Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Paper Bags: Lord & Taylor Christmas 2

Another lovely Christmas bag from Lord & Taylor.

How clever to make the Christmas tree from folded ribbon. This is really beautiful with the Lord & Taylor logo in silver. Nice quality paper too. Altogether a great bag. I have one framed and hanging on my bathroom wall.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Switzerland: Some Local Views

This is where the Chef goes to ski; I go to sit in the sun with my glass of wine, or lie on the sofa in front of a log fire watching a DVD or sewing; and some evenings we go out and eat too much very good food.

This view was taken by the Chef while skiing.
But you can see this pretty ridge from the cable car up to the Pas de Maimbre.
Sunset from the bedroom window.

The new Fondation Pierre Arnaud at Lens (near Crans Montana).
It has the most amazing windows that are, I think, solar panels.
You can see Lens from the flat but not this building.
This amazing rock formation is at Euseigne in the Val d'Herens. We drove past there in the summer and spotted a great herd of goats pastured on this cliff. It was hot and the goats were very smelly.
When the light is right you can see these rocks from the flat.
This is the green roof of Anzere Spa & Wellness.
It's a fabulous way to cover the dull flat roof to the swimming pool.

My favourite sign post: going to Sion? Which way do you fancy today?
And this the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Valere on a hill above the centre of Sion.
Sion is the capital of the Valais.
One of the lovely old larches at Les Rousses. The sun always shines in the Valais.
Another view from the bedroom window and another feature you can see when the light is right. 
This is the Grande Dixence dam far away in the Val d'Herens on the other side of the valley.
This is the tallest gravity dam in the world (whatever that means!).

And another view from the bedroom window. This one is for Betsy.
I love this view of the moon with those strange clouds.
This is a January sunrise. The sky is always changing. It never seems to be the same for 10 minutes at a time. You can see why we love going there; we don't ever have to go far with so much to see right on our doorstep.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Exotic Packaging: Romanian Wine

The other week was a positive social whirl. On the Thursday we went to see the fabulous Stacey Kent and her band at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, and on Friday we were out for dinner with friends.

Not in bed before midnight two nights running. Pretty hard going for people who like to go to bed at about 9.

Anyway, it seems that our friends have a lovely Romanian cleaning lady who brought them a bottle of wine the last time she went home on holiday.

I've got to admit I'm not the sort of person to be attracted by crazy-shaped bottles of alcohol. I've never bought one of those Italy-shaped bottles of limoncello; every second shop in Venice (and no doubt many other places in Italy) sells these bottles but I don't think I know anyone who has bought one.

And when completely different friends bought a bottle of liqueur shaped like an Easter Island statue I was a bit gobsmacked. I can't remember now if they ever dared taste the contents. Which might be terribly good for all I know but I'm not sure I could fancy it.

Call me terribly dull, but basically I prefer my drink from a bottle-shaped bottle. I suspect that Friday evening friends feel pretty much the same way.

Call me extra dull but I don't want bottle of drink with worms or snakes in, or made from lizards or baby mice. Or seagulls. Really? Seagulls? Let's have alcohol made with fruit or grains and leave the protein out.

However, the Friday night friends asked if I would be interested to try this bottle of white wine masquerading as a lady wearing Moldovan national dress. And being, I hope, a polite guest I said yes of course. Why not?

And you know what? Properly chilled it wasn't half bad. Not as dry as I would usually drink; it is labelled demidulce after all, which I suppose must mean semi-sweet and I guess that's what it is.

The traminer grape is (I read online) grown extensively in Austria but also in Moldova, where this wine was made. And the Garling Collection seems to have a variety of interesting bottles for their products. I was very taken with the violin-shaped bottles. I gather that the violin is the national musical instrument of Moldova.

Do you suppose the UK has a national musical instrument? I have never heard of such a thing before.

Anyway, all the wine was drunk. Which has got be be a good thing as I don't think our friends would like to offend their cleaning lady.

Plus, we got home made soup for dinner. And you can't beat a good home made soup.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Tree Identification № 3: Tulip Tree

The Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera (what a great name: it means lily tree producing tulips) is a handsome tree native to the Eastern United States. Or maybe South Eastern Canada to mid-western USA. Books tell you different things. So you don't get that many in North London. We have a little group near where I live which have grown very tall and straight (Tulip Trees can grow up to 36m) and when I have been to look, the flowers seem to be mostly right at the top. Obscured by the plentiful glossy leaves.

The saddle-shaped leaves are pretty unusual so definitely worth a look, and the butter yellow autumn colour is lovely, but this tree is really notable for its beautiful green and orange flowers. If you need a pair of binoculars or a camera with a long lens to see the flowers properly it's a real shame because they are stunning.

So I was thrilled when by chance I found a Tulip Tree in the garden of a local pub. It looks as though it was planted underneath an existing tree so that it has grown rather low and sort of sideways in an attempt to reach the light. And because the tree grows so low you can get a really great look at the flowers. As luck would have it the tree was in full flower when we went for a drink.

Luckily I had a camera with me. Well, you never know when you are going to need one.

Of course, if you are a real expert (which I'm not) you can tell a tree from the bark and buds when there are no leaves at all. Although you can often cheat by looking under the tree. Fallen leaves frequently lie around for longer than you might think (especially if there is a shrub or hedge to protect them from the weather) so take a look around and impress your friends with your expertise.

However, if you want to know, the bark is dark grey and ridged, the shoots are alternate, and the fruits or seed heads are brown and papery; you're looking for the centre of the flower turned a papery brown. The fruits persist through the winter, but you can often spot fallen seeds or entire seed heads lying under the tree.

For me, though, with a Tulip Tree, it's all about the leaves and the sensational flowers. I read that in its native North America the flowers are a source of nectar for humming birds. That would be something to see. Obviously we have no humming birds in North London.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Exotic Packaging: Peruvian Connection Label

I bought a new skirt. It's the first printed garment I have bought for years and years. Almost all my clothes have no pattern at all, but I have a few with embroidery or interesting knitted/crocheted patterns. Then I saw this lovely skirt in the Peruvian Connection catalogue, very long with a nice yoke and pretty pleating at the front, and I thought why not?

And didn't it come with a beautiful label?

Friday, 10 October 2014

Remembering WWI: My Grandmother Winifred Quigley

Winifred Quigley married my Grandfather Goff in 1918. But during WWI she was a nurse.

I have two photographs one of which I think must have been kept because Granny is standing in the background. I'll call her Granny because she didn't like Winifred and my Great Grandfather Martin Quigley carelessly only gave her one name so she didn't have a second to fall back on. Martin must have been a busy man as by the time he got around to registering her birth he had forgotten when she was born.

Granny came from Sligo on the West coast of Ireland. I believe she trained as a nurse in London but she never talked about that, even as she never talked about her wartime experiences. The only thing she would say was she didn't get paid very much and she had to buy her own uniform. The stockings, it seems, were very expensive.

King George Hospital
I'm fairly certain that Granny is the nurse standing under the palm at the back; the nurse to the right. Because otherwise why would my grandparents keep the photograph? The photograph is firmly labelled 1914 but various websites assure me that the King George Hospital was in a commandeered warehouse in Stamford Street in London, and it did not accept its first patients until May 1915. 

I found an interesting blog about women who served as military nurses and one of the images of a ward in King George Hospital is very similar to this one. You can also see it is the same building as the windows are the same as those shown in a view of the front elevation. 
I'm guessing my photograph was not labelled until years later and it's easy to get dates wrong.

10 Stationary Hospital 1915
This hospital was opened in late 1914 in the building previously occupied by the School of St Joseph in St Omer. It's now the Lycée Alexandre Ribot. My Grandmother is not in this photograph; she's certainly not the stout one with glasses, and the one at the window has the wrong colour hair. 
So again I'm guessing that Granny must have nursed here.

This is Winfred Quigley.

And here are my Grandparents Tommy & Winifred.
The photograph is dated 1918 so perhaps this was taken to celebrate their engagement. 
The wedding was in Chelsea on 3 October 1918
My cousin Josephine always used to insist they met when Granny nursed Tommy during the war. 
My mother told me that in fact they bumped into each other turning a corner in London. 
They were married for 55 years and died on the same night, both in their late 80s.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

A Little Bit of Chocolate Does You Good: Lindt Hello My Name is Strawberry Cheesecake

I've been neglecting this blog recently because there are oh so many different kinds of crisps to write about, so here's a random bar of chocolate I picked up at Geneva Airport in April. Can it really be called Hello My Name is Strawberry Cheesecake?  Unfortunately it seems the answer is yes.

The packet says milk chocolate with strawberry cream cheese filling. Which is right I suppose.

The pale pink cheesy filing does taste of strawberry but there's also a sort of gritty element which I'm not mad about. On closer inspection it turns out to be tiny specks of cheesecake base. I'm not really convinced that's such good idea. There are also teeny little bits of dried strawberry - I think - which look pretty and are a little bit tart. And there are some strawberry pips too which I'm not wild about.

The filing is quite sweet and the milk chocolate is rather sweet as well. It's all a little bit sickly sweet. I wonder if this filing would have worked better with dark chocolate?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Remembering WWI: My Grandfather Hugh Goff

I see the Imperial War Museum is creating Lives of the First World War which is an interactive platform, a permanent memorial to the 8 million men and women from Britain and across the Commonwealth who served in uniform or worked on the home front during the war. I signed up so I could add some photographs of my Grandfather. To be honest I'm finding it a bit clunky and hard to use because it wants me to sign up to websites and link in to stuff just so as I can enter information I already have.

So I thought I'd post my own information anyway and maybe struggle with the Lives of the First World War afterwards.

Here is Hugh Stuart Trevor Goff, always known as Tommy, aged about 8. Tommy was born 21 August 1885 in Hampshire, but brought up in Pau, in South West France because my Great Grandmother didn't like England. Despite being brought up in France Tommy never ate garlic. How did that happen do you suppose?

Tommy joined up as a Private - he was already 29 so probably too old to be called up at the start of the war but like so many people he joined up anyway. He had left school at 14 to go to Dartmouth, following in his brother Reggie's footsteps, but the Navy turned him down. Family history says the Navy thought Tommy wasn't healthy enough for them. And instead of returning to school Tommy went to work in a garage. Lucky for him really; because he knew about engines he went into the Royal Army Service Corps and probably had a slightly less horrible war than many. Although as he never talked about the war it's hard to know.

Tommy was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 3rd March 1915.
This document is framed and won't fit in my scanner so I had to photograph it instead.

Taken after the Second Battle of Ypres. So I suppose late May or early June 1915

Tommy was mentioned in despatches three times. This certificate dated April  1916 was signed by Winston Churchill. Tommy was promoted to Temporary Captain in 1916.

Here is Tommy in the centre, in September 1916. You can see his RASC cap badge. 
From top left and working clockwise the others are identified only as H, S, L, S, A, C and P. 
The photograph has been cut down with scissors.  

This photograph was taken in 1916. For some reason Tommy was put in charge of the band.
As far as I know he had no musical talent whatever. He's the one in the middle behind the drum. 

Tommy saved very few photographs of the war so this must have been important to him. 
This is St Omer in 1917. It looks freezing. And look at those guys on the roof of the building.

Wissant 1918. Tommy is on the left.

This is Tommy with my Grandmother Winfred Quigley in 1918. 
They were married in Chelsea in 1918. 
Granny hated the name Winifred and after they were married she was known as Goff.

W Sector 1919 Tommy is fifth from the right at the front. 
He was a full Captain by the end of the war and in 1919 was a Temporary Major.
He was awarded the OBE in 1919 and didn't leave the army until 1920.

I don't know what happened here but it seems to be Tommy in hospital in Calais in 1919. 
The hospital appears to be a beach. If you've ever been to Calais you'll know how windy it always is. I can't imagine lying in bed on a windy beach was very much fun.

After he left the army Tommy obviously moved around a lot. 
The War Office struggled to send him his despatches certificates.

He was a Major with the Ministry of Supply in 1941. 

He had two children and two grandchildren and died in January 1973.

Without signing up to one of the army records services this is all the information I have. 
Maybe I'll look into his war record further one day, but not just now.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

A Little Bit of Chocolate Does You Good: Canonica Truffles and Pralines

This is a box of mixed truffles and pralines from the Canonica shop at Geneva airport. 
The ribbon around the box says "Chocolatier par Passion".
And here's the packaging.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

A Little Bit of Chocolate Does You Good: Marmite Chocolate

At first taste this is a very ordinary milk chocolate.
Not even so fancy as Cadbury Dairy Milk. But... it has a very interesting after taste.
Of Marmite.
If you don't fancy the chocolate version try the crisps.

And if you don't know what Marmite crisps are about read this.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Switzerland: Lake Thun (possibly with a few references to the Chalet School books of Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

Map of the Thunersee
Last summer we went twice to the Thunersee which is one of the two lakes on either side of Interlaken. And yes, if you never thought about it before, Interlaken is between two lakes. Lake Thun is the left hand one. OK, the western lake. And Lake Brienz is the other one. Which I've seen but not visited properly and which, you have no doubt noticed, is not featured on this map.

Fans of the Chalet School books will know that Lake Thun is where the girls swim and boat in the summer term. They are regularly described as taking the mountain train down to Interlaken and then a ferry to a suitable beach.

One of the charms of the early Chalet School books is the detailed setting. They are set in the Austrian Tirol where Elinor Brent-Dyer spent an obviously happy holiday. She fell in love with the Achensee (Tiernsee in the books) and wrote vividly and convincingly about the countryside, the lake, the surrounding villages and the people.

Sadly when she decided to move her fictional school to the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland she didn't visit the area. Whether through lack of money or time, or whether she thought she could manage with guide book research I don't know. But it shows.

I have been reading these books since I was 10 and I really wanted to see Interlaken and Lake Thun. And now that I've been there I'm fascinated not so much at the number of mistakes (although there are plenty of those - like the railway line along the north shore of the lake rather than the southern side) but the number of omissions.

For example I don't recall the girls taking a proper trip on the lake; a ferry to Thun or Spiez and train back or vice versa. This is odd because the Chalet School books are full of expeditions: day trips, or half-term visits to places much further away than Thun. What a shame; there's so much to see.

Embroidery showing Schloss Thun
The only time I do remember a visit to Thun it was in the Chalet School & Barbara; the first Chalet School book proper to be set in Switzerland. In Barbara there was a series of trips arranged on the first Saturday of term.

The Lower Fifth form takes the ferry to Thun (that's about 2 hours on the boat) and then walks back to Interlaken "by degrees". Did Elinor know Lake Thun is 17.5 kilometres long (nearly 11 miles) I wonder? That's a long day for a group of schoolgirls.

Obviously there's no time for Lower Fifth to take in the town which is a shame because it's rather pretty and has a lovely castle.

We didn't spend very long in Thun itself partly because the centre of town was closed off for a music festival. However, after a bit of a battle with police barriers and having to turn back several times, we discovered the steps up from the old town, and the rather lovely pedestrian walkways around the castle, and eventually struggled up to the castle itself.

The castle is fascinating. It's full of all manner of stuff about Thun and the surrounding area from mediaeval weapons and coats of arms to modern artifacts. The embroidery shows not only the castle but also the arms of the town (the single star on a white band) and the arms of the canton of Berne.

And the castle is precipitous. Wow: there was no place for vertigo in the 12th century when they built this place! It was a wonderful hot sunny day and the views were just stunning in all directions but I'm afraid I couldn't drag myself up to the very top floor even for one more fabulous view. But then I had to struggle all the way down again. I'm just not made for climbing mountains and that's certainly what it felt like. Oh dear. I do wish they had lifts in mediaeval castles. Never mind a lift: a better hand rail on the stairs would have been a help.

One day we caught the ferry from Spiez, on the southern shores of the lake, to Thun. And the second day we caught the ferry from Thun to Interlaken. Such fun! It's lovely sitting on a comfortable boat with a glass of wine and a salami sandwich watching the world go by.

From the boat we saw the weird Niesen which is a small pyramid-shaped mountain that looms over the lake. It's really quite unusual and looks just like a mountain drawn by a child.

This is definitely somewhere to visit properly. There's a funicular railway which is bound to be scarey, and (and this is pretty amazing) the longest staircase in the world!

Trust me I'll be taking the funicular to the top even if it is scarey. But the staircase would certainly be worth a look. Whoever built a staircase up a mountain I wonder?

We were on a modern boat each day, but the ferry company also operates a traditional paddle steamer. The DS Blümlisalp was built in 1906. I found an interesting blog about her history and you can read it here. I've been on a paddle steamer on Lake Geneva and they really are beautiful boats. Lots of polished brass, and the huge engine that operates the paddles was fun to see.

The Blümlisalp was very popular  and very crowded on an August weekend. The modern boats were much less full and so more comfortable for us as we dawdled over a lazy lunch. There is one other advantage in taking the modern boat of course; you get a very nice view as you pass the paddle steamer.

DS Blümlisalp

   I had gained the impression from reading the Chalet School books that the Thunersee is hemmed in by mountains. It's not; it's a much softer landscape as you can see from my photographs. But the Achensee is and possibly Elinor just assumed the Thunersee would be the same.

Spiez with its castle and vineyards

It's a shame there was quite a lot of cloud because we couldn't work out which mountains these are in the distance. One of them must be the Monch because that's in the middle of a group of three: the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau. I think we decided that on the left is a tiny glimpse of the Eiger, and then rather more of the Monch.

When I was reading the Chalet School books as a child it never occurred to me that it was pretty odd we only ever hear about the Jungfrau which features a lot. Everyone who sees it sighs about its beauty. As an adult it bothered me a bit, and since I've been to this part of Switzerland I have really wondered how come Elinor simply never mentioned the Eiger or the Monch. Even the most basic map shows all three of them. And if you go up to, say Grindelwald (an expedition for another day), it is impossible to miss the bulk of the Eiger. It does seem odd. I can just see some of Elinor's characters talking about how grim the mountain looks.

Anyway, the Thunersee is a great place to visit and we had two wonderful days on the lake but we have to go back. I really want to visit the Niesen and I really want to visit the gorgeous little Schloss Oberhofen. Neither of us managed to take a satisfactory photograph of this lovely building so I have borrowed this image from Wikimedia Commons. A friend who used to work in Adelboden tells me the garden is worth a visit too. And if you're lucky with the weather (we weren't quite lucky enough) there are some terrific mountains as a backdrop to this very pretty landscape.

You can see why we need to go back!