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Parham House and Gardens, Sussex, July 22nd, 2015

My photoblog of our July visit to Parham House and Gardens appears below (or click the image to go there).

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

Poldark (the BBC TV productions and the books by Winston Graham)

Two reasons why the 2015 BBC remake of its 1975 original was so popular are not hard to find...

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark. Aidan was previously best known for playing Kili, an improbably handsome dwarf, in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit.

Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. Eleanor's best role (prior to Poldark) was probably Georgiana Darcy in the excellent BBC adaptation of P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley.

The name “Demelza” is apparently Old Cornish for “Fort of Maeldaf” or “Fort on the Hill”, but Winston Graham is said to have derived it to mean “Thy Sweetness”, with “Melza” being originally derived from an old French word for honey.

Whatever, Demelza will always be associated for me with a feisty red-haired Cornish waif, who develops through hardships and class barriers in a way that still resonates today.

It was Angharad Rees's memorable portrayal of her in the 1975 TV series (right) that made her perhaps Britain's best-loved redhead (Demelza is a dark-haired lass in Winston Graham's novels). When I started watching the new series I felt that Angharad as Demelza would be a tough act to follow... but Eleanor has done the series proud.

I didn't start reading the 12 Poldark novels until I had watched the recent TV series, which brings me to another reason why the latest BBC remake has been so successful: the stories on which it is based (the first two novels, and a bit of the third novel).

Winston Graham's writing combines an almost cinematic quality of description with powerful character relationships that drive the suspenseful story, a fascinating historical background, and (in Ross Poldark) a humane view of the injustices and hardships of the times and a positive struggle to do something about them.

The latest TV adaptation has taken full advantage, doing a great job of conveying the first few novels to the screen. This isn't Downton Abbey, BTW - it's a much grittier and deeper story altogether.

(BTW, if you have watched the 2015 remake on PBS in the USA, you may know that PBS cut several small, important scenes from your version to suit its schedule - an act of artistic vandalism IMO. Buy the uncut DVDs!)

The above image was taken from a truly excellent blog post by Michael J. Bayly - a link well worth following.

I also strongly recommend Winston Graham’s Demelza: developing an 18th century Cornish world, a very thoughtful and deep analysis of the second novel, which will also tell you a great deal about the others.

The title of the third novel, BTW, is a little misleading (at least to me). It gave me the impression that the novels were a saga spanning generations, whereas in fact Jeremy Poldark is an unborn infant for most of that novel. I am currently reading The Black Moon (written after a gap of 20 years, although there is no sign of this in the writing), but so far as I can tell, the principal characters remain throughout the whole series.

So far, I am experiencing that rare thing: a set of novels and a screen adaptation that are equally satisfying. I look forward to Season 2!

Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe, May 2015

After a sad event in my life, I spent part of the next day in this wonderfully peaceful place, set in the hills above Charlottesville, Virginia, not far from the more famous (and much more busy and expensive to visit) Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson.

It was very quiet, a slight breeze blowing and just the sound of birds singing.

A very interesting guy, I discovered - see here

An old game where you flip a ball up with your foot and hit it with something like a small cricket bat to a group of catchers

A modest home for a great man, set in a beautiful part of the world

“Today the account of an extraordinary encounter with an extraordinary woman, leading me from Erfurt in Germany to Wessex in Britain, Simiane in the Provence and Orsalina near Locarno in Switzerland” —Gerbrand Caspers

A modern view of Simiane-la-Rotonde, Provence

“View of Simiane”, probably 8th century

If you're interested in art and/or history, click either image for a typically fascinating entry (one of very many) in Gerbrand's Linosaurus Blog - a detective story behind just one of thousands of linoleum and woodblock prints.

(Gerbrand hails from the Netherlands, but he is kind enough to present most of his treasure-trove in English.)

Electrosynthetic Fruit

“This is a really fascinating website, it shows the connection with food and history (past, present, and future) and it is surprising how these connections work themselves out. Some things are so amazing that you will do what I did, saying "Really?" and "No Kidding?" and things like that.

“I thought you might be interested in this...
   —from Gatorindo

Interesting is not a strong enough word for it... the variety of topics is incredibly rich. I could spend hours and hours on this site.

Thanks, David - for this one and so many others!

I became interested in the history of Malta when I visited it recently for the first time (see my Valletta photoblog).

Malta is now a republic, consisting of an archipelago of small islands, the two largest of which are Malta (which also gives its name to the whole country) and the smaller and quieter Gozo. The place is tiny: all of the islands would fit inside a circle about 30 miles in diameter. Malta is also the most densely populated country in the EU.

Thanks to its strategic location south of Sicily, guarding the narrow gap between Sicily and Africa, Malta has been repeatedly invaded (peacefully and otherwise) since prehistoric times.

Malta has suffered two major sieges. The first was the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, when the army of the Ottoman Empire failed to capture the island. This was immediately followed by the building of the fortress city of Valletta on a limestone peninsula, the defences of which were constructed in only 5 years.

The second was the siege of Malta from 1940 to 1942. Malta was Churchill's "unsinkable aircraft carrier", and paid a heavy price for this. The arrival of the SS Ohio, which broke the siege, will never be forgotten in Malta.

If you are interested, you will find a photoblog of our trip to Valletta here.

A map of Valletta, marked with our favourite restaurants and other things, will be found here.

From the little I have seen so far, Malta (unlike Corsica) isn't a beautiful island. It is arid, mostly treeless, and suffers from environmental problems and uncontrolled building. On the other hand it is an extremely interesting place, steeped in history, the people are really friendly (especially if you happen to be English), the food is excellent, and it's a perfect place for sun-lovers (you may want to avoid the hottest months).

(Original post: May 1st, 2010)

From the page:

"One of the most important collections of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts - for centuries kept at Corpus Christi College - has been entirely digitised, making it the first research library to have every page of its collection captured.

"The Parker Library was entrusted to the College in 1574 by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Elizabeth from 1559 until his death in 1575, and one of the primary architects of the English Reformation.

"The Library's treasures are now available online to anyone with access to the Internet at"

This is an extraordinarily interesting series of 15-minute radio programmes, available here online.

I caught this first episode and I was struck by a conversation that takes place towards the end.

Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, opens up some themes discussed in the programmes:

1. Should [ancient objects and relics] be here [in the British Museum] anyway?

2. Where do things from the past belong now?

3. Should everything be exhibited where it was originally made?

He asks the Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif about how she felt about seeing so many Egyptian antiquities so far from home, and this was the reply:

When I heard that, I thought about how isolated so many of us (many people in America, and many cultural enclaves in other countries) have become from the rest of the world, and how much better it would be for all of us if this great lady had her wish.

[More on life improvement]