Thursday, July 28, 2011

Top Banana!!

the British Leyland MGB GT V8 in 'Harvest Gold'. Click to enlarge all images

We once owned an MGB GT V8. It was long, low, corn yellow and fast.  In those heady days, when we were in our thirties, it mattered not that to alight from this car one needed to roll out onto the pavement, nor did it then concern us that the boot ['trunk' to our valued American readers] held only a vanity case and then was full. Those were the times when we were supple enough to cope with such manoeuvres and when the erratic availability of 5* petrol, combined with limited luggage space, did nothing to discourage forays into the remoter counties of England and Wales. We loved that motor car with a passion which subsequent vehicles of convenience never managed to equal.

the bonnet lifted to reveal a V8 engine designed to run on 5* petrol

And we are reminded of our golden speed machine as the Magyar Nagydij [Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix] circus rolls into town. This weekend an international crowd of drivers, mechanics, bodyguards, press officers, WAGs, groupies and aficionados will gather at the Hungaroring at Magyoród near to Budapest. All in the name of crowning the 2011 Hungarian King of Speed. 

The Hungaroring has been the site for this annual contest since 1986 when Bernie Ecclestone historically negotiated a slot in the F1 calendar for Hungary, a country at that time behind the Iron Curtain. And so it remains to this day the only country in Eastern Europe represented in Formula One Grand Prix Racing.

a highlight of the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix at Magyoród near Budapest

The track is the slowest, the twistiest and the driest of all those in the F1 series and has earned itself the dubious reputation of a 'procession race' as it is, apparently, so very difficult for drivers to find opportunities to pass.

This year's race will be the centenary for the 2.4 litre V8 engine, compulsory since 2006.

the tailgate of the MGB GT V8 motor car

So when in a day or so those gleaming, low slung , metal bullets on wheels roar round the tight bends, as they will, then we shall raise a glass and drink a champagne toast to our own erstwhile days of burning rubber!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bland by Name but Not by Nature

Mary had a very distinctive way of talking. She extended her vowels, drawing them out almost to the point of a drawl, and prefacing most of her sentences with, 'Oh'. As a result, she would often address us with, 'Oh, Lahhhnce, oh, Jayyyne......'. We delighted in it, as she delighted in life.

the Book Committee of Faber & Faber 1944 with T.S. Eliot on extreme left

Although she died almost exactly four years ago, and we miss her dreadfully, we feel most fortunate to have counted her amongst our closest friends. Originally secretary to T.S. Eliot, the Anglicised American poet and playwright, most famous for 'The Waste Land' and 'Murder in the Cathedral', Mary had married David Bland, a director of the publishing house, Faber & Faber, who, at the time, was its commissioning Art Editor. So it was that Mary moved in the most literary of circles, including among her friends poets, such as John Betjeman and Anne Ridler, and the painter John Piper whose work hung in her home.

Following the early death of David, Mary established a successful business selling second hand gardening books from a shop in Mortlake Terrace, on Kew Green, London. The shop continues to this day.

stockpiles of second hand gardening books

 From there she entered the milieu of the gardening cognoscenti, for years taking a stand at the Chelsea Flower Show for the sale of her antique and rare gardening books. Often we would join her for a preview of the show on Press Day before its opening to the public.

Later she gave up Chelsea, critical of the designers who, latterly, with notable exceptions, she viewed as untalented, and the awards handed out for mediocrity, as well as the growing presence of non gardeners obsessed with celebrity status. All of which, regrettably, remains unchanged. But Mary never spoke with rancour. And in all the many years of our friendship only once did she proffer advice against the developing acquaintanceship with a young person who, uncharacteristically, she regarded as devious.


at a party we held in Budapest shortly before Mary's death. Seated centre Mary Bland. Clockwise Alan Harding, Joan Griffith [hidden] Werner Guttmann, Jane Hattatt, Natasha Guttmann

But it is through Mary's deep knowledge of gardening and her love of books related to that subject that we have, over time, built up our own gardening library, concentrating mainly on first editions dating from the late nineteenth century up to the present day.

a bookcase containg a selection of our gardening books

Today Mary's remarkable and informative catalogues, stemming from the mail order business of her later, retirement years, no longer, alas, drop through the letter box. They, but much more so she, are truly and sadly missed.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Of Palaces, Prizes and Pulmonary Diseases

the garden front of the Esterhazy Kastély, Csákvár, Fejér Megye, Hungary

Now this is on the very best authority. Dame Julia Elizabeth Andrews, the British born actress who, as Julie Andrews, achieved a considerable international reputation for her role in the film version of 'The Sound of Music' once remarked, "I don't do country.".

Yesterday we 'did' country. After an early start, when we were collected from home by friends Zoli and Viktor in their gleaming, and immaculate, motor car, we set off into some of Hungary's most picturesque, and remote, countryside rather in the manner of a latter day Dr. David Livingstone.

entrance barrier and guard house to the Esterhazy Kastély, Csákvár

Imagine the excitement early on in the day when we chanced upon the former Esterhazy Kastély, concealed from public scrutiny, the entrance barred by military style barriers, a Baroque mansion of 1781 right in the heart of the village of Csákvár. A friendly word with the security guard, and we were in.


the entrance front of the former Esterhazy Kastély, Csákvár, Fejér Megye

interior views of the former Esterhazy Kastély now a State owned sanatorium


Such magnificence! Confiscated by the State, this splendid palace, with its extensive English style parkland, is now run as a sanatorium for the treatment of pulmonary disease and has, as a consequence, seen somewhat better days. But much remains. Not least some fine, if incongruous, statuary, a massive stone grotto serving as a look-out, and some wonderful, largely intact, ironwork.


grotto, parkland with statue and seated patient, and door to women's cloakroom


Best of all, a private chapel, of the period, sadly locked, but currently in use as a store for books and patients' case files.

exterior views of the chapel with seated patients in designated smoking area!

But this is all by the by. For this perfect day, in which we 'took in' a ruined castle, the stylish lakeside town of Balatonfúred, with drinks in the Yacht Club, and a second palace, ended with the most thrilling of news. For upon opening our email messages late last night, we discovered to our great surprise and joy that we had won a giveaway, a prize of [and could anything be more appropriate?]  a most attractive and immensely practical Field Bag and Field Notebook, ideal for 'doing' the country.

For anyone who loves 'Home', 'History' and 'Nature', then Country Weekend is the blog to follow. Jen's posts are always a delight to read, whether she is describing a summer's walk, a vintage find, a recently read novel, life in her lovely store, or giving us a glimpse of an art work, a step into the past, or simply reflecting on today and what tomorrow may bring. Whatever her subject, she writes with both feeling and a quiet authority, never failing to engage her audience.

As for the Field Bag, just as soon as it arrives, we shall be heading straight for the outdoors!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The King That Never Was

view towatds Lake Balaton from St. George's Hill, Tapolca Basin, Hungary

For some, the death early last week of Otto Habsburg-Lothringen, eldest son of the last Emperor of Austria, and so by default the last King of Hungary, marks the final closing of a chapter. To others, and here we should include our Hungarian friends Zoli and Viktor who merrily lunched with us on Saturday, the demise of this nonagenarian in exile in Germany largely went unnoticed.

Although, as has been suggested, his heart is to be buried in Hungary, it is very unlikely that the chosen spot will be this wonderful Baroque church which sits in splendid near isolation on a hill of the same name high above the Lake Balaton in the Tapolca Basin.

the Church of St. George situated on St. George's Hill overlooking Lake Balaton

detail of the Church of St. George showing the Saint [top, centre niche]

But there is a connection, albeit remote, for this, and the adjacent house of the wine maker, shabby chic surely at its best, both share the now faded colour wash, Habsburg Yellow, which takes its name, and hue, from the original Habsburg flag of 1686.

house of a wine maker on St. George's Hill showing entrance to wine cellar

detail of the entrance to the cellar of the house of the wine maker

And whilst the Austro-Hungarian Empire might be no more, lonely settlements such as this continue to delight the occasional traveller whose fortune it is to pass this way. As, indeed, it was ours during our recent, and most memorable weekend, spent with the Kondors at their home in nearby Kapolcs.

a general view showing vines, woods and farmland in the region of Lake Balaton

For this is a land which time has almost forgotten and where traditions, centuries old, of a life determined by the seasons and the soil persists.

the National colours adorn a post set among the vineyards of Hungary

Kings may come, and kings may go, emperors too, but just for now, and for this we are grateful, this most lovely piece of our adopted land remains true to itself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Truth - But Not As We Know It

"But where shall wisdom be found?" [Job 28: 12]. Not necessarily, it would appear, within the pages of Wikipedia. For only recently, in pursuit of something entirely different, we happened upon a self published, biographical entry which, at best, from certain knowledge, was entirely flawed and, at worst, totally misleading. That it had been amended some thirty-seven times was, we felt, indicative of the false premise upon which it had been based.

Russian Poster 1969: Lenin, Pravda [Truth]

Things, as Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin knew only too well, can be deceptive. In order to impress the Russian Empress Catherine II on her tour of the Crimea in 1787, he installed a number of sham villages along the route in order to demonstrate to her the prosperity, neatness and order to be found, even in the remotest corner of the Empire, of the great Motherland over which she ruled.

And so he gave rise to the term 'Potemkin', to mean 'sham', 'false', even 'untrue'. Ideas, as is well known, are infectious. It comes, therefore, as little surprise to learn that by the time of his death in 1791, a row of cottages in the village of Tattingstone in Suffolk was already being encased in the stonework of a 'church', complete with 'tower', as a means of improving the landscape for the local landowner.

front facade of 'church' cottages at Tattingstone, Suffolk

rear view of cottages revealing sham 'church' and 'tower'

Almost 100 years later, in 1888, the Templeton Carpet Factory in Glasgow was built with a frontage inspired by the Doge's Palace in Venice to a design so grand that it could not, after several planning applications, be rejected by the then Glasgow Corporation.

the facade of the Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow 

Once completed, those rich enough to live in the nearby Monteith Row were daily transported from their drawing room windows to the Serenissima, rather than to be confronted with the unsightly trappings of late nineteenth century industry. Such overt deception!

Today, one of our young Russian friends, Dmitry, informs us that the competitors' accommodation, currently under construction in Sochi on the Black Sea for the 2014 Winter Olympics, is considered Potemkin - all front and very little substance. Or, as our mothers would have said, all fur coat and no knickers!!