16 November 2014

Interstellar

With visits to the cinema becoming few and far between (ironic given the Year of Film in 2003-4 where winning an unlimited cinema pass meant over 50 visits) I wanted to mark the latest blockbuster I've seen on the big screen. It's all about spectacle not subtlety, and is the third in what I call the Space Trilogy:

  • Prometheus
  • Gravity
  • Interstellar

Where the first of these was fatally marred by unscientific behaviour, and Scott not leaving his earlier greatness well alone, the second was like a road movie in the same way that Hanna was, with less emphasis on the science and more on the journey (physically and emotionally). Now Nolan (and Nolan) have their own space epic to promote, and they take a third route, that of explaining the metaphysical power of love.
Spoilers abound, as there's no way I can write a review without talking about the plot.

HATHAWAY
I thought it was a particularly neat trick to give McConaughey a daughter who looked like a young Anne Hathaway, so that viewers who had already heard that characters would get a lot older, would see the girl and imagine her as an adult. But then the rug was pulled from under us, Hathaway is Michael Caine's daughter. At least that's what we are meant to believe. Right until Jessica Chastain appeared, I was sure this would be a cunning Nolan twist.
But no, Hathaway is a tragic wide-eyed scientist, pining for her planet-bound love interest. Along with the equally wide-eyed Amanda Seyfried, I find Hathaway a tiresome actress who runs the full gamut of emotions, from A to B (as Dorothy Parker once said about Katherine Hepburn). There are too many close-ups of her face, and she's sure to win the Oscar for Big Eyes again.

BURSTYN
How clever to have Ellen Burstyn as the first person who appeared in the When Harry Met Sally-style interviews that appeared at the start to frame the Dust Bowl story, and therefore the first person in the final credits. Nolan had seen Ken Burns's documentary The Dust Bowl (2012) and wanted to use some of the interviews from that film. So when we see the much-older Murph at the end of the film, we get a sudden flash of recognition.

MUSIC
In space, no one should be able to hear the strings. But the problem that Interstellar shares with Gravity is a need to fill the silence, and overpower the visuals with intrusive and repetitive orchestral motifs. Hans Zimmer (who I'm contractually obliged to remind you wrote the theme for Going For Gold) takes up Steven Price's baton and provides driving themes that are even more exhausting than the action they underscore.
Whether it's driving a truck through fields of corn, synchronizing rotations with a runaway Endurance, or some other nail-biting scene, the sense of relief when the music ends matches ‎Matthew McConaughey's exhaustion at having jumped through another hoop on the way to the future of the human race. I just wish Nolan (and Cuarón) had had Kubrick's vision to let space speak for itself.

TECHNOLOGY
The sudden appearance of NORAD when the secret space program is revealed was a great filmic reference to Wargames (1984) with its super-computer WOPR. And when the monolith-like TARS and CASE appear with their 4-letter names, and their slightly-unbelievable scraping/walking motion, we're expecting a double dose of HAL. I hope the Blu-Ray has a LOT more information on these two not-evil-at-all robots. They get the best lines as well.
TARS should appear in more films: link.

SCIENCE
Too much has been made of the Kip Thorne Black Hole invention (link). As anyone who's seen Disney's The Black Hole (1979) knows, bad things happen when you travel with a robot into a singularity. But they were going to have to go into it anyway, and if you can accept that they don't die being made into strands of spaghetti, the eventual 3D/4D/5D tesseract they arrive in fits pretty well with the ideas introduced in Abbott's Flatland.
I was also impressed by the explanation as to why a wormhole would be spherical not circular. So there, Stargate SG-1.

DAMON
Isn't he OLD?

COP-OUT
So the only plot-hole I'm going to complain about is the 5-dimensional beings. If they can make everything else happen, couldn't there have been an easier way that didn't involve driving off cliffs, falling off cliffs, etc? If they can send information back through time, why not just do that? It reminded me of the Asimov concept of the Eternals (link) where humans in the future have shaped the past to ensure that their own existence occurs. It also reminded me of Bill and Ted at the end of their Bogus Journey, where they have to remember to do all the things they will have done in the future to ensure that De Nomolos gets captured.

Well, what were you expecting? Philip French or Mark Kermode? Hope you enjoyed my thoughts anyway.

2 November 2014

Nicosia Travel Guide


This is slightly different to our usual guides, as it covers a capital city that many would never consider visiting, as Cyprus is very much seen as a resort destination. However there is much to see and very little information about the practicalities, ironic as most Cypriots speak English, and many things are similar to the UK, not least the plug sockets and driving on the left!

Getting to Cyprus

Direct flights from London airports:
Cyprus has 2 main airports, Larnaca and Paphos.
From Heathrow, you can fly BA to Larnaca – from Terminal 5, and often Club Europe can be a very cheap upgrade that gets you lounge access and better meals.
Ryanair flies Stansted to Paphos, and Easyjet flies Gatwick to both Larnaca and Paphos. BA also has some flights from Gatwick to Larnaca.
Cyprus Airways flies Stansted to Larnaca, and for middle-of-the-night flights, you can always try Monarch from Gatwick and Luton.

Getting to Nicosia

Larnaca Airport:
There are not a lot of options. Taxis are around €50. There is no public bus, and Cyprus does not have a rail network.
The Kapnos Airport Shuttle runs every hour, and is only €8, but drops you at a car park on the outskirts of Nicosia, from where you would have to take a taxi (which they also run).
There is meant to be wifi on the bus but it is password protected and the driver did not have the password.
Another option is the shared taxi service which picks up people as a group and drops them at their individual hotels. Prices from €11 per person, not personally used, but a big company in the city.

Paphos Airport:
Kapnos also run a shuttle from here, but only at 11am, 7pm and 11.30pm. It takes 2.5 hours and you are really advised to fly into Larnaca.

Hotel

Number 1 on TripAdvisor is Asty Hotel, which Adam stayed at many moons ago. It’s a budget hotel, expect to pay around £50 a night including breakfast. It’s about 15 minutes walk to the city walls, so not ideal for everyone.

The Holiday Inn is poorly rated and does not seem to match the usual quality of the brand, so we’re not recommending it. Nearby is the Classic Hotel, which is inside the city walls on a busy street, so may be noisy. Pay around £70 a night.

For luxury, expect to pay £200 a night at the Hilton Cyprus, 20 minutes walk out of town along the main high-end shopping street.

Tourist Information

Within the city walls is a small pedestrianised area full of gift shops called Laiki Geitonia. The tourist office is here, but is very small and can offer a map of the city. There are free walking tours within the city walls on Thursdays at 10am (recommended, lasts 3 hours), and bus tours on Mondays at 10am (also recommended, need to book). These go to Kaimakli and Chrysaliniotissa, two outlying suburbs of Nicosia, a visit to the Mayor's house and art collection, several churches and craftsmen's workshops, and also views of the Green Line, with historical background.

Sightseeing

The Leventis Museum is in Laiki Geitonia, in a pair of mansions that have been modernised. It has many artefacts from the island, pottery and jewellery, as well as a history of the city to British times. Free, and has a nice cool courtyard ideal for relaxing and snacking.

The Leventis Art Gallery is one of two brand new skyscrapers to the south of the city walls (the other was designed by Jean Nouvel). Over three floors, it houses a family’s collection of French (mainly classical), Greek and Cypriot art. €2 only.

The State Gallery of Contemporary Art, on the corner of Leoforos Stasinou and Kritis, just south of the City Wall, has many modern Cypriot artists. Some figurative, some historical, some reflecting op art and sculpture, it gives a broad sweep of artistic styles. Free.

The Shacolas Tower is above the Debenhams store on Ledra, and has a panoramic view from the 11th floor. €2 to enter, there are touchscreens and photos and videos of Nicosia through the ages.

The Postal Museum is at 3B Agiou Savva St, and has displays of Cypriot stamps, explanations of historical background, and a 'post office' with a badly-coiffured mannequin. You can also buy stamps for your postcards here.

The Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation is in the first bank building on the island, backing onto Ledra but with the entrance on Faneromenos. It has permanent exhibitions on bank notes and coins, and temporary exhibitions about the island.

The complex of buildings based around the Archbishop’s Palace have many interesting sights. As well as the Cathedral of St John, there is the Folk Art Museum, and the Byzantine Museum with an impressive display of icons.


Shopping

Inside the city walls is the main street Ledra. As well as a Debenhams (see above) it has Next, McDonalds, Starbucks and a post office at the north end (open 9am to 3pm).
There is a non-threatening checkpoint into Northern Cyprus, with free passage between the two halves of the city, but have your passport handy. We’ve never been across but there is a similar range of tourist sites and shops.

Running south-east from the southern city gate is Archbishop Makariou Street, with more expensive fashion shops, and some British brands like M&S and TopShop. You’ll be underwhelmed by the choice and prices.

The Mall Of Cyprus is a medium-sized shopping complex out of town. It has an IKEA and a Carrefour supermarket, a food court and the usual high-end shops.
To get there, catch a 158 or 160 bus from the bus station at Solomon Square, just inside the southern city wall gate. Tickets are €1.50 each way for a 20 minute journey. Get off outside IKEA (the first stop after the bus turns off the motorway). The bus stop back is on the other side of the road and is labelled Nicosia 158 160. Buses run regularly twice an hour.
(Limassol has a bigger and better mall if you are driving.)

Eating

Have the tastiest lunches and take home the best Cypriot treats with a visit to ZORBAS, a chain of bakeries. Fresh savoury and sweet pastries, cakes, ice cream, and gift boxes of baklavas are all good value. Although most branches are in the suburbs, there is one close to the city walls, at 24 Digeni Akrita Avenue, two blocks from the south-east gate.

You can also get nice pastries in the Food Hall in the Debenhams stores on both Ledra and Arch. Makariou.

The streets Diagorou running into Themistokli Dervi to the south-west of the city walls have TGI Fridays, Wagamama, Ocean Basket (cooked fish and also sushi), Souvlaki Bar, and a bit further on, a large Starbucks. The best of these is the souvlaki restaurant, with massive meze and kebab plates for under €10.

4 August 2014

Sir Basil Thomson


adapted from Wikipedia:

Sir Basil Thomson (1861–1939) was a British intelligence officer, police officer, prison governor, colonial administrator, and writer.

After studying at Eton and Oxford (a university career cut short by depression) he secured a cadet position at the Colonial Office, where he assisted the Governor of Fiji from 1884, but was then invalided back to England after contracting malaria. He returned to Fiji after his marriage, and then on to Tonga.
Back in Britain, he was admitted to the bar in 1896. Instead of becoming a barrister, Thomson accepted the position of deputy governor at HM Prison Liverpool, then as governor of Northampton, Cardiff, Dartmoor, and Wormwood Scrubs prisons.

In June 1913, Thomson was appointed Assistant Commissioner "C" (Crime) of London's Metropolitan Police, which made him the head of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at New Scotland Yard. When World War I broke out in 1914, the CID found itself acting as the enforcement arm for Britain's military intelligence apparatus: while the newly formed Secret Service Bureau (later known as MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service), and the intelligence arms of the War Office and the Admiralty, collected intelligence on suspected spies in Britain, they had no arrest powers.

One who he interrogated was ‘Mata Hari’, the Dutch exotic dancer later to be executed by the French as a spy. In 1916 she was taken off a ship sailing from Spain to the Netherlands at Falmouth as a suspicious person and brought to London where she was interrogated at length by Thomson. He refers to this in his book Queer People.

In 1919, while remaining Assistant Commissioner (Crime), he was appointed Director of Intelligence at the Home Office, in overall charge of every intelligence agency in the country, but in 1921 he fell out with Lloyd George and was asked to resign. The reasons for this remain mysterious.

He started writing in 1894, beginning with a book about his experiences in Fiji, South Sea Yarns. His book, Queer People (1922), covers his time at the CID and during the First World War.

Life in 1914: part one


QUEER PEOPLE
By SIR BASIL THOMSON
(corrected text from Internet Archive, download PDF)

CHAPTER IV
THE FIRST DAYS [OF THE WAR]

LIKE most Englishmen, I read of the murder at Sarajevo without a thought that it was to react upon the destiny of this country. It seemed to be an ordinary case of Balkan manners, out of which would proceed diplomatic correspondence, an arrest or two, and a trial imperfectly reported in our newspapers. It did have the immediate effect of postponing a ball at Buckingham Palace on account of the Court mourning, but that was all. During the postponed ball on July 16, so petty were our preoccupations at this moment that when a message came in that Mrs. Pankhurst had just been recaptured under the Cat and Mouse Act. I thought it worth while to find the Home Secretary and repeat it to him. A few days after the murder I met von Kühlmann at luncheon. He can scarcely at that time have expected a rupture of relations, for in talking over Dr. Solf, with whom I had been associated in the Pacific, he said, “He has climbed high since you knew him, and some think that he will go higher still (meaning that he would become Chancellor). He is coming to London in August, and I shall write to him to arrange a meeting with you.”

A few days later England began to feel uneasy. I overheard a certain Under-Secretary remark at luncheon of his constituency, “Well, all I can say is that if this country enters the War there will be a rebellion in the North of England.” He left the Ministry when the moment came, and has now disappeared even from the House of Commons. I think that we all had at the back of our minds a feeling that a European War on the great scale was so unthinkable that a way would be found at the eleventh hour for avoiding it. A staff officer in whose judgment I believed remarked that if this were so he would emigrate, because he knew that the day was only postponed until Germany felt herself better prepared for the inevitable war. There were, in fact, no illusions at the War Office. Some day the story that will do justice to the services of Lord Haldane in those very critical weeks will be written. The plans that had been made during peace time were all ready; the names and addresses of the known German spies were recorded. We could only wait for midnight on 4th August. I was actually in the Tube lift at Gloucester Road on the stroke of midnight, and I remarked to the liftman that we were now at war. “Is that so?” he replied, with a yawn.

The credit of the discovery of the German spy organisation before the War was entirely due to a sub-department of the War Office, directed by officers of great skill. They had known for some time that one Karl Gustav Ernst, a barber in the Caledonian Road, who was technically a British subject because he was born in England, was the collecting centre for German espionage. All he had to do for his pittance of i a month was to drop the letters he received from Germany ready stamped with English postage stamps into the nearest pillar-box, and to transmit to Germany any replies which he received. Altogether, his correspondents numbered twenty-two. They were scattered all over the country at naval and military centres, and all of them were German. The law in peace time was inadequate for dealing with them, and there was the danger that if our action was precipitate the Germans would hear of it and send fresh agents about whom we might know nothing: it was decided to wait until a state of war existed before arresting them. On 5th August the orders went out. Twenty-one out of the twenty-two were arrested and interned simultaneously; one eluded arrest by embarking for Germany. Their acts of espionage had been committed in peace time, and therefore they could not be dealt with on the capital charge. The result of this sudden action was to drop a curtain over England at the vital moment of mobilisation. The German Intelligence Service was paralysed. It could only guess at what was happening behind the curtain, and it guessed wrong. Ernst was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude for his share in the business, and, seeing that he was a British subject, the sentence cannot be called excessive.

The curtain had dropped not only for the enemy but even for ourselves. How many of us knew during those first few days that trains were discharging men, horses, and material at the quays of certain southern ports without any confusion at intervals of ten minutes by day and night; that an Expeditionary Force of 150,000 men was actually in the field against the Germans before they knew anything about its existence? Von Kluck has recorded somewhere his surprise when he first found British troops in front of him. After the Armistice he is reported to have told a British officer that in his opinion the finest military force in history was the first British Army, and that the greatest military feat in history was the raising of the second British Army.

Our great dread during that week was that a bridge or a railway arch might be blown up by the enemy and the smooth running of mobilisation be dislocated. Most of the railway arches were let to private persons, of whom some were aliens. On 5th August I went myself to the War Office to find a General who could be vested with power to turn these people out. There was a good deal of confusion. Every Head of a branch had left for the field that morning, and their successors were quite new to their jobs. At last I found my General, and while I was talking to him it grew dark and there was a sudden peal of thunder like an explosion. He said, quite gravely, “A Zepp!” That was the state of mind we were all in. That same night my telephone became agitated; it reported the blowing up of a culvert near Aldershot and of a railway bridge in Kent. I had scarcely repeated the information to the proper authority when the bell rang again to tell me that both reports were the figments of some jumpy Reservist patrol.

Who now remembers those first feverish days of the War: the crowds about the recruiting stations, the recruits marching through the streets in mufti, the drafts going to the station without bands, the flower of our manhood, of whom so many were never to return, soldiers almost camping in Victoria Street, the flaring posters, the foolish cry “Business as Usual”; the unseemly rush to the Stores for food until, under the lash of the newspapers, people grew ashamed of their selfishness; the silence in the 'buses, until any loud noise, like a motor back-fire, started a Zeppelin scare? Who now remembers the foolish prognostications of experts how the War would result in unemployment and a revolution would follow; the assurance of certain bankers that the War would be over in six months because none of the belligerents could stand the financial strain for longer? We have even forgotten the food-hoarding scare that followed the spy scare during the height of the submarine activity, when elderly gentlemen, who had taken thought for the morrow, might have been seen burying biscuit tins in their gardens at midnight for fear that their neighbours should get wind of their hoard and hale them before the magistrate.

I began to think in those days that war hysteria was a pathological condition to which persons of mature age and generally normal intelligence were peculiarly susceptible. War work was evidently not a predisposing cause, for the readiest victims were those who were doing nothing in particular. In ante-bellum days there were a few mild cases. The sufferers would tell you gravely that at a public dinner they had turned suddenly to their German waiter and asked him what post he had orders to join when the German invaders arrived, and that he, taken off his guard, had clicked his heels and replied, “Portsmouth”; or they would whisper of secret visits of German aircraft to South Wales by night and mysterious rides undertaken by stiff guttural persons with square heads who would hire horses in the Eastern Counties and display an unhealthy curiosity about the stable accommodation in every farm that they passed. But in August 1914 the malady assumed a virulent epidemic form accompanied by delusions which defied treatment. It attacked all classes indiscriminately, and seemed even to find its most fruitful soil in sober, stolid, and otherwise truthful people. I remember Mr. Asquith saying that, from a legal and evidential point of view, nothing was ever so completely proved as the arrival of the Russians. Their landing was described by eyewitnesses at Leith, Aberdeen, and Glasgow; they stamped the snow out of their boots and called hoarsely for vodka at Carlisle and Berwick-on-Tweed; they jammed the penny-in-the-slot machines with a rouble at Durham; four of them were billeted on a lady at Crewe who herself described the difficulty of cooking for Slavonic appetites. There was nothing to be done but to let the delusion burn itself out. I have often wondered since whether some self-effacing patriot did not circulate this story in order to put heart into his fellow-countrymen at a time when depression would have been most disastrous, or whether, as has since been said, it was merely the rather outlandish-looking equipment and Gaelic speech of the Lovat Scouts that set the story afloat.

The second phase of the malady attached itself to pigeons. London is full of pigeons - wood pigeons in the parks, blue rocks about the churches and public buildings and a number of amiable people take pleasure in feeding them. In September 1914, when this phase was at its height, it was positively dangerous to be seen in conversation with a pigeon; it was not always safe to be seen in its vicinity. A foreigner walking in one of the parks was actually arrested and sentenced to imprisonment because a pigeon was seen to fly from the place where he was standing and it was supposed that he had liberated it.

During this phase a pigeon was caught in Essex which was actually carrying a message in the usual little aluminium box clipped to its leg. Moreover, the message was from Rotterdam, but it was merely to report the arrival of an innocuous cargo vessel, whose voyage we afterwards traced.

The delusion about illicit wireless ran the pigeons very hard. The pronouncement of a thoughtless expert that an aerial might be hidden in a chimney, and that messages could be received through an open window even on an iron bedstead, gave a great impetus to this form of delusion. The high scientific authority of the popular play, The Man who Stayed at Home, where a complete installation was concealed behind a fireplace, spread the delusion far and wide. It was idle to assure the sufferers that a Marconi transmitter needed a 4horse-power engine to generate the wave, that skilled operators were listening day and night for the pulsations of unauthorised messages, that the intermittent tickings they heard from the flat above them were probably the efforts of an amateur typist: the sufferers knew better. At this period the disease attacked even naval and military officers and special constables. If a telegraphist was sent on a motor-cycle to examine and test the telegraph poles, another cyclist was certain to be sent by some authority in pursuit. On one occasion the authorities dispatched to the Eastern Counties a car equipped with a Marconi apparatus and two skilled operators to intercept any illicit messages that might be passing over the North Sea. They left London at noon; at 3 they were under lock and key in Essex. After an exchange of telegrams they were set free, but at 7 P.M. they telegraphed from the police cells in another part of the county, imploring help. When again liberated they refused to move without the escort of a Territorial officer in uniform, but on the following morning the police of another county had got hold of them and telegraphed, “Three German spies arrested with car and complete wireless installation, one in uniform of British officer.”

Next in order was the German governess, also perhaps the product of The Man who Stayed at Home. There were several variants of this story, but a classic version was that the governess was missing from the midday meal, and that when the family came to open her trunks they discovered under a false bottom a store of high explosive bombs. Every one who told this story knew the woman's employer; some had even seen the governess herself in happier days: “Such a nice quiet person, so fond of the children; but now one comes to think of it, there was a something in her face, impossible to describe, but a something.”

During the German advance through Belgium an ingenious war correspondent gave a new turn to the hysteria. He alleged that the enamelled iron advertisements for “Maggi Soup”, which were to be seen attached to every hoarding and telegraph post, were unscrewed by the German officers in order to read the information about the local resources, which was painted in German on the back. Screw-driver parties were formed in the London suburbs, and in destroying this delusion they removed also many unsightly advertisements. The hallucination about gun platforms was not dispatched so easily. As soon as a correspondent had described the gun emplacements laid down by Germans in the guise of tennis courts at Mauberge there was scarcely a paved back-garden nor a flat concrete roof in London that did not come under the suspicion of some spy-maniac. The denunciations were not confined to Germans. Given a British householder with a concrete tennis-court and pigeons about the house, and it was certain to be discovered that he had quite suddenly increased the scale of his expenditure, that heavy cases had been delivered at the house by night, that tapping had been overheard, mysterious lights seen in the windows, and that on the night of the sinking of the Lusitania he had given a dinner-party to naturalised Germans. When artillery experts assured the patients that gun emplacements in the heart of London were in the wrong place, and that even on the high lands of Sydenham or of Hampstead any tram road would better serve the purpose they wagged their heads. They were hot upon the scent, and for many weeks denunciations poured in at the rate of many hundreds a day.

The next delusion was that of the grateful German and the Tubes. The commonest form of the story was that an English nurse had brought a German officer back from the door of death, and that in a burst of gratitude he said at parting, “I must not tell you more, but beware of the Tubes in April (1915).” As time wore on the date was shifted forward month by month, to September, when it died of expectation deferred. We took the trouble to trace this story from mouth to mouth until we reached the second mistress in a London Board School. She declared that she had had it from the charwoman who cleaned the school, but that lady stoutly denied that she had ever told so ridiculous a story.

A near kin to this was the tale that a German officer of rank had been seen in the Haymarket by an English friend; that he returned the salute involuntarily but then changed colour and jumped into a passing taxi, leaving his friend gaping on the pavement. A good many notable Prussians, from von Bissing, the Governor of Belgium downwards, figured in this story; a good many places, from Piccadilly to the Army and Navy Stores, have been the scene. The best attested version is that of the English girl who came suddenly upon her fiancé, an officer in the Prussian Guards, who shook hands with her, but as soon as he recovered from his surprise the callous ruffian froze her with a look and jumped into a passing omnibus. Another version was that on recognising her German fiancé the girl looked appealingly into his countenance and said, “Oh, Fritz!” whereupon he gave one startled look and jumped into the nearest vehicle. This, it may be remarked, might have happened to any Englishman, for who would not, when accosted by a charming stranger under the name of 'Fritz,' have jumped into anything that happened to be passing? In some of these cases inquiry showed that at the moment when they were said to have been seen in London these Germans were serving on the Continent, and it is certain that all were hallucinations.

With the War, the Tower of London came into its own again. During the early months it began to be whispered at London tea-tables that the Crown Prince himself was languishing there (if languishing is the appropriate term for a person of his temperament). Later, when it became evident that he could not be in two places at once, the prisoners of distinction included several British peers and privy councillors. All these prisoners, who were at the moment adorning their several offices in free life, had been shot at dawn. These delusions may be traced to the fact that a few foreign spies were imprisoned in the Tower before execution.

A new phase of the malady was provoked by the suggestion that advertisements in the Agony Column of newspapers were being used by spies to communicate information to Germany. It is uncertain who first called public attention to this danger, but since refugees did make use of the Agony Columns for communicating with their friends abroad, there was nothing inherently improbable in the idea. In order to allay public alarm it was necessary to check the insertion of apparently cryptic advertisements. Later in the War a gentleman who had acquired a considerable reputation as a code expert, and was himself the author of commercial codes, began to read into these advertisements messages from German submarines to their base, and vice versa. This he did with the aid of a Dutch-English dictionary on a principle of his own. As we had satisfied ourselves about the authors of the advertisements we treated his communications rather lightly. In most cases the movements he foretold failed to take place, but unfortunately once, by an accident, there did happen to be an air-raid on the night foretold by him. We then inserted an advertisement of our own. It was something like this:

“Will the lady with the fur boa who entered No. 14 'bus at Hyde Park Corner yesterday communicate with box 29”

and upon this down came our expert hot-foot with the information that six submarines were under orders to attack the defences at Dover that very night. When we explained that we were the authors of the advertisement, all he said was that, by some extraordinary coincidence, we had hit upon the German code, and that by inserting the advertisement we had betrayed a military secret. It required a committee to dispose of this delusion.

The longest-lived of the delusions was that of the night-signalling, for whenever the scare showed signs of dying down a Zeppelin raid was sure to give it a fresh start. As far as fixed lights were concerned, it was the best-founded of all the delusions, because the Germans might well have inaugurated a system of fixed lights to guide Zeppelins to their objective, but the sufferers went a great deal farther than a belief in fixed lights. Morse-signalling from a window in Bayswater, which could be seen only from a window on the opposite side of the street, was believed in some way to be conveyed to the commanders of German submarines in the North Sea, to whom one had to suppose news from Bayswater was of paramount importance. Sometimes the watcher generally a lady would call in a friend, a noted Morse expert, who in one case made out the letters 'P.K.' among a number of others that he could not distinguish. This phase of the malady was the most obstinate of all. It was useless to point out that a more sure and private method of conveying information across a street would be to go personally or send a note. It was not safe to ignore any of these complaints, and all were investigated. In a few cases there were certainly intermittent flashes, but they proved to be caused by the flapping of a blind, the waving of branches across a window, persons passing across a room, and, in two instances, the quick movements of a girl's hair-brush in front of the light. The beacons were passage lights left unshrouded. The Lighting Order did much to allay this phase of the disease. Out of many thousand denunciations I have been unable to hear of a single case in which signals to the enemy were made by lights during the War.

The self-appointed watcher was very apt to develop the delusion of persecution. She would notice a man in the opposite house whose habits seemed to be secretive, and decide in her own mind that he was an enemy spy. A few days later he would chance to leave his house immediately after she had left hers. Looking round, she would recognise him and jump to the conclusion that he was following her. Then she would come down to New Scotland Yard, generally with some officer friend who would assure me that she was a most unemotional person. One had to listen quite patiently to all she said, and she could only be cured by a promise that the police would follow her themselves and detain any other follower if they encountered one.

Even serving officers were not immune. Near Woolwich a large house belonging to a naturalised foreigner attracted the attention of a non-commissioned officer, who began to fill the ears of his superiors with wonderful stories of lights, of signalling apparatus discovered in the grounds, and of chasing spies along railway tracks in the best American film manner, until even his General believed in him. Acting on my advice the owner wisely offered his house as a hospital, and the ghost was laid.

Sometimes the disease would attack public officials, who had to be handled sympathetically. One very worthy gentleman used to embarrass his colleagues by bringing in stories almost daily of suspicious persons who had been seen in every part of the country. All of them were German spies, and the local authorities would do nothing. In order to calm him they invented a mythical personage named 'von Burstorph,' and whenever he brought them a fresh case they would say, 'So von Burstorph has got to Arran,' or to Carlisle, or wherever the locality might be. He was assured that the whole forces of the Realm were on the heels of ‘von Burstorph,' and that when he was caught he would suffer the extreme penalty in the Tower. That sent him away quite happy since he knew that the authorities were doing something. The incarnation of 'von Burstorph ' reminded me of a similar incarnation in the Criminal Investigation Department many years ago. When one of my predecessors appeared to be blaming his subordinates for a lack of enterprise in the case of some undiscovered crime they would shake their heads and say, ' Yes, I recognise the hand. That is some of Bill the Boatman's work,' but “Bill the Boatman ' was a most elusive person, and he has not been arrested to this day.

On one occasion a very staid couple came down to denounce a waiter in one of the large hotels, and brought documentary evidence with them. It was a menu with a rough sketch plan in pencil made upon the back. They believed it to be a plan of Kensington Gardens with the Palace buildings roughly delineated by an oblong figure. They had seen the waiter in the act of drawing the plan at an unoccupied table. I sent for him and found before me a spruce little Swiss with his hair cut en brosse, and a general air of extreme surprise. He gave me a frank account of all his movements, and then I produced the plan. He gazed at it a moment, and then burst out laughing. ' So that is where my plan went! ' ' Yes, monsieur, I made it, and then I lost it. You see, I am new to the hotel and, in order to satisfy the head waiter, I made for myself privately a plan of the tables, and marked a cross against those I had to look after.'

The Germans, as we now know, had the spy-mania even more acutely. It became dangerous for Americans in Berlin to speak their own language: gamekeepers roamed the country armed to deal with spy motor-cars, and Princess Ratibor and several other innocent persons were shot at and wounded. Our own anti-German riots in which the shops of bakers with German names were damaged had their counterpart in the mob attacks upon the British Embassy in Berlin.

21 April 2014

Travel Guides

Based on information we've collected over many years of travel, these are our City Guides for the places we've been. They may not be iPhone apps or feature Dorling Kindersley cutaways, but they have the info you need to hit the ground running and get a good dinner on the first night, or get directions for places only locals normally go.

EUROPE
SCANDINAVIA
NORTH AMERICA
If you have any updates, comments or questions, let us know at the usual address, adamcreen@hotmail.com

12 April 2014

Paris Travel Guide



Travel


Eurostar from St Pancras
Standard Premier often available, with meal and drinks included

When arriving at Paris Gare du Nord, turn left and follow signs down to the Metro
You can join the long queue at the ticket office, or just carry on to the much quieter ticket machines about 100 metres further on

Hotels

Holiday Inn Express, Paris-Canal de la Villette
great views over the canal basin, free breakfast, close to Parc de la Vilette & Cité des Sciences
one block from Riquet on line 7 or from Laumiere on line 5
there are supermarkets between hotel and each station, or for a larger shop, use the Monoprix at Castorama only 5 minutes away

Adagio Aparthotel Philippe Auguste
at Philippe Auguste Metro, turn right at top of stairs and cross pedestrian crossing and bike lane; the road in front of you is Rue Pierre Bayle, and the Adagio is at the top of the road on the corner

Tourist Cards

Travel card: Paris Visite
1, 2, 3 or 5 days (not 24 hour periods, but actual dates, can purchase in advance)
Metro, bus, RER, funicular at Montmartre, SNCF Transilien
small discounts at Arc du Triomphe and other sights
get Zone 1-3 as this covers everywhere apart from Versailles and Disneyland – it’s cheaper to buy separate tickets to those

best iPhone app: SNCF Transilien – gives real-time suggestions for travel routes

Museum card: Paris Museum Pass
60 museums and monuments free for 2, 4, or 6 days (Sundays usually free anyway)
You do not need to queue to go into the museum (well, only with other Museum Pass holders!)
It is not valid for temporary exhibitions, so if there’s something you particularly want to see, you may have to pay full admission anyway
Note that some museums are shut on Mondays and others on Tuesdays, so check carefully.

There is a “City Passport” which combines both of these, but is not as good value. It additionally offers a free Bateaux Mouches boat trip, and a Cars Rouges bus tour, which may sway you, but we didn’t find it worth it.

Tourist Information

There is a tourist office near Opera at 25 rue des Pyramides
Gare de l’Est has a small welcome centre, and so does Gare du Nord/Gare de Lyon

Food

Les Cocottes de Christian Constant
135 rue Saint Dominique, 75007 Paris, 2 blocks from Eiffel Tower
fantastic tiny restaurant serving every dish in a Staub cocotte (ceramic dish) from starters to puddings, no reservations necessary or possible
opens at 6.30pm so for a drink beforehand pop into Le Campanella at the East end of the street

Sightseeing

Paris Plages (riverside beaches), July to August
along the Seine, and at Porte de la Villette, near Metro Stalingrad or Jaures
café, dancing, lanterns, showers, deckchairs, petanque, pedalos

Eiffel Tower
Metro Trocadero and walk across Pont d’Iena, or one of the RER or Metro nearby
buy tickets online to avoid ridiculous queues, it’s definitely worth getting tickets to the top

Louvre Museum
Rue de Rivoli, Metro Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre
The ultimate Parisian art gallery. There’s too much to see in a day, so plan your visit on the website and pick an artist or period to track down

Musée D’Orsay
1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, RER Musee d’Orsay or Metro Solferino
An amazing building, and an art collection split into the high art (Roman-style nudes) and the low art (Impressionism and working-class nudes)
Eurostar tickets give you 2-for-1 entry

Notre Dame Cathedral
Place Jean-Paul II, Metro Cité, RER Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame
free entry

Conciergerie
2 boulevard de Paris, on Ile de la Cité, Metro Cité
A royal palace used as a prison during the French Revolution, with a recreation of Marie Antoinette’s cell

Bateaux Mouches boat trip
€13.50
Boarding and landing are at the North-East corner of Pont de l’Alma

Sacre Coeur
Metro Anvers
A beautiful church at the top of a very steep hill! Climb if you want, or use a Metro ticket on the funicular, or take a bus to the top.

Maison Européenne de la Photographie
5-7 rue de Fourcy, Metro Saint-Paul
The French equivalent to London’s Photographers’ Gallery, with a variety of exhibitions. Free on Wednesday evening.

Pompidou Centre
Place Georges-Pompidou, Metro Rambuteau
Great views from the top, a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, and guest exhibitions

Institut du Monde Arabe
1 rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard, near Pont de Sully, Metro Jussieu
A beautiful building, with exhibitions and displays from Arab cultures

Arc de Triomphe
Place de l’Etoile, RER line A and Metro Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile
Always worth a climb in order to see Haussmann’s city layout of radial streets beneath you

Shopping

Carrousel du Louvre
Entrance to this underground shopping centre is on the Rue de Rivoli, along the north side of the Louvre, next to the archways leading through to the Museum courtyard
Also has an international food court with good deals
Top shop: Delfonics, the best Japanese stationery - http://delfonics.fr/top.html?lang=en

Artazart
83 Quai de Valmy, Canal St Martin’s West bank
Almost every craft, artist and design idea seems to be in this extensive design bookstore

La boutique Pop Market
50 rue Bichat, Canal St Martin’s east bank
A great gift shop, with lots of design ideas from France and overseas

Day Trips

La Défense
RER line A and Metro line 1 to Grande Arche de La Défense
This cluster of modern skyscrapers has its own charm, and is worth visiting as the equivalent of LA’s Downtown or London’s Docklands
When outside, you will see CNIT as a domed shopping centre to the North, and 4Temps as a block to the South. Both have lots of high-class shops.
CNIT has a “rest area” where every seat has its own power socket, so take your charger and replenish your phone while you chill.
To the East is a view all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. To the West is the Grand Arche, which sadly since 2010 has been closed to the public, but is impressive in its scale.
Restaurants nearby include our recommendations Vapiano and Chipotle, as well as many other cafes and international cuisine.

Palace of Versailles
get a ticket valid to Zone 4 or 5, and take RER C to Versailles Rive Gauche – the trains often have Versailles-inspired decoration!
There are 2 other stations using SNCF Transilien: Versailles Rive Droite (from Saint-Lazare and La Défense) and Versailles Chantiers (from Montparnasse) – all are within 10 minutes walk of the palace
Though it means an early start, if you can get there by 9am you will avoid the queues. Arrive after 11am and you will have a long wait. Though rucksacks are meant to be checked in, after security just show them to the cloakroom attendant and you should get waved through. Food and drink are not meant to be allowed but checking is perfunctory.
See the apartments first, which will take a few hours. In the gardens, there are cafes and toilets, on each side, just past the steps and the fountain, at the edge of the hedging.
If you have time after your visit, the town of Versailles has many interesting buildings.


Strasbourg Travel Guide


Getting here:
The direct train from Paris Gare d’Est is a TGV non-stop, taking around 2h20 and costing £35 second class, £60 first class, each way. The tram stop at the station is 3 levels down – check which platform takes you into town so you don’t go the wrong way!

Travel deal:
If there’s 2 of you, get a Trio ticket from the ticket machine. This lasts 24 hours from first validation, for 3 people, on all the buses and trams. It costs €6. That’s right, only €6 for 3 people!
For one person, there is a €4.10 ticket called Alsa+ which does the same thing.

Hotel:
We’ve got three for you, which you choose depends on how adventurous/cheap you are!

Hotel Hannong, 15 Rue de 22 November
A luxury boutique hotel, which my sister stayed in. Over £100 a night, but literally inches away from all of the high-end shops, close to tram stop, and has reduced deal for next door’s very safe
car park.

Adagio Aparthotel, 106 Avenue de Strasbourg
Only 20 minutes tram-ride from the city centre, literally at the main tram stop. Under £50 per night, this is our cheap-but-great recommendation. Has internet and self-catering facilities too.

Holiday Inn Illkirch, Boulevard Sebastien Brandt, Parc d'Innovation, Illkirch
This is out of town, in a research park in nearby Illkirch. We stayed here because of the great deals you can get on Reward Nights from IHG – 15,000 points for a Junior Suite – trust me, this is a bargain! The room had 2 TVs, a king-size bed and separate lounge. The hotel is a 10 minute walk from the tram stop Campus D’Illkirch, which is on the A line 25 minutes out of town.
If you decide to stay here, let us know and we’ll give you info on food, nearby shops and clear directions. It’s not hard!

Tourist Information:

There is a tourist office in the rail station. This has all of the information you need.
There is also a tourist office at 17 Place de la Cathédrale, which has a souvenir shop as well. You can get 30% discount in the shop with the Strasbourg Pass (see below).
Both open 9am – 7pm.

Strasbourg Pass:
This could well be the best value pass ever. For €15 you get:
Free entry to one museum (worth €7) and half price entry to another
Free boat trip (not between 2pm and 4pm inclusive) worth €12.50
Half-price ride on mini-train showing sights around town
Free cycle hire for half a day
Free viewing of Cathedral’s astronomical clock as it chimes at 12.30pm (arrive East Door 11:35am)
Free entry to Cathedral tower – a big climb but worth it!

Eating:

Alsacien specialities:
Choucroute is a plate of sauerkraut (big enough for 2 people) as well as sausages and other meats. Flammeküche or flams, a wafer thin pizza made with onion-cream sauce, Baeckeoffe, beef and pork stew cooked, with potatoes and carrots, usually served for two or more persons and Fleischnackas, mixed beef meat presented like spirals and served with salads.

Flams, rue des Frères near the Cathedral. A sort of Pizza Hut version of flam. Strictly for tourists after an easy life or families who want a fun cheap eat. It is not great, but serves a great variety of flams and their “all you an eat” deal is a good one. Try to find somewhere more authentic, though.

Le Foyer Des Pêcheurs
The BEST place for flams is out of town, in a small forest near the Campus D’Illkirch tram stop. It’s walkable but is unlit at night, so you may want to take a taxi. They cook their flams in an outdoor oven, while you sit under the stars, and keep bringing you food until you beg for mercy. An Alsacien delight.
1 Chemin du Routoir, 67400 ILLKIRCH
Tel: 03 88 66 14 85

Maison Kammerzell is next to the Cathedral and is a tourist trap par excellence. The half-timbered building dates back to 1427, and the décor includes pre-WW1 murals. The food is local specialities, but it’s not the best you can get. Ask your hotel for their top tips.

For a healthy and delicious lunch, OUR top tip is Vertuose, 19 rue d'Austerlitz
Salads, wraps, sandwiches, wine … all with excellent service. To eat in (or outside) or to go, you will love your lunch and your body will love you too!

Other places we used for an easy bite:
McDonalds – in the city centre just SE of Place Kleber
Café de l’Ill – outdoor café on Place du Marche aux Cochons de Lait
Kohler Rehm – outdoor café in Place Kleber
Comptoir Kanter – nice café in the main station with a good breakfast offering

Sights:

Boat trip: Batorama tours are available from the quay behind the Palais des Rohan. They last about 90 min and go through Petite France and up to the European institutions.

Mini-train: a 40 minute ride, starting in Place Gutenberg, taking you through the historical parts of town, which you can visit on foot later.

Cathédrale Notre Dame: with a 142 metre tower (the highest in France).
The tower has over 330 steps and is worth it. The Astronomical Clock in the cathedral is open all day, but rings noon at 12.30pm (don’t ask). The cathedral closes when it is ringing, you have to queue separately.
Nearby on place du Château is the Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame – a museum of medieval religious art related to the cathedral (closed Monday)

All museums are open 6 days a week from 10am to 6pm

Palais des Rohan:
Museum of Fine Arts, the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Applied Arts (all closed Tuesday)
nearby, the Historical Museum (closed Monday)
Musée Alsacien, quai Saint-Nicolas: (closed Tuesday). This museum features articles from the daily lives of Alsatian peoples from the 13th to 19th centuries: clothing, furniture, toys, tools of artisans and farmers, and religious objects used in Christian, Jewish, and even pagan rites. The exhibits are in rooms connected by wooden staircases and balconies in adjacent houses around a central courtyard. A fantastic historical visit.

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, 1 place Hans-Jean Arp (Closed Monday)
Works by Kandinsky, Max Ernst and Picasso, and temporary exhibitions. It is also home to the first-floor Art Café with views across the canals, good food and cheerful service

Petite France: the area of the city between the rivers, home to some of Strasbourg's prettiest and most photogenic streets and buildings, with half-timbered townhouses. On Saturdays there is a fleamarket stretching from Petite France to the Palais des Rohan, in front of the Bourse.

Take tramline E to Droit de l’Homme and walk from here to see:

Parc de l’Orangerie: avoid the zoo, which is small, instead look for the storks nesting around the Orangerie building.

European institutions: Council of Europe (Le Palais de l'Europe) (1977), built by Henry Bernard; European Court of Human Rights (1995), built by Richard Rogers; European Parliament (1999), built by Architecture Studio

Place Kléber, the largest in the city and home to the renovated L'Aubette building with its 1920s De Stijl interior, which is only open Wed-Sat 2-5pm


Shopping:

Shopping centres:
Place des Halles, 24, place des Halles, with over 100 shops and restaurants north of the city centre, tram stop Ancienne Synagogue Les Halles.
Rivetoile, opened at the end of 2008 at Place d'Etoile, at Etoile Bourse tram
Auchun hypermarket and other shops, at Baggersee tram stop on the A line south of town.

Gingerbread: an Alsacien speciality. The best shop for it is Pain d’Epices, 14 rue des Dentelles, run by Mireille Oster. She has over 15 different flavours of what would be unfairly described as gingerbread – the name Pain d’Epices really means honey spice cake. You will buy all of your take-home gifts here!