Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Luanda, Angola

A week in Luanda was an interesting experience. A couple of years after the end of a 30 year civil war, I was surprised to see so many new and expensive vehicles on the road. It would appear that mobility and the status symbol of shiny wheels are very important. The city is a huge sprawl with the original colonial center still maintaining a Portugese look. Needless to say, the government buildings are immaculate, commercial buildings are sordid and the slums are slums.

The people are friendly and appear to have survived the civil war in a reasonably good frame of mind. But the reminders of the war are there - too many handicapped beggars at the road junctions. Land mines continue to be a problem in the countryside, which largely explains why so many people (I heard 5 million) now call the caiptal home.

I have to say that I was pleased to board the 'plane on Saturday evening. Luanda was interesting but also depressing. . . .

Monday, July 19, 2004

Life without the Internet

Arrived in Luanda last night (via Brussels and Kinshasa) and the hotel has "free dial-up internet". Except I cannot make it work, so maybe these entries will have to wait a while before they can be uploaded. After free instant wireless at Newark Liberty Airport (see June 26 entry) it is becoming apparent that the traveler can expect a wide variety of internet access opportunities these days. For example, the Hilton Heathrow Hotel offers high speed internet access for £15 a day (offer not taken), while Brussels airport has a European wireless service which is also expensive - I merely wanted to check on e-mails with a 15 minute window of opportunity to do so.

In Luanda I am actually surprised there is a modem connection in the room, too bad it doesn't seem to work!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Stone Mason - Sam Penny

Thanks to Rosemary at Cotswold Building Supplies in Broadway we contacted Sam Penny and he gave us a quote to carve "April Cottage, 2002" above our front door. April because we bought the cottage in April, 2002!

Sam completed the job today, having recommended a particular "font" that had alreday been used at least once in Campden.

The lintel is made of oolitic limestone from Stanley's Quarry near Campden. Unlike the regular building stones which are rough dressed, the lintel is ideal for carving.

Here's the finished product, suitably wet for the camera. A great job, thanks, Sam (anyone wanting a similar job, please contact us and we'll be happy to pass on a recommendation.)

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Isobel May Chilberto

Our house is full of toys and baby paraphenalia for a couple of days. Nine months is a wonderful age for bright eyed exploration - into everything.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Tolkein sells real estate?

A recent article in the London Daily Telegraph wrote about the imminent sale of the Wrekin, a very old (geologically) hill in Shropshire. The real estate agent in charge of the sale is promoting this lump of rhyolite as an important site that fired the imagination of J R R Tolkein for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This has to be snake oil salesmanship at its 21st century worst.
Tolkein grew up in Birmingham/North Warwickshire/Worcestershire and spent the rest of his life after the Great War in Oxford. According to his official biography (writen while he was still alive) he may well have been influenced by the geography of his childhood in establishing the description of the Shire.

So let me cast forth my thoughts on some of the geographically significant sites (and remember, I am not selling real estate!):

Take a look at Tolkein's map of the Shire. It is divided into four "farthings". The center of the Shire may well be just east of Moreton-in-Marsh where the Four Shire Stone celebrates the coming together of four counties (Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire).

The first major hill that Frodo encounters after leaving the Shire is Weathertop, a historic site where the Nazgul attack Frodo and maim him. Various antecedents for Weathertop could include the Lickey Hills (near Rednal, a place the Tolkein family loved), Meon Hill or High Spinney on Brailes Hill. Both the latter are steeped in folklore and evidence of the "craft". Meon Hill was the site of a grizzly murder in the 1930s while High Spinney, east of Shipston-on-Stour, is considered to be at the intersection of two important ley lines. These hills are between Birmingham and Oxford and must have been well known to Tolkein. In my opinion, all three carry far greater weight than the Wrekin as influences on the Lord of the Rings.

The two towers are probably located in Birmingham - Perrot's Folly and the Edgbaston Reservoir Tower. The City of Birmingham certainly thinks so, but then they are likely to be a little biased. Other Birmingham locations include Moseley Bog (a.k.a. Ancient Forest) and Sarehole Mill.

Bag End really does exist in the Vale of Evesham. Tolkein's brother Hillary ran an orchard farm there - very Shire-like!

The main theme in the Lord of the Rings is the fight against an evil mechanized society. Tolkein loved trees and saw "leafy Warwickshire" falling to the ever increasing expansion of the industrial Midlands. Perhaps the Ents are a reference to the fallen oaks of the Forest of Arden, largely hewn down to build the Royal Navy's ships in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Tolkein helped to preserve both Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog for posterity, suggesting that he really did care a lot about the places of his childhood.