Tuesday 31 July 2018

Masters at War up to 1920

I've finally felt well enough to begin work on my next book, which will be about the members of the Hertfordshire Masters' Lodge (No.4090) who served in the military in the period up to 1920.

It is my intention to finish and publish the book in time for the centenary of the Armistice that ended the fighting in 1918. The individuals I will be writing about had a variety of careers in the military, and although the two local regiments (the Hertfordshire Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment and the Hertfordshire Yeomanry) feature quite heavily, some of the subjects of my book served in other regiments/corps and the Royal Navy.

As almost all the research has already been done, I hope that the book will take about a month to write.

Monday 30 July 2018

Russian reinforcements

I wasn't able to include photographs of my twenty-three newly-acquired Del Prado 25/28mm-scale pre-painted Napoleonic Russian figures in yesterday's blog entry thanks to a flat battery in my camera. I now have a fresh battery ... and this is what the figures look like.

They will significantly increase the size of my Russian Napoleonic Army, and I am looking forward to renovating, varnishing, and basing them in due course.

Sunday 29 July 2018

Souvenirs from our recent cruise

Over the years, Sue and I have found that we seem to bring back fewer souvenirs each time we go on a cruise. This year mine were a Guernsey flag to add to my collection, ...

... some Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm-scale Napoleonic Russian figures, and an illustrated book about Spanish Army uniforms by the acclaimed José Maria Bueno.

The figures will be very welcome additions to my small Russian Napoleonic figure collection, and the book was an unexpected bargain ... and the quality of its illustrations can be gauged by the following example.

Its price tag was sixty-nine Euros, but it only cost my forty-five! (This is just over £40.00.) Furthermore, my copy was monogrammed by the author, which makes it even more valuable in my eyes.

My edition of SOLDADOS DE ESPAÑA: EL UNIFORME MILITAR ESPAÑOL DESDE LOS REYES CATÓLICOS HASTA JUAN CARLOS I was written and illustrated by José Maria Bueno, and published in 1998 by Almena Ediciones (ISBN 84 922644 5 4).

I did come back with a less welcome 'souvenir' from our recent cruise, a bad stomach bug. Whether I caught it aboard or after we had disembarked, it made itself felt by Monday of last week, and has only just cleared itself out of my system.

Saturday 28 July 2018

Another hot day ... followed by an evening of thunderstorms.

I was woken at 3.00am on Friday morning by our cat, who obviously wanted some fuss and attention. Rather than wake Sue, I took the cat into our spare bedroom, where I opened the window to help cool the room. I then played with our cat until she decided that she'd had enough, at which point I sat on the bed trying to keep cool ... and the next thing I remember was waking up at 8.00am!

Sue and I went shopping during the morning, and the air temperature gauge in our car registered 31°C. It looked as if we were in for another hot day ... but by later afternoon dark clouds were massing on the horizon and the rumble of thunder could be heard. At 4.45pm the local forecast was for rain at 5.00pm ...

... and almost bang on time, the rain started!

The rain was not too heavy at first, but at 6.30pm the rainstorm hit us, and in a matter of minutes a river of rainwater was running down the road outside our house.

The rain stopped by 7.00pm ... and re-started just over thirty minutes later, although it was far less torrential. By 9.00pm the storm had passed, and we were left feeling much cooler, but with a smell of damp in the air.

Overnight the air temperature has dropped to something much closer to normal, and we have a cooling breeze from the west that is helping to make things feel fresher. As I write this just before 9.00am, it looks as if we will have a warm day, with the possibility of the odd shower of rain. With luck this will be the beginning of a more moderate spell of weather.

Friday 27 July 2018

The heat of the day ... and night

The nearest Meteorological Office monitoring station to our house is in Plumstead, and yesterday afternoon it's on-line readout looked like this a 3.45pm ...

... and this an hour later at 4.45pm.

It is amazing to see that within that hour the maximum temperature had risen to 33°C and the forecast for the rest of the day had changed.

It is predicted that we will have another very hot day today ... but with the likelihood of thunderstorms later.

We shall see.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Keeping cool

As the temperatures in London seem destined to rise yet again tomorrow, and after one of the worst night's sleep Sue and I can remember since we were married in 1982, the order of the day is to try to keep as cool as possible.

We have three tower fans (one on each floor of our house) and two portable air-con units, and they are all working like billy-oh trying to keep the air cooled and moving. Every window that we can open is open, and even the gentlest of breezes is very welcome. Despite all of this, our house seems to be warmer on the inside than it is outside.

The problem seems to be a result of the building regulations, that insisted that our roof and external walls should have foam insulation. This was introduced when global cooling was predicted ... but global warming doesn't seem to have been recognised as requiring the insulation to be reduced. As a result, our house has been getting hotter and hotter as it retains the build-up of heat inside, and unless there is a rapid and prolonged change in the weather, this will continue for the foreseeable future.

As Baldric would say, 'I have a cunning plan'. Sue and I are keeping hydrated (I don't usually drink water, but at present I am glugging it down by the litre!) and only using rooms where there is little or no direct sunlight. Luckily, we are both retired, so that we can sleep during the day (cat permitting) if we sleep badly at night. I'm having at least one warm shower every day (this is better than cold shower which will actually cause your body to warm up) and when absolutely necessary, I go for a drive ... with the air-con unit going full blast to cool me down.

The forecast is for thunderstorms at some point on Friday with cooler weather over the weekend ... but the temperatures are predicted to rise again after next weekend.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

I have been to … Guernsey, Spain, and France

Sunday 15th July: Southampton
Having been woken up before 6.00am every morning for the previous fortnight by our cat, it would have been understandable if we had relied on her to wake us early enough for us to get ready and on our way to Southampton by 8.30am. It was a lucky happenstance that I decided to set the alarm clock for 6.15am because on this particular morning the cat was nowhere to be seen!

We were dressed and had eaten breakfast by 8.00am, and after loading our luggage into our car and making a final check that the house was secure, we drove off our driveway just before 8.30am.

(For those of you who might be concerned about the cat, she was asleep in a flowerbed when I went downstairs to make breakfast, and as soon as she realised I was up and about, she came in and ate a very hearty breakfast!)

Our tip around the M25 was uneventful, and by just after 9.30am we had turned off onto the M3 and were on our way south-west. By 10.15am we had reached Winchester services, where we stopped for a comfort break and a drink. We only stayed there about thirty minutes, and by 11.20am we were being directed into the queue of cars outside the Ocean Terminal in Southampton.

After the luggage was unloaded and handed over to the porter and the car had been taken away by the valet parking service, we went into the terminal to book in. Because we are such regular travellers with P&O and because were occupying a suite aboard MV Britannia, we were given priority boarding, and by 11.50am Sue and I were sitting in the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships) having a relaxing drink. We stayed there chatting to another couple until 1.30pm, by which time an announcement had been made to the effect that all cabins were ready to occupy.

Our luggage was already outside the door when we reached the suite, and Sue and I had unpacked well before it was time to go to the statutory safety drill. As the ship had nearly 4,000 passengers aboard, we decided not to try to return to our suite immediately after the drill had ended. Instead we went out onto one of the open deck areas and sat there in the sun for about twenty minutes. By then the crowds had dispersed, and we were able to take a lift up to Deck 14, where our suite was located.

We stayed there relaxing and watching the world go by until it was time to get ready for dinner. When Britannia reached the Nab Tower, we saw the Pilot Cutter come alongside to collect the pilot. This manoeuvre was done at quite high speed, and the seamanship displayed by captains of both vessels was phenomenal.

At 7.45pm Sue and I went up to the Sunset Bar (Deck 16 Aft) for a pre-dinner drink, and forty-five minutes later we went down to the Oriental Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner. We only had to queue for a few minutes before we were able to get in, and after being shown to our table we met the other four people (a family consisting of a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter) we were to share a dinner table with for the rest of the voyage. After dinner we returned to the Sunset Bar for some fresh air before returning to our suite to sleep very soundly.

Monday 16th July: St Peter Port, Guernsey
After an uninterrupted night’s sleep, Sue and I awoke at 7.45am to find that Britannia was already at anchor off St Peter Port.

We ate breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 16 Forward) and then went for a short walk around the ship’s upper decks before returning to our suite to get ready to go ashore. We boarded a tender at 10.05am but although the journey was less than a mile from the ship to the shore, it took us over thirty minutes. This was due to the presence of another cruise ship – Crystal Serenity – whose tenders were using the same pontoon to unload their passengers.

We finally stepped ashore at the Albert Pier a little after 10.40am, …

… and within a matter of minutes Sue and I were sitting on bench on the seafront watching the world go by. After a short chat with a local man, we set of for a wander through the main streets of St Peter Port.

Our route took us along the High Street, the Le Poulet and Lower Poulet.

At the roundabout near The Weighbridge we turned onto the North Esplanade, …

… and followed it until it became The Quay and eventually Church Square.
From Church Square we went inland towards Market Square, and thence up Market Street.

As it was midday and we were going to join a tour at 1.15pm, Sue and I decided to have a snack lunch in a nearby pizzeria and café.

We returned to the Albert Pier (and its statue of Prince Albert) …

… well before 1.00pm, and after booking in for our tour we went onto the raised area on the pier to sit and wait. This vantage point gave us an excellent view of the bay in which St Peter Port is located.

By 1.15pm Sue and I were seated aboard our tour bus and very soon afterwards it set off. Our first stop was at La Valette Underground Military Museum, which is located in a former Kriegsmarine underground fuel storage facility.

We spent forty-five minutes at La Valette before our tour took us to the German Occupation Museum, which is located near to Guernsey’s airport.

After a further forty-five-minute stop, the tour bus took us to Guernsey Pearl, …

… where we were given tea and a slice of local fruit loaf.

Guernsey Pearl is located on the west coast of the island, and is very close to Fort Grey, one Guernsey’s numerous Napoleonic-era coastal fortifications.

We stayed for about thirty minutes before being driven to our final tour stop, the remains of the Dollman Battery at Pleinmont in south-west Guernsey. The area has been taken over by a group called Festung Guernsey, and they are gradually restoring what they can of the German defence system. Close by is one of the German observation and fire control towers as well as an observation point for the Dollman Battery. The battery was originally armed with four French 155mm cannons in individual gun pits, and one of these has been restored and is capable of firing blank charges.

We returned to the Albert Pier by 5.00pm and boarded a tender back to Britannia almost immediately. Our journey back to the ship was enlivened by the appearance alongside of a pod of dolphins, which accompanied us over half way back to Britannia.

Once back aboard, Sue and I went up to the Sunset Bar for a much-needed cold drink, and whilst we were there the ship raised her anchor and began to move out to sea. By the time we had returned to our suite, Britannia was sailing southwards towards the south-east corner of the island. She then turned west, and by the time we returned to the Sunset Bar for a pre-dinner drink, the south-western tip of Guernsey was barely visible on the horizon.

After eating dinner in the Oriental Restaurant and a short spell on deck near the Sunset Bar, we returned to our suite feeling very tired. We in bed not long after 11.00pm, and after reading for a short time, we both fell asleep.

Tuesday 17th July: At sea
Overnight the ship’s clocks were advanced an hour as we were sailing towards La Coruña, Spain, which is in a different time zone from the UK. Despite this notional loss of an hour of sleep, Sue and I were awake by 7.30am, and able to take our time getting ready.

We ate breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, and then made our way down to Reception (Deck 5, Midships) to collect a spare copy of the ship’s daily newsletter. We then spent some time exploring the area around the atrium (Decks 5, 6 and 7 Midships), where a cookery demonstration and exhibition about the various Departments aboard Britannia was taking place.

The area became very crowded, and after looking at the various stands that had been set up, Sue and I wandered around, exploring the main public spaces on Decks 5, 6, and 7. We then went up to the Horizon Self-Service restaurant (Deck 16 Aft) for a drink, which we took out to the Sunset Bar to drink.

By 11.30am we were back in our suite, and once we had listened to the Officer-of-the-Watch making the noonday announcement, we spent the next couple of hours reading and resting. At 2.00pm Sue an I went back to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for lunch, which we followed by another short spell in the open air near the Sunset Bar. We then returned to our suit, where we remained reading until it was time to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise.

Dinner was preceded by the traditional ‘Welcome Aboard’ cocktail party, which took place over the three floors of the atrium. As usual, the ship’s captain – Captain Paul Brown – introduced all the main Heads of Department and talked briefly about the cruise. He finished not long after 8.35pm, and this gave us plenty of time for to make out way to the Oriental Restaurant in time for the start of dinner at 8.45pm.

We chatted over dinner with out table companions, and time seems to fly by. We finally left the restaurant at 10.40pm, and after a spell on deck near the Sunset Bar, Sue and I returned to our suite to sleep.

Wednesday 18th July: La Coruña, Spain
Britannia was coming alongside the dockside of La Coruña as Sue and I woke up at 7.30am. She was quickly secured alongside, and by just after 8.00am the first passengers disembarked in order to board their tour coaches. (Quite a large number of passengers were going on tours to Santiago de Compostela, which was several hours drive away.)

Sue and I were in the Epicurean Restaurant eating breakfast by 9.00am, and after we had finished we were able to take our time to get ready to go ashore. Because cruise ships are able to moor close to the centre of the city, Sue and I were wandering through the narrow streets by just after 10.00am.

Along the way I managed to find the Comic and Collectables shop I discovered on our last visit to La Coruña and managed to buy a number of pre-painted Del Prado Napoleonic 25/28mm-scale figures from the ‘Relive Austerlitz’ range.

By the time we left the shop, Sue and I were both feeling thirsty, so after walking a bit further on …

… we stopped for a coffee in a small café (the Bar & Café Flanders) in a square that is dominated by the local town hall.

Suitably refreshed, we continued wandering through the narrow streets of the oldest part of La Coruña …

… until we reached the local covered market.

We spent some time walking around the various market stalls …

… before returning outside to continue our stroll.

We passed a lot of old buildings, including a local parish church, …

… before we eventually reached the main road that runs along the waterfront.

We paid a return visit to the bookshop that is located on that road (Libreria Arenas), and I bought an illustrated hardback book about Spanish uniforms that was written by José Maria Bueno. Not only is he an expert on the uniforms worn by the Spanish Army, he is also a renowned illustrator, and the copy of the twenty-year-old book that I bought was personally monogramed and numbered by him.

As it was getting close to lunchtime, Sue and I began to walk back towards the cruise terminal …

… and decided to eat a snack in the ‘Gasthof’ Café/Restaurant.

The sandwiches that were ordered we excellent, and once we had eaten and paid for them, we returned aboard Britannia. After a short rest break in our suite, we spend some time on the open deck near the Sunset Bar. We returned to our suite just before 3.45pm and remained there resting and reading until Britannia set sail at 4.50pm. From our balcony we watched her sail out of harbour, after which we began getting ready for dinner.

Whilst we were getting ready, an emergency announcement was made of the ship’s tannoy system to the effect that there was an ‘incident’ in the incinerator room and that the ship’s medical team and assessment party should go there. This was followed by an announcement by Captain Brown that there had been a small fire in the incinerator room (which struck me as being the ideal place for one!) and that it had been dealt with and there was nothing to worry about.

As Sue and I were dining in the Epicurean Restaurant, we went up to the Sunset Bar slightly earlier than usual. We had finished them by 7.50pm, which gave use ten minutes to walk to the restaurant. The meal was superb, and when we left at 10.10pm, Sue and I were both feeling rather full, As a result, we did not return to or suite straight away, Instead we went up to the Sunset Bar for some fresh air before returning to our suite to read and rest until it was time to get ready for bed.

Thursday 19th July: Santander, Spain
Overnight the weather was quite good, but there was some movement. Luckily we both slept through it, and when we woke up, Britannia was already alongside the quay and moored.

Once we were dressed, Sue and I went to the Epicurean Restaurant for a light breakfast. This was followed by a quick visit to Reception to get a printout of our account balance and to check about the disembarkation procedure in Southampton.

By 10.00 am we had disembarked and were queueing for the shuttle bus that was to take us to the Estacion Maritimo. From the drop-off point Sue and I walked inland …

… until we reached the city’s Town Hall.

Our walk through the city followed no particular route, …

… but it did take us past the cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria de la Asunción

… and a statue erected in 1880 and dedicated to the heroes of the famous Second of May (Dos de Mayo) Rising.

The statue is at the entrance to a large square (Plaza Porticada) …

… which is dominated by a very impressive building.

After walking a little further along the main seafront road …

… we came across the Eastern Market (Mercado del Este) …

… which has been converted into a small shopping mall.

After looking around the market, Sue and I crossed the main road and entered a small park (the Jardines de Pereda), which is dominated by a large monument to one of the city’s benefactors, after whom the gardens are named.

After sitting for a while in the park, we walked the short distance back to the Estacion Maritimo, where boarded the shuttle bus back to the ship. The journey took less than ten minutes, and by just after 1.30pm Sue and I were sitting in the Sunset Bar having a cold drink.

We ate a snack lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant before returning to our suite to read and rest for a while. At 5.15pm we went back to the Sunset Bar to join the group of passengers who had booked places for the specially arranged ‘Scenic Sail Away’. This took place at the highest point at the stern of the ship (Deck 19) and was hosted by many of the ship’s senior officers.

The vantage point gave us excellent views of Santander as Britannia sailed out of port, but after a relatively short time the wind and cold brought the event to an end. Sue and I then returned to our suite and had just enough time to get ready for dinner and to have a pre-dinner drink in the Sunset Bar before going to the Oriental Restaurant, where we ate on our own because our table companions were dining elsewhere.

We returned to the Sunset Bar after dinner, but the wind made the air temperature feel quite cold, and we were back in our suite by just after 10.30pm and in bed by 11.00pm.

Friday 20th July: La Rochelle, France
Britannia was already moving alongside her berth in La Pallice – the commercial port of La Rochelle – when Sue and I awoke at 7.30am.

After eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I paid a visit to the Future Cruise Desk (Deck 7 Midships) where – after a short wait – we booked two cruises for 2019. One is to Madeira and the Canary Islands and the other is to the Baltic. As the latter includes a day in Riga and one in Warnemunde – both places we have not visited before – it will hopefully be a very interesting trip.

A quick look at the massive queue of people waiting to catch the shuttle bus into La Rochelle convinced us not to try to rush to join it, and after a drink in the open deck area near the Sunset Bar and a chat with our butler, we finally went ashore at 11.30am. The shuttle bus dropped us off near the centre of La Rochelle fifteen minutes later, and following a stroll through a small flea market …

… we walked around the yacht basin …

… towards the larger of the two towers that guard the entrance to the Old Port.

Our attention was drawn by a long and loud series of tannoy announcements, and we crossed the footbridge over the entrance to the yacht basin. This gave us a very good view of the two towers at the entrance to the Old Port.

Closer to the announcer it became obvious that he was preparing the assembled crowd for the arrival at 12.30pm of a special parade of yachts owned by members of the Classic Yacht Club of La Rochelle. Bang on 12.30pm the first of these – a restored motor-cruiser – entered the harbour, …

… followed by an ancient lifeboat that is owned by the local maritime museum, …

… and a number of beautifully restored sailing yachts.

Once the parade of boats was over, Sue and I decided to look for somewhere to eat lunch. After a short walk along on side of the Old Port …

… we selected a busy café/restaurant.

The food was excellent, but our visit was marred by Sue slipping on a damp patch on the floor inside the premises and falling over. She was bruised on the left arm and both knees, but otherwise unhurt. (The staff were singularly unhelpful, and had we not already paid our bill and were about to leave, we might have made more of a fuss about what had happened.)

Sue managed to walk back to the shuttle bus pick-up point, but when we got there the queue was very long, and we had to wait some time before we got back to Britannia.

After a visit to our suite so that Sue could wash her bruises and treat them with antiseptic cream, we went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for some tea, which we drank outside in the open air. We then returned to our suite to rest and recover until it was time to get ready for the second and final formal dinner of the cruise.

Dinner was preceded by our usual drink in the Sunset Bar, after which we went down to the Oriental Restaurant. For the first time in several days we met up with our table companions, and over the meal we exchanged stories of our different experiences of La Coruña, Santander, and La Rochelle.

Just after we had all finished eating our main course, the entire galley brigade paraded through the restaurant, led by the ship’s executive chef. They were greeted by enthusiastic cheers and clapping, and when they had left, the waiters were also publicly thanked for everything they had done during the cruise.

After dinner Sue and I returned to the open deck area near the Sunset Bar, where we sat for about twenty minutes before going back to our suite to get ready for bed.

Saturday 21st July: At sea
Overnight Britannia had sailed north-westerly, and by the time we were awake and getting ready for breakfast, she was already off the coast of Brittany.

Following a very light breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, we had a brief walk around the ship and spent ten minutes on the open deck area on Deck 7. Sue and I then went back to our suite to get ready for the special ‘brunch’ that was taking place at 11.00am. The passengers who had opted for this event congregated in the Meridian Restaurant, where we were introduced to the various restaurant managers and head waiters who would accompany us. We were then split into parties of sixteen and taken on a tour of the restaurant’s galley.

During our tour we saw all the major departments at work preparing the meal we would eat …

… as well as displays of the food that is regularly produced by the galley.

Once we had returned to the Meridian Restaurant, we were seated at tables and given drinks and bread to accompany our meal, after which we went back into the galley to select our starter course, which we took back to the restaurant. Once that course was eaten, we went back and chose our main course … and eventually our dessert.

The ‘brunch’ finished at 1.30pm, and both Sue and I were feeling very full. We made our way outside for some fresh air before returning to our suite. Although we knew that we had to do our packing, we both decided to have a rest before doing so. I went out onto our balcony, and amongst the ships I could see was another cruise liner …

… and an unusual-looking vessel named Heincke. (It turned out to be a research ship that is owned and operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute. It is named after Friedrich Heincke, the founding director of the Royal Biological Institute Helgoland (Biologische Anstalt Helgoland).

We eventually began packing at about 4.00pm, and after an hour or so we took a break for a cup of tea in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant. Sue and I finally finished by 5.30pm, and after a farewell visit from our excellent butler, we put our main luggage out for collection.

(Whilst we were packing, Captain Brown announced that a passenger had been taken ill and needed blood. A request was made for suitable donors, and this must have been successful as he later announced that the passenger was stabilised and would be fit enough to stay aboard until Britannia reached Southampton.)

Sue and I spent what remained of the late afternoon/early evening resting and getting ready for dinner. We were able to pay a last visit to the Sunset Bar for a pre-dinner drink before going down nine decks to the Oriental Restaurant. As we had eaten ‘brunch’ neither of us was very hungry, but we managed to eat a light dinner before saying goodbye to our table companions and the two waiters who had served us.

Even though it was still quite early, we didn’t spend a lot of time back by the Sunset Bar for going to our suite to get ready for bed. This involved packing our last bag, which was put outside our suite for collection well before the midnight deadline.

Sunday 22nd July: Southampton
Sue and I were awake just before 6.00am and saw Britannia dock alongside the Ocean Terminal.

We were both dressed and ready for breakfast by just after 7.30am and managed to make our way through the crowds of passengers who were milling about near the lifts and stairs to the Epicurean Restaurant for our last breakfast of the cruise.

We then returned to our suite to collect our hand luggage, and made our way down to the Meridian Restaurant, where we were directed straight to the gangway. Our disembarkation was even quicker than normal, and by 8.35am we had collected our luggage from the Luggage Reclaim Hall, passed through Customs, and had reclaimed our car from the valet parking service. Once the car was loaded, we set off for home, and although we stopped off at Winchester Services to buy some food, we were home by just after 11.10am.

Our short cruise was over … but we are already planning our next one (and more!).