Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review - The Other Side Of The Bonfire


"The Other Side of the Bonfire"
by Melinda Johnson
Published by Lingua Sacra, August 2012 
Also available on Kindle from and
 What do you do when you realise your life is falling down around your ears ? For many of us, it is no-brainer; we turn instinctively to our family and close friends to see us through the difficult times and Jewel is no exception. 
Disheartened by a string of failed relationships and bitterly hurt by the most recent betrayal, she flees to her dearest friend, Sara, for refuge and advice, and begins to rebuild her life as a single woman. Her confidence sapped by her recent experiences, she needs support, tender loving care and wisdom which are amply supplied by her best friend, and slowly her new life begins to take shape.
A chance encounter with Fr Nicholas and her instinctive response to provide help to someone in need introduces her to the priest and parishioners of an Eastern Orthodox church, and Jewel finds herself unexpectedly attracted to the worship and life of the church, which is very different to anything she has experienced before. The parish is a true microcosm of society, with people she soon grows to love and people she finds hard to get along with, yet all of them mean well and are doing their best to live Christian lives, even if they do not always succeed. 
There is a dearth of high-quality Orthodox fiction for adults and Melinda Johnson is to be commended for so bravely stepping up to the plate and filling this need. She succeeds exceptionally well because she obviously writes from the heart and gives us very real characters with whom we can cry, laugh,  mourn and rejoice, and many of them are instantly recognisable from our own lives and parishes. Jewel quickly discovers that the church is indeed a spiritual hospital, and this is especially true of some of the strongest characters you would least suspect of needing such help.......
I have the feeling that Jewel's story - and that of the parish - is very far from over, and I hope Melinda will give us a sequel to this thoroughly enjoyable book soon.
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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review - A Daughter's Tale

A Daughter's Tale
By Mary Soames
The Memoir of Winston Churchill's Youngest Child

Published in hardback by Random House, 2011  and in paperback in July 2012.

This book was an absolute revelation to me. I have always been a fan of Sir Winston Churchill's remarkable literary and historical prowess as exhibited in his books and by the way he led Britain through the dark and dreadful days of Word War II.   I didn't actually know very much about his personal family life and the tragedies which surrounded his family in the period immediately before his youngest child Mary was born. After the tragic loss of their young daughter Marigold, Winston and his wife Clementine were delighted but apprehensive to discover that Clementine was expecting another "kitten", as they affectionately referred to their  children. Winston wrote sweetly to his wife :
“I think a gt deal of the coming kitten & about you my sweet pet. I feel it will enrich yr life and brighten our home to have the nursery started again. I pray to God to watch over us all."

Mary's earliest memories are inextricably bound up with Chartwell, the house bought by Winston and so loved by him, and which Mary describes in intricate and absorbing detail, including the ceremonies surrounding the making of the Christmas puddings on "Stir-Up Sunday" and the seasonal activities of the family in their retreat, including bottle feeding orphaned lambs. Winston's love of animals was shared to the full by Mary, rather to the exasperation of Clementine!

They moved to no 11 Downing Street when her father became Chancellor of the Exchequer and she vividly remembers seeing the funeral procession of Earl Haig when she was five, and taking part in the solemn annual Armistice Day commemorations.

Religion was - and remains -  very important to Mary. She recalls daily prayers at bedtime and being taken to church regularly by her nanny, although her parents were irregular churchgoers themselves. I particularly loved this quote:

"By sheer accident, governed by the year of one’s birth, for Anglicans of my generation our religious education and early churchgoing were steeped in the old Prayer Book and King James Bible, while for younger generations these have become the texts of history or literature lessons. Now we must accept the amiable banality of the successive newer forms of worship, where the search to supply “something for everyone” has resulted in reams of unmemorable language, and a Book of
Common Worship which is almost impossible to find one’s way about. (Forget about travelling with it—or, a consideration which was certainly present for many of my generation, going into battle with it!)"

She met many famous people when still very young herself, due to the wide-ranging friendships her parents had and the extensive social and political circles in which they moved. She recalls the artist William Nicholson,  Charlie Chaplin, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and she became friends with the Mitford family.

Her own growing interest in politics, the unsettled situation prior to the outbreak of  World War II and reading "The Testament of Youth" all made her question and carefully evaluate the political views she heard at home before forming her own decided opinions. The declaration of war was to be a decisive point in her life. She sewed blackout curtains and worked shifts as a telephonist  at the Ambulance headquarters, learning to drive when she was 17. At 18 she enlisted and became  Private M Churchill in the ATS, manning a battery, which was dangerous and arduous work.  She travelled to France and Belgium and was in the first ATS to be sent east of the Rhine. She recalls seeing the survivors of Belsen in quite harrowing terms.

She fell in and out of love several times before finally settling down and marrying Christopher Soames after the end of the war, which is where this memoir ends, much to my sadness.
I do so hope she will produce a further volume outlining the subsequent years, as this one is a sheer delight and it is illustrated with lovely family photographs showing a very different side of Winston Churchill from that shown in the press.
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Made Me Smile

On our way back from Longleat, we drove through a tiny village called


View Larger Map
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Admin. Note

Just a brief Admin note :

I have now added a button to the sidebar to enable people to follow The Garden Window posts directly by email :-)
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Apples, ripening on the tree.....


And my enormous Rhubarb crown. I need to pick some this weekend and make something. All the rain we have had recently has brought the slugs out in force and they adore the rhubarb leaves, as you can see.....
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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Review - The Ultimate Survival Manual

The Ultimate Survival Manual: 333 skills that will get you out alive
by Rich Johnson and the editors of Outdoor Life

Published by Weldon Owen, May 2012

Bright, glossy and  appealingly laid out in "soundbite" format for each topic, this book is extremely attractive and makes for fascinating and indeed quite compelling reading.

It covers the basics of  dealing with just about every situation in which someone could conceivably find themselves. The skills contained would be useful to know even if you don't ever plan on travelling to remote areas, as many of them are easily transferable to a huge number of situations and scenarios in urban settings in an emergency.
 Just imagine, if your car breaks down miles from anywhere in an area with no cell phone signal, and you have to walk to get help, knowing how to determine which direction you are going is important. Measuring the amount of remaining daylight by using one's fingers is a brilliant skill which could easily save your life by allowing you to effectively plan how much time to allot to finding and setting up a temporary camp before darkness sets in.

As this is an American book, some things such as predicting the weather using plants may not work in other countries where the flora differs, but at least 80% of the book would be applicable to individuals and families living almost anywhere in the developed world and it covers topics such as catching and preparing food, making safe shelters, surviving attacks by animal predators and staying safe in hostile and dangerous environments. The self defence  section is very detailed, but readers outside the USA should bear in mind that it may not be legal to carry or even possess some of these items such as firearms or pepper spray.

The first aid section is very informative, but I have to say that although I am a qualified health professional, I would sincerely hope never to be in a situation where I would need to set a broken bone unaided. It may look relatively straightforward but the risks of causing irreparable damage are always present and I would have no real confidence in my ability to accurately classify what sort of fracture it might be by touch alone.

It may well be useful  to know how to put on a gas mask properly, but how many of us even have a gas mask, or will have access to one in an emergency setting ? This is one skill that could perhaps have been omitted.

 I love the sections about protecting one's home from hazards such as lightning strike etc. There is truly valuable information for just about everyone in this book. It is packed with great humour and features some fantastic cartoon strip stories as well as clear diagrams and immense photography.

Although such a short book can only really skim the surface of what is actually an enormously deep subject, it is an excellent primer and it is one of the most accessible and practical books I have read on the subject. The authors are to be thoroughly congratulated.
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Book Review - A History Of Food In 100 Recipes

A History of Food In 100 Recipes
By William Sitwell
Published by HarperCollins UK, April 2012

There is indeed nothing new under the sun when it comes to people loving food and being passionate about its quality and preparation, as William Sitwell points out in his new book,  A History of Food In 100 Recipes.

Having acquired a small but select collection of historical cookbooks at an auction, he sets out to chart the history of food in 100 groundbreaking recipes from the earliest periods of history right up the present day.

Starting with an ancient Egyptian bread recipe from a tomb in  Luxor, whose walls also depict many other items of food preparation,  he muses  on how someone actually discovered how to make something as complex as bread from such unprepossessing raw ingredients. A Babylonian meat and vegetable stew follows, and we are treated to the earliest sweetmeats from the OT Biblical period, then rather more recipes from Greek and Roman times when written records were both more common and better preserved and quoted - the honeyed cheesecake seems surprisingly contemporary.

Recipes and discussions about Chinese rice, Viking fish, pasta and the increasingly more complex and exotic dishes which make their appearance in the Middle Ages across Europe follow in quick succession. Many of the foods are traditionally British - roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, marmalade and jam roly-poly, for instance, but recipes are drawn from across the world and all time periods.

Much information about cooks and food trends is provided in neat and easily digested chunks, and there are photographs and delightful period illustrations throughout. I was particularly interested to discover that Eliza Acton revolutionized cookery books by carefully placing a list of ingredients at the beginning of each recipe, rather than leave the poor cook to work methodically throughout the recipe before finding they have run out of something crucial when it is too late!

Things we imagine to be very modern innovations prove not to be so; 1860 saw the publication of the first book of vegetarian cookery by John Smith, and the first food promotional recipe may well have been Oxo's recipe for onion butter sauce at the 1908 Olympic Games. As technological innovations occurred, recipe books for those fortunate enough to have a refrigerator or a gas/electric  cooker were produced. These were closely followed by the start of UK wartime radio and publishing to help those having to cope with food  rationing during World War II.

After wartime rationing came plentiful food; perhaps too plentiful as those watching their weight began to look for books of recipes to help them. As a complete contrast, Gourmet magazines and books were also becoming popular, and cooks began to turn their attention to the broader horizons popularized by cookery writers such as Elizabeth David and Julia Child who both travelled widely and  made a determined  effort to bring the cuisines of other countries to people's attention.

This is a fascinating and unusual book which can be read straight through or simply dipped into for information, and  will be thoroughly enjoyed which ever way the reader chooses to use it. I can think of several people for whom I will be buying copies as Christmas gifts this year........

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Longleat House - The Interior

Longleat House is utterly, utterly amazing.
When we visited previously, all photography was strictly forbidden.
Due to the age and value of the furnishings and contents, the rooms are kept curtained
 and very dimly lit. Flash photography is still forbidden, but you are now allowed
 to photograph whatever you like  as long as you respect that dictat.

By this stage I was running out of camera battery,
as the children had borrowed the camera to take photos of
seemingly random things such as people's knees,
so I was only able to take a few shots inside. 

For me, the highlight was being able to get a shot of this: the embroidered waistcoat worn by King Charles I at his execution. The explanatory blurb is below.

The ceilings are  gorgeous and elaborate...

The State Coach

The House is full of enormous paintings by famous artists.
Many are portraits of members of the Thynne family, of course, 
just as we fill our homes with family photos !

The Visitors Book includes many famous people, notably Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.

This is one of the better lit rooms, often used by the family.

And the ceiling :-)

I couldn't resist this room.
It was nigh impossible to capture the whole ceiling conventionally,
so I shot its reflection in a large gilded ormolu mirror on the wall !

The large portrait in the Nursery
is of the three oldest children of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria

A very ornate fireplace !

I can't wait to go back and take lots more photos .......
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Longleat House - The Exterior

As you drive over the crest of the hill, you see Longleat nestled in the valley below. 
 The heat haze did rather affect the view, but if you click the photos
 to "enbiggen", you can see the detail much better.

Approaching the house from the side.
It has 365 enormous windows.

This is the right side of the house, seen from the river.

The large Orangery, which is now a rather nice cafe.
This camera angle foreshortened it quite considerably.

Looking from the Orangery over the formal gardens
 to the back of Longleat House

Some of the outbuildings....

The front of the House, with an imposing flight of steps to the fornt door.

The Union Jack and a gilded angel weathervane atop the House.
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There is a large herd of giraffes at Longleat.

This year, for the first time ever, you can get up close and personal,
and hand-feed the giraffes....

Sometimes they are quite happy to just munch the grass, but others  enjoy being fed.

This one was particularly endearing !

My youngest daughter is on the right, having just fed her large leaf to the eager giraffe.  £2 per large leaf gets you about three minutes quality time with the giraffe. We loved every second and would do it again in a heartbeat......
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Cruising Down The River At Longleat

  There are two boats which go up and down the "river"; we were on the Lady Lenka and this is the other one waiting at the jetty.

On the right hand side you can see the gorilla house. Our guide is at the front, and the blue trays contain cups filled with small fish which can be fed to the sealions.

The hippos are rather mean and extremely dangerous,
so the boats never go too close to them. I used the zoom lens to get this picture.

This is a silverback gorilla, in his 50s now. His mate died a few years ago and he is sadly now too old to allow other gorillas to be inroduced onto his island home.
He lives in a palatial centrally heated temple on the island, complete with HD tv and Sky satellite. He loves SpongBob SquarePants :-)

 His rather nice island home.

 The sealions love being fed by the visitors, and are incredibly playful.
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Studies Of Longleat Trees

 The trees at Longleat stately home are amazingly varied. A friend has been looking for pictures of nice gnarly tree roots, and I thought that these filled the bill admirably :-)

It is difficult to portray the size of the roots; these small ones were the at least the diameter of my thigh.

And a close-up view.

To give an idea of the scale, the seat in the back left will hold at least four people seated.

This is a different tree in an adjacent part of the

Its roots are very much smaller than the giant we saw earlier, which is probably at least a hundred years older as Longleat House was built in the mid 1500s.

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