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Monday, 26 April 2010

Abney House

Had a really nice weekend - Saturday work had arranged a charabang to London - I go for free and Marie goes to £6. It would let's face it be rude not to. However, come the day and Marie needs to work on her dissertation, in fact she still needs to work on her dissertation so I troll up and meet Gill the Minion and her better half and espy a couple of familiar faces and get on board. Its a smoothish trip besides our two coaches coming together in East London which resulted in a shattered offside mirror for the other coach. Still we get in to Hanover Square in one piece. Gill and Ian decide on the British Museum while I decide that as the day is nice its a day for blue plaque spotting - or rather just plaque spotting as target number one is in fact not a blue plaque but a black one erected by the London borough of Hackerney. I catch the 73 bus and scant moments later am standing on exotic Stoke Newington Church Street in front of a side entrance to Abney Park

Abney Park was one of the "Magnificent Seven" - a series of cemeteries designed to ease the burden on the cities churchyards after the massive increase in population in the nineteenth century. Along with Highgate, Kensal Green, West Norwood, Nunhead, Brompton and Tower Hamlets they were built in the 1830s and 40s. I have to admit that Ive only been to Kensal Green and Highgate. Abney Park is much more like Highgate. Its a nature sanctuary, its headstones and statuary nestled in bramble and coppice. The Eastern European drunks were perhaps a less picaresque decoration. I didnt have much of a chance to investigate but really liked what I saw, cyclists and joggers (preparing for the next days marathon), dog-walkers all ambling through the little green oasis. It lacks the big names of Highgate and Kensal Green, I guess that the most famous inhabitants are the Salvation Army Booths whose graves I found and who have all apparently been "promoted to Glory". Stoke Newington has a history of religious dissent which is reflected in the cemetery and the monuments to past inhabitants. Just across the road is the blue plaque to Daniel Defoes house. And the history of Abney Park is littered with Quakers and Baptists, Methodists and Congrregationalists. Abney Park was originally designed as a garden cemetery and arboretum inspired by Mount Auburn garden in the then new nation being established across the pond.
I rather liked the look of Stoke Newington Church Street in the sunshine, chatting mums, curry houses, sidewalk cafes and all...
As it was a sunsoaked day I decided to wander back South into the heart of the city keeping my peepers peeled for points of interest. Its a fascinating study watching the changes as you stroll, some changes made by choice, some by circumstance (Myddleton Square was widely remodelled by the Luftwaffe in 1940). And theres certainly plenty to see walking back through Canonbury and Islington, Finsbury and Clerkenwell. As were in the run up to a general election it was also interesting to see the changes of political allegiance. The ex-home of Louis McNiece proudly proclaimed "No Labour Canvassers Allowed and this in the heart of the New Labour experiment, Islington. There were also mementoes of past political movers and shakers again the form of plaquage - both the Headquarters of the African National Congress in Penton Street and one proclaiming that Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov woz ere in leafy Percy Square that was spotted while not particularly enjoying a rather indifferent veggieburger and chips.

Sunday, 18 April 2010


Well the day is nearly done, I'm sitting and semi-watching Match of the Day 2 in the fading minutes of my 41st birthday. Overall it's been a nice if quiet day with Marie in March. We spent the morning in bed, opening prezzies and cards and getting the odd text before making our way dowstairs were we perused a couple of recipe books on the search for cake makings. Its Suzie's brthday tomorrow so after discussion she'll bring in cakes tomorrow and I'll supply comestibles on Tuesday. After last Bonfire Night's success I wanted to retry Erica's Dark Cocolate and Marmalade cake and also wanted another crack at a carrot cake after a semi-failiure last time out with a double take on the icing. things seemed to go alright although we were stopped outside Tescos after daring to fill our own reuseable bag and then emptying it and refilling it at the self-service checkout. We adjourned round the corner at Smiths Chase for a plateful of loveliness courtesy of Ma Flello as the Arse ruled themselves out of the Premiership title after capitulating at Wigan. I and Pa Flello were both in a mellow mood after good results for our respective Uniteds - Him Manchester, me Cambridge. His result was rather more meaningful Cambridge being becalmed in midtable after a funny old season - Chester being chucked out of the league, the pre-season board room shenanigans, losing our star striker and our captain. Im optimistic if we can keep hold of our young players (and hopefully retain a few of the old lags) that things will improve next season. I'd given up on getting the lovely if expensive Lived in London but the Flello's had pushed the boat out. M got me the Lonely Planet for Bulgaria and hopefully we can make some progress on the trip over the next week.I'm unsure as to whether the monastery at Rila neccessitates a detour or whether we go straight from Sofia to Plovdiv...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Charles Rolls (1877-1910)

The other recent addition to the illustrious lists of blue plaques is Charles Rolls whos blue plaque is in Conduit Street Mayfair. Thats half of Rolls-Royce, and a Cambridge man at that. He studied Mechanical and Applied Science at Trinity. He was the fourth man in England to own a car (how freaky is that - only four cars in the entire country!!) He was a founder member of the Automobile Club of Great Britian and also a founder member of the Royal Aero Club and an avid enthusiast, promoting the new and growing motoring industry. He was the salesman and joined forces with Henry Royce who was born just down the road near Peterborough. Rolls died early at the age of 32 in an air accident. He was in fact the first Briton to be killed, and only the eleventh in the world - possibly not a first he was looking for.

I'm not sure that his daredevil, pioneering spirit would recognise the queues of metal boxes crowding our roads day in day out. Its a far cry from early motoring...

I guess I should say that Im attempting now, at nearly 41 years of age to learn to drive. I'm ploughing through the Theory Test book in an effort to cram some motoring know-how into my cranium. Most of the questions are rather common-sensical and then once that hurdle is jumped then its on to actually do the scary driving thing. M is allowing me behind the wheel of her Clio and I havent killed anyone yet so BONUS!! I have to admit its not a skill that I particularly cherish. The practical aplication of driving will be is that we can if we choose find a house out of Cambridge, which is damnably expensive. It'll also help spread the load of driving so that m doesnt have to do all of it. And yes it'll be nice to get into the car and drive but alternatively itll be less miles cycled which wont do my waistline any favours, I have to say that of late cycling is just a delight, layers are being shed, the fleece tog ratings are falling as the warm weather approaches and there are days when I would happily keep cycling rather than wander into the office round about 9 in the a.
Not I have to say that a Rolls would be much of an option I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a Mk II Jaguar for when we win the lottery -- actually theyre very reasonably priced certainly compared to one of the aforementioned metal boxes. It would be nice to own something with a little personality but at the mo I have to say that car ownership does not appeal - the present idea is for me to be included on Maries insurance policy.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Wing Commander F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas (1902-1964)

A new addition to the legion of blue plaque holders (in fact there have been two in the last month) Wing Commander F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas. As I type I'm watching a documentary about orphan survivors of the holocaust. As far as I'm concerned anyone who fought in the conflict against the Nazis deserves recognition. It's amazing to think of the "last good war" in a world where the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are viewed with a jaundiced eye by those who see the Halliburton contracts and where that money is ending up. Thats not to diminish the heroism of those engaged in those conflicts of course but such stories from the wars of the last century are commonplace.

Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas was educated in France after his family moved when he was a child, he fought with the Poles against the Russians in the First World War, was captured by the Russians and escaped execution only by strangling a guard. Between the wars he worked in a Paris Fashion House fleeing to Britain wheew he worked in intellegence for a while before joining the SOE, the Special Operations Executive who supported and coordinated resistance efforts against the occupying Nazi forces. Yeo-Thomas parachuted into occupied France three times, twice in 1943 where he aided the orgainisation and supply to arms and equipment to the resistance and then again in 1944. He was captured at Passy Metro station after being betrayed and was taken to the Gestapo Headquarters in Paris where he was tortured, including being water-boarded (which as we all know is not torture at all, just a excuse for a quick wash for the prisoner or am I perhaps being a tad cynical here?) He was transported to Buchenwald concentration camp where he met the officer in charge of 168 allied prisoners being held at the notorious concentration camp. He escaped and reached American lines. I would say that that was where his war ended but he also was a prosecution and a defence witness during the Dachau War Crimes Trial. He died in 1964 after returning to civilian life, working for a French fashion house. A truly astonishing life and one that deserves to be celebrated. The irony of a secret agent being celebrated in such a public manner is not entirely lost here I have to say.