In the garden

When I went out this morning, I saw a lot of daffodils flowering on the verges, yet in my garden the tall ones won’t be out for a while; only the miniatures are flowering. I needed lights and wipers on for driving; this afternoon I was able to spend half an hour doing some garden tidying. There’s a lot more to do but I don’t trust the weather yet.
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life on mars

TV watch next week …

I don’t want anyone to miss this!

On 23rd February at 8.30 Lucy Worsley investigates what the Blitz Spirit means, by looking at the lives of people who lived through it. One of them is Frances Faviell, author of the wonderful A Chelsea Concerto, which I reviewed here.

I think it’s the best book about the Blitz I’ve ever read and have been pressing it on people ever since first reading it. I was alerted to the programme by Dean Street Press, who published the book as part of its Furrowed Middlebrow series. They are rightly proud of this because such a book should not have been out of print for so long.



Thanks to Channel 4 showing *live cricket*, I was able to see Joe Root get a century in his hundredth Test. It was a joy to watch. So unfortunate that Sibley, playing so well, was out at the last minute. India are a better side than Sri Lanka, so I wasn’t expecting such a good day.
Talksport had the rights to ball by ball commentary for this match but after much fiddling with the radio, I could only find people droning on about football. Any advice?
Rose Blight

What a start to the month!

We had a power cut from nine until about half past four. No heat, no light, no internet. Ten minutes to boil a kettle on the hob. Every text update was worse than the one before, each postponing the expected reconnection time.
I was SO COLD. And now I’m way behind with a lot of things I needed to do online. I'm so sorry for anyone who gets cut off for days.

Promise fulfilled

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

Way back in September , I planted my spring bulbs, full of hope. Now the Iris have started flowering. I kept them outside for a while, then moved them into the cold greenhouse when the winter rains started because they hate the wet and must have good drainage. I’m thrilled but oh, for a decent camera!


Georgette Heyer and the battle of Waterloo

I can just imagine some people sneering at the very idea of reading a book by a romantic novelist as a painless way of learning about Waterloo. Let me tell you that Georgette Heyer’s research for An Infamous Army was impeccable. The story begins in Brussels where not just troops but fashionable English people fill the town. Naturally there is an apparently ill-starred romance but Waterloo is central. While all is still quiet, a group of the main characters set off on a day’s pleasure excursion in the nearby countryside. While there, they have pointed out to them Quatre Bras, the hollow road and the houses of Hougoumont and La Haie Sainte. For them, it’s a charming view. For anyone knowing anything about the coming battle, the names suggest impending doom.

Whether it’s ladies’ fashions or troops’ uniforms, you can bet that every detail will be correct. This is also true of Heyer’s description of the battle, which tallies with everything I’ve ever read about it. This is not pretty reading, as she doesn’t spare the reader the gore, while giving a vivid account of the fog and chaos of war. As Andrew Roberts said, Wellington was ‘here, there and everywhere’, rallying his men. At the end of the book, the love story is resolved but, fittingly, Heyer ends with Wellington writing his reports.

I’d also strongly recommend a social history of the period, Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, which I reviewed here in 2014. It’s about what it was like to live in Britain during years of fighting. Some people may be surprised to learn how much support there was in England for Napoleon.

The Napoleon Diaries 15

Nearly done! So, Napoleon: hero or villain? I’d been told by a friend (disapprovingly) that Andrew Roberts concludes that he was a hero. Not quite, although calling your book Napoleon the Great is rather a giveaway. Napoleon the greatest military strategist of all time? The Duke of Wellington thought so. He said Napoleon was the greatest ‘captain’ ‘of any age’ and when told of his death, said, ’Now I can call myself the greatest general in Europe’. For Roberts, the important thing is that he laid the foundations of modern France. The Code Napoléon remained largely in place and much of it was taken up by other countries. He also speculates that a Europe dominated by a powerful France might have been better than what we got: Europe dominated by Prussia. I personally think that the most interesting point in the book.

I find it hard to make up my mind about the man. France was chaotic when he came to power and he restored order and instituted popular reforms. Napoleonic rule was better than rule by the Bourbons or the Directory. He was not a cruel despot; if he had been, he would have been more ruthless in eliminating his enemies. He had wide intellectual interests and there are many testaments to how interesting his conversation was. Ambitious? Certainly, but he knew himself to be more capable than others. I think he saw his own glory and that of France as the same thing, almost ‘L’état, c’est moi’. Less praiseworthy is his nepotism and desire to set up a Napoleonic dynasty, in effect a new race of kings. Then one must consider the millions of deaths during the Napoleonic wars. True, he loved to fight but ever since the revolution the rest of Europe had become violently anti-French, so fighting was pretty well inevitable. Whatever the conclusion, he remains one of the most important figures in European history. There will be many more books about Napoleon because historians make a living by disagreeing with each other.
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The Napoleon Diaries 14

Astonishingly, the day after Waterloo, Napoleon writes to his brother Joseph that all is not lost and begins working out how many troops he could muster for a counter-attack. Many soldiers remain loyal to him and there are skirmishes in various parts of the country. But the political elite are against him and, led by Lafayette, organise what is virtually a coup. Napoleon abdicates again. He didn’t want to be in the hands of the Bourbons or the Prussians and puts his trust in Britain. He had an idea of going to live in America but any voyage out was blocked by HMS Bellerophon, anchored off Rochefort. In July, he surrenders to its captain, Maitland.

Napoleon gets on well with Maitland and with the sailors. When the ship is anchored off Torbay, people travel hundreds of miles just to get a glimpse of him. Napoleon is happy to stroll on deck, showing himself and doffing his hat to ladies. Far more people want to accompany him than there is room for but eventually the party is ready and the voyage of over 4,000 miles to St Helena begins. When he reaches the island, Napoleon says it is his tomb. He is given a house which is permanently damp and infested with rats and other vermin. He copes reasonably well at first; reading, writing and riding around the island. Things get worse when the unsympathetic Sir Hudson Lowe is appointed governor. Wellington said he should never have been sent because he was ‘a stupid man’. He is certainly petty-minded and makes life more difficult for Napoleon, who had previously enjoyed the company of British officers and visiting dignitaries. Napoleon feels confined and dull but, more importantly he is often very unwell (this is dismissed by Lowe as hypochondria). It’s not surprising that he relives his triumphs, makes little of his failures and condemns his enemies and those who betrayed him. After several years of suffering, he dies on 5th May 1821 aged fifty-one, of stomach cancer (forget the wallpaper and the conspiracy theories). He’s buried on St Helena with full military honours. His remains are later removed to France. If you’ve been to Paris, you’ve no doubt seen the splendid tomb at Les Invalides. I admit to feeling sorry for him at the end.