This book is a nice easy read and really genuinely very good. It reads almost like a fiction and accounts a lot of the amazing espionage that went on during the war. Would recommend this for a by-the-pool yarn.
This book is a nice easy read and really genuinely very good. It reads almost like a fiction and accounts a lot of the amazing espionage that went on during the war. Would recommend this for a by-the-pool yarn.
I thought this would be quite a good one. Unfortunately, I’m not a great fan. the concept was great – what the elements of the periodic table do and how they affect us day to day, practically and culturally.
I was expecting loads of useful anecdotes and concise and interesting histories of the elements involved. Not so. It reads rather like an a-level English lit essay, (albeit an accomplished one) complete with tediously detailed accounts of various chemistry experiments mixed in with assorted quotes from various historical literary works – in fact almost drowned in them. He references all sorts of obscure authors and artists (to me at least) and uses a lot of subjective waffling that is of really no great interest.
It may be to some people’s taste, but I’m afraid this chap is not for me. He is probably the sort of guy that you would try and avoid sitting next to at a dinner party. Needless to say I won’t be reading his newer book on tides!
This ghost hunting is fast becoming a thing. As we had a bit of time to spend away again not long after our trip to Bath, Rach decided we should go on a nice relaxing spa trip. I, on the other hand, had other ideas. More ghoulish antics were definitely called for.
Step in Frimley Hall hotel – Spa and gym package on the one hand, haunted house on the other.
With our weekend all booked, our journey to Surrey is comfortably short and, whether it is a spike in confidence or just plain denial, Rach seems annoyingly calm. Perhaps she is focused on the impending dressing gown and slipper combo (slippers which, I would argue, provide sub-par purchase on the ground should she need to run from a ghost and that’s not even factoring in the trip hazard).
I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a little disappointed at her laissez faire attitude but I am rewarded for my patience as soon as we arrive on the driveway at Frimley Hall. Her exact words are ” Oh my God, this is horrible.” Turns out she has just been hiding her anxiety a bit better this time around.
Excellent, I think to myself. Her words are, in fairness, a little harsh to the good people at Frimley Hall. The building and grounds are lovely but I can also see what she means. It has a stately feel with lots of intricate nooks and crannies across its ivy-covered facade. It looks like the sort of place the location scouts from Jonathan Creek would be all over.
We arrive just as the sun is setting and I can tell Rach is eager to get things sorted before it disappears altogether. Despite her barked instructions on how to carry our bags in, I can’t help be be distracted by the massive tree out front. I comment that perhaps it is the biggest tree I have ever seen in this country. The trunk is thick certainly, but the sheer height of it is quite something. Rach tells me to stop going on about the tree.
We enter reception through a stone archway, its heavy wooden doors opened and propped either side. Pretty much everything in here is wooden – the stairs, the floor, the desk. I note that the tree outside is lucky to be still standing. The guy at the desk who checks us in has a really calm and sleepy voice and I have to stifle a yawn. As I stand there a bit dazed, Rach is staring up the wooden staircase, a little frown just visible on her face. This, I realise, is the exact epicentre of the hauntings at Frimely Hall.
Legend has it that, back in the depths of time, a nanny took her eyes off the child she was looking after just long enough for it to have fallen down the staircase, dead. (Frankly, the stairs are so shallow and are so nicely carpeted that, for a child fragile enough to die from a tumble down these stairs, it was only a matter of time anyway).
Either way, from then on, it is said that the ghost of the nanny frequents the top of the staircase and the landing along from it, wailing in anguish over the time she dropped the ball.
All checked in, we get to our room, not too far from the aforementioned landing but because it is a newer part of the building, I sense Rach instantly relax. Even more so when she realises there is a bottle of Prosecco waiting for us within.
There’s a quick turnaround before dinner, punctuated by a brief panic when we realise there’s no hairdryer in the room. Rach leads the outcry but, as I’m currently growing my hair, I’m secretly bricking it also. Fortunately a quick call to reception (its the guy with the relaxing voice again) saves the day.
At dinner, it becomes clear that the hotel is far from full. The Covid 19 pandemic has hit the place hard. The dining room is uncrowded and there are apparently only 6 staff present forming some sort of skeleton crew. The parallels with a Jonathan Creek mystery are beginning to strengthen.
Dinner is lovely and halfway through Rach feels a chill behind her which neither of us can explain. She goes a bit pale while I examine the cutlery, with which I am very impressed – weighty, with a premium feel but really quite small so my hands look and feel massive.
Over desert, I whip out my phone to read a bit more about the building. Originally a family home, Frimley Hall dates form around the 1800s. After changing hands several times over the years, it became a hotel from the 1930s, briefly providing a location for the women’s naval service during and for a time shortly after WW2.
To me, it is the wartime era that it most retains from its history. I can imagine the dining room as a mess hall and the drawing room next door somewhere the officers could retire to for cigars and brandy.
It is to the drawing room we move to after dinner and, a little caught up in the feel of it all, I order a whiskey. The waitress hesitates when I asked what selection they have. Rach doesn’t hold back in asking why – they’re not exactly run off their feet so we have a good old chat here – and she admits she has to go to the cellars to get the whiskey I have ordered.
‘Awesome,’ I say, as Rach recoils at the realisation that there are cellars here. Of course, we then ask about the ghost stories and it turns out they are ‘legit’. She talks of people having seen a white figure at the top of the stairs, of strange wailing noises at night, and of doors slamming for no reason.
While we are talking, Rach grabs my arm and whispers to me that she can feel the chill again. I point out to her that we are sitting directly next to an open window.
That night, we get to sleep without any drama. In Bath, our previous trip, I was woken quite early on. This time, I manage to sleep through a good portion of the night. However, around 4am, I am prodded awake. Rach is staring at me in the darkness, clearly terrified.
‘What is it?’ I ask.
‘Are you awake?’ she asks.
‘Uh, yes,’ I reply.
‘Who were you talking to?’ she asks.
‘What?’ I ask, extremely confused by now.
‘You were saying “Yes please”. Who were you talking to?’
I had apparently been sleep-talking. Not something I usually do (with one exception in my early twenties when I was witnessed to have jumped upright while fast asleep shouting “cover me!”.)
I admit I have no idea as to what I was accepting, nor from whom I was accepting it, but I quietly acknowledge to myself an element of satisfaction that I remain polite even while unconscious.
This is only half of the story though. Rach then draws my attention to the sound of the zip on my suitcase. I hear nothing now but apparently something, or someone has been causing it to rattle for some time now. I laugh, thinking she is joking but her wide eyes tell me she is deeply concerned. I go back to sleep.
In the morning, she tells me that the preceding night had been worse than anything experienced in Bath and that my nighttime conversation had been very creepy. I tell her I have no memory of it and suggest I may have been possessed. She hits me.
The gym is booked after breakfast where we have a good workout and then finish with a dip in the pool. We discuss our plans for the day. At the George, we have the historic city of Bath on our doorstep. Here we have Camberly, Brookwood cemetery and Basingstoke canal. We decide to relax at the hotel.
That afternoon, we return to the drawing room for some afternoon tea. We are challenged by the waitress to guess the flavour of one of the sweets. I realise this is a far cry from the pub crawls of my youth and half expect them to switch the T.V on just in time for Countdown. Mercifully, I realise it is the weekend, so no Countdown for at least 2 days.
The afternoon tea is delicious, the scones artery-clogging. We have the obligatory ‘clotted cream or jam first’ discussion. Rach orders some chips.
After a nap, we escape the confines of the hotel to have dinner at a local pub. The portion sizes here are north American and Rach orders the ‘Ultimate Burger’. I order the salmon and when they bring them to our table, the waiter assumes the burger is for me as it is literally the size of Rach’s head.
As large as it is, both meals are delicious and make us rather sleepy. We pull up to Frimley Hall again, lit in moonlight and looking quite spooky. Rach is emboldened by an espresso martini or two, so we explore the landing and examine a picture on the wall we assume is of the nanny. I swear blind the eyes are following us and Rach hits me again.
Fortunately the night passes without even the faintest of zip themed interruptions. Nor it would seem am I offered anything else in my sleep. We wake up ready for our morning gym session and I am in big trouble for making Rach go. The espresso martinis may have something to do with this.
After this, we sit down for a nice leisurely breakfast and I marvel at the ketchup sachets. Rather than tearing unevenly down one side like the ones in Burger King or Macdonalds, these almost miraculously tear in a perfect horizontal line across the top. I don’t know why these things aren’t everywhere.
After breakfast, we go for a full body massage. Rach gets the short straw – her masseuse apparently ‘didn’t have her heart in it.’
If hers didn’t, then mine certainly did. I’ve never had a massage this long or extensive and I walk out of it feeling like a million dollars. I didn’t realise they did the toes as well. And to top it all off, we weren’t murdered by ghosts. So, as we bid goodbye to the silken voiced receptionist, I think to myself that this spa thing isn’t such a bad idea after-all. I could certainly get used to it.
I have been meaning to read these 3 books at one time or other for a long time. I think I started the first one when I was at school but somehow didn’t get on with it and stopped reading very quickly, which is unlike me.
I went back to them as they ahve garnered so muhc hype that I thought I must give them a read and they were quick reads anyway if I didn’t like them.
The story is certainly very in depth and incredibly imaginative. It is quite deep at times. They are however, nothing more than ok in my eyes. There are better books for young adults out there. No doubt Pullman is a brilliant writer and brilliantly descriptive but it was all just a bit too wacky for my liking.
I have never been primarily a numbers man. I am alright at maths, but not brilliant. My times tables, I am not ashamed to say are sketchy at times. So every now and again I like to read books like this to give a bit of context to every day financial requirements that I might need to consider. Useful read this one. A bit like a text book but I was ready for that. Quite complex in places – although I’m sure many in the field would find it too simplistic. It didn’t change my world but certainly broadened the horizons a bit.
Before I go any further, I don’t believe in ghosts. I will admit, however, that I suggested to my girlfriend Rachel that the hotel we were staying in this weekend looks haunted.
This was, in retrospect, a bad idea as it turns out Rachel does believe in ghosts. Cue a quick google search for ‘Most Haunted’ and, lo and behold, our destination has been the focus for ghost hunters on several different occasions. It turns out it really is haunted!
We read some accounts from former visitors, one of whom claims to have seen a figure standing at the foot of his bed and another sensing pressure on the mattress, as if someone was resting there next to them.
Rachel became rather transfixed on staying somewhere else after that but, despite her protestations, our weekend booking remained in place.
The George Inn, situated in the village of Norton St Philip, is a 15 minute car journey from Bath. Neither of us had been to Bath before, so it was an ideal destination.
We arrived on a blisteringly hot Friday afternoon, me looking forward to relaxing for the weekend and Rachel bricking it far more than I had come to realise.
The George Inn looks haunted. It really does. Standing 4 stories high, it looks distinctly medieval with its thick wooden beams and its curved and warped walls, all askew. It is apparently 700 years old and claims to be the oldest inn in the UK.
Upon our arrival we are met by a pleasant but harried hotel employee, all masked up for Covid. Immediately Rachel asks if it is haunted, to which he replies with a well rehearsed speech that he has not personally witnessed anything but others certainly had. In my opinion, he gives only enough information to maintain the mystery. Clever.
We are shown to our room, the King Charles room, up a creaky wooden spiral staircase on the 1st floor. The floor slants towards us so much as we enter that I’m sure any loose items would rush out of the door. A huge wedge is necessary under 2 of the 4 legs of the bed to keep it level. A portrait of a suitably unimpressed King Charles sits on one wall while a tapestry of a medieval polo game hangs above the bed.
Elsewhere, other ancient drawings in the characteristically child-like (shit) style of our ancestors fill the gaps on the other walls. Rather excellently, the hanging sign for the inn is directly outside our window and it makes a creaking sound in the wind. Rachel looks a bit pale.
We drop off our stuff and we go for a wander around the village. It seems very quiet and sleepy; a crossroads village really although it used to be big in the wool industry apparently. The view of the church against the backdrop of the fields beyond across the village green provides a photo op.
As we walk, we discuss the possibility that the entire village is a front for an MI6 base. Rachel laughs this off but I’m not so sure.
We linger in the church graveyard and look at some of the gravestones – some ancient, worn and overgrown and others fresh and well tended. Further on we pass a dried up stream and an oddly placed apple, rotten as if from the opening titles of the Walking Dead. Perhaps most chilling of all, I notice a cuddly toy (a rabbit I think) as it lies face down in an overgrown driveway next to some rusty swings that creak slowly in the breeze. I don’t tell Rachel.
Back at the Inn, we take a peek into the ‘dungeons’. This sunken area is cooler than outside and has been turned into a sort of second bar area/ function room. From the chains hung on the walls, its original purpose is clearly not forgotten. The story goes that a group of rebels who fought with the Duke of Monmouthsire in his rebellion to overthrow King James II in the late 1600s, were housed in the inn the night before their execution just over the road.
Legend has it that a guard was also executed by mistake – a chap known as ‘the innocent bystander’. A chilling room then – in more ways than one – but though it keeps Rachel uncharacteristically quiet, I can’t help but notice it has an excellent sound system.
We eat dinner at the George a bit later on and, bolstered by some Dutch courage, Rachel collars the landlady and probes into the hauntings a bit more. She is as evasive as her employee from earlier on, very much the party line I think. However, she throws Rachel one snippet of info – another guest having apparently seen or felt something the previous night.
Armed with this news, we retire to our bedroom, this time under the cover of darkness at which point a vital and thorough conversation takes place. Which lights should remain on?
My argument is that all lights should be off. From a purely clinical point of view of course, that’s just good sleep hygiene. Rachel argues the complete opposite. Fortunately my argument wins out and we settle in for the night.
It’s 2.08 and I am shaken awake from a deep sleep. I have been efficiently working my way through some sort of checklist in my dream – a list that I am nine tenths of the way through. It is a list that I will now never know what it feels like to complete.
I look to my left where my eyes meet Rachel’s, wide in the moonlight.
‘What is it?’ I ask.
‘Nothing,’ comes the reply.
”Why did you wake me up then?’ I ask again.
‘I can’t sleep.’
Clearly nor now can I.
This goes on for a bit and eventually I am asked to stay up and read while Rachel goes to sleep. I cast my eyes around the room, searching the shadows for any obvious ghosts. There are none.
With a sigh I sit up and get my book out – a non-fiction about the periodic table. Even despite the fact that it is bloody boiling, this is not the sort of book that is necessarily suited to staying awake at such an early hour and, though I really do give it a try, the next thing I know it’s morning.
Breakfast consists of wheetabix, a cup of tea and one of my top 5 rated croissants of all time.
I receive quite a detailed account of the night from Rachel’s perspective. I hear a lot about noises from the floor below and about the creaking sign but no concrete evidence of any ghosts.
My attention wanders to the impressive ‘George Inn’ branded napkins which are of such high quality that I hesitate to use them.
To get Rachel’s mind off the upcoming night number two, at one point seriously under threat in favour of a Premier Inn, we spend the day in Bath.
It’s a great day. We walk to Pulteney Bridge, which I read was built in 1774 and stands out due to the shops built into it. From there we take a walk around the market from which I buy a notepad to record some travel notes. I flirt with buying a flat cap which I have felt for a while would really suit me. Rachel says no.
We have lunch at Bill’s although Rachel is almost denied entrance after recording a high temperature upon arrival. It turns out their thermometer is tricked by the warmth of her forehead from standing outside in the sun. Strange times we live in.
From there, we spends a few hours exploring the Roman baths, glasses of prosecco in hand. It is genuinely interesting and the audio guide is good (not as good as the one at Alcatraz though if you ever decide to visit).
We both decide to upgrade our face masks in WH Smiths of all places. Now looking flush and significantly cooler in our sleek black masks, we head for drinks in a bar and from there onto a converted railway station to eat Italian food and listen to some live jazz. The drummer reminds me a bit of Jim Broadbent.
I’m impressed with Bath. It is genuinely unique, with its sandy stonework and its sunken valley setting. Quite alternative; a bit like nearby Bristol or faraway Portland, though perhaps lacking the edge of those places, a bit more self contained and certainly without the same amenities that a bigger city might have. For those seeking a quiet and scenic existence, almost certainly a nice place to live.
Back at the inn, it’s night 2. Before we go to our room, I see someone in the bar that looks a bit like my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law. When I point it out, Rachel doesn’t care for some reason.
To my surprise there is relatively little fuss as we settle down but once again, later that night I am awakened by a now terrified Rachel. She has heard something.
‘Did you hear that?’ she asks.
I shake my head, eyes barely open. We lie and listen for a while but there really is no sound at all. Through-traffic seems minimal at night; a real plus point I would say for the village of Norton St Philip.
There follows a very serious conversation about whether or not to sleep in the car but we decide that ghosts could probably access the car park as well as they might the King Charles room. I do my reading thing again, this time managing to stay awake for a bit longer. I learn a bit about sulphur and its biblical applications before I fall asleep again.
The croissant in the morning is not nearly as good. It must have been a freak batch the day before. Rachel looks very tired but is at least relieved that we survived the night. Only now we are leaving does the landlady reveal more detail, spurred on by Rachel’s enthusiastic questions. It turns out that another guest, seemingly unaware of the spectral nature of the inn had reported sensing the presence of someone in his room the night before last. I note a visible chill run down Rachel’s spine as the story is told, particularly when it turns out the seemingly obvious guest had described seeing someone in guard’s uniform in the darkness.
I don’t think Rachel will ever return to the George Inn, but that’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the weekend. Over a roast on the route home, we discuss whether she would try any other haunted locations. She says no.
I remain hopeful though. And who knows, if any other vacancies at haunted hotels pop up, who’s to say I won’t be able to convince her to book a night or two again? Especially if she doesn’t know it’s haunted 😉
I’ve had a bit of time off this week, in no small measure down to the current pandemic (still feels weird writing that). This was supposed to be the week I went diving in Egypt to see Hammerheads and all manner of other sea creatures. Instead of sunny weather and unlimited food served on a luxury boat, I have made do with overcast skies and ready meals from M&S.
Not one to waste the time given though, I decided to dedicate the week to getting some music done. My goal is (and has been for some time) to get an album written. Since wrapping up my band a few years ago, I have wanted to get a collection of purely self indulgent songs written to cleanse the palate. Needless to say life gets in the way somewhat, particularly when this process often involves extended periods of time to work. It isn’t the sort of process one can just jump in and out of. (Not for me anyway).
It’s been quite a cathartic week as it happens. While I am no where near finishing, I now have a bit of momentum and I’ve had great fun exploring all the cool instruments I buy and then never get the chance to use. With no time pressure, the more creative I can be. That may not be the case for some but it certainly is with me.
Meanwhile, my hair grows ever longer. I will admit I popped out to get it cut for the first time in a few months yesterday. Just a minor trim though – I’m fully dedicated to growing this stuff out. Twice before I have tried and failed. I am determined the third effort will be a success.
Anyway, purely for documentation purposes, I left a camera rolling for much of it the songwriting activity so, if you’re interested, I’ve mashed some of it up to some music and here’s what it looked like.
This was a bit of a different one – a collection of short stories by J.D Salinger of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ fame.
In general, I liked it. I would highlight three of the stories, the rest being perhaps a bit odd, a bit rubbish, or a bit over my head maybe.
The three of note were, For Esme – with Love and Squalor, (the ‘title track’ and genuinely quite moving), The Laughing Man, (a whacky story within a story that also has a poingent twist at the end) and Teddy (about a child genius who gets all philosophical while on a boat.)
You could polish it off in an afternoon if you wanted to check it out.
This was meant to be another quick and easy filler and again, it fulfilled that perfectly. And then some. I haven’t seen ‘The Killing’ but it’s apparently by the same guy that did that. Suffice to say, I might give it a watch as this book was awesome. It was a classic two-page-a-chapter thriller. Loved it. Although perhaps a little predictable (Ok massively predictable), that did not detract at all from the overall experience. Roller coaster ride from start to finish and genuinely chilling. Probably another one for the poolside.
This book is as topical as it gets being based around the slave trade in 18th Century London. That certainly was not planned but nevertheless provided an interesting context to everything going on at the moment in the real world.
That aside, this was meant to be a quick easy read after a long non-fiction. That it was, but it was also excellent. A real murder mystery and brilliantly written and imagined. I would thoroughly recommend it – perfect for the sunlounger by the pool as they say, although there’ll be little of that this summer I suspect.