Our first Learing opportunity of the new year arose out of our short break in Lisbon.
A street sign just along from our hotel inspired a little research:
De Gusmão was born in Brazil, at the time a Portuguese colony. In 1709 he presented a petition to King João V of Portugal, seeking royal favour for his invention of an airship, in which he expressed the greatest confidence. Happily a picture and description of his airship have survived. In French.
De Gusmão wanted to spread a huge sail over a boat-like body like the cover of a transport wagon; the boat itself was to contain tubes through which, when there was no wind, air would be blown into the sail by means of bellows. The vessel was to be propelled by magnets which were to be encased in two hollow metal balls. The public test of the machine, which was set for June 24, 1709, did not happen, and the world is surely a poorer place for that. One account of De Gusmão’s work suggests that the Portuguese Inquisition forbade him to continue his aeronautic investigations and persecuted him because of them. I certainly didn’t expect that.
Our trip to northern Greece hosted by the wonderful Craig and Sue continued with a visit to the Byzantine city of Ioannina. The city’s foundation has traditionally been ascribed to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD. Ioannina flourished in the late Byzantine period (13th–15th centuries). Part of the Despotate of Epirus following the Fourth Crusade, many wealthy Byzantine families fled there following the sack of Constantinople, and the city experienced great prosperity and considerable autonomy, despite the political turmoil. It surrendered to the Ottomans in 1430. Between 1430 and 1868 the city was the administrative center of the Pashalik of Yanina. In the period between the 18th and 19th centuries, the city was a major center of the modern Greek Enlightenment. Ioannina joined Greece in 1913 following the Balkan Wars.
The thing to do when you’re in Ioannina is to take a boat to the island, where you can see Ali Pasha’s house.
Ali Pasha (1740 – 24 January 1822), often referred to as the Lion of Yannina, first came to notice as a brigand, finally as an Ottoman Albanian ruler.
His diplomatic and administrative skills, his interest in modernist ideas and concepts, his popular piety, his religious neutrality, his suppression of banditry, his vengefulness and harshness in imposing law and order, and his looting practices towards persons and communities in order to increase his proceeds caused both the admiration and the criticism of his contemporaries, as well as an ongoing controversy among historians regarding his personality. Finally falling foul of the Ottoman central government, Ali Pasha was declared a rebel in 1820, and was killed in 1822, aged over 80. Quite a character.
Byron described the Pasha in a letter to his mother: “His highness is sixty years old, very fat and not tall, but with a fine face, light blue eyes and a white beard; his manner is very kind and at the same time he possesses that dignity which is universal among the Turks. He has the appearance of anything but his real character; for he is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, and so good a general that they call him the Mohametan Buonaparte.”
What of the re-enactment, you ask. Er, don’t you? Fear not, we didn’t forget.
At last (you say) the Edward Lear trail rolls into Greece, under the generous and wise guidance (and excellent prop provision) of Craig and Sue.
Thermopylae is mostly remembered for the battle which took place…wait, a picture is worth quite a few words:
Anyway, where were we? So a Greek traitor named Ephialtes showed the Persian army a route known only to the locals, which enabled them to surround and eventually defeat the Greeks. Ephialtes has since come to mean ‘nightmare’ in Greek, and his name has become synonymous with traitor in what had been his country.
Unlike some of our other destinations, we have evidence that Lear actually visited Thermopylae:
Edward Lear first visited Greece in the summer of 1848 and wrote in a letter: ’29th, a run up to Patrasik, a queer mountain place. All these things we were constantly warned off, as full of rebels, brigands etc… but we found all things as quiet as Pimlico.”
Happily Craig was on hand with a superb performance to ensure that the re-enactment was done propylae:
As we came down the road into Looe, Debbie said “Parking will probably be a nightmare”. And yet, and yet. How wrong she was.
After a wander around, we decided we had earned a cheeky lunchtime cream tea. This reawakened two bitter controversies:
1) Is scone pronounced to rhyme with gone or cone? and
2) Jam on cream or cream on jam?
We’re interested in everybody’s views. Honestly.
…we were assailed by the sound of “cool” jazz, which felt like being continually poked with a sharp stick. I think what annoys is the suggestion that the musicians are so much cleverer than their listeners – if only you understood it better, you’d think it was wonderful. Debbie said “At least this one has a tune.” I dunno. Where there’s a tune there’s a victim, a murdered melody.
On New Year’s Eve, Looe provides an exciting and large celebration. The small fishing town is host to an influx of visitors. People flock to the streets in their hundreds, wearing fancy dress. The crowds begin their evening in the town and slowly move towards the seafront for a fireworks display at midnight. Looe has featured in the top ten places in Britain to celebrate the New Year.
We took advantage of an improvement in the weather to take a very muddy walk upstream to Watergate.
South means South say I, and in Britain that means Lizard Point in Cornwall. An hour and a half’s drive from our holiday let at Mawgan Porth, but it had to be done.
The Lizard may be mainland Britain’s closest point to the equator, but our welcome of driving rain and cold wind reminded us that it is also Britain’s closest point to the Antarctic. Happily after a quick and extremely southern coffee, the weather rapidly improved.
British history books may not have told you about the Battle of the Lizard which took place during the War of the Spanish Succession between two French squadrons under René Duguay-Trouin and Claude de Forbin and an English convoy protected by a squadron under Commodore, ahem, Richard Edwards.
On 20 October 1707 a large merchant fleet consisting of 80 to 130 English ships left Plymouth for Portugal with supplies for the war in Spain. There were five escorting English ships under command of Commodore Edwards.
The next day near Lizard Point they were spotted by 2 French squadrons of 6 ships each. The battle was almost a complete victory for the French; the 80-gun Cumberland and the 50-gun ships Chester and Ruby were taken, but Royal Oak escaped into Kinsale with a few merchantmen. The 80-gun Devonshire defended herself for several hours against seven French ships until she caught fire and blew up, only three men escaping out of 500.
In all, the British lost over 1,000 men and the French captured some fifteen merchant ships. Somehow I never heard about that one before. After this humiliation, the Edwards family returned to its traditional sheep-farming role.
Marconi chose a headland called Bass Point to set up the Lizard Wireless Telegraph Station. In January 1901, in simple wooden huts, Marconi received a transmission from the Isle of Wight over 180 miles distant, thus proving that radio would work over the horizon; something that many scientists thought impossible.
A businessman as well as a scientist, he was quick to develop the commercial potential of radio. Lizard Wireless Station was one of a dozen coastal UK stations which handled ship to shore messages, for a fee. It was the first coastal radio station to receive an SOS call when in 1910 the Minnehaha, aground off the Isles of Scilly, radioed for help.
There was a Young Lady of Bude, Who went for a swim in the nude,
Oh wait, sorry. Not one of Lear’s, apparently. This one is:
September 10, 2017
We don’t just throw this blog together, you know. It takes immaculate and detailed planning.
So we launched our sweep of the south western extremity of England by visiting the resort of Bude, much loved by surf dudes. We had waxed down our baggies in the traditional style, and arrived at the beach ready to go. In the event, however we settled for a wander down to the sea pool.
How do they manage to keep that sea pool looking so good, you ask. Don’t worry, we’re ahead of you:
Then we paid a visit to Bude Castle.
Gurney was an energetic if eccentric inventor, hailed as “Bude’s forgotten genius” – an unsung hero of the age of steam. He devoted much of his energy to the ‘steam drag’, a relatively light steam locomotive, running on roads rather than rails, and pulling a coach of passengers. He was invited in 1829 by the Quartermaster-General of the army to make a journey from London to Bath and back to demonstrate the practicality of his new invention.
The journey was eventful: at one point they were attacked in the town square of Melksham by the local populace, shouting “down with the machinery” and “knock it to pieces”. However Gurney eventually made a triumphant return to London at an unheard-of average speed of 15 mph. He had achieved the first long journey at a maintained speed by any locomotive in the world.
Unfortunately Gurney’s ambitious plans were thwarted by powerful entrenched interests: mail coach owners, and the many people involved in providing horses and related services prevailed on Parliament to impose prohibitive road tolls on locomotives. Orders started to dry up and by 1832 he was forced to close his business incurring what were then huge losses of £232,000.
Undaunted, he focused on other inventions, but was not always accorded the recognition he deserved:
After his death in 1875, his daughter Anna Jane worked tirelessly to burnish and curate his reputation. Okay Rachel? Got that Alice?
Finally, our readers may be interested to know that we can offer one very high quality Ruff at the extremely reasonable price of seven-and-sixpence.
Before we get started, let me be clear that this Bow does not have the famous Bow Bells, by which a true cockney is defined. That honour is held by the bells of St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside. According to tradition you must be born within the sound of these bells to count yourself a true cockney. Unfortunately there are precious few residences (or maternity hospitals) near Cheapside these days, so it may be that all cockneys are now investment bankers. As I said, nothing to do with this Bow at all. Sorry about that me old cockney sparrers.
The area was formerly known as Stratford, and “Bow” is an abbreviation of the medieval name Stratford-atte-Bow, in which “Bow” refers to a bridge built in the early 12th century, so called due to its curved shape.
So the Edwards family met up with Hugo, Cathy, Jesse and Joey (and later Aisling) for an epic day’s Learing.
Minnie was the first wife of Edgar Lansbury, son of George Lansbury, mayor of Poplar and later leader of the Labour Party. In 1921, she was one of five women on Poplar Council who, along with their male colleagues, were jailed for six weeks for refusing to levy full rates in the poverty-stricken area, a protest which became known as the Poplar Rates Revolt. During her imprisonment, she developed pneumonia and died soon after in 1922. The revolt received huge popular support, and soon a bill, the Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act 1921, was rushed through Parliament more or less equalising tax burdens between rich and poor boroughs.
After Minnie’s death, Edgar married actress Moyna Macgill and they had a daughter Angela, who became quite a well known actress.
Our thanks to Hugo, who despite being pretty darned young, was prepared to tackle the demanding role of the Old Person of Bow:
An impressive performance, you will agree. Although as Hugo pointed out, Bow is the one place in the world where you can’t meaningfully tell him to go back to Bow.
We celebrated with a most pleasant walk followed by an excellent lunch at Gotto Trattoria in the impressive Here East development.