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Sunday, 20 December 2015

"The Price of Glory - Verdun 1916" by Alistair Horne

I have restarted my research for my next U3A talk, the subject being "The Battle of Verdun 1916". The talk is scheduled for February, so I have less than eight weeks to prepare what I want to say.

The book in the title was one of the first books on French history that I read. It is the middle book of a magnificent trilogy by Alistair Horne covering the Franco-Prussian War, Verdun 1916 and the Fall of France May/June 1940. "The Price of Glory" is very important to me. The first time I read it was in the mid-1970s when I was about twenty years old. I was brought up to believe that after Napoleon Bonaparte (who was defeated by the British  Army at Waterloo with a little help late in the day from the Prussians) the French Army was hopeless, useless on the field of battle and could not do anything without British help to bail them out. When I watched the film "All Quiet on the Western Front" I was curious as to why the action in the film is the German Army against the French Army and not against the British. This is when I heard about the Battle of Verdun for the first time. Shortly after, I came across "The Price of Glory" in a bookshop in Manchester and I bought it and read it. This set me to thinking that, perhaps, my peers and my parents/extended family were a little biased in their understanding of the two World Wars and that I needed to do some research for myself.  About the same time I also purchased "Fortress" by Ian Hogg which showed me the beautiful work of Vauban. These were the sparks for my interest in French military history.

My second copy - I'm not sure what happened to the copy I bought in Manchester

"Bonjour you cheese eating surrender monkeys" - French history according to Willie in "The Simpsons"

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Star Wars - The Force Awakens

An afternoon trip with B to Cityscreen in York to see this week's blockbuster.

The hype is true - this is a great film that follows in the footsteps of the first three films (no more Jaja). The audience had some families in it but it was mainly middle aged, plenty of old Star Wars t-shirts and, as one film critic said, when the Millennium Falcon lifts off, many a middle-aged tear fell. It was fantastic, some surprise cameo appearances, really good sets and locations. I loved it.

Monday, 7 December 2015

"Bridge of Spies"

Another trip to Cityscreen in York to see Steven Spielberg's latest film.

On the spectrum of spy films, "Bridge of Spies" is on the John Le Carré end rather than James Bond. No one was killed, no fight sequences, no buildings destroyed. Lots of talking, lots of great acting, particularly from Mark Rylance as the Soviet spy. From me, 5 stars.

The cinema visit was preceded by lunch at Mannion's in York, their hot dogs with fried onions and mustard mayonnaise. They use very high quality merguez sausages and it was very tasty.

Saturday, 5 December 2015


We were watching a programme on Sky TV last night. They previewed some of their Christmas shows. We saw they have televised one of the greatest pieces of 20th century English Literature.

Yes, Raymond Briggs' "Fungus the Bogeyman" has been turned into a four part series, with Timothy Spall (last seen as JMW Turner) in the lead role. Definite post-turkey viewing.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

"Nice out and about"

One storm passed yesterday, another is expected tomorrow, so today with the sun shining here in North Yorkshire, I thought I should get out for a walk.These are the views from Mallison Hill towards Crayke. It is lovely around here, the trees have lost most of their leaves, the winter wheat has just started to carpet the fields, the air is crisp and dry, buzzards circling overhead, winter is just around the corner.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Amsterdam and "The Lady in the Van"

It was worth pushing through Saturday 's crush of Christmas shoppers in the centre of York to see this film. I know the work of Alan Bennett is not to everyone's taste but we love it. This film is wonderful, funny and witty, with a little social conscience thrown in, definitely one of the best films I have seen this year.

Also, I have booked our first trip for 2016, three nights in Amsterdam in February, a trip we have been planning since hearing of the reopening of the Rijksmuseum. So, something of an arty-farty and foodie weekend, I don't think we will be sampling the other two main "delights" of Amsterdam, the red light district and the wacky-backy cafes.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


Sunday afternoon at the cinema to see the latest James Bond spectacular. Good fun, plenty of CGI destruction (or at least I hope it was CGI), good looking men and women, some violence, totally implausible, great for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Big hints this is Daniel Craig's last outing as 007, which would be a shame, but better to go out on a high note.

PLUS = I have tickets for the new Star Wars film - we are both very excited - "We're home Chewi"

Saturday, 14 November 2015

U3A Talk - Wellington Invades France

On Thursday I delivered my talk to U3A York branch Military History Group, the subject being "Wellington Invades France 1813/1814".I believe it went down rather well, a full room of about 25 attendees, plenty of questions, no-one left or fell asleep, a number of thank-yous at the end. I was surprised that nobody knew of the campaign.

Even my hand drawn map was appreciated.

So - onto the next talk, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Verdun, I shall be talking on that subject in February.


This morning I was shocked and horrified to hear that Paris has witnessed another attack on civilians, with around 125 killed. This really saddens me and I am at a loss for words. My heart and my sympathies go to the families of the dead and injured.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Goya The Portraits

This last weekend was spent down South, to see B's family and to go to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square for the "Goya The Portraits" exhibition.

A marvellous exhibition, a good range of portraits from across Goya's career and from his commissions and his portraits of his friends. Well laid out. Full but not too crowded.

Sir Arthur Wellesley, painted 1812, then updated when he became Duke of Wellington by Goya in 1814.
This was followed by a very good curry lunch at Marsala Zone in Covent Garden, then fish & chip supper with B's family.

A good day out.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Fiasco 2015

Today I made my annual trip to the Royal Armouries in Leeds for FIASCO 2015, presented by Leeds Wargames Club. This was more of a product recce than purchasing trip, but I bought a few things.

Minifigs Napoleonic Ottoman figures sampler packs for their new range
2 packs of Minifigs Ottoman Line Infantry and a Perry ammo cart

I am preparing my paper on Wellington Invades France. His opposing Marshal was Soult.  A couple of days ago I remembered there was a biography of Soult published a few years ago - I should find a copy. By coincidence there was one at the fair.

There were some interesting demo games, including a Star Wars games, based on the rebel attack on the Death Star ( very current ).

A very pleasant morning trip.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

"The Pacific" and "Nazi Megastructures" (timewasting?)

I have been catching up on a few television programmes that I had recorded.

First up - from Sky Atlantic - "The Pacific" - produced by HBO, Playtone and Dreamworks - a 10 part series following a group of men through the Pacific Islands campaign. This series was very well done. Each programme had a three minute introduction using maps, original film from the time and a voice-over explanation by Tom Hanks. The early episodes had some back-story and action from Guadalcanal but as the series' story progresses through Pellilau, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the action sequences get better and better, and the experiences of the young men and their struggle to survive and keep some sanity come to the fore. A very good series.

Related to this series was a programme from the second series of "Nazi Megastructures" about the Japanese response to the American successes in the Pacific theatre, the formation of the Kamikaze squadrons and the design of suicide aircraft.This is a branch of military history that I have little knowledge of, in particular, the Yokosuka MXY7 "Ohka", a rocket propelled plane that was two-thirds bomb, 2,600 pounds or 1200 kgs of explosives. The Ohka was slung underneath a medium range bomber and flown to about 25 miles from the target. The Ohka would be released, the pilot flew it as a glider to within striking distance and switched on the rocket engines to power into the target ship.

The Japanese had a few successes and some US Navy ships were lost.

Now that I have watched these programmes I am feeling a little guilty of time wasting as I should be preparing my talk for York U3A next month. I am getting on with it and the research is very interesting, but sometimes the spirit is a little reluctant.

Saturday, 10 October 2015


I watched this film on Blu-ray and I really enjoyed it. It is about the 1964 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, led by Martin Luther King. Even though we know how this ends, this a good drama that is well told. The performances by David Oyelowo (as MLK) and Carmen Ejogo (his wife, Coretta) also show great insight into the effect of being a leading light of the civil rights movement had on the Kings family life. Also great performances from Tom Wilkinson (as President LBJ) and Tim Roth (Gov George Wallace)

(Usually, at this point I include a copy of the poster for the film, however, yesterday I uploaded Windows 10 and today the upload pictures function on Blogger is not working. This could be coincidence...maybe...)

Monday, 5 October 2015

"The Martian"

Cinema trip to Cityscreen in York on Saturday to see "The Martian". Wow. As a lover of sci-fi films and of the films of Ridley Scott, my totally biased opinion, this is an excellent film, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Metropol Parasol, Seville

OK - I have vented my anger at the travel company and I am feeling a bit better. I want to share some of the really good sights we saw in Andalusia, starting with this, the Metropol Parasol in Seville.

The guide told us the locals called this building "The Mushrooms". It is a public space and a small food market. When B and I saw it, we stood looking up, mouth open, both saying "wow" and "fantastic". We know that not everyone on the coach trip agreed with us, we could hear the murmured grumblings, but we thought this was very bold and brave of the city authority to erect this very contemporary building.

These are postcards from the gift shop.

These are our photos.

Street level

Take the lift, step into one of the domes

Rooftop walkway

I liked this so much I bought the mug

Monday, 28 September 2015

Trip to Andalusia

We're back, safe and sound, from our coach trip to the cities of Andalusia. B has returned to work this morning, I am at home catching up on the e-backlog and sorting out the two bags of washing.

For the most part the trip went well except for a major disappointment. The flights were on time, the coach was comfortable, a good driver and a very good guide. We stayed in three hotels, one of which was decidedly tired but that was only for one night, at the third hotel we changed rooms as the first room really stank of stale cigarette smoke. Also, we now know not to eat the evening buffet meals at Spanish hotels, the quality of the food was very poor. On the other hand, eating at bars, tapas style, or at restaurants was very good.

A few photos, first, from Ronda.

Next, Seville

Then Cordoba

Finally, Granada

"What was the major disappointment?" I hear you say. Well... the last day was to be a visit to the Alhambra. This was to be in two parts, visit the Alhambra Palaces, then visit the gardens. This should have been the highlight of the trip and the visit we were really excited about. However, on day two of our trip, the guide announced that the gardens visit would proceed as planned, but the Palaces trip would be the night before, at 10.30.....10 ******* 30 AT NIGHT... and there was nothing to be done about this, the times are allocated by the Palaces' staff to cope with the numbers of visitors but not to worry, the site is floodlit and is a magnificent experience. (Floodlight my a**e) When we got there it was almost pitch black, the so-called floodlighting seemed to be a dozen 40 watt light bulbs. At some places, I could hardly see my feet, never mind the buildings. It was too dark to take photos, the palaces are too big for camera flash equipment. We really are so very disappointed and angry. We were not told by the tour operator that we may have to make a the night visit, I would not have booked the holiday if I thought there was a chance we would not see the Palaces properly. So I'm complaining to the tour operator (a probable waste of time) and I am removing Riviera Travel from my list of good companies to buy from. Never again.