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Saturday, 30 November 2013

Poilus en hiver

Thursday - I went for a walk from the village of Copmanthorpe back into York, about 7 miles. This was the first time I realised that winter is coming, a flock of fieldfares flew over. They stay for the summer in Scandinavia, then fly here to overwinter.

The cold nip in the air made me think of winter in the trenches and of several pictures. This first is a painting by Camille Godet of a very cold and damp looking poilu, marching somewhere.

This is a poilu trying to keep warm to eat his lunch. He has a sheepskin, a balaclava and very fancy overshoes, much to the amusement of his fellow soldiers.

A snowy patrol. I'm not sure what the poilu on the right is doing, clearing his throat or his nose?

Winter of 1939/40 and the drole de guerre, this Hotchkiss m1914 on an anti-aircraft mount, in a really heavy frost. I wonder if they actually hit anything.

(All these pictures were found on Google Search - I would like to thank the people who posted them)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Richard III & Gravity

Another great weekend has passed (putting the cricket to one side).

Saturday afternoon, we went to the Theatre Royal in York for a very fine production of Richard III, with Ian Bartholomew taking the lead. A huge hump, a hint of a withered left arm and no crutches, which sounds closer to the recently found skeleton in Leicester than some theatrical productions. There was an actor on crutches, Charles Daish played Clarence and was using the crutches for real following an accident.

A terrific production ,thoroughly enjoyed by both of us.

Sunday afternoon, we went to Cityscreen cinema to see Gravity. 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon and the showing was sold out, I got the penultimate pair of tickets.

Wow, this is what 3D was invented for. Some fine acting from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, but really, the film is about the visuals. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, whose previous films include Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También. I know this is a lot of CGI and green screen filming but the overall effect is jaw dropping. See this at a good cinema with 3D specs.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

2013/14 Ashes Series : Australia 1 England 0

Australia have won the first test match. Very begrudgingly, I have to say they won it with some style and panache. I'm going into the dark to sulk for a while. This was a serious defeat.

Ten days to test no. 2, enough time for England to get their s**t together, in particular KP, Trott, Bell. Adelaide will be an easier track for us.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Brisbane Test, day 3

I got up at 6 o'clock to watch a bit of cricket from Brisbane, with some apprehension.

the Australian cricket team posted a score of 401 for 7 and declared to give them a lead of 561. England were 24 for 2 at the close of play with two full days of play left. That's quite a mountain for England to climb. The highest winning score for a 4th innings in a test match is 541. The last time England played Australia at Brisbane in 2010, in their second innings they close play on 517 for 1. So, a draw is a long shot but not off the cards.

One good thing I saw at the end of play. The Australians Michael Clark and David Warner both scored centuries. As the teams were leaving the field, Kevin Pieterson went to both Clark and Warner to congratulate them and shook their hands, a nice touch of sportsmanship.

Friday, 22 November 2013

2013 Ashes Series Part 2 Test Match 1


Up at 5 - 30 this morning, turned on the tv for day 2 of the Test only to find:-

Australia all out for 295 (good) - well done Stuart Broad with a 6for.

England all out for ....136.....136...(oh oh)

Thanks to Daily Telegraph
This chap, Mitchell Johnson, has taken this opportunity to find his form, with a very fine spell.

Australia are back in and have a lead of 224.

I might sleep in tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Jean Gabin as a Moroccan Spahi

While trawling Facebook this morning, I came across this fantastic stdio portrait photo of Jean Gabin as a Spahi NCO from the film "Gueule d'Amour".

This is not a film I have watched. It is translated as "Lady Killer", the director was Jean Grémillon and was made in 1937.

Jean Gabin plays the romantic lead, a Spahi NCO from the Moroccan Spahi Regiment, Mireille Balin is the woman that wrongs him, takes all his money, loses it in gambling and then leaves him. He leaves the Army to track her down. Cor...women eh...

Friday, 15 November 2013

Tosca meets Richard II meets Vauban

What a week.

Saturday night was opera night - a live broadcast from New York Met Opera of Puccini's opera "Tosca", screened at Cityscreen cinema in York. A marvellous night, wonderful singing with Roberto Alagna as Cavaradossi, Patricia Racette singing the title role and George Gagnidze as Scarpia.

Tuesday night, back at Cityscreen, for a live broadcast of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of "Richard II". The King was played by David Tennant, Bollingbrook by Nigel Lindsay. Another marvellous night. Michael Pennington played Bollingbrook senior and delivered a great "This Sceptred Isle" speech. We were sat in row A, so we had a 3 metre tall long-haired, gold finger nailed, Doctor Who looming over us.

Yesterday morning, Thursday, I gave my 45 minute talk to our local U3A Military History Group on the development of artillery fortresses in 1700. It went well with a good Q & A at the end, then several members coming over to ask further questions on a one-to-one basis. I enjoyed this, which is good as I am doing the talk again to another group in May. I liked doing this, I have been reading about and visiting fortresses for some years, this talk forced me to think about this and focus on it.

French history reading is to continue. A few weeks ago I bought a biography of Saxe - "Marshal of France, the Life and Times of Maurice de Saxe" written by Jon Manchip White (a great name) and published in 1962. I shall start this tomorrow.

Nothing more cultural this coming week, except "Gravity" at Cityscreen on Sunday.

Ah - "The News Quiz" has just started on Radio 4, time for a laugh.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Poilu 1916

Pinched from Facebook this morning, an excellent painting of a poilu. In my mind's eye, this is how I see the ordinary, everyday fantassin of France of 1916. No clues to allow me to acknowledge the artist.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Thor : The Dark World

We went to the cinema yesterday afternoon to see "Thor : The Dark World". This was my partner's choice; she really likes the Marvel Avengers series of films (as do I, just not as much).

The first 40 minutes were rather dull. Good performances, good CGI, just dull, my partner leaned over and whispered that she was not enjoying this. Into the second half and things improved. We left the cinema saying it was just OK, scored 5 out of 10.

Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman took the lead roles, they were adequate.
Christopher Eccleston (my favourite Dr Who) played the principal baddie, I was not impressed but it must have been hard with such poor dialogue, I mean why bother to make up a language.
Tom Hiddleston reprieved the role of Loki to very good effect. It was nice to see Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard again and always good to see Idris Elba.

Tom Hiddleston with models

Thor 3 is clearly in the minds of the producers.

A note of explanation. I am sitting here at my keyboard, trying to think of a good occasion when a science fiction or fantasy film used an invented language to good effect. Usually they are delivered with a very flat, monotone speech pattern.  Chewbacca's growls and C3PO's beeps were terrific and fitted well into Star Wars, but they both never spoke more than four words and they had a human interpreter to say the dialogue. I cannot think of another example. Klingon? I'm in two minds, its use is always very wooden and monotone although I think maybe it was meant to be. I am open to comment and ideas.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Where is this blockhouse?

I was looking at the Facebook page - Forteresses Alpines - who had this photo and asked the question - where is this blockhouse?

A very Maginot Line look to the ouevre, but look closer. There is a T34 in the background. This is in the Czech Republic at Hlucin, near Ostava. It is close to the border with Silesia, in 1938 part of Germany, now in Poland.

"Cambrai 1917" by Alexander Turner and Peter Dennis

When I was at grammar school in the late 60's, history stopped somewhere around 1850. We were taught nothing about the 20th century. In English Lit we looked at the War Poets and we were taken to the theatre in Manchester to see "Oh What A Lovely War" but in history classes, nothing. What I know about the British in WW1 comes from general works like John Keegan's excellent book "The First World War", a few talks at the Western Front Association and documentaries on tv. I thought I would change that.

Whilst on holiday in September, I read Gary Sheffield's pocket-sized book on the Somme 1916 and I learnt quite a lot.

Our October meeting of the Military History Group at York U3A was given by Major Robin Russell, a retired officer in the British Army, who now acts as a tour guide of Gallipoli, which was his chosen subject. A very fine talk it was.

Two weeks ago, whilst mulling over these two learning experiences, I decided to do at bit more research into the British Army in WW1. Nothing very deep, I don't want to stray very far from French history. So I bought this book.

I love these Osprey books, they are not very long, this one is 96 pages including further reading and index, some maps, drawings and photographs, both contemporaneous and current, of the battlefields and the fighting units. They hold enough to tell the reader what happened with some guidance as to how to dig deeper if the reader decides to follow up. "Cambrai 1917" exemplifies  this very accessible format.

Cambrai is a very famous battle as it is the first major tank battle, or rather a major attempt at a combined arms attack in which tanks played a major role. I did not appreciate how small scale the battle was. The British attacked with two corps, seven divisions of infantry, a cavalry corps and the tank corps, about 430 tanks. The battlefield was about 12 miles X 6 miles. It started on 20th November and was all over by 1st December. No casualty figures are given in the book.

A very interesting and informative book but for now it's back to the French history for a book or two.