15 March 2017

A Good Read

The Devil’s Acre by Matthew Plampin
1853, Colonel Samuel Colt expands his gun-making business into England. He acquires a riverside warehouse and sets about converting it into a pistol works capable of mass producing his patented revolvers on an unprecedented scale - aware that the prospect of war with Russia means huge profits. 
Young, ambitious Edward Lowry is hired by Colt to act as his London secretary. Although initially impressed by the Colonel's dynamic approach to his trade, Edward comes to suspect that the American's intentions are not all they appear. Edward becomes romantically involved with Caroline Knox, a headstrong woman from the machine floor - who he discovers is caught up in a plot to steal revolvers from the factory's stores. 
Among the workforce Colt has gathered from the mass of London's poor are a gang of desperate Irish immigrants, embittered refugees from the potato famine, who intend to use these stolen six-shooters for a political assassination in the name of revenge. As pistols start to go missing, divided loyalties and hidden agendas make the gun-maker's factory the setting for a tense story of intrigue, betrayal and murder. 
Good story and characters. Excellent descriptions of Victorian London from the notorious “no go” slums to elegant affluence.

10 March 2017

Creams And Genes

When I first started this blog my intention was to talk about all things related to becoming a pensioner, a senior citizen, but then, as often happens, my mind started darting about all over the place and I blogged about all sorts of things that just popped into it! 
During a conversation recently with a group of mixed aged women - my daughter and her friends, and myself and my friend D who is a couple of years older than me, the subject of concessions for senior citizens came up, free bus travel, cheap cinema tickets etc., and one of the younger women, looking at my friend and I, jokingly said “See there are some compensations for being old” I laughed because I’m used to this kind of friendly banter, but for a nano second I was taken aback, because in my mind I don’t think of myself as old, and I certainly don’t feel old, most of the time I feel 30!! Except when I've walked the dogs, done a bit of housework and some shopping!
Later I started to reflect on the demise of youth, the passing of time, the wrinkles, the cellulite, the loose flesh under the arms that keeps moving long after I have waved goodbye, diminishing energy levels, looking in the mirror and seeing my mother, and worse of all being invisible! It's like I went to bed aged 30 and woke up the next day clutching a bus pass wondering how the heck did that happen. It would be very easy to become depressed about the whole ageing process but life is too short to dwell on something that I have no control over, so instead I try to make the most of what I have. 
I have always looked after my skin by using moisturisers. Over the years I have used a wide variety of creams - night creams, day creams, time delay creams, anti-ageing creams, eye creams. 

They all claim to do more or less the same thing - nourish, replenish, rehydrate, strengthen and firm, reduce the appearance of wrinkles. I don’t use expensive ones and usually stock up when they are on special offer. I like Boots time delay range, I like the smell.

When I was younger I cleansed and toned my face religiously every night but now I use this face wash in the shower and face wipes at night. 

I also like the ANEW range by Avon, it has a nice smell too.

I'm pretty sure my complexion has benefited from the use of moisturisers over the years. But how would you know for sure if the anti-ageing and firming creams live up to their claims? could be your skin would age well anyway. The only 100% effective way of knowing would be to treat only half of your face, and who wants to do that!! 
One thing I am immensely grateful to my mother for is inheriting her genes, she was 94 when she died and her skin was still beautifully soft.
I know a lady who is 67, she has used expensive creams all her life but her face is quite wrinkled. A good friend of mine is 71 and has always used expensive creams, her complexion is beautiful, hardly a wrinkle in sight. 
My youngest daughter has only ever used good old Nivea cream and her skin is beautiful, as is my eldest daughter's. 
Moisturising helps, but I do believe that it's mostly down to genes.
What do you think, what is your regime, do you use moisturisers, do you use expensive ones?

6 March 2017

A Good Read

The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman by Louis de Bernieres
Set in an imaginary Latin American country the novel's political themes parody the worst excesses of the Pinochet government of Chile, the collapse of democratic social order in Uruguay in the 1970's and other dirty wars of the 1060's to 1980's in Southern and Central America.

In the village of Cochadebajo macho philosophers, defrocked priests and reformed (though still active) prostitutes live in cheerful anarchy. But this unruly utopia is about to be interrupted when the demon-harried Cardinal Guzman decides to inaugurate a new Inquisition, with Cochadebajo as its ultimate target.  Cardinal Guzman lives extravagantly and immorally, due to the discovery of his having fathered a son, and his loathing of the poor shanty-dwellers who live below his palace. He has an army of fanatics who are all too willing to destroy bodies in order to save souls. His clergy and the corrupt military set out to destroy the heresy of the countryside, and in doing so the hypocrisy of his faith and his promiscuousness is revealed, as is the hypocrisy of religion in general and the Catholics in particular.

I tried a few times to read this but couldn't get into it. I'm glad I persevered though because I did enjoy it. It's quirky, full of very funny characters (had to make notes of who they all were!), and a brilliant plot. It was rather gruesome at times (think the Crusades). 

3 March 2017

A Nice Day Out

I love being a grandmother and love my grandson with all my heart so when my daughter and her husband want to have a weekend away I gladly take over responsibility for him. I know my daughter appreciates it and always says thank you but I don't expect it. So imagine my surprise and delight when she took me out for a spa day yesterday to say thank you for a few extras I have done over the last few weeks. 
Our day started with a divine back and shoulder massage (just what I needed to remove some knots in my shoulders) followed by a facial. I just love the smell of the products they use. We then headed to the swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. I did a few lengths in the pool and then relaxed in the jacuzzi and sauna. We finished the day with a glorious cream tea - cheese and caramalised onion sandwiches, ham and tomato sandwiches, the most delicious mini macarons, mini eclairs, a huge slice of red velvet cake and gorgeous scones with jam and Rodda's clotted cream. All washed down with the the best pot of tea I have had in a long time. I had a lovely time, my daughter is a darling. 

1 March 2017

Budding and Shooting

shoots shooting
buds budding
catkins dangling
birds singing their little hearts out
 and I've heard a few woodpeckers pecking 
Spring can't be far away

In a few weeks time the floor of this wood will be a carpet of sweet scented bluebells.

19 February 2017

A Good Read

Restless by William Boyd  depicts the tale of a young woman who discovers that her mother was recruited as a spy during World War II. "I am Eva Delectorskaya,” Sally Gilmartin announces, and so on a warm summer afternoon in 1976 her daughter, Ruth learns that everything she ever knew about her mother was a carefully constructed lie. Sally Gilmartin is a respectable English widow living in a picturesque Cotswold village; Eva Delectorskaya was a rigorously trained World War II spy, a woman who carried fake passports and retreated to secret safe houses, a woman taught to lie and deceive, and above all, to never trust anyone. Three decades later the secrets of Sally’s past still haunt her. Someone is trying to kill her and at last she has decided to trust Ruth with her story. 

Ruth, meanwhile, is struggling to make sense of her own life as a young single mother with an unfinished graduate degree and escalating dependence on alcohol. She is drawn deeper and deeper into the astonishing events of her mother’s past—the mysterious death of Eva’s beloved brother, her work in New York City manipulating the press in order to shift public sentiment toward American involvement in the war, her dangerous romantic entanglement. Now Sally wants to find the man who recruited her, and she needs Ruth’s help. 
Restless is a brilliant espionage book, a good story, strong characters and full of tension and drama. I thoroughly enjoyed it, I did get slightly confused when Eva was in America though.

12 February 2017

The Dollshouse: Miss Teen's Room

At last I have finally finished one of the attic rooms which belongs to 16 year old Miss Teen. The main reason it has taken so long is that the rooms at the top of the dollshouse are not strictly 1:12. They start out as 1:12 but get slightly smaller on each floor. As a result it has been difficult finding furniture to fit. I cut the small round feet off the bed to make it fit better!

The wardrobe, dressing table, chest of drawers and bedside table all had plain gold coloured handles on them but I didn't like them so I replaced them with these sparkly pseudo diamantes. I also replaced the feet of this chest of drawers with the round ones I cut off the bed so they matched the wardrobe.
Lighting was a real headache. Each ceiling light I tried was too big, one actually touched the end of the bed! so I tried smaller ones, they were so small they just looked ridiculous. 

So after seeing something on youtube I decided to make one. I started with a cap from a drink bottle, burned a hole in the top

gently fitted it around the light bulb

and glued a strip of diamantes around it. 

I then decided to make a slightly different one using a bottle top with a wider flat neck and put diamantes on the top of it.

 I preferred the second shorter one with the diamantes on the top.

This lovely little light fitted perfectly in the corner on top of the bedside cabinet 

These little lights are fairy lights for a Christmas tree. The container they are in is what some Schwartz saffron threads were in

I made a plain sheet for the mattress, a pillow case with a lace trim, a top cover and put some lace on the top sheet.

I then made a small bolster for under the pillow.

I wanted a rug in shades of pink and it just so happened that I had some ribbons in my sewing box that had been there for years, (it pays to not throw stuff away).  I weaved them on a canvas base. It was a fiddly job and looks a mess here but it turned out well.

I made this little rug by sewing strands of wool into the canvas but looping the wool instead of pulling it right through, then cutting through the loops. 

I then sewed around the edges.

I think the en-suite needs another down light at the front, and I will add accessories around the bedroom, a dressing gown, a prom ball gown, make-up, perfume and some shopping bags, but for now it's finished, I need to crack on with Mr Teens room.  

6 February 2017

Dollshouse Festival

I had a dollshouse when I was a little girl, then nothing for years until ahem - middle age! ok, maybe a bit of artistic license is at work there, anyway moving on. I can't think why I didn't get into miniatures much sooner, probably because I was busy raising a family and working and just didn't give it a thought, and then 8 years ago I bought my first one, and a few years later I bought a second one. At this point you might be thinking "where is all this leading to?"

Well yesterday I went to my very first Dollshouse Festival, the City of London Festival and realised that there is so much I want to do, but will I have time to achieve it all? Every stall I approached I thought oooh I want to make one of those, there were Tudor rooms, Victorian rooms, beachside themes, caravans, lighthouses, conservatories, orangeries, toy shops, fruit and veg shops and many more. Added to that there was furniture, beautiful artisan furniture, exquisite silverware, jewellery, toys, hats, clothes, lighting, crystal chandeliers, so much I can't list it all. I had a great time and could have spent a fortune, instead I was very good and remained focused on what I actually wanted and needed - some DIY hardware products which unfortunately weren't available, a jukebox and dartboard for Mr Teen's room, which also weren't available! 

I did however find this beautiful chandelier for the main bedroom, it has real crystal beads in it and looks gorgeous lit up.

and an impulse buy, this cute little puppy named Freddie.

He is currently residing in the finally finished Miss Teens room (will tell you all about that soon). Dogs aren't usually allowed upstairs but we will see how it goes, I suspect he will be allowed anywhere he wants to go because he is so cute :-)

25 January 2017

Rufus' Diary

Well there's not much happening here at Chez Olive & Pru. In between hibernating, reading and working on her dolls house Scary Lady hasn't been doing much, she really doesn't like this time of year. 

We have a new bean bag, it replaces one that poor little Buster had an accident on. 
It happened during a car journey, I won't go into details, suffice to say it was most unpleasant.

We have had some lovely frosty, pretty mornings. 

The other morning when we were on our way back from our walk Buster wouldn't walk over the bridge, it was sparkly with frost but SL didn't think that was the problem because he had walked over it on the way out. She went back to have a closer look and there in the middle of the bridge was a leaf, yes dear reader a brown frosty leaf, SL moved the leaf and Buster walked over the bridge. He is such a wus, cute but a wus. One very good thing about frosty mornings is that we don't get dirty paws and legs so we don't have to be hosed down before going into the house :-)

9 January 2017

Shhh Top Secret

Take some graduates, add a handful of linguists, a pinch of genius mathematicians and a sprinkling of eccentricity, and what do you have? Codebreakers. The brilliant men and women from all walks of life who came together to serve the war effort at Bletchley Park.

In August 1938 ‘Captain Ridley's Shooting Party’ arrived at a country mansion house in the Buckinghamshire countryside. 

To the outside world they appeared to be a group of friends enjoying a relaxed weekend, they even brought with them one of the best chefs at the Savoy Hotel to cook their food! But the group were far from relaxed, they were members of MI6, and the Government Code and Cypher School. Their job was to see whether Bletchley Park would work as a wartime location, well away from London, for intelligence activity. Their presence there was to set the scene for one of the most remarkable stories of World War Two.

Their mission was to crack the Nazi codes and ciphers. The most famous of the cipher systems to be broken at Bletchley Park was the Enigma. The Poles had broken Enigma in 1932, when the encoding machine was undergoing trials with the German Army. At that time the cipher altered only once every few months, but with the advent of war, it changed at least once a day, giving 159 million million million possible settings to choose from. The Poles decided to inform the British in July 1939, once they needed help to break Enigma and with invasion of Poland imminent. There were also a large number of lower-level German systems to break as well as those of Hitler's allies. At the start of the war in September 1939 the codebreakers returned to Bletchey Park to begin their war-winning work in earnest. 

The splendid mansion house is surrounded by beautiful parkland

Many brilliant minds passed through this impressive entrance

there are also outbuildings, stables, a tennis court and a lake.

The Office of Alastair Denniston, Head of the Government Code and Cypher School, and the room where the US Special Relationship was born. This was where Commander Denniston welcomed all new recruits to the Top Secret Bletchley Park.

The Library became a wartime office, initially housing the German and Italian subsections. 
It has been skillfully recreated using period furniture and paraphernalia. 
It looked and felt as if the men and women had just popped out for a lunch break.

I remember telephones like this one, and the pencil sharpener, inkwells and the various stamps!

Scenes from The Imitation Game were filmed in these rooms. I have only seen clips of it, but after visiting I am really keen to watch it. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley and tells the story of how, in 1939, newly created British intelligence agency MI6 recruits Cambridge mathematics alumnus Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to crack Nazi codes, including Enigma - which cryptanalysts had thought unbreakable. Turing's team, including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), analyze Enigma messages while he builds a machine to decipher them. Turing and team finally succeed and become heroes.

Alan Turing was not a well known figure during his lifetime. But today he is famous for being an eccentric and passionate British mathematician, who conceived modern computing and played a crucial part in the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. 
In 1952 he fell victim to mid-20th century attitudes. The quiet genius encountered disgrace when authorities revealed his homosexuality and sent him to prison. After being hounded and chemically castrated he died at the age of 41.

This exhibition is in the Ballroom where key scenes were filmed. 
The process of breaking Enigma was aided considerably by a complex electro-mechanical device, designed by  Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman. The Bombe, as it was called, ran through all the possible Enigma wheel configurations in order to reduce the possible number of settings in use to a manageable number for further hand testing. The Bombes were operated by Wrens, many of whom lived in requisitioned country houses such as Woburn Abbey. The work they did in speeding up the codebreaking process was indispensable. 

The bar featured in the film.

As more and more people arrived to join the codebreaking operations the mansion house became overcrowded and the various sections began to move into large pre-fabricated wooden huts set up on the lawns of the Park. For security reasons the various sections were known only by their hut numbers.

Alan Tsurin's office

The note in the machine reads "Gone to lunch, please do not touch my typewriter!

The machine to the left, Geheimschreiber or 'secret writer', had a built-in teleprinter which could transmit messages. The messages were often sent over telephone lines so were difficult to intercept. On the right Enigma machine, temporarily removed!

The Germans’ every move was monitored. A chain of wireless intercept stations across Britain and in a number of countries overseas listened in to the enemy's radio messages. Thousands of wireless operators, many of them civilians but also Wrens, WAAF personnel and members of the ATS, tracked the enemy radio nets up and down the dial, carefully logging every letter or figure. The messages were then sent back to Bletchley Park (Station X) to be deciphered, translated and fitted together like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle to produce as complete a picture as possible of what the enemy was doing.

The intelligence produced by deciphering the Naval Enigma was passed to the Admiralty However, in the early days, they struggled to get the naval commanders to take it seriously but a series of spectacular successes turned things around for the Codebreakers. Throughout the First Battle of the Atlantic, they helped the Admiralty to track the U-Boat wolf packs, considerably reducing the German Navy's ability to sink the merchant navy ships bringing vital supplies to Britain from America.

The Codebreakers began working around the clock to send the intelligence they were producing to London. In October 1941 after receiving a letter from some of the senior codebreakers decrying the lack of resources being afforded them, Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed:
Make sure they have all they want, extreme priority, and report to me that this has been done.’
From that moment on Bletchley Park began receiving a huge influx of resources and a major building programme ensued to create the space necessary to house the ever increasing workforce.

In 1942 the Codebreakers' many successes included the North Africa Campaign, when they enabled the Royal Navy to cut Rommel's supply lines and kept Montgomery informed of the Desert Fox's every move. Early 1942 brought serious difficulties with the German Navy’s introduction of a more complex Enigma cipher. But by the end of 1942 they had mastered it as well.

Perhaps Bletchley Park's greatest success was still to come with the breaking of the Germans' strategic ciphers. These complex ciphers were used to secure communications between Hitler in Berlin and his army commanders in the field. The intelligence value of breaking into these was immense. Initial efforts were manual and successful, but could not keep up with the volume of intercepts. Under Professor Max Newman the ‘Newmanry’ started to devise machines to mechanise the process. This ultimately led to the design and construction by the brilliant General Post Office (GPO) engineer Tommy Flowers of ‘Colossus’, the world's first semi-programmable electronic computer. Breaking into these ciphers allowed the Allied staff planning for the invasion of Europe to obtain unprecedented detail of the German defences.

The Codebreakers made a vital contribution to D-Day in other ways. The breaking of the ciphers of the German Secret Intelligence Service allowed the British to confuse Hitler over where the Allies were to land. His decision to divert troops away from the Normandy beaches undoubtedly ensured the invasion's success. 

As well as human effort animals were also vital to the war effort. Moat people know about heroic horses and dogs, but pigeons also helped. They were recruited as messengers. 

WWII Parachute/Container used to supply European resistance groups with pigeon message carriers

When the birds landed, wires in the coop would sound a bell or buzzer and a soldier of the Signal Corps would remove the message from the canister, and send it to its destination by telegraph, field phone, or personal messenger.
A carrier pigeon's job was a dangerous one though. Enemy soldiers often tried to shoot them down, knowing they were carrying important messages.Some of these pigeons became quite famous among the infantrymen they worked for. One pigeon, named "The Mocker," flew 52 missions before he was wounded. Another, named "Cher Ami" lost a foot and an eye, but her message got through, saving a large group of surrounded American infantrymen. 

The Monument to all who served

the Polish Memorial

The stableyard cottages. Some of the most renowned codebreakers worked in these buildings. 

1940 Packard 6 cylinder Touring Sedan.
In June 1940 a fleet of cars and sedans was purchased by MI6. The cars were taken to Whaddon Hall, the headquarters of Section VIII and the Packards were sent to Tickfords, a coachbuilder in Newport Pagnell where their vivid showroom colours were sandblasted and camouflage paint applied. They were then returned to Whaddon Hall to be fitted with a custom made wireless receiver, transforming them into mobile wireless vehicles. 

1947 Sunbeam Talbot

1938 Austin 18 Six Cylinder Ambulance

Mick Jagger's film company produced the film Enigma and afterwards he generously donated these vehicles to Bletchley Park

As you walk around the grounds you can hear various recordings, sounds of despatch riders

conversations of people as they sat beside the lake, watching the skaters or rowers, laughter on the lawn, 
and a tennis match between two of the female workers (75% of the workforce at Bletchley during the war were female).  

The genius minds of oxford and Cambridge are a great celebration of British academia and what it acheived. Millions of lives were saved. The official historian of World War II British Intelligence has written that the "Ultra" intelligence produced at Bletchley shortened the war by two to four years. It doesn't bear thinking about what Hitler might have achieved in those extra years.

I'm so proud of our heritage and the men and women who fought for the freedom we enjoy today.

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