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Carmarthen Cameos – 6 (Books: Peter Kapitsa on Life and Science)

We’ve got an enormous home library in Moscow, which contains many rare editions of Russian classical authors, 19th c. books, revolutionary newspapers, and the Large Soviet Encyclopedia. The library has grown at least twice since 1997, once I went to the University. For the biggest part it consists of reference books, poetry, and prose. There are history books in the collection, of course, but their quantity is nowhere near the number of literary works.

A large number of books are crowding in my current abode, and going to Carmarthen helped to add a few more: a collection of Sir T. S. Eliot’s poems; a book about Dylan Thomas; an edition of (nearly) all major novels by W. S. Maugham; a collection of writings by Peter Kapitsa, a Russian physicist; and the 29th (1867) edition of Art Journal.

Peter Kapitsa on Life and Science: Addresses and Essays by Albert Parry was the first publication of Kapitsa’s non-technical speeches and writings and was aimed at American readers, introducing to them ‘one of the great minds of our century’. In addition to Kapitsa’s speeches and addresses, the collection includes ‘two highly revealing interviews, through which run two main currents: his concern that Russia’s students specialize too much, without the broadening interest in general science that would make them truly well-versed scientists or engineers; and his fear that even when they turn out to be well-rounded experts in science and engineering, they shun a deep-enough acquaintance with the world’s art and humanities, and thus cannot be true leaders of tomorrow’. From my experience at the Moscow State University, these concerns and fears have been taken on board, and a good proof may be that many members of the MSU’s Grand Choir are students and teachers of the Sciences. I find this book interesting to read also because my grandmother’s cousin, a professor of Physics herself at the MSU, was blessed with the chance to work with Peter (Pyotr) Kapitsa and, in particular, to travel to England.

Three of the essays are Kapitsa’s reminiscences of Ernest Rutherford, whose genius had once shone at the University of Manchester, where he was the Chair of Physics between 1907 and 1919. Under his tuition in Manchester studied and worked, among others, Niels Bohr and Hans Geiger. Kapitsa, subsequently a 1978 Nobel Prize Winner himself, came to Cambridge in 1921, to work on the project that had already been initiated by Rutherford and Geiger. Kapitsa writes affectionately and with respect about Rutherford in the letters to his mother. When he’d only just started his work in 1921, he was worried ‘about my work in Cambridge, how it will go, just how well I will be able to work with Rutherford, what with my weak knowledge of the English language and my rather crude manners’. Kapitsa was indeed concerned about his English, and soon upon arriving and settling in Cambridge he wrote: ‘My feeble knowledge of the language hampers me in the expression of my ideas’ (p. 123). Nevertheless, it is the outstanding talent and devotion to work that earned Kapitsa Rutherford’s sincere respect. Within a few months of beginning to work at the Cavendish Laboratory Kapitsa was given a room of his own – ‘this is a big honour here’ (p. 126), he says.
Rutherford was a man of ‘kind of charm, although at times he is rude’ (p. 124), Kapitsa wrote after his first scientific conversation with his tutor. A few months later he noted:

Rutherford is increasingly pleasant to me. He greets me with a bow when he sees me and inquires about the progress of my research. But I’m a little afraid of him. I work practically next to his study. This is bad, since I must be careful about my smoking: should he see that pipe in my mouth, there would be trouble. But thank God, he is heavy-footed, and I can tell his steps from those of others…‘ (p. 125).

From the start of his work at Cambridge Kapitsa had been calling Rutherford “Crocodile”. As Parry explains in the Introduction, this was ‘”a symbol of Rutherford’s scientific acumen and career”, because “this animal never turns back” but always pushes forward; “the crocodile is regarded in Russia with mingled awe and admiration”‘ (P. 8). This can also be reinterpreted to mark some of Rutherford’s personal traits. ‘Rutherford is satisfied’, writes Kapitsa, this can be seen in his attitude toward me. He always says friendly things to me when he meets me. But… when he is displeased, hold onto your seat. He will cuss you out the worst way ever. But what an astonishing cranium! His mind is absolutely unique: a colossal sensitivity, intuition. I have never been able to imagine anything like it in existence. He states his subject very lucidly. He is a completely extraordinary physicist and a very singular personality…’ (pp. 125-126). In 1922, Kapitsa once again noted Rutherford’s ‘devilish intuition’: ‘Ehrenfest in his latest letter to me calls him simply a god. It’s very amusing here: if the Professor is pleasant to you, everyone else in the laboratory is affected – they also become attentive to you… I am not timid, but I lose my nerve before him…’ (p. 129).

As awe-inspiring as he was, Rutherford was honest and generous to his students. ‘Once, in a frank conversation with me, Rutherford said that the main thing for a teacher to learn was not to envy his students’ successes, and he confessed: “How difficult this becomes with the years!” This profound truth made a bid impression on me. The teacher’s uttermost quality should be generosity. Doubtless Rutherford could be generous. This apparently was the chief secret behind the fact that so many prominent scientists came out of his laboratory – that it was always possible to work freely and well in his laboratory, in its good businesslike atmosphere’ (p. 111). Rutherford was also gregarious, and Kapitsa writes about a dinner of the Cavendish Physics Society in December of 1921, when ‘after the toasts, all present mounted their chairs, held hands in a crisscross manner, and sang a song in which they recalled all their friends… It was very amusing to see such world-famous men as J. J. Thompson and Rutherford standing on chairs and singing at the top of their voices…’ (p. 127).

Ernest Rutherford and Pyotr Kapitsa biographies at NobelPrize.org.
Ernest Rutherford – Scientist Supreme – the website created and maintained by John Campbell, author of Rutherford Scientist Supreme (Christchurch, New Zealand, 1999).
It is striking, but upon a consultation of COPAC website, it seems that Peter Kapitsa on Life and Science: Addresses and Essays (collected, translated and annotated with an introduction by Albert Parry) (The Macmillan Company, 1968) is held in but three British libraries: at Nottingham, Aberdeen, and London. It is available on Amazon, so if you’re interested, this may be the place to visit.

Carmarthen Cameos – 5

As you might have noticed from a few posts on this blog and from my Flickr photostream windows, I’m a rare one for quirky messages, strange images, especially as they appear on the signboards and in the shop. I can say I was spoilt for choice in Carmarthen, so “Signboards&Shopwindows” set has acquired a few valuable additions.

I’m taking a notice, for example, of the names of the pubs and inns. Someone on BBC Lancashire has written in the past of a pub called Three Clowns. I liked the name Dutch Birds Inn; the inn stands somewhere between Manchester and Oldham. There’re numerous Queen’s Head‘s across the entire UK, although those that I saw displayed Elizabeth I or Queen Victoria on their signboards. In Carmarthen, stags seemed to be a popular totem for a pub. But in a street close to Lammas St there was a pub called The Three Salmons (left). I adore salmon, so to have a pub “dedicated” to my favourite fish is something of a miracle. And this is a deftly produced outside display, again in Lammas St (right).

A shop window is usually a somewhat dull display, unless one of the mannequins is standing “naked” between two dressed “colleagues”. It always brings Edouard Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe to mind. Or unless the mannequins stand in these rather uncomfortable positions, as on the photo. Modern art at its best.

The Queens hotel and restaurant in Queen St boasts this remarkable display in its dining room. Well, let’s be fair: pottery and motorbiking don’t exactly contradict each other, do they?

Last, but not least: Nessie seems to have migrated. Probably sick and tired of the many visitors to its Scottish abode, the poor creature has gone “down south”. “Down south” in Carmarthen it is being used as a boat.

Carmarthen Cameos-4 (Moridunum, the Roman amphitheatre)

Can you imagine going to London and not stumbling into dozens of souvenir shops and kiosks? Can you imagine London not trying to make a fortune on the City’s memorabilia: replicas of the Tower, Sherlock Holmes’s caps, etc? Or Manchester not selling fridge magnets with the Old Trafford or the Town Hall images? If not this regular tourist’s merchandise, then what about books, guides, walks, diverse and sundry brochures?

There are a few arts&crafts shops in Carmarthen, but if you’re looking for thimbles, towels, books, Welsh love spoons, etc, you’ll have to walk a fairly long way from the train station to the Carmarthen Tourist Information Centre in 11, Lammas St – and don’t be surprised if you don’t notice it first, or don’t realise that this is you souvenir-searching destination. Finding it will not only solve the problem of souvenir-buying, but can also help to find out, for instance, how many castles there are in the reachable distance from Carmarthen (not including Carmarthen Castle, which wall you see immediately upon walking out of the train station). The staff is friendly and helpful, which doubles the pleasure of visiting the shop.

However, if you’re looking for the Roman amphitheatre, Moridunum, which is one of the seven remaining in England, you may be somewhat disappointed. The amphitheatre is now surrounded by houses, which may be the reason why there is no pole with an arrow pointing towards this precious piece of history. You really need to trust your gut feeling when, walking in Priory St past the raised ground, you think for a second that the amphitheatre may be on top of or behind that hill. It is indeed there, but personally, I walked past it. If you’re a prospective visitor to Carmarthen, I’ll give you a hint: when you approach the mentioned raised ground, take an asphalt walk that runs from the pavement to the top of this small hill. If in doubt, there’s another hint: a telephone booth marks the spot where the asphalt walk parts with the pavement.

Amphitheatres were very popular in Ancient Rome – so much so that the Romans had been erecting these elliptical structures in all their colonies. Moridunum was built during Roman presence in Carmarthen, which was between AD 75 and AD 120. The arena measures 46 by 27 meters, which makes Carmarthen’s amphitheatre almost twice as small as the Colosseum.
Today, of the original structure we can clearly see at least two entrances. Several steps have survived, which, one may take a guess, were used by the visitors to walk to their seats. The relief of the stalls is well seen.

The place of Roman amphitheatres in British history and literature may be somewhat complex. Because of its round (or elliptical) form, an amphitheatre in Caerleon was thought to be the very Round Table where King Arthur and his knights had met. The excavations held in the 1920s unveiled some of the structure, which allowed to cast doubts on Caerleon’s connection with King Arthur.

Yet the real purpose of amphitheatres needs not refute a connection with Arthurian legend. If we agree with those historians who date King Arthur back to Roman Britain, then he and his court could well have been using an amphitheatre as their meeting point. In cases like this one, we shouldn’t depend either on words, or on the later interpretations. This is all the more relevant because one of interpretations of the name ‘Carmarthen’ is ‘Fort of Myrddin’ (or Merlin), which means that the Knights of the Round Table could stop by at Moridunum. We’re dealing with legends, after all, so let’s keep our minds open and allow for a possibility that Carmarthen and Moridunum amphitheatre may once have been marked by the presence of King Arthur and his faithful companions.

In spite of its place in history and legend, these days the amphitheatre looks forgotten. It’s impossible to say, how many people are actually visiting the spot, and the Wikipedia article is just as precise as short. Meanwhile, the amphitheatre continues to serve its purpose. Battles are still held, only this time it’s the battle against the Time. The amphitheatre may be bravely withstanding oblivion, but the old armchair, left to die in the arena, could not emphasise the passage of time more.


Historical sketch about Moridunum and Carmarthen in the Roman period at Roman Britain

An interesting survey on the archaeology of Romano-British South West Wales (A Research Framework for the Archaeology of Wales)

If you’re interested in Rome, its history, architecture, culture, and, in particular, Roman amphitheatres, there is no better site to visit than The Colosseum. Created by Andrea Pepe, The Colosseum offers a colossal (excuse the pun) amount of information about one of the most remarkable monuments of Ancient History. The site traces the history of the Colosseum through the centuries and of the Games that were held there. It also looks at the process of building, including various schemes and descriptions of building materials.
The b/w photo of Caerleon amphitheatre is the courtesy of Data Wales.

Mistaken Identity

Twice this week I went past what could be called “the hairdressers’ mile”. One street entered my memory as having just as many hairdressing salons, as Indian take-aways: every third or fourth building on both sides of the street would be either one, or another.

This made me remember a true story that happened to me when I was a little girl, between 3 and 5 years old. And so to take your attention off my Carmarthen discoveries for a bit, I’ll tell you this story.

When I was little, I sometimes wished I were a boy. My parents looked well after me, which meant that I was never running on my own. I envied other children, mainly boys, who would climb the trees and played active games. I think my grandma was quite protective, but for a good reason: I was a somewhat clumsy child, which resulted in regular bruises on my knees, even though I didn’t run much.

Subconsciously (at that time), I also loved the male 1970s fashion, and especially the way male actors used to dress. Back then I wasn’t familiar with any big names, but think of Michael Caine in Get Carter, Yves Montand, or Marcello Mastroianni, to get an idea. Those men exuded the traits I found attractive, without yet realising it: intelligence, confidence, sense of humour, elegance, to name but a few. I must have seen a few political thrillers, as well, and I adored those male detectives who worked on the most challenging cases. Once, when I and my grandma with her sister went shopping, I decided to imitate a man’s walk. I was 4 or 5, and I was dressed in trousers, so I shoved my hands in my pockets, bent my shoulders slightly forward, and imagined myself being one of those shrewd detectives. Next I heard my grandma, who was behind me:

‘Yulia, straighten yourself, you’re walking like a bloke!’

Obviously, she couldn’t know that that was the idea…

Anyway, one day the unthinkable happened. My grandma took me to the hairdressers. I wore red tartan overalls and a red turtleneck, and my hair had grown well below my shoulders. Back then I used to wear a bob, although without a fringe.

So, we went to the local hairdressers, and my grandma entrusted me to this voluptuous blond lady in glasses, who put a small bench on the chair and sat me on it, because I was still too small. Then she started working on my hair. When she finished, she called for my gran.

I’ll never forget my grandma’s terrified ‘ah’, as she entered the room.

‘How could you lop the girl so short?!’

Indeed, instead of my usual bob, I had a typical Crew cut.

The voluptuous blond lady, undeterred, looked at my grandma, then at me, shrugged her shoulders, and replied:

‘A girl? I thought it was a boy’.

‘But you must’ve seen her hair!’

‘Yes, but she’s wearing trousers, isn’t she?’


So far I’ve mostly been an online recluse. There were a couple of photos that I posted to a couple of public online profiles, but there it ended. However, as I was writing this post I felt so tempted to show you a few of my favourite childhood photos that I asked my mother to see, if she could scan them, as obviously the family album is in Moscow. My mother wouldn’t be herself if she didn’t manage to scan the pictures, for which I am immensely thankful to her. My thanks also go to her colleague Viktor, who did the scanning.

As I said, these three photos are my favourite childhood pictures. They were taken by my father and date back to 1982; on them I’m less than 2 years old. In 1982, my dad would be my age, between 25 and 30, and he loved photography. Together with passion for Beatles, the interest in photography is one of the things I inherited from him. As you can see, he wasn’t content with just one camera, so he had two. The pictures were taken separately, but they do make a nice triptych. :-))

1982 would be the last year when my parents were together, so although I don’t remember anything about when or how these pictures were taken, pictures are special for personal reasons. My father and I have always known each other, and these days we keep in touch by email. From what I gather he doesn’t use his camera as often. So I guess, by the quantity of pictures I take, I do it for the two of us.

Carmarthen Cameos-3 (St Peter’s Church)

Every day, as I go to work by bus, I pass St John’s Church which stands exactly at the A666 roundabout. When I first visited Manchester in 2002, St John’s amazed me with the bright slogans displayed on the gate facing the traffic. In the years since then I’ve seen a plenty of these, and the most remarkable one was around Christmas time, saying something like “It’s Christ’s Birthday!” I remember it struck me as a very lay slogan.

The secularisation of the Church continues, as far as the use of the WWW space is concerned. Churches across England have more or less readily embraced the Internet. Manchester Cathedral has a website, as does St Mary’s The Hidden Gem. St Peter’s Church in Carmarthen, which stands at the junction of King St, Spilman St and Priory St, has got its own website at http://www.stpeterscarmarthen.org.

But first, a few pictures of the streets that lead to St Peters. You can approach it from Spilman St (left), but this, I dare say, is not the most picturesque passage. You’d better go to the church via the “profane” King St. If you stand at the junction of King St and Queens St, facing The Spread Eagle restaurant, on your right you see the entrance into Nott Sq, where the Carmarthen Castle is located (right).

Since we’re going to St Peter’s, we’ll turn our backs to Nott Sq for now and walk up King St. On our way we’ll see houses of different colours (left), Myrddin Bakery, a few charity and retailers’ shops, a post office and a dispensing chemist (right), soon after which you’ll virtually stumble into St Peter’s. Those who have been to Tallinn may compare this stumbling-in to the one that occurs when you discover Oleviste (St Olaf’s Church) between Pikk St and Lai St.

As we read on St Peter’s website, the present building’s main three parts belong to the 14th, 15th, and 16th c. Priory St where the church stands used to be the main road of the Roman town of Moridunum. The first written record of St Peter’s belongs to the very beginning of the 12th c.

Until the 19th c. St Peter’s was the parish church for the whole of Carmarthen, and the tombs also highlight its prominence in the history of the town. The oldest monument in the church is the 13th c. tomb slab, which suggests that St Peter’s was rebuilt, possibly on the same site, by the 14th c., to which one of the present parts dates back. Although I haven’t been inside the church, it seems that it hadn’t suffered much during the Reformation.

The plaque with a short history of Moridunum stands on the corner across the road opposite St Peter’s, next to Carmarthen’s library. The church garden seems to be a popular lunch place for citizens and dogs alike, and the trees provide a good shade on a hot summer afternoon for those who’re waiting for a bus. Exactly opposite the church is Oriel Myrddin Gallery. The ground floor display offers a fresh look at modern arts and crafts, including unconventional bags and multicolour notepads.

Carmarthen Cameos-2

It takes slightly longer than five hours to get to Carmarthen from Manchester. It’s longer than a journey to London, which is three hours, but shorter than a journey to St Petersburg, Russia’s pre-revolutionary capital, which is eight hours. Every time I went to St Petersburg I took a night train; I would always sleep on the way there, and I would always toss and turn on the way back to Moscow. The train to Carmarthen ran at 9 o’clock in the morning, and the route of about 20 stops led through Shrewsbury, Hereford, Abergavenny, Cardiff, and Swansea.

In the past I travelled along the Northern Coast of Wales in a car. As you know, I love knitting, and my Mecca was a place which name I never remembered and where Abakhan Mill was located. I went to Conwy Castle and Llandudno, for day trips, and my only impression was that of the multitudes of people exploring the castle or strolling to and fro the promenade near the sea. A week in Carmarthen is thus really a gateway to my discovery of Wales.

I am travelling next day after the end of my working week. The tiredness that I don’t initially feel gradually wears on, and somewhere around Hereford I finally succumb to a short nap. When I open my eyes, the train approaches a station with signs in two languages.

Later on, when I see the Welsh name for Swansea – “Abertawe” – I realise that “aber” must mean “sea” or “river”. I’m not completely wrong: “aber” means “the mouth of a river”. The Welsh for “river” is “afon“, pronounced as [avon]. Not everything is so straightforward, however: the Welsh name for Abergavenni is “Y Fenni“. From what I gathered about Welsh language, “y” is equivalent to “the”, and “fenni” must be equivalent to “venni” because the Welsh “v” is pronounced as “f”. But I don’t know what either “fenni” or “venni” means.

About four stops before Cardiff people begin to flock into a three-wagon train, a lot of them are fathers with sons. It’s June 2nd, and the majority are going to watch Ryan Giggs playing his last international football game for Wales. Some people still have to alight before Cardiff, and somehow almost everyone standing in the aisle happens to be not quite slim. In addition to rocking gently, as becomes a train, the wagon in which I sit also breathes, sweats, shouts in children’s voices, speaks in male smoky basses, throws exasperated glances all around hoping to arrive sooner rather than later, – and then the train suddenly stops in Cardiff, and the endless stream of people and luggage floods out on the platform. A somewhat disturbing silence suddenly settles in.

We continue the journey to Swansea, where the train stands for some time. Then it moves on, and in the next (and last) hour I am riding against the train’s direction. In the last 20 minutes we go past the dunes, and some hills with the castle’s ruins on one of them. The changes in landscape have been rather dramatic. Within five hours you go from industrial dens through lush hills, through hills pretty dull but accompanied by patchwork fields with sheep, and cows, and horses, to the dunes, and finally to a semi-rural, old, historic town of Carmarthen. Turns out, the hotel is only 3 mins away from the station, and the taxi driver doesn’t seem to be glad to have only earned a couple of quid.

What looks like a dull seascape on this photo, taken on the 2nd of June around 2pm, was a complete difference to itself just a week later. The sun was shining, the water was dazzling, and the yachts of all colours and sizes drifted along the coast. Alas, I couldn’t take a picture.

Women and Beauty in Art

There can hardly be too much praise for a YouTubist EggMan913 who created a stunning short video history of a female portraiture in Western art. Not only is this video a praise to the image of a Woman, it is also a deftly organised observation of the angles, postures and expressions throughout 500 years of Western painting. In the first 10 seconds you see a Russian icon melting into three consecutive portraits by Leonardo (A Head of a Young Woman (read about this famous sketch at Thais – Leonardo Pittore, both in English and Italian), Madonna with the Carnation, and Mona Lisa (La Gioconda)), changed by Raphael’s Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn, which in turn melts into Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Unfortunately, although the video is clearly subtitled ‘500 Years of Western Art’, some viewers still missed the point and expressed concerns that only portraits of white women were used. Let me stress once again that in this video we should look beyond a mere portrayal of a female beauty. We need to pay attention to how the faces of women from different epochs and countries, painted by many an outstanding artist, melt, transfuse into one another. Not attempting to minimise EggMan’s success, I would point out that this success was possible primarily because, as this video amply demonstrates, Western art throughout its entire history looked at a woman from more or less the same angles.

To illustrate the point, look at the first few images. On all of them a painter sits to the left of his model and looks up at her. All models have their heads turned, under a different angle, to their right. This striking similarity is enhanced if we bear in mind that these depictions come from the 12th, 15th and early 16th cc.

(The images, from left to right, clockwise: Archangel (Angel the Golden Locks) (Novgorod School, Russia, 2nd half of the 12th c.), Head of a Young Woman (Leonardo, 1506-1508 (?)), Madonna with the Carnation (Leonardo, c. 1475), and The Birth of Venus (Botticelli, c. 1485)).

Even only based on the portraits of European and predominantly white women, this video shows 500 years of a continuous evolution not only of the image of female beauty, but of the concept of Beauty, as well. With this video EggMan, consciously or not, plays a check on what we conceive of as beautiful. Although the majority of comments to this video are positive, some of them decry modern art for its deviation from what is perceived as a “classical” model of Beauty, evoked in the works of art prior to the 20th c. However, I dare say that the Russian icon that opens the video and Picasso’s Portrait of Françoise at the end are a very deft choice. For their schematism builds a barrier between the image and its model, thus inviting a viewer to look beyond the model’s physique. ‘Beautiful’ hence is not an external, but an inner quality of the model, and if there is anything that we should be indebted for to the 20th c. art is that it has gone every extra mile to make us see beautiful in something which doesn’t look such at the first glance.

Finally, even if this video doesn’t provoke you to any high-flown discourse on the subject of Beauty with your friends and colleagues, it can be treated as a short exam on your knowledge of the history of Western art. And, unless EggMann is already in the process of doing this, may we kindly ask him to make a film about men in Western art. This subject is no less beautiful, and the controversy that often surrounds it will only expand our perception of Beauty.


EggMan913 channel
University of Dayton (Madonna with the Carnation)
Thais – Arte & Natura (Leonardo’s sketch) – in English and Italian
Христианство в искусстве/Christianity in Art (Archangel) – in Russian, English, and German
John W MacDonald’s Blog (The Birth of Venus)

My Trips to Bolton -3 (Bolton’s Hidden Gem, St Andrews Court)

As you probably know from my previous posts, I like visiting Bolton. In fact, I have been visiting it regularly since my first visit to Manchester in 2002. Back then I didn’t go farther than Bolton Market Hall which dates back to 1855 (left, courtesy of Bolton Revisited). The inside of the building may remind you of a train station. Back in 1855 it was said to be ‘the largest covered market in the kingdom’. Thanks to the townsfolk petition in the recent years, the Market Hall has been spared closure and is currently being renovated. I loved visiting Morelli’s Cappuccino on the terrace, where they brew one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever drunk, complete with a chocolate heart on top of the foam. Morelli’s are still running, but these days they’ve moved to the ground floor, which admittedly has taken away some of the beauty of the pastime there.

Last time I went to Bolton was this Saturday, and, upon leaving the bus, I crossed the road and walked down the street, and then I turned right, into a quaint cobbled street. I knew exactly where I was going, but the route I took was not the usual one. I had some free time before my appointment, thus I wasn’t afraid of getting lost in the unknown quarter of the town.

As I was walking down this cobbled street (which name I don’t even know), I was looking here and there, and suddenly there was this little quite street on my left, and there I saw this building. I couldn’t stop by, but I gave myself a word to return to this street on my way back.

The building houses St Andrews Court, adjacent to Crompton Shopping Centre. If you mentally project the view in this picture to the right, there will be Crompton car park, and the old building faces the entrance to the parking place. But it is so easy to never look into the street where St Andrews Court is located and so to pass it by that we can certainly call it Bolton’s Hidden Gem, as a parallel to Manchester’s St Mary The Hidden Gem.

The building boasts a very unusual tower, which was what attracted my attention to it in the first place. Although from the first glance St Andrews Court looks to be located in an old church’s building, on second thoughts it is unlikely. The tower looks nothing like a bell tower, not only because it doesn’t actually have a bell, but also because it is very small. And secondly, the back of the building has got this peculiar stained glass window. If you look at the picture, in the third from the bottom row of symbols you will see a horseshoe on the left, and the initial ‘A’ on the right. I’m struggling for the meaning of the middle image, but perhaps it is a fishing net? At any rate, my second guessing is that the building may be a guildhall.

What is most interesting is that I am also struggling to find information about St Andrews Court on the web. I know that if I bury my head into books on local history at Bolton Library or even Manchester City Library, I will find some information. But despite the fact that several local history portals are currently present online, hardly any of them mentions the original purpose of the building where St Andrews Court is now located.

Nevertheless, the place has got this magical aura, and I don’t think it has to do anything with the fact that I have only just discovered it, that I know little about it, and that for these reasons it appears to be mysterious and unique. On the left you can see the picture of a walk between the court’s building and the edifice next to it (it’s made of red brick and these days has got a blue-and-white visor above the shop window). The walk is apparently called Bowker’s Row (the image is a courtesy of Bolton.org.uk), and to me it looks like an entrance to a rabbit hole.

Needless to say, if you have any more information on St Andrews Court, feel free to share it with us via the comments.


My Trips to Bolton-1

My Trips to Bolton-2 (Ye Olde Man and Scythe)
Bolton Revisited
Our Treasures‘a gateway to the hidden treasures of Bolton and Bury Art Galleries and Museums’
St Mary’s The Hidden Gem – a website dedicated to Manchester’s St Mary’s Church, affectionately nicknamed The Hiddem Gem. St. Mary’s (The Hidden Gem) was founded in 1794 in the centre of what was then, the poorest quarter of Manchester . It is now thought to be the oldest post- Reformation Catholic church founded as a church in any major centre of population in England. The Relief act allowing Catholic churches to be built again as churches was passed in 1791. The building of St. Mary’s was begun in 1792. This makes St Mary’s the Catholic mother-church of the whole of Greater Manchester

Oh Early on Ivan’s Day (Pesnyary)

I have been exchanging a lot of videos recently with a friend of mine, who eventually said: ‘You send me English and French musical videos, but what about Russian ones?’

I was somewhat lost for words, to be honest, not because sending something in Russian has never crossed my mind, but rather because I felt I would need to explain too much, which could kill the joy of liking something just because it is likeable. Another point is that Russian (or Soviet) music scene has never been completely cut off the “Western music”. Indeed, it was difficult to get access to it, but surprisingly, those rare contacts seem to me to have been more beneficial for the musical progress, than Russia’s current openness to the Western musical trends. Then, of course, one can say that until recently the Western music was better, so no wonder its influence was benigne.

There’s a plenty of good Soviet pop and rock songs out there, which I could translate and put up here. But I opted to introduce you to one of my favourite musical groups, a Belarussian band called Pesnyary. Pesnyary (the final syllable is stressed) means bards, and the group’s speciality was modern arrangements of Belarussian folk songs, as well as original songs inspired by the Belarussian folklore. Since their formation in 1969 by the now late Vladimir Mulyavin, the band has seen many changes in its membership, but their creative vision has remained unrivalled. They covered several Beatles’s songs and put Shakespearean sonnets to music. They composed larger musical pieces, including an opera and a masterful interpretation of Robert Burns’s cantata, The Jolly Beggars.

The song posted here is called Oh Early on Ivan’s Day, and is an arrangement of a Belarussian folk song dedicated to the Midsummer Night holiday, which is celebrated on July 7 (St John the Baptist Day). It opens with a stupendous a capella, and the use of harmonies mesmerises you later on. It has got some medieval overtones, which yet again might remind us that medieval music has got a lot to offer to a musician. I intentionally left Belarussian/Russian equivalent to the name John, Ivan, in the title. The picture shows a performance of this song on Soviet TV in 1971.



official website (in Russian)
Wikipedia entry (in Russian)
a site about the band (in Russian mainly)
– about the band at PNP Records (in English) – a very good overview of Pesnyary’s inventive musical outlook from a records collector from St Petersburg.

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Victory Day

Although I don’t normally use this blog to write anything too personal, this is the day when I would like to do so. It is 9th May, and in Russia this is the state holiday – the Victory Day.

I grew up listening to my grandmother’s story of her life during the war. Between June 2005 and January 2006 I was taking part, as a story-gatherer, in the BBC’s campaign, People’s War. The aim of the campaign was to create the living archive of wartime memories. And since stories from all countries were accepted (as long as they were in English), I contributed my grandma’s account of her life during the war.

I have always adored my grandma, Lydia, despite the fact that we belong to the two quite different generations, which results in occasional “culture clashes”. She was a working pensioner when I arrived, and when I was two, she left her job altogether, to stay with me. (Another reason was that I adhorred a nursery, and after three attempts my family realised that I wouldn’t be staying there, so someone would have to stay at home with me).

My grandmother held a BA in Law and has always been telling me to use my logic, as well as recalling various stories that had taken place at the Central Forensic Laboratory in Moscow where she used to work. She left when she met her husband, Alexei Sokolik, a Ukranian sportsman of Czech origin, and went to live to Lviv (Western Ukraine) with him. She eventually had to return to look after her parents. My mother was already born in Moscow, and my grandfather died of cancer in 1970. Since her return to Moscow until her retirement, my grandmother had worked for the Soviet Railways as a cinema instructor. Being a member of the Cultural Office at the Committee of the Railways Trade Union (Dorprofsozh – ДОРПРОФСОЖ), she supervised cinema clubs, cinema releases and box offices across all 15 regional railway committees.

So, what I decided to do is to republish the story from the BBC archive. Being a copyright holder, I nonetheless would like to acknowledge the fact that this story has originally been posted on WW2 People’s War website (Article ID: A8998933). It is one of the recommended stories in the archive, and I would like to say that I cannot praise my grandmother enough for collecting her strength to talk on the phone while I was recording. I subsequently translated her account directly from the tape.

This is what you’re about to read (quoted from my own entry on the website):

The story of evacuation of the Alekseev family spans from 1941, when they left their village with the last bus, until 1943, when they were given a derelict house to live in just outside Moscow. In these years there were many moments of joy, as well as of desperation. The evacuation camp set up in the Old Orthodox community was anything but friendly. Upon leaving it, the family was then caught up in Yaroslavl in the winter 1942/43, during the Stalingrad battle, when the prospect of Hitler’s victory created panic in the city. Throughout these years there was a constant fear for two brothers and a sister who joined the forces, which culminated in grief when the eldest brother was killed in 1943.

There are several reasons for republishing this story. It is dramatic, and many years after I heard it for the first time its dramatism has finally caught up with me, and I wondered how I would be able to survive in the similar conditions. I am sure some experiences will echo other people’s, and at best this memoire illustrates exactly where our grandparents got their will of steel. Then, of course, I am an historian, so I can also read my grandma’s story as a historical source. This is also a testimonial of a formidable personal memory, but also makes one wonder how a person goes on living with this experience. Ultimately, such stories should remind us of the devastating effect wars have on the civilian population. The Victory Day, which is celebrated as a state holiday in France (8th May) and Russia (9th May), is the good time to think about it.

The story is quite long, so I will break it up in chapters, which will all be collected under ‘My Life at War’ label. I also won’t do this in one go, so the chapters will appear in the course of this week.

I understand that, as I am publishing this and subsequent posts, they will be read and possibly shared and/or commented by my readers. However, I hold the image and text copyright, and also the BBC holds a non-exclusive right to sublicense and use the content. May I therefore ask, please, that you 1) read carefully the BBC’s Terms of Use, and 2) link to ‘My Life at War’ label and a specific post whenever you’re planning to quote from them. Otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment.

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