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On Trains, Passports, and Travels

I shall confess – I love travelling by train. Much more so than by air or car. Sure, travelling by air consumes less time (usually), whilst travelling by car allows you to shove all your luggage in the boot and to enjoy some nice landscapes at almost any speed you like. But I still prefer trains. In some inexplicable sense, I find them more comfortable and definitely more romantic. Re the latter, I don’t mean exactly a night train, but simply the state of sitting nicely at the window, especially if you’re travelling on a Pendolino.

As I said ages ago, I was planning to go to London. Now I can tell you, why. In Russia, we’ve got two passports – one domestic, another foreign – which every citizen has to renew every so often. The ‘every so often’ for my foreign passport arrived last November, so I went to London to submit documents for renewal. I was told that it would take approximately 3-4 months to receive a new passport. Having submitted the papers in November 2005, I didn’t hear about my passport until August 2006. And for different reasons I only managed to get to the consulate last week – only to find out that my surname has once again been spelt in French (apparently French is still the official transciption language on such documents).

What’s the difference, you may wonder? Well, my surname in French is spelt as ‘Chouvalova‘. Can you imagine me explaining to every English-speaking official that this is French spelling, and that they should pronounce ‘ch’ as ‘sh’? A poor chap (or chapess) will think I’m taking a mickey out of them. I must say, my consulate has made a correction, so my great and hearty commendations to them. Now I will have to tell the officials to look at the penultimate page in my passport for correct spelling. How different is that?

[Gosh, I only just realised something about this French spelling. Remember ‘mon petit chou‘? I resolve to go to France in 2007, to test their reaction to my surname, he-he. Or perhaps even remake it into something posh, say, ‘Chouvalois’…].

Generally, I like travelling to London. Of course, as I was born and raised in Moscow, going to London sometimes feels like homecoming. I’ve got loads of buses (that come frequently and on time), I’ve got the Tube, I’ve got scores of art places, etc. I never got lost on the underground, and I even find the whole tube system quite easy to figure out.

But this time (Thursday, 14th) my journey wasn’t half as pleasant. For various reasons, I haven’t left Manchester at all since last November. When I read this entry on Richard’s blog, I thought I’d do the same. Instead, I made this entry in my real notebook:

Early morning on the train. Why do I feel like it’s not my train? I must have spent too much time not travelling anywhere‘.

Later on, another anxiety visited me – I began to feel like I was going to forget something somewhere. I only had one bag with me, and I always had it with me, in my hand or on my shoulder. Yet for some reason I was almost convinced I was going to forget something. Of course, I didn’t.

When I first mentioned here that I was going to London, I said that I was planning to visit two exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Alas, I didn’t. My shoes decided to try and kill me, so walking wasn’t always comfy. Then I saw a poster on the Tube about Rodin’s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art. My spirits sank completely. In the end, I took an early train home.

On Friday, Richard Fair at Radio Manchester was inviting us to announce our New Year resolutions. One of mine is – definitely – travelling.

Polnareff’s Holidays (Explanations – Part 2)

I also know that someone was looking for the English translation of this song by Michel Polnareff, called Holidays. The song is beautiful, yet melancholic, and carries a very deep meaning. I can imagine Polnareff writing it while on the plain, but I don’t know if it’s true or not. I didn’t attempt to adapt the English text to the music, though.

Holidays, oh holidays
C’est l’avion qui descend du ciel
Et sous l’ombre de son aile
Une ville passe
Que la terre est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
Des églises et des H.L.M.
Que fait-il le Dieu qu’ils aiment?
Qui vit dans l’espace
Que la terre est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
De l’avion, l’ombre prend la mer
La mer comme une préface
Avant le désert
Que la mer est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
Tant de ciel et tant de nuages
Tu ne sais pas à ton âge
Toi que la vie lasse
Que la mort est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
C’est l’avion qui habite au ciel
Mais n’oublie pas, toi si belle
Les avions se cassent
Et la terre est basse

English translation

Holidays, oh holidays
It’s a plane that comes down from the sky
And the shadow of its wing
Covers a city below
How close is the ground

Holidays, oh holidays
Churches and council flats,
What is their beloved God doing?
He who lives in the space
How close is the ground

Holidays, oh holidays
The plane’s shadow covers the sea
The sea is like a preface
To the desert
How close is the sea

Holidays, oh holidays
So much sky and so many clouds
At your age you don’t know
That life is boring
How close is death

Holidays, oh holidays
It’s a plane that lives in the sky
You’re so beautiful, but don’t forget
That planes crash
And that the ground is close

Explanations – Part 1

I had to write this post because a few days ago someone inserted these gruesome keywords into search window. Maybe someone was researching into the types of capital punishment. Or maybe their curiosity was lit by my description of Tudor execution. Whatever – the person was searching for

………….. females hung drawn and quartered………………

Now, females had been hung to death, but never drawn or quartered. They could also be burnt, or beheaded (the latter was, to my knowledge, a noble privilege). But no female had been subjected to the procedure that I described in the post about Chidiock Tichborne. I think it may have to do, above all, with the understanding of and attitude to a female body. Anyone who knows better are welcome to comment on this.

Also, a bientot is a French phrase, which means see you later. It is pronounced basically as it looks, except that you don’t pronounce the final ‘t’.

And also – please forgive me those who were looking for it – another fantastic keyword combination. Someone was evidently looking for Elton John’s hit single, and googled

……………………don’t go breaking my head……………………..

Perhaps, Sir Elton uses this as an idea for a new remix.

A Lingerie Guide

I must be daydreaming… but there is this article about ‘stocking fellas’ appointed by M&S. Their special and delicate duty is to help men to buy lingerie for their wives and girlfriends by offering male customers ‘man to man’ advice.

I know it can be difficult to drag a man into the lingerie section altogether, let alone to make him give his opinion on something. But if a woman cannot do that, how will another man cope?

Better still, it seems like the problem is not just about the choice of a style or fabric. The matter is even more delicate. The article mentions that M&S get ‘the highest volume of returned lingerie items after Christmas, often because they are the wrong size’.

This is a phrase from M&S spokesperson:

“If anyone is embarrassed about talking to women then these guys are on hand to help customers”.
What puzzles me, is how can a man help another man figure out what bra size the latter’s female partner is wearing, if ‘another man’ doesn’t know it himself?

Update. Richard’s comment reminded me of a totally surreal experience of buying slippers at M&S. My shoe size is 36-37 European (depending on a manufacturer’s country), which in England falls between sizes 3 and 4. With this in mind, I tried size 3 slippers, which turned out to be very small. Tried size 4 of the same model, that was OK. Being a woman, I thought I’d try another model. With previous experience in mind, I went for size 4. It was very small. Almost speechless, tried size 5 of the same, and that fitted perfectly. Out of interest, decided to try a pair of black faux leather pumps, size 3. Fitted perfectly.

Morale: either M&S are having trouble making their slippers, or I’ve got a floating shoe size. The latter is impossible, as all my shoes are in the mentioned 36-37 Eur. Sigh.

The Art of a Desktop, or Some Things to Buy (Maybe) for Christmas

When you visit Sir Paul McCartney’s official website, you begin to feel at certain point that good planning may, after all, be a key to success. Of course, exclusions apply, as Sir Paul’s latest album was apparently conceived over a cup of English tea in the backyard, where there was only a fine line between chaos and creation. [You see, I’ve listened to the album ;-)) ]. But as far as his fans are concerned, their free time is very appreciated. When you log on to the site as a member, this lovely desktop pops up right in front of you, containing everything you might need, from various photos and notes to a video of Jenny Wren. This is what it looks like:

I am sure Sir Paul’s website is a huge success among his fans, as are his songs.

Furthermore, I’ve got an email offering to buy Elvis McCartney print. The description reads:

Fantastic 20″x16″ professionally mounted print by Revolver sleeve designer Klaus Voorman. Entitled ‘Elvis McCartney’ this print was done for the ‘Run Devil Run’ album in 1998 and is said to be from the Hamburg Days when Paul dressed in leathers and resembled a young Elvis.
This print also comes with a certificate of authenticity and is perfect for framing.

And this is the print:

And this is the best thing about it – it only costs £79.99, which, to use consumerist slang, is ‘less than £80’!!! And – £80 is less that £100 (My math skills must be strong…).

I guess I am still under the impression of watching North West Tonight, where they were offering to buy the Manchester United Opus for £3.000. I mean, they were contemplating on who may buy the book, which is so thick and heavy that you can barely turn pages. Not to mention the price you have to pay, before you can embrace this page-turner.

Then again, they should’ve looked at some volumes that were produced in the past centuries, The Statutes of the Realm, a collection of the Acts of Parliament that all English scholars have to see at least once in their career. I had to read one of the volumes in the Central Library in Manchester, and by mistake gave it back, instead of keeping it on my number. Next day I had to order it again, and the librarian said to me (rather kindly, I should note):

‘If you’re still not finished with it today, don’t give it back. We have to bring it from downstairs, and it’s too heavy to carry’.

Gosh, I could write a collection of essays on visiting and working in the library. If you’re an editor reading this and would like a regular column, drop me a line.

Chidiock Tichborne (1558-1586). Elegy

I was once browsing the blogs that I read, and on ReadySteadyBook I came across a sad poem, written by one Chidiock Tichborne ‘on the eve of his execution’. I found his name remotely familiar, and later realised, why: he took part in the Babington conspiracy against Elizabeth I in 1586. As some of you may know (or guess by the dates), this conspiracy was also the one that had brought Mary Queen of Scots to her tragic end. However, I dare say, the end of the conspirators, including Tichborne, was far more tragic, since their execution was carried out in the *best traditions* of punishment for treason. They were hung, drawn and quartered. The execution was usually a gruesome one; it would include a criminal being cut open, and their insides being taken out and burnt in front of their eyes. Normally, they would die at this stage, but sometimes they were still alive by the time they had begun being cut into four parts. The sources say that such was the case of one of the Babington conspirators (not Tichborne, though). The rider in the verdict stated that the severity of punishment could be increased upon the authorities’ discretion. Nevertheless, having been reported about the popular dismay, the authorities allowed the next group of conspirators to hang until dead before being drawn and quartered.

Although Tichborne’s Elegy is not the only work that has reached us, this poem, written in such dramatic circumstances, has attracted much attention from the scholars. Indeed, the use of antithesis and paradox – the two popular Renaissance literary figures – suggests that Tichborne was definitely not new to the art of poetry. Some further information can be found over here, in The Leeds Review, where you can see the first imprint of Elegy, Tichborne’s letter to his wife Agnes, and a response to Tichborne’s poem, specially composed to diminish the creative effort of this young man.

Along with the English text, I also include my translation of it into Russian. I was immediately captivated by the text, and the chance to render all literary figures into my native language was impossible to miss. And when you consider the age of Tichborne and the severity of his execution, you probably begin to read the whole poem differently.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

Chidiock Tichborne, 1586

Мою весну мороз невзгод овеял;
На радости пиру вкусил я боль;
Растил зерно – собрал охапки плевел;
Тщета надежд – достаток скудный мой.
День пролетел, – не видел солнца я.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Слух обо мне разносят пустословы;
Листвою зелен, наземь плод упал;
Промчалась юность, – я остался молод;
Я видел мир, а он меня не знал.
Прервали нить, кудели не спрядя.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

К себе вернулся я, пойдя за смертью;
Я жизнь нашел в забвения тиши;
Могилу чувствовал, когда бродил по тверди;
И умираю, путь свой не свершив.
Иссякло время до исхода дня.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Harvard Open Collections/ Medieval Manuscripts

A new addition to the Harvard University Open Collections Program is this website dedicated to Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930. I must admit, I wasn’t very successful whilst trying to look at some documents, but maybe it’s just my browser. The documents presumably available for browsing include manuscripts, books, pamphlets, and photographs.

So as not to leave you completely without any images to look at, this is something I came across while browsing the fantastic online manuscript collection of the French National Library. The first one is an illustration to the story of Actaeon, a young hunter, who accidentally saw Artemis as she was bathing naked. For this, Artemis turned Actaeon into a stag, and set his own hounds on him. The legend says that the hounds were in deep sorrow afterwards, so the gods granted them a statue of Actaeon, which they had taken for their master. The illustrator, however, abridged the story, hence we only see a stag looking at a naked lady. The picture adorns the initial of the letter ‘C’.

[Ovid, Les Metamorphoses, BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 137, Belgique, Flandre, XVe s. Courtesy of BNF].

And this second one is a gem. It is from Lancelot du Lac, a 15th c. French book from Poitiers, and it shows Lancelot du Lac gone down with love. I wonder (as probably are the characters pictured around him) what may be the medicine against this sort of illness…

[Lancelot du Lac, BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 111, France, Poitiers, XVe s. Courtesy of BNF].

John Lennon


Yes, it’s yet another anniversary. There is nothing to say, as no words would express everything we feel on this day every year. For me as the fan of both The Beatles and John Lennon it was difficult to gradually realise that this man is no longer here, and that I’ve only got as much as he’d written/drawn/sung/acted, etc., that there will be no more. In fact, there hadn’t been any more for a long while before I even discovered his music.

My history of attending music venues was strangely linked to Lennon and The Beatles. The first *serious* music venue that I attended was a concert dedicated to Paul McCartney’s 50th anniversary. It took place in Moscow, there was no Macca, but before the concert we were treated to a screening of Let It Be. In 1997, when I just entered the University, I saw an announcement on the board about the celebration of John Lennon’s birthday in one of Moscow’s clubs. I went with a few friends. His songs were mixed with some modern performances, of which my memories are still very vivid.

There is his official website, as well as many good fansites across the web. There was recently an appeal to make December 8th The Day of Peace. I think for many people it has already been such for 26 years now (and perhaps even before then) and will remain such for as long as the memory lives. The idea, in the end, is not about commemorating either John Lennon, or peace. It is about making peace happen. And on that there is no-one better to quote, than Lennon himself:

If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.
Sad, but true. As indeed many of Lennon’s songs. I have decided to put up a YouTube video of one of his classics of The Beatles’ period. In part, it is because I did not want to be ‘conventional’ and go for Imagine, which is totally predictable on this occasion. In part, however, I have chosen this song for its utter dramatism in both lyrics and music and – its poignancy. 

No Tinseltown

Political correctness has already been a subject of much debate, and now it comes wrapped up as a Christmas present. I am reading on the news that this year nearly three-quarters of British firms are banning any Christmas decorations for fear of offending their non-Christian employees. They are also doing this for fear of their Christian employees hurting themselves while putting up the decorations and subsequently suing the company.

I think it might be somewhat unfortunate that this festival seems to be more important in Britain than New Year. Christmas’s original connotation is certainly religious, but why should Britain, being a Christian country, be ashamed or afraid of celebrating one of its main holidays? Moreover, it is not Britain alone who is celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December – entire Europe is apparently doing exactly the same thing.

I am sure that non-Christians who live in Britain appreciate the differences in religion more than various advisory bodies tend to believe. Two weeks ago I spoke to a Pakistani taxi driver, whose life could not be any harder. Two of his daughters’ birthdays were coming up, and both young ladies wanted a new mobile phone. The driver reckoned he would spend about £80 on each. And then he had to buy presents for his entire family here, and also for his relatives in Pakistan, and there is little wonder he was doing extra shifts to afford all this. But there was no contempt whatsoever re Christmas. He was obviously looking forward to it, despite all expenses.

Strictly speaking, Christmas, with all its decorations and festive air, is no longer a purely religious holiday. It has long become a family event, a one of those rare chances during the year when you are almost compelled to spend a few days with your loved ones. Maybe someone somewhere is deploring the fact that Christmas is now associated with *prophane* things like a family dinner or a nice long evening for two under the Christmas tree. But if you ask my opinion, I think this is what really is religious about this holiday. What can be more wonderful, spiritual and symbolic than putting up together a Christmas tree, going shopping together, cooking the dinner together, having a meal together – basically, doing everything together, creating that precious moment of togetherness?

I notice I am speaking exactly like Her Majesty a few years ago in her Christmas address. It was my first English Christmas, and I had just completed a mandatory course in Presentation Skills at the University of Manchester, where we were drilled on the subject of the importance of teamwork in academic research. To hear the Queen uttering the word ‘teamwork’ in her speech was almost too much. But this is very true about Christmas.

The worst thing about it all is that because of desperation for political correctness the country and its workplaces are now being denied the chance to experience the anticipation of holidays and the joy of coming into a lovely decorated office, which otherwise may be awfully dull. I must admit, I could understand the appeal to exclude various ‘Christian’ themes from the decorations (I still would not approve of it, although I am not religious), but to ban the decorations altogether is too much.

I mean, seriously, what is so offensive about tinsel?

Browsing Pictures

[I hope Mick reads this post and remembers about something…]

Yes, in addition to a photo you’ve seen on Radio Manchester Blog, these are two other pics, first of the Star Chamber, second of the Great Hall (both taken by Mick Davies). On the second picture, the gentleman in brown coat, wearing headphones, is Richard Fair, BBC Studio 6 presenter. The photo was taken while he talked to a Cashmere musician and a representative of the Cashmere Centre in Manchester. So, again, it’s not me in that photo.

Now, look carefully at the walls and you’ll notice the orbs (the glowing circles). The Tudor Bloke from the photo on the Radio Manchester Blog was dressed casually when I spoke to him, and divulged to me that the ghost has once patted his colleague on her shoulder. Together with the orbs, this is further proof to the fact that life exists beyond the saucer.

Because I didn’t want to only upload two pics and leave you to it, I decided I’d put up a few other photos that bring certain memories to me. This, for instance, is one of the places in London that impressed me deeply. I discovered it during my first visit there in April 2004, and the energy of the place is like nowhere else. What you see are the remnants of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East. Erected in the late 14th c., the church had been destroyed twice – first in 1666, during the Great Fire (and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren), second in 1941, during a bomb raid. I will not write much more, as there is a website dedicated to it, where you can read about the church, its bells and – better still – listen to a few recordings. Go here.

As I was discovering the city on my way to the Tower, I went down a sinuous side street, which took me to the ruins of St Dunstan. The senses of tragedy, strength and quietude were palpable, which is the reason why the place is so *attractive* to me.

Below is the view of Bond Street from the Charing Cross Arcade. I discovered it on the same day in 2004, on my way back from the Tower. [I must be one the few who managed to return…] It was pretty chilly on the Embankment, and I was hungry, but instead of going directly into Bond St, I went up the Waterloo Bridge and found myself in the Arcade. From there I threw a glance down and noticed a lovely red-and-white stripy visor with the name Patisserie Pompidou. I went it, and it became my favourite cafe in London. I just love its atmosphere, its waiters, its shopwindow with a plenty of cakes… I’ve never been to Paris, but the place reminds me of it. So, this is my piece of France in London, believe it or not.

And this is the posture that many people, including journalists and writers, have in common. No wonder, this is what you see when you enter the British Library’s yard from Euston Road. I took it during the same visit to London, as the pictures above, but a few days later.

Yes, I know I’ve uploaded many London photos, and you’re probably thinking that I’m not being very hooray-Manchester-patriotic. No, simply there’re only so many photos I’ve got scanned, and the majority happened to be from my London trips. But – I have got this picture of Bolton Town Hall. In fact, I like Bolton’s town centre very much. And just a little bit off it there is one of the oldest English pubs, called Ye Olde Man and Scythe, whose vaulted cellar dates back to 1251. I didn’t stay for a drink there, but I went in, and it’s a marvellous historic place, so check it out, when you’re next in Bolton.

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