Monday, 4 January 2010

Christmas Reading

Have to admit I've spent quite a lot of time reading these Christmas holidays. That's the result of too little on the telly that I fancied watching. Once I'd seen the two new episodes of Cranford, The final Doctor Who episodes and the last Gavin and Stacey, I was looking for other forms of entertainment.

I had stocked up on books from the library before Christmas as I knew there wasn't exactly a blisteringly good TV schedule ahead. I managed to get about six Anne Perry books from the William Monk series about crime in Victorian England. I read a couple of them, then realised I had one missing so had to order it before I read the rest. I hate reading books out of chronological order. So while I was waiting for the next book to arrive I branched out into some other authors who had written books about Christmas.

Skipping Christmas - John Grisham

I feel a bit of a cheat writing about this book. Up front I’ll admit, I didn't get right to the end of it. I was interested in this story about a couple who try to skip the commercialism of Christmas and go on a cruise. However it wasn’t because of any sense of sadness that the true spirit of Christmas has been lost. No! It was mainly because of the cost and the fact that their daughter is away from home for the first time in Peru!

The book cover described it as hilarious. Well it certainly isn't what I'd call hilarious. I’m not sure whether it shows the difference between the American and British sense of humour or the fact that it's just inaccurate hype.

I managed to get through the first part of the book and words I hadn't a clue about like:

- layaway
- crunchy
- satellite lot
- fire lane
- sackers

I eventually got about three-quarters of the way through and was beginning to admire the tenacity of the Kranks, in not giving in to neighbours, friends and colleagues who were critical of them giving up a so called traditional Christmas. (Have to say I'd emigrate if my Christmas was remotely like theirs!) However once their daughter rang on Christmas Eve saying she was coming home for Christmas and they abandoned their cruise and started to rush about like raving lunatics, I just gave up. It was ridiculous. Anyone with a single brain cell in their head would have already told their daughter they were going away on a cruise and if they hadn’t, then they certainly would have told her there and then. Once I start to read something, I usually see it through. Not this time! It was just too stupid to waste my time reading it any longer.

I found it difficult to believe that this was written by the same person who wrote The Pelican Brief!

My other Christmas book was:

This Year it Will be Different - Maeve Binchy

Now I do like a bit of Maeve Binchy. I’ve read a few of her novels, generally on holiday and they’ve been light with interesting and likeable characters.

What I hadn’t realised was that this was a collection of short stories, so I was a little disappointed when I discovered that there were twenty two stories in this book. However it was a blessing today as I was looking after my granddaughter who doesn’t start school until tomorrow. So once I started to read it was quite useful to only have to concentrate for short periods at a time. Anyone who looks after a five year old girl will understand. You have to break off anything that you’re doing every ten minutes or so to help with spelling, singing, drawing, dancing, making drinks, straightening the tights after toilet visits, answering a million questions such as “Why haven’t you taken down your tree and Christmas lights?” and so forth!

I loved Maeve Binchy's assortment of stories, some humorous, other heartrending, but all interesting and thought provoking. Her myriad characters were interesting, not always likeable but many were delightful and I found I was disappointed that some of the stories were so short.. I wanted more! Always the sign of a good storyteller.

Post 140

Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Gate of the Year

We’re at the end of not just a year, but the first decade of the century, ready to move into a new year and a new decade.

The last year or so has been a difficult one for lots of people, not just because of economic problems but there is the sadness due to loss of lives of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was reminded of the dark period at the end of 1939 when the Second World War had started in Europe. However dark things seem to get these days, I can’t begin to imagine what people felt like in that terrible time.

Seventy years ago, King George V1 made his Christmas broadcast as usual and at the end he used the first part of this inspirational poem, commonly known as At the Gate of the Year. However it’s correct title is God Knows:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God,
Trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone East.

The second, lesser known and not quite so inspirational part of the poem continues with:

So heart be still:
What need our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth his intention.

God knows, His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim,
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature: In Him
All time hath full provision.

Then rest; until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our minds shall fill.



The poem was written by Minnie Louise Haskins who is often thought to be American. However she was English, a grocer's daughter, brought up at Warmley, Bristol. She studied at London School of Economics and eventually taught in the social science department there until 1944.

The poem had been drawn to the King's attention by Queen Elizabeth, the present Queen's mother, and the lines were to be recited 63 years later at her own funeral.

Now there are two lessons I take from this:

1. I don't believe everything I read on the Internet. I like to check the source out.

2. No matter how bad things seem, who knows what the breaking of the day will bring. Tomorrow is another day, fresh, clean and untouched. It's down to me to help shape it.

Whatever the year ahead holds for us all, I hope it is a healthy and a happy one for you and your family. As my Dad used to say at New Year, "Here's wishing you everything you'd wish yourself!" Have a wonderful year in 2010.


Happy New Year Pictures, Images and Photos

Post 139

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Monaco

Time to get back to the cruise. I need to revisit the sun!

We arrived in Monaco in the early morning and the views of the harbour were quite good. It isn’t as grand as Valletta nor as impressive as Barcelona but it was still quite a view.

Marina against The Rock

Here's another view of the coastline. A few too many high rise blocks for my taste.

Monaco Coastline

Monaco is a self-governed sovereign nation under the protection of France. It has been ruled by the Grimaldi family for the past 700 years (apart from a short period during the French Revolution), and its 1918 treaty with France decreed that if the prince -- any Grimaldi prince -- failed to produce a son, the territory would be ceded back to France upon his death. This was changed in 2002, if Albert II, the current prince, fails to produce a male heir, the throne will be passed to his sister Caroline. At present Albert is isn’t married!

Monaco, is tiny, 485 acres in total, and surrounded by France on all sides except for the 2.5 miles of coastline. The principality has no natural resources whatsoever; its national economy is based on tourism and banking. Lots of famous people live in this tax haven. These include Formula One World Champion Jensen Button, Lewis Hamilton, David Coulthard, Shirley Bassey, Ringo Starr, Roger Moore and lots more.

We decided to just have a walk up to The Rock to see, the Royal Palace, Monaco-ville which is the original fortified town of Monaco, the Oceanographic Museum and Saint Nicholas Cathedral.

It was very hot as we walked up towards the Royal Palace and we decided to hang about to see the changing of the guard outside the Palace.

After the changing

Here's the lone guardsman before the changing took place.

Guardsman

A couple more arrive.

Guarding the Palace

Changing of the Guard

Here they are changing the guard.

Changing of the Guard

There they go, it's all over!

Changing of the Guard

Quite a laid back event compared to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. For one thing there were no railings keeping the tourists back, security was low key. For another the guards were chatting to each other!

Tourists outside Royal Palace

I loved the colours of the buildings, very attractive. There seems to be a predominance of pink in the choice of colours. Looked a lot like marshmallows or strawberry and vanilla ice cream.

More pink

Suare in front of Royal Palace

I did like these buildings on Monaco-ville. Can’t remember what this one was but it was an administrative one.

Administrative Building

There were some nice traditional streets too.

Monaco-ville

Next on the route was the cathedral. This is where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were married and they are also buried here. I took a couple of photos of the cathedral but I didn’t really like to take them of the burial places although others didn’t have any qualms about it.


Saint Nicholas Cathedral

Saint Nicholas Cathedral interior

Along the side of The Rock facing the sea are the Saint Martin Gardens. There were quite a lot of statues and some great trees and plants.

Cruise fuji 291

Saint Martin Gardens

Saint Martin Gardens

This is a Yew Tree donated to the Gardens by a charity. The bark of the tree contains taxol which is used in cancer treatments. It symbolises the hope and commitment of the charity and the Principality of Monaco to finding a cure for women's cancers.


Cancer research

On the way down to the harbour are some great houses.

Nice house

Another nice house

Wonder how much these cost? Pink again!

More pink houses

The Oceanographic Museum is constructed on the edge of The Rock and in front is a Yellow Submarine! Didn’t have time to go in, maybe next time.

Yellow submarine, Oceanographic Museum

It was starting to get a bit choppy by the time we were walking back. You can see along the side of the Museum how it's built on The Rock and close to the sea.

Oceanographic Museum

You can see the swell was getting bigger here.
Getting choppy

Back up on The Rock you could get some great shots of the marina and the harbour.

Marina from The Rock

Marina from The Rock

One of the things Monaco is famous for is the Grand Prix Formula One race which takes place in May. The track is actually in the middle of the city, it uses the road system and goes under an overpass within direct view of the cruise ship dock.

Here's one of the tunnels they use which as I said is just one of the ordinary roads.

F1 tunnel

Near to where the ship was docked were these Daimler Darts which were there for a rally. My husband showed more interest in these than anything else we saw in Monaco!

Daimler Darts

Daimler Darts

After lunch I decided to have a walk out again by myself, Eric had done the tourist thing and was going to the gym and then lazing about on deck.

I walked along the marina and went to cross the road. Good grief, the traffic was incredible. I had quite a difficult job to take a decent photo of sculpture of Juan Manuel Fangio, the famous racing driver and his car. It was almost in the middle of the road! Fangio dominated the first decade of Formula One racing. He won five Formula One World Driver's Championships, this record stood for 46 years until eventually beaten by Michael Schumacher. Many still consider him to be the greatest driver of all time.

Juan Fangio

Just look at where they've put it. Surely they could have found somewhere better where people can get a good look at it. For goodness sake, it's in the middle of a really busy road.

Fangio

I have to say there was a lot of renovation work going on around the marina, boards up etc so I didn't see the place at its best. There were some quite nice streets but nothing special apart from this square which was very attractive. Pink again!

Monaco square

Monaco street

Monaco street

Monaco Street

I'm a sucker for teddy bear shops!

Shop window

We didn't get to Monte Carlo. I was going to get on the little train but it stops running quite early. Maybe next time!

I did get a photo of the casino from the ship.

MOnte Carlo Casino

One thing I was really disappointed with was the quality of cafes and restaurants around the marina. They were really tacky looking. Not a tablecloth in sight. Some of the little places we visited in Italy and Greece were far superior. Maybe we hit a bad day.

Marina Cafe

The views of Monaco from the ship were good but this one doesn't show a pretty picture. Just a place with lots of concrete blocks of flats. Maybe this isn't where the rich and famous live. I bet the flats are still expensive though. Not my cup of tea! Someone on the ship said the buildings reminded them of Hong Kong. I've never been but I knew what they meant.

If I could afford a flat abroad it wouldn't be here I have to say, it would be in Barcelona! Now that's a fantastic city with a wonderful marina. The restaurants there are fabulous.

View from Rock

Post 138

Sirmione

I do love Lake Garda and Sirmione in particular is a lovely old place. Just got back from a tour staying at the pink hotel on the right...