More reading…

When F. said I would enjoy Agatha Christie’s ‘The Pale Horse’ I was dubious, its 08f0d27b7580e1fc23e6e233bb66926f--pale-horse-pocket-books.jpgunderlying theme being Black Magic, not one of my favourite subjects. However, she was proved eminently right – it is, for my part, one of the best Christie novels. Exciting, believable, good despite Poirot’s absence…a thoroughly entertaining read. The characters are more strongly drawn than usual with her (this may be due to there being no Poirot and Hastings), and the plot moves along at pace whilst maintaining interest at every step. A really enjoyable read. I should take my wife’s advice more often perhaps.

In line with my policy of reading something more serious at the same time as my bedtime reading I chose another of my Folio books….‘Hannibal’. While admittedly dated, being first published in 1981, it is a goodhannibal-ernle-bradford-folio-society-2004-1.jpg traditional historical ‘Life’. The author Ernle Bradford does draw on a wide range of sources and research but at the end of the day he has to rely largely on Polybius writing 50 years after Hannibal’s death, and Livy writing another 150 years later. This then is a classic case of history being written by the victors. In actual fact virtually nothing at all survives of the Carthaginian civilisation either in writing or on the ground, which is astonishing considering at one time it controlled a large part of the Mediterranean and its capital held half a million inhabitants. So Cato’s much repeated ‘Delenda set Carthago’ turned out to be really what happened. But at the time of the Second of the Three Punic Wars with Hannibal in charge of Carthage’s Italian army, things were very different. It could so easily have been Rome that was the loser. Hannibal’s magnificent battlefield victories at Trasimene, Cannae and at the siege of Capua absolutely devastated the Romans, and Hannibal at any of these junctures could so easily have marched on Rome itself and with some siege equipment (which he never had) have taken it. Perhaps as his cavalry commander Maharbal said Hannibal knew how to win victory but not to use it. This then is the story of a great general and at the same time a story of how Rome came to be the astonishing conqueror of virtually the whole of Western civilisation. A gripping read.

Into Devon for the day….1/12/17


Buckfast Abbey is becoming one of our favourite places to visit. Why? Could be the quality of the food in the exceptional cafe with a view (as above). Could be the setting, right in the heart of a bowl of hills and trees and adjoining the River Dart. Could be for the atmosphere which is calming and lovely. Or it could be that there is so much to admire in this amazing, amazing story of an Abbey re-founded and built by a handful of monks, mainly just half a dozen, who had no previous skills apart from one who knew some masonry. As I have said before, I just find this quite the most astonishing thing I have come across. The interior with its wonderful craftwork, stained glass, beautiful masonry is as impressive as the exterior….





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We made a point this time of seeking out the video introduction which we missed last time which gives a nice background to the place and as it is in the Guest Hall we went upstairs to marvel at that renewed structure….first-class craftmanship.


Our next destination was Dartmouth but to get there we took the back roads which we know quite well from of old. We passed through ravishing countryside down deep Devon lanes with views of the Dart from time to time as well as the backdrop of Dartmoor all picked out clearly on a crisp winter’s day…..



passing The Watermans Arms with its lovely riverside location….





and we made  our way to the pretty riverside village of Dittisham, famous in times past for its plums (which we used to sell in our greengrocer’s shop in Dartmouth). Dittisham is yet another place with a churchyard overhanging the river, rather like St Just-in-Roseland or Mylor Bridge in Cornwall…




We also passed Fingals country house B+B which we supplied sometimes with their fruit and veg. It always brings to mind one particular dinner we had there. Everyone sits around a long oak refectory table whilst the host acts as a superb host should, filling you with great food and drink. I would normally hate this kind of social eating but Richard is such a natural that even I fell in with the idea. Anyway it was at the time of the Falkland War, and who should we have sitting at our table but an Argentinian businessman and his beautiful wife! And who should Richard ask to give a short speech recognising the basic underlying friendship of our two countries than me?!! Enough said. A night to remember…I think I lost at snooker afterwards to our new Argentinian friend.

Dartmouth was, as usual, captivating. We couldn’t resist calling into the shop of Simon Drew  9feeee_7f15ab41a746c5d746f097232c301125.jpgour old neighbour and friend…..our shop was next door but one, now a Weird Fish opposite the Christmas tree. We caught up with a bit of news, had a good chat to Sue who joined Simon immediately after she and we left our greengrocers, thirty-odd years ago as she reminded us. We also had a brief chat with Caroline (Simon’s wife) and to Kayla, Sue’s daughter, and generally enjoyed our reminiscing very much.


After a tour of the town and all the lovely independent shops, and a quick coffee and cake in one of Dartmouth’s delis, we returned for one last look at the beautiful lights in Fosse Street and the boat float before hitting the road home. In a historic town like Dartmouth (and Warwick where our bookshop was) plain white lights seem to suit and give a classy feel to Christmas…….



We drove home on the back roads and it was very atmospheric to see the lighthouse shining away incessantly at Start Point and to see the moon reflected on the waters at Blackpool Sands….20171201_164629.jpg

Using our National Art Pass….The National Maritime Museum Falmouth 30/11/17


Making a conscious decision to use our National Art Pass we took the two trains to Falmouth. Knowing it was late night shopping we took a slightly later train than usual which meant that we caught the Inter-City rather than the little local one. So a more comfortable and quicker journey. On arrival we went straight to the National Maritime Museum. We had been a couple of times before but it is large, has excellent exhibitions and there is always something new to see. Having had a good look at local boy Ben Ainslie’s craft, the one he retrieved from the museum to race in his second Olympics, having decided it was better than the new boat he had had designed and built(!), and other beautiful things on show, we went to the Captain Bligh Exhibition which proved fascinating. There wee got talking to one of the Volunteers and the one thing I remember vividly is him telling us that he was a veteran (as are all the Volunteers apparently), and that, serving in the Falklands, his ship had a hit from an Exocet and he spent 9 hours in the water before being rescued – quite incredible. When eventually he got home and had recovered from the smoke damage to his lungs etc etc he then became a Commandos trainer….not one to shirk from Duty then. One can only admire such as he. Almost as incredible a story as the plight and survival of Captain Bligh and his loyal men.

We then had a quick trip to the Tower which we had not seen before. First of all descending we went underneath the harbour and gazed around through the windows (no fish today), we then ascended to the top of the Tower and were brought to a standstill by an absolutely breathtaking 360 degrees view – the photos of course do not do it justice….it would be worth any visit and entrance fee for that view alone….20171130_141620.jpg


One last look along the balcony, and passing what looked like a great cafe with its own marvellous views, we decamped to Rick Stein’s Sea Food Restaurant across the square where we noticed they had cod and chips and a glass of prosecco for £8.95…who could resist?


The quality of the food was amazing, the batter was light and crunchy, and the mushy peas were scrumptious,  a very enjoyable experience. Plus we noted for the future that on Tuesdays they have a special offer for OAP’s (i.e. the likes of us) of cod and chips for £5.95…..he calls them ‘Vintage Lunches’ (a nice touch). We shall return…….on a Tuesday.


Rushing back for our train after shopping, we caught the Christmas procession and some hearty brass band playing. A nice end to our day.