shows that it is in the middle of a giant earthwork (photo from the wonderful Aeroengland site). This makes it clear that this was an important part of  a gigantic  ritual landscape, which spreads many miles from the village.   

It may not surprise you to know that Stonehenge is only a few miles to the south of Avebury.  So, what with the White Horse, the long barrows and the stone circles, it beggars belief that stone age people were able to create something on this scale with their antler-picks and leather ropes.  

As I was wandering around all this stuff,  a song which my son in law wrote last year was going in my head and I was humming it.  "If you seek then you will find."    He is fascinated by ancient landscapes and folklore, and particularly the many chalk horses (none of them like Uffington, though) that are found in the area.  I thought you might like to hear it too.

(Courtesy of Cunning Folk)

While in Avebury, we also visited Avebury Manor, which really deserves a post to itself, so I'll tell you about it in a few days' time.  Let me just say for now that seven years ago this gorgeous, ancient but empty manor house was put into the hands of historians, BBC set designers and modern craftsmen, and they re-interpreted its interior to create an immersive experience of the manor's life through the ages.    I have even found a clip of the first episode, which screened in 2011. 

With autumn just beginning,  it has been so nice to be in the country. I expect the Neolithic folk picked and ate blackberries, and watched butterflies too.   

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Berlin and London, August.

I'm much better and so glad not to be focusing on the stupid ankle any more.  Since my last post I've been to Berlin with T and young S,and it was fun, even in temperatures of 37 deg (around 99F).  On the first day we went right up in to the dome of the Reichstag Building where the internal temperature was hitting 40 degrees - 104F.   The police (I was told) would have stepped in and closed the dome if it had got just a bit hotter. But, they didn't, and we survived without heatstroke.  The central core of the dome is all mirrors and windows - dizzying and wonderful. This picture is taken from the bottom, looking up to the top of the dome. 

As you walk round and round, slowly climbing higher,  you get panoramic views over Berlin.

This is the Tiergarten park from the roof on which the dome stands, but as you see, we did go higher.

Online brochures exist with detailed info on this complex, symbolic and interesting group of buildings.   But to stick to the Reichstag Building, it was built in the 1890s on the site of a palace belonging to someone called Count Raczynski (poor fellow, it seemed nobody warned him that this was the plan)  It  burned down in 1933, was patched up in the 1960s by the Communists as an exhibition hall, and finally remodelled after German reunification by Norman Foster.  

The German parliament is now called the Bundestag, but the Reichstag Building was such a landmark that the old name was kept.  Every detail of the rebuild was carefully thought out, even down to the MPs' violet-blue adjustable seating. Not only is "Reichstag Blue" a gorgeous colour, but, it was chosen to be politically neutral, and so has actually been copyrighted! (Made me wonder what colour one might associate with our own Houses of Parliament.   "HP Sauce Brown", perhaps? And what colour would symbolise the US Capitol Building?)

Care has been taken not to obliterate all evidence of the building's past - I liked this section of preserved ruined wall, complete with graffiti from  Russian Zone days.  If you read Russian, please tell me what it says. 

S. is a history nut and shares our own love of museums, so most of our time was spent in the city's many historical museums.  My favourite was the DDR Museum, which offers glimpses of the weird world of Communist East Germany,  known (misleadingly) as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, since it was only democratic in name.

One thing the museum shows is that the ideas behind East German communism sounded pretty good.  What's not to like about a job, a home and paid holidays for everyone?   But as we know, the rhetoric didn't match the bullying reality, and the Wall was built to stop people escaping from this would-be political paradise.  And if you visit the fascinating but uber-touristy Checkpoint Charlie museum,....say this isn't touristy -

....you'll see the many ingenious, pathetic and startling ways people risked their lives to be free of the DDR.    

Still, I was touched by a few of the films in the DDR Museum which showed how, even under a corrupt and monolithic system, efforts really were made to create a better society.     The gigantic blocks of Plattenbauten, though hideous to our eyes, did replace vermin ridden slums, and they did have have children's playgrounds, fountains and squares. And among the oldies visiting the museum, there were a few muted cries of joy at the sight of Clown Ferdinand children's TV programme and the dear old "Trabi" car.

 I don't think many were nostalgic for the Stasi, though. 

This is the Secret Police eavesdropping room, from which you can listen in to some of the bugs planted about the museum - pink arrow points to the listening-in point, with electric typewriter at the ready for your reports. 

Another attention grabber was the unexpected group of nudist dioramas.  

 I don't think it was actually compulsory to have those paid holidays in the buff in the DDR, but in his fascinating blog, John Paul Kleiner suggests that taking your clothes off and "being yourself" might have been one way in which residents of Communist Germany could assert their own individuality.  

The mighty German Historical Museum was S.'s favourite, and we spent a whole day there. It's excellent but very serious, focusing heavily on politics, trade and Germany's place in the wider world.   I have to admit that while S. was considering the Hanseatic League, we spent some time in  the museum's very pleasant riverside cafe. But in its section on the Weimar Republic of the 1930s,  I spotted a picture which reminded me to visit the Käthe Kollwitz house next time I go to Berlin.  As you see, when spotted casually from a distance, the picture looks like Hitler in his SS uniform.

Close up you see what it really is - Hunger. Disturbing, but brilliant, I though. 

Käthe Kollwitz  was recommended to me by a cousin, and reading about her life and visiting these Berlin museums (and also the Hiroshima Peace Museum) has made me aware of the lessons that Germany and Japan have, in general,  learned from being the losers in war. The biggest of these seems to be that cooperation and peace serve ordinary people better than any amount of flag waving and foreigner-bashing.  

And now I'm home, I'm more than delighted to be getting out into London again. Have been joining in with picking blackberries and elderberries in overgrown corners, and would pick rosehips except that they look so pretty on the bushes....

And I have been cycling to the South Bank where everyone had such a good time in the hot weather.  Here's a "sandy beach" installed alongside the Thames.  Ideal for amusing the tots. 

The nearby fountain shown below also never fails to amuse.  It shoots up "walls" of water unpredictably, at different heights, and adults and kids alike were so loving it in the boiling weather, even when clothed.  

 In the background you see a yellow tent with live music - some of it very quirky and lots of fun. 

This was one of the acts -  "Figs in Wigs", aka the "Dancing Beings"  giving an eye catching performance of 70s dancing, and also running a pea-eating contest.  No, I don't know what the point of it was either, but everyone had a good time.  The London Eye was slowly going round in the background and the many eating places were sending up some good smells.   And they don't even mind kids climbing on the sculptures here.....

We have just been to the Royal Academy Summer Show.... wow, was that busy. And full of astonishing pictures and ideas.  But too much to write about right now, this post is long enough. 

I hope you are continuing to enjoy your summer! 

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