I first remember seeing the name 'Dorita Fairlie Bruce' on a Dimsie title in my local library. At the time that I was devouring everything from Enid Blyton's Famous Five, Alfred Hitchcock's The Three Investigators to Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School books. Now seeing the Dimsie titles on a fairly regular basis, I realized that I did not know anything about the author of the Dimsie books, so here is a little of the information that I discovered:
Isabella Beeton was born on March 14th 1836. She was the eldest of 4 children born to Elizabeth Mayson during her first marriage. After the death of her father Benjamin, her mother married Henry Dorling, a Clerk of Epsom Racecourse, who also had 4 children from his first marriage. By the time Isabella met her perspective husband, there were 17 children in the family!
Isabella married Samuel Orchart Beeton, a successful publisher on 10th July 1856. There were eight bridesmaids in pale green, pale mauve or white. The couple lived in Hatch End until 1861. Her husband Sam began his publishing career in 1852 with a best-selling "Uncle Tom's Cabin".
Isabella wrote cookery and household management articles for her husband's publications, and also commenced work on a cookery book. Sadly their first son died aged 3 months in 1857. The first instalment of her famous Book of Household Management was published in 1859 when her second son was born, and it was later published as a complete volume in 1861.
Over the last few years I have been revisiting one of the authors I have most enjoyed, an author with whom I first really developed my love of reading; an author who has an ability like no other author I know, to transport the reader to a far-away location and allow him or her to picture themselves there – to live the story. Also an author where every book you read teaches you something - about world culture, science, nature…
Desmond Bagley first became famous in the 1960’s when he wrote the first of his novels. He was never a prolific author only publishing 16 adventure stories. In those stories he drew heavily on his exciting and colourful life.
What puzzled me and, I guess, many people when they first come across BB's wonderful illustrations, is - why did Denys Watkins-Pitchford decide to use the pseudonym 'BB'? Well the explanation is quite simple - BB is the size of the lead shot used for goose shooting.
He decided that it was much more memorable than his real name, was instantly recognizable and gave his work an air of mystery. In this he definitely succeeded and the mystery continues for the uninitiated today.
BB was born on 25 th July 1905, the second son of twins, in Lamport, in the Northamptonshire countryside. His father, a rector, encouraged him to spend much of his boyhood exploring the countryside around the family home, Lamport Rectory, which was a spacious Queen Anne period house. It was at this early stage that BB developed his talent for drawing and painting, and at the age of 15 went to Northampton School of Art.
Rev Awdry was born at Romsey, Hampshire, in 1911. His father was Vicar of Ampfield, and had been interested in railways all his life, for he had been born in 1854 and had, as he said, grown up with them. Many of Awdry’s senior parishioners were railwaymen, and he visited them in their platelayers’ huts or on the station - sometimes he would take his young son Wilbert with him. The men were all aware that their Vicar knew almost as much about railways as they did, and no-one ever turned ‘Railwayman Parson’ away.
Hans Christian Andersen was born in April 1805, to poverty stricken parents. His father was a shoemaker and his mother a washerwoman who worked in the big houses of the more wealthy. The Andersen family, however, lived in a small room in the town of Odense in Denmark , often with not enough food to go around.
Andersen spent his early life learning Danish folklore, passed on by word of mouth from women in the spinning room of the asylum, where his grandmother worked. These tales, and the Arabian tales from the book The Thousand and One Nights which his father owned, were to influence Andersen's later works as we shall see.
Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire on 16th December 1775, being the seventh of eight children.
For the first 25 years of her life Austen, along with her family, lived at the Rectory in Steventon. Whilst young, Jane and her sister Cassandra went to school in Oxford and Southampton and also attended the Abbey school in Reading. It was during this period that she was encouraged to write and at the age of 14, began writing drafts for her novels. However it would be over 20 years before her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published in 1811.
Around the year 1801, the family moved from Steventon to Bath. It was a difficult time for them; they made some acquaintances but not many friends. Jane was not at her happiest in Bath, although the area did influence some of her writing.
Allan Ahlberg was born 5th June 1938 in Croydon, Surrey and soon after moved to the Black Country. He had many jobs ranging from postman ('The Jolly Postman'!), plumber's mate & gravedigger before working as a Primary Teacher and eventually becoming a Head Teacher.
Janet Ahlberg (nee Hall) was born 21st October 1944 and brought up in Leicester. The couple met at Sunderland Teacher Training College in the early 1960s and married in 1969.
I still remember the purchase of my first carnivorous plant. It was in the unlikely surroundings of Chatham Dockyard and perhaps more surprisingly it wasn't a Venus Fly Trap! Instead, I became the very proud owner of a Sarracenia flava - or a North American pitcher plant. At the time I did not even know of the existence of these plants, and had probably assumed that it was only Venus Fly Traps that actually caught and consumed insects.
Left: happy in its new home, Nepenthes veitchii x maxima produces its first mature pitcher for years!
I think that it was the unique appearance of this plant - an elegantly tapering funnel with a flared mouth and projecting lid - that fascinated me the most. The fact that the plant would happily feast upon any flies that were foolish enough to attempt to crawl around this funnel of doom seemed to be almost incidental. Whatever the initial attraction, this was the plant that 25 years ago began my love affair with this most intriguing group of plants - those that turn the tables on the animal kingdom and pursue a carnivorous diet.
It's strange how a person, object or subject can 'follow you round' sometimes, isn't it? For instance, when you have not seen someone in years and then bump into them twice in one week, or just when you learn a new, obscure fact it seems that it is suddenly everywhere and everybody is talking about it! Recently, this is what has been happening with me and Napoleon.
I have just returned from a holiday in the Charente Maritime area of France, where we go every year, and it was here that my new 'relationship' with Napoleon began. Don't get me wrong, as far as I was aware, this area had no particular significance to the life of the French military and political leader, it's just that it was here, in an amazing shop called Noz, that the series of coincidences began....
The ongoing saga of my husband's new (an extremely loose term, you will discover as you read on!) Land Rover has been a source of much speculation, disappointment, hilarity (although this may more aptly have been described as hysteria) and misery for all concerned. I have accompanied him on no less than three trips down to Devon to collect the supposedly fixed vehicle, only for two of those trips to result in breakdowns of epic proportions! For those of you brave enough to read on, I will explain...
When I met my husband Dominique in October 2003 he had only just passed his driving test and his first car was a 1952 Series 1 Land Rover which he had to start with a handle. For some reason I thought this very romantic. This did not last. As the months grew colder the shine quickly wore off this novel feature - still, at least I wasn't the one outside with my hair blown sideways and experiencing the first stages of hypothermia whilst trying to coax the thing into life! My husband's mother made me a woolly car blanket for Christmas that year.
The life of Dominique Vivant, Baron de Denon (1747-1825) was nothing short of remarkable. Possessing courteous manners, and a gifted conservationist, Denon became a confidant of kings, their mistresses, and emperors. He was a diplomat, author and artist and through his most important publications he would be responsible for the Egyptian Revival in European art and architecture.
Above: Denon, and illustration from the 1803 edition
Originally trained in law, Denon soon became more interested in art and literature and as a cultured gentleman he became a favourite of Madame de Pompadour and Louis XV who appointed him attaché to the French embassy at St. Petersburg. Denon would later serve in Sweden, Switzerland and then in Italy where he made a careful study of the ancient art and monuments. Denon became a highly accomplished artist, skilled in etching and mezzotinto engraving.
Mon May 20thWeather not startling so we went for a little walk along the clifftops. At least it was meant to be along the clifftops but the narrow track through the forest looked very uneven so we decided to leave Dylan parked near the road and walk through the forest to get to the clifftops. The road up was narrow and extremely ziggy and zaggy but no problems getting Dylan around the hairpin bends this time. The forest walk was pleasant but we didn’t see anything exciting today. We got to the first viewpoint and amazingly there was a bench to sit on while we looked at the view. Except Cliff said ‘stay there while I just take a look from the side’ – and sure enough, the bench was parked right on the edge of the cliff. Er, no thanks. Too close for my liking, I gingerly took a few steps backward and sat myself down on a nice stable rock! After coffee, back to Dylan and down to Le Rozier for lunch at a lovely little café overlooking the Tarn. After lunch we went across the bridge for a stroll around the village – very pretty. Back to Brian for tea. We worked out Plan A for getting off pitch on Wednesday and decided if no-one came and parked opposite us or beside us it would be a piece of cake. Of course – if they did…
Mon 13th MayCliff has found a walk which takes us up along the clifftops above the Vulture Belvedere, the theory being that we can get high enough up to be able to look down on the vultures below us. Fortunately he decides to have pity on me and my ankle and drive up to the top! Well, we turned off the main road at a little village called Le Truel and began the ascent. And what an ascent it is! Mind you, the sign at the bottom did warn of a narrow road on which caravans and motorhomes were forbidden, I suppose that might have given us a bit of a clue. If you don’t have a head for heights (as I don’t believe it or not), this is not the road for you. Narrow, yes, steep, yes. Hairpin bends so tight the truck couldn’t get around in one go. Most took two or three shuffles back and forth and when you are going backwards with a 1000 ft drop behind you, you do not want the brakes to fail! It was so scary I couldn’t even look to take photos! Phew, was I glad when we reached the top, I sincerely hoped that there would be another way down. A different land at the top of these cliffs, undulating grassland, almost flat in places. We made our way to the start of the walk and set off. Well, it wasn’t called the Sentier Des Corniches for nothing. Very soon the path narrowed and we found ourselves on the edge, literally, with drops down of about 500 or 600 ft.
A miserable, rainy, blustery day! Gary tells us that this weather (continuous rain) is most unusual but is probably making up for last year when there was no rain for 6 months! Took another load of washing to the local launderette lady (was closed previously) who spoke no Portuguese so this time we had no idea really – we think it will be ready at 4pm on Wednesday but who knows! Spent the morning doing Portuguese homework and sorting photos. Ventured out in a non-rainy period for a short walk. Saw a Griffon Vulture flying overhead, will have to keep an eye out, they are obviously around here. Saw these flowers (left) – bet you can’t guess what they are. Answer at end of page!
Mon Apr 1st
Cliff says today we “piddled and poddled…”! We went for a little drive to the Baragem (dam to you and me). Most exciting thing we saw was another roadblock – of the Equine variety this time! Then out for a stroll around the village here – San Antonio Das Areias. First thing you see on entering the village is the Bullring - not the shopping centre but a real bull ring where they fight bulls! I’m told they don’t actually kill them any longer, well not in the ring but afterwards out of sight from the public – Oh, So That’s Alright Then (not!). A little old lady lives in a little house which is part of the building, we assume she is the custodian – whenever we’ve passed she’s been on the doorstep watching us! Anyway on into the village – typical Portuguese architecture, lots of the houses have the beautiful tiled pictures on the front wall.
Moving Day. We leave the Algarve and head for the Alentejo. The Good News is we've arrived safely on a beautiful small site (10 motorhomes only) but what a start! As Cliff bumped down off the pitch quite early in the morning the trailer alarm went off, VERY loudly. Very mysterious as the trailer alarm never worked and Cliff had disconnected it! Then we found where the noise was coming from - the external fridge panel. Open Sesame ! and what's hidden there..the Tracker which we'd forgotten about! Obviously the bump down set off some sensor which fired off the alarm, fortunately we've not activated it so we didn't have the police turn up - only every bleary eyed camper for miles around.
First we hope you’re Ok, having seen all the awful weather on the TV and heard about it from Sonia and Maria - the heavy snow and now the floods. The weather here is very mild, most days we take Sammy to the beach!
Having said that last week we had a week of squally, showery weather. We’d read that January is “winter” for the Algarve. A winter in which they’ve never heard of frost or snow! The site has very nice chalets in which we can accommodate our guests. Faro airport is about an hour away and has convenient flights from Bristol so having visitors to stay is easy.
Mon Apr 29th
We heard back from the campsite at Urrugne about the damaged guttering – they have repaired it and have not charged us anything – which makes us feel doubly guilty but very relieved. We will definitely go there again if they will have us and next time will do our best not to destroy anything!! I know now that when Cliff is moving Brian I have to watch the front, the sides, the rear and the top – all at the same time! Oh well... Cliff found a lakeside walk for us to do today, the guide book says 3 hours so maybe we could do it in two. Parked up by the little café which unfortunately was closed, then set off. A few hundred yards on and we came across forestry workings – it looked as though they had driven right into the lake – they had certainly left the footpath in a great muddy mess. We plodded on and eventually came out onto grassland – hooray – mud is very difficult to walk through. Round the corner of the lake and – Aarrgghh! More mud, wider and deeper than before. Well by now it was just as far to go back as to go forward and so on we went hoping that eventually the footpath would reappear. No such luck! The footpath around the entire lake had been totally destroyed by the forestry machines. When we reached the dam we took a short cut across it, whizzed up through a farmer’s field before the bull or the dogs saw us and thankfully reached the road. Found a little seat and bench where we stopped for coffee – overlooking the lake but surrounded by farm machinery – very picturesque! Got back to the car and took Sammy down to the lake for a bath! What should have been a delightful lakeside walk turned into a literal mud bath!
Read what Chris, Cliff & Sammy have been up to, as they take a well earned, extended break from work (Cliff retire? Never!). They sold their house and worldly possessions and set off on the biggest adventure of them all. Stella & Rose's Books will continue to strive for excellence under the watchful eye of Sonia & Maria, daughters in crime.
The First Month Where to begin? Begin at the beginning and carry on until the end.
Rabbits in reception We slept for the last time at Greenacre, our home for thirty years in Tintern, on Saturday 20th October. At that time we had not cleared the house but we needed to travel to Edinburgh to collect our new home. So the three of us - Chris, Cliff and Sammy the Vallhund - presented ourselves at Calder Leisure’s reception. We didn’t know it then but we were to spend many an hour in that reception! We knew we were dealing with the "right sort" of people immediately as Angela, a partner in the business kept her pet rabbit in reception. Our new home is a Fifth Wheel towed by a Nissan Navara Outlaw. Our new home is called Brian (Yes Brian – think Magic Roundabout – think snail), and the Navara is Dylan.