Monday, 22 August 2016

The Bolter

I loaned my copy of 'The  Bolter' by Frances Osborne yesterday to a friend of the author's (George Osborne's wife) who I found myself sitting next to at a lunch in  Lochmaben. I have had this book for some time, and had re - read it on Saturday, unable to put it down. I had taken it to the lunch, a fund-raiser for Moffat Russian Conferences, to remind me to mention the number of Old Etonians who were attracted to Communism in the 1930's, repelled by their parents' and parents' friends' sense of entitlement and promiscuity. The protagonist of 'The Bolter' (the real life model for Nancy Mitford's character in her novel 'The Pursuit of Love') was Frances Osborne's great-grandmother Ida, whose son David became a member of the Communist party.
I very strongly recommend this book: it is well-written and gut-wrenchingly sad without being a 'misery memoir'.
The Bolter, Lady Idina.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

With a bowstring, in the shrubbery?
I owe my readers an apology.  The Persian manservant was not strictly a manservant, and he was not strangled with piano wire before being buried in the garden at Buckingham Palace. The unfortunate murder victim was a 'favourite' of the Shah, who displeased him in some way while they were staying at Buckingham Palace in 1889 and was garrotted with a bowstring.  Of course!  What on earth would a Persian nobleman be doing with piano wire?

The footnote reads: 'His corpse is said to be still buried in the palace garden.  See Ralph Nevill, Unconventional Memoirs (London, 1923).
The site of a possible 19th century Persian corpse

I ran out of steam with Persia, The Great Game and Sir Percy Sykes. Two bits of information stay in my mind: one is that polo is a Tibetan word meaning a ball made from willow; the other, that there may be the corpse of a Persian servant strangled by his employer with piano wire buried in the garden of Buckingham Palace.  As it happens, I have been a guest there and, had I known of this fascinating possibility I would have asked my hosts if they were aware of it.  I was there as a member of the London branch of the Royal Forestry Society, with a handful of others. We were admitted at a side entrance, expecting to have a guided tour of the trees in the garden.  We were milling about on the lawn, when we saw the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh coming down the steps.  We were invited in for a drink and some twiglets.  Extraordinary.  It may be that meeting the Queen had been anticipated by the organisers, but, if so, we ordinary members had not been warned.  It was in the days of the IRA and Lord O'Neill was among our number, so perhaps that was the reason.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Persia in the Great Game - Sir Percy Sykes: Explorer, Consul, Soldier, Spy

This book comes highly recommended, both to students of that part of the world (Iran aka Persia) and connoisseurs of lively narrative.  All persons named Sykes, according to the author, Antony Wynn,  originate from one forebear in Yorkshire.  Now read on...

Wednesday, 17 August 2016


A literary agent friend staying in Moffat for the Edinburgh Book Festival represents Rachel Bridge, who was a columnist for The Times and wrote a book called 'How To Make a Million Before Breakfast', a catchy title you must admit.  She also does motivational speaking at conferences,  and is trying her luck in Edijburgh this year - see the flyer.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Back from holiday reading

Nature's Engraver - the Life of Thomas Bewick by Jenny Uglow

On the train back to Moffat yesterday, I enjoyed reading 'Nature's Engraver - the Life of Thomas Bewick' by Jenny Uglow see also

It may be of interest to students of Virgin Trains that the 16.30pm from London Euston to Glasgow Central broke down at Preston, so all of us who were going to points north transfered to the 17.15 which came in on an adjoining platform.  Luckily, the 16.30 was not at all busy, so there was plenty of room for us all to sit down.

I have contacted Virgin to congratulate two of their staff who helped me in different ways yesterday. I had put my one £1 coin into a trolley stack to get a trolley, which turned out to be unuseable because one front wheel wasn't working.  By the time I realised it was hopeless, I had wrestled it some distance from its rack, half way up a ramp leading into the station. Just then, two men who struck me as possibly connected with the railway, walked nearby and I called out to ask if that was the case. After a slight hesitation, one of them said yes, he was to do with the railway. He very kindly took the dud trolley and retrieved my £1 coin, and pointed out that there was another rack of trolleys just ahead of me, inside the entrance way to the station.

A little later, I was making my way to my train when I saw my Good Samaritan again: he was the driver of the train!

The second episode was on board the train, when I discovered that my iPad upon which I had been depending on to read the aforementioned Life of Thomas Bewick appeared to have died.  It had worked perfectly well earlier in the day, but now the screen remained stubbornly black.  When the trolley came round, and I had got some stuff for tea, the woman wheeling the trolley said would I like anything else? I replied that I needed someone to fix my iPad.  She said 'John might be able to help', nodding at her fellow team member (with Virgin, it's all about teamwork) at the front end of the trolley. He took my iPad and in a second had it working again.  He explained that sometimes to reset an iPad it is not enough to press the silver bar on the side, you have to press it and the round button on one side of the screen simultaneously.  Wow!!! What service!  And then the train broke down, but never mind, I am getting a refund.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Holiday Reading

Holiday Reading

Highly recommended

I took all (12) of James Lees-Milne's published diaries, dating from 1941 to 1997, to read on holiday. I finished the last volume a day or two early, so looked on the shelves of our rented house in SW France and found 'The 8.55 to Baghdad' by Andrew Eames, which I highly recommend.  Eames's ostensible theme is to retrace Agatha Christie's journey by train across Europe to the Middle East after the failure of her first marriage.  He is a great stylist and observer and - as he now says - much of what he saw has now sadly been destroyed by the civil war in Syria.