Friday, 12 April 2019

Regents Park, Ithaka ... and Noddy

I took the day off on Wednesday because the weather was SO BEAUTIFUL, with that brightness you only ever seem to see in Spring. We took one of our usual routes through Regents Park, which was carpeted with daisies and radiant with blossom, with trees sprouting tender new leaves.  Here they are,  showing up against the blue sky.... and in the background are the domed, stucco Nash buildings that line one of the roads beside the park.

The daisies don't show up as well in my photos as they do in real life, but I hope this picture suggests how white the carpet was...

This tree is, I think, some kind of a prunus, I wonder if it is a plum.

It was such different weather when we babysat the twins the next day.  It was so cold and wet that we couldn't take them out for a run around, so we put on our waterproofs and went for a walk to the local charity shops instead, and they each chose something.  Then we came home, had lunch and they played with the box of toys we keep for them. And finally, we watched some Noddy.

Do you know Noddy? He is one of the many creations of Enid Blyton, who was once the best known writer for the under-10s in Britain.   I loved her "Famous Five" books as a kid, my older daughter was obsessed with her "Malory Towers" boarding school series, and the younger daughter was a big fan of "Amelia Jane", the big naughty doll.  Blyton had an almost uncanny ability to write in exactly the way that children think, but her personal views were traditional 1940s and 1950s and these had become very unfashionable by the 1990s.  Now, though, most of her work has been updated,  and most of her books are now available minus the naughty gollies, stupid sinister foreigners, and frequent references to smacking. 

The twins totally "get" Noddy, because Noddy lives the dreams of five year olds.   He has his OWN CAR and he is able to drive it around because he is a real taxi driver! He has his OWN HOUSE in Toytown, which he lives in all by himself!  All his friends are toys! He has a kindly old friend called Big Ears who is always there to sort really hard things out for him, and there is a policeman to chase away the baddies, who consist mainly of some not terribly scary goblins called Gobbo and Sly, and some pesky monkeys.   Noddy isn't so clever that he makes anybody feel jealous. He can of course write his own name, because he is a big boy,  but he can't yet write a whole letter by himself.  In fact, he often gets things a bit wrong, but there are plenty of slightly older toys around to advise him, and they mostly get things more right than he does.  It is exactly at the twins' level and to be honest I quite enjoy escaping to Toytown myself sometimes.   

When we finally switched Noddy off yesterday, Boy Twin gave a big sigh and said to me, "You know, none of those people are alive today."   So true, and I had to smile to realise that he is still not entirely sure if the characters are actual people. He clearly suspects not; but then how old were  you before you realised cartoons weren't real? 

I mentioned the Greek island of Ithaka in my last post, and before I move on I 'd like to add a bit about a few days we spent there during our recent trip to Greece. It's half an hour or so from Kefalonia on a rather elderly ferry.  Not only is the ferry old, but it's not always dead on time. But I don't think you take this ferry if you want to be on time. So it suited us.

When we arrived at Vathy, the capital of Ithaka, at about 4 PM, it seemed asleep, with just a few boats bobbing in the harbour and hardly anyone to be seen.  My first impression was that it was like a film set.

 But by 6 PM the shops were in full swing after their afternoon break,  and I realised I had quite forgotten that many Greek shops close in the afternoon and re-open in the evening.

I quickly learned that much of Kefalonia, including Vathy, was devastated in a terrible earthquake in 1953. It was rebuilt in modern style during the following years, and is pretty enough with its bright colours, but occasionally you come across a fragment of an old house and you can see what it must have been like before.

Most of the island is hilly and wooded, and the hillsides are reflected in the water to give it a deep turquoise colour.

On our first day we hiked into the hills around the town, encountering masses of wild flowers and many mossy, gnarled olive trees - some of them were clearly hundreds of years old.

Every now and then you'd hear the sound of goat and sheep bells tinkling as a shepherd drove his flock past, and the asphodels were in full bloom. I like these flowers; they're tall and striking, but they play a slightly sinister role in Greek folklore - the Asphodel Meadows of the Underworld are where the "ordinary" dead live - those who are neither good nor bad during their lives.  I suppose they could end up with worse than living in a flower meadow, but I suppose there is something a little ghostly about asphodels. 

The next day, we didn't go for a long walk. The weather was a bit like you'd find in Scotland in March; that is, cold and windy.   We visited the two museums in the town; my favourite exhibit in the charming folklore museum was this travelling chest with the initials "S.P." studded on the top.

Then we looked round the small but interesting archaeological museum, where I was captivated by this ancient Greek woman's head.  You see there are holes for a diadem, and I believe that statues like this were also painted to look lifelike; but to me she looked lifelike anyhow. Or at least, I was aware of her calm gaze all the time I was in the room.


Then, since the rain had stopped, we took a drive on a steep narrow coastal road, and I mean narrow. It also had extreme hairpin bends, and I mean extreme. It was fenced most, but not all, the way to Anogi, the oldest and highest settlement on the island.

Now, many of the roads in Mauritius were no better than the roads on Ithaka, and, in Mauritius, like in Ithaka,  there were also animals wandering about unpredictably... but in Mauritius at least they drive on the left like in Britain!   In Greece, they drive on the right and T. kept saying, "Hm, can't quite tell where the right hand side of this car is, can you just look out of the window and let me know if I'm OK?"  So I did, but not with much enjoyment of the drive.

Anogi village dates from Byzantine times. It is 550 metres above sea level, and the height offered some security from the pirates who more or less ruled the island in those days.    It contains one general store and cafe, which is a spacious old fashioned emporium with a cast iron stove that also seems to be a meeting place for local people, with photos of families and a notice board on one wall.  I can't express how grateful we were to the wonderful owner who gave us huge hot mugs of tea as we staggered in, so cold that T's fingers had gone numb and I was shivering.

The cafe owner holds the keys to the neighbouring church, which dates from the 12th century, and she lent them to us.  It's a most magnificent place. Here is a Doom Painting, with sinners being swallowed up by a monster of Hell, while on the left, the good people ascend to Heaven.

I have brightened this picture up a bit because it was quite dim in this long, low, ancient place.

Then we headed down the road, and detoured along a track to see some of the menhirs, great stones which look intentional, but apparently occur naturally.   Here is  one of the biggest,  Herakles (Hercules ) who must be thirty feet high, on the left. What the photo does not show is that he is surrounded by lesser stones who appear to be listening to him.  The entire place was completely deserted except for a few birds and sheep.

Sorry for the murky light. It was very atmospheric but there was a strangely sinister air about the island that day. Even the wild flowers looked a bit strange....

And the view from the hillside looked very different from anything we had seen previously, with the dark hills glowering alongside a rough grey sea oddly rimmed with turquoise.

The next day, the clouds and rain had gone, and the skies were very bright and the sea was glittering brightly  at midday, as we wandered along a little beach where people were repairing and painting their boats, and squinting against the sun.

When the season starts, I'm told Ithaka will be quite different. Despite the weather, I'm glad we saw it in a way that was not "touristy."  


  1. Once again you have given me new windows into different worlds. You have a talent for showing us what you see with your artist eye. Intoxicating photos.

  2. Ahhh...the "Famous Five" and the "Secret Seven"....I was an Enid Blyton tragic when I was a little girl...I loved her books...ready them all. What a fan I was!! :)

    Wonderful photos, Jenny. They brighten up a day! Thank you. :)

  3. That certainly was worth taking a day off to be out and see the colors.

    Noddy sounds like a show i would enjoy, if i had any children with whom to watch.

    The island is amazing, i hope to get over there someday.

  4. taking day off and wandering around to explore the natural beauty was great idea dear Jenny !

    i loved the way you captured the mixed expressions of sky ,water and trees!

    i absolutely LOVED the toy character ,such a wonderful writer she was !

    writing stories through the children's perspective demands lots of childlike innocence and enthusiasm

    either i i still enjoy being lost in such fantasy worlds

    thank you for wonderful trip of Ithaka ,it has mesmerizing charm and appeal

    i wonder why they close their shops during daytime ?

    rebuilding after destruction is impressive !

    story of asphodels is little scary but compelling

    image from church is also weirdly nice as monster gave me shiver

    thank you for amazing sharing my friend!

  5. I much prefer the reality of a place, not the tourist face.
    The prunus looks like an ornamental...the sloes, geans and plums are flowering here, and thinking of the summer's crops I'm hoping that it isn't too cold for the pollenators!

  6. Hello Jenny, So many weird and wonderful things on your trip to Ithaka. At first, I thought it would mostly be ancient ruins. In America, there are a lot of places named Ithaca. The most famous, in New York (home of Cornell University), has long been famous for its natural beauty, although of a completely different type than the original that you visited.

    Now that you mention it, it's odd that so much prejudice and stereotyping occur in old children's book, which are supposed to "mold their characters," while in "adult" novels these biases don't seem to come up as often, or are not as sharply delineated.

  7. Loved the photographs and write-up. As well as writing a great post you have me thinking back to my younger days and wondering if Enid Blyton books were around then? I don't think so, if they were I was denied the pleasure of reading them.

  8. The striking head of an ancient Greek woman Jenny.
    I'm just stunned by her sight from under half-eyelids.
    Of course, I didn’t read about Noddy in my childhood, but my favorite book was about Winnie the Pooh where a 5-6 year old boy also tells.
    Ithaca Island is very interesting, a lot of different plants, but I liked the next to last photo more.

  9. Well, I'm not sure what I loved most about this -- the daisies, Noddy, or the fact that the woman in the cafe held the keys to the church and just said, "Here, take them!"

    When I was working our station aired Noddy programs for a number of years so I am familiar and always liked them! I used to have the cutest Noddy doll but before I thought there might be baby grands coming along (who probably wouldn't know who Noddy was anyway, since the show is no longer shown here) I gave it away. Wish I could send it to England!

    Greece looks beautiful and your trip (save for the hairpin curves and narrow road) sound wonderful. Every view is beautiful and it really does look fascinating. I loved the ferry to Ithaka. Takes its time but you don't need a schedule if you're on holiday!

    Speaking of Greece, the card arrived today! Three cheers for you and for the Greek post. Rick said, "This card is so cool!"

  10. So much to take in, from twin imagination travel to Ithaca!

  11. Never heard of those books but will check into them for the boys.
    Love wandering about with you, as always. Lovely! :)

  12. I had a Noddy book back in the early 50s. I don't remember the story, but it was Noddy Goes to Toyland if memory serves.

  13. I don't think I ever came across Noddy, but I did love the Famous Five books when I was like 10-12 (read them in Swedish, borrowed from the library) :)

  14. Greece is such an enchanting place. Your post makes it even more beautiful.

  15. I was also a big fan of Enid Blyton as a kid. People have criticised her for all sorts of things but she never did me any harm. It all seems so innocent nowadays - "One day, PC Plod thinks the apple-cheeked scamp has stolen Miss Fluffy Cat's cakes."

    Ithaka looks lovely. I'm not sure about the Greek woman's calm gaze. She looks to me as if she's having a little doze. The monster of Hell is rather scary - his mouth is so big he could easily eat twelve people in a mouthful!

  16. A great way to spend the time.
    Old Islands, old houses, museums, and old people....
    Great photos again.

  17. I'm late reading blogs and almost missed this post. The prunus tree is absolutely gorgeous. It looks similar to the plumb trees my grandmother used to have.
    You're tempting me to visit Greece. Once there, I may never go back home.... That ancient Greek woman does have a fascinating gaze.

  18. What a lovely post, Jenny. I've so enjoyed this. Funnily enough, I wasn't allowed to read Enid Blyton as a child. My mother thought they were terrible books, but I never knew why! Maybe she objected to the 'views' they represented, but I really don't know. I'm afraid she was a terrible snob, so it might have been simply because they were popular..haha. I love your wanderings around Kefalonia. I really need to get to Greece soon!

  19. Someone gave me an Enid Blyton book as a kid and despite the things you mention, I was sad to learn she wasn't in our library. I'm glad the books have been updated. Happy Spring and thanks for sharing your trip.

  20. A super post - as always. I too was an Enid Blyton fan when a youngster. (As I recall there were Secret Seven fans and Famous Five fans and rarely were children fans of both. I was the latter. But my favourite book was one almost unheard - "The Boy Next Door".)

  21. Oops, I missed this wonderful post Jenny. Ithaka looks absolutely fascinating at so many levels: picture book pretty and also slightly spooky. The wildflowers are so unusual, and I love the ancient woman's head. How good was it to find that warm fire inside the cafe, something we occasionally see here in cold areas. And good luck to have a look at the old church, with its marvellous fresco. PS I also grew up with Enid Blyton, and the Famous Five were my favourites. Noddy made an appearance when our kids were young, and it is interesting to know the books have been edited a little from their dated attitudes. I am looking for a few Famous Fives for our grandsons.


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