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Archive for January 2012

Petrol Grandad

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Written by Spiller

January 30, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Balkan Women

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There seems to be a long lineage of British women who have developed strong connections with the Balkan region over the years.  Recently, I’ve been mainly reading about women at the turn of the nineteenth century and the more that I read, the more fascinating the stories are.

First there is Edith Durham, Queen of the Highlands to the Albanians and Achilles Heel to the established Balkan experts of the pre-WW1 era. Considered outspoken and difficult, her foreign office file began by warning people off engaging her in conversation. But she was passionate, fearless and ultimately proven by history to be speaking sense.

Then there are the women of the First World War who travelled out to the front line as part of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry  – I’m assuming that the acronym they would have had printed on their uniform is etymologically significant – Marvellous bunch, these FANYs, I’m sure!

Then there is Flora Sandes. A Yorkshire born woman who was the only British woman to enlist as a soldier in the First World War and travelled out to the Balkans with the British Red Cross. She ended up fighting with the Serbian army and rose through their military hierarchy – as a woman – to the rank of Captain. The only woman to be commissioned as an officer in the Serbian army.

How do we not know more about these people!

There is a lot more to discover here, I think, and so has begun one of my minor obsessions for 2012.

Written by Spiller

January 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Pigeons’ Posts

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Written by Spiller

January 24, 2012 at 9:01 pm

The Controversial Capital “H”

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This post is really an extension to my last post but life sort of got in the way in the last week so I haven’t had the time to continue that conversation.

I don’t know an awful lot about Armenia but the couple things that I did know were of great importance to our host last weekend and I think helped establish the good rapport we had with him during the evening.

I read a book a few years ago by Robert Fisk ‘The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East’. In it he devoted a lengthy section to the Armenian Holocaust of 1915. Widely believed to be the first modern genocide, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Empire around the time of World War I. It was in the headlines quite recently with the diplomatic row between Turkey and France over the new French law which makes it a criminal offense to deny genocide. Turkey was furious with the French as they have always denied that any genocide took place in Armenia and refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the events that took place there.

The other thing that I didn’t know until reading Robert Fisk’s book was that referring to the Armenian Holocaust is in itself controversial. According to the conventions by which the print media operate, the only act of genocide in history that could appear in print with a capitalised ‘H’ was the genocide of the Jews during World War II. So when Robert Fisk submitted his article on ‘the Armenian Holocaust’, it was edited to appear in print as with a lower case ‘h’.

Fisk then took this up with the editors of The Independent, for whom he worked, and argued that the killing of 1.5 million people had a legitimate right to a capitalized ‘H’. Eventually they agreed and the syntactic conventions used by editors of the Independent were extended to include the use of a capitalized Holocaust for the events in Armenia in 1915.

Battle grounds exist in the most unexpected corners, don’t they?





Written by Spiller

January 21, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile

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I knew I was going to love this place way before I’d even stepped through the door.

It’s not quite a restaurant and is rarely open, it’s quite difficult to find and even more difficult to make a booking. You are heavily vetted by the owner on the telephone before you are allowed to reserve a table, required to arrive at exactly the specified time, to an unmarked, unlit building and who tells you, when you ask for directions, that if you’re not clever enough to find his place then perhaps you’re not the sort of guests he’d want after all.

Because guests you are indeed. In the home of a curious and fascinating and, as it turns out,  perfectly hospitable Armenian. There’s no heating, barely any lighting but there is a never-ending banquet of homely and hearty Armenian food delivered to your table, a limited but sufficient supply of wine and the invitation to join in some very interesting Armenian dancing – sort like the Hokey Cokey mixed with some high kicking and free-style breakdancing.

For a highly unusual and very memorable eating experience, Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile will be hard to beat.

If you can find it.


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Last night I accidentally tripped over some cocktails so didn’t actually make it to the Stills Camera club but the theme this month was ‘Home’ and I had intended to go. Damn those Breakfast Gimlets!

I found myself thinking a lot about the topic of ‘home’ in the past couple of weeks, about what it means to me and how I might represent it meaningfully with a photo. I struggle with the notion of connecting ‘home’ to a physical place or space, maybe because I’ve lived in a lot of different places, maybe also because I’m about to move again so mentally disconnecting from my current ‘home’. I can feel a great connection to places that could never be called my home. And I often feel very at home in the anonymity of unfamiliar places.

So in the end I kept coming back to this film which connects me to my past and to the people that I call ‘home’. I wanted to show this at the Stills Camera club but for the watching to be a personal and intimate experience. So I rigged it into an old box brownie, with headphones threaded through the peep window at the back.

Put your eye up close to the open lens, smell the faint aroma of tobacco and old leather and let me welcome you to a place called ‘home’.

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January 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Fear of Orange

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So a week into the new year and my resolution to do one thing every day that scares me is proving a little difficult.

I’ve realised that in order to accomplish this, I will need to develop a fear of… well… pretty much everything. Honestly, an average day in my life does not throw me through so large a trajectory that I’m likely to come across anything that truly scares me – the nearest thing is travelling on the 49 bus which can sometimes be terrifying but is generally just baffling. And a little amusing. And largely smelling of carlsberg special brew.

So I decided to try and trick myself into a fear of the colour orange. Day 2 of 2012 I confronted my (made up) fear by buying a luminous orange jumper. It was reduced to a bargain basement price, some might say, unsurprisingly, given that it is a luminous orange jumper, but it gave me such a feeling of nostalgia for my childhood that I just had to get it. My mum used to have a jumper exactly the same colour and wore it all the time when we were kids. We used to always tease her that  we could spot her through a crowd of thousands because of this jumper.

Well now you can spot me through a crowd of thousands too!

Day 3 I overcame my fear of going out locally in my bright orange jumper by heading to the pub in it. A few heads turned, I can tell you. Away from me. Shielding their eyes. Mainly.

Day 4 I headed to the cinema in my bright orange jumper. And when the lights dimmed for the 6 o’clock film, there was a little corner of the front row glowing like kryponite (only orange).

Day 5 I decided to rethink my new year’s resolution.

But it lasted 3 days longer than “play the piano every day” circa 1984, always my benchmark for resolutions, so I think that’s progress.

photo ©fran

Written by Spiller

January 9, 2012 at 11:44 am