Visit to Athens (3)

September 30th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

This morning, we visited Lykavittos Hill for the finest panoramic views of the city and an especially impressive view of the Acropolis through the urban haze created by the heat and the traffic. The name ‘lykavittos’ means ‘Hill of Wolves’ and in ancient times the location was covered in pines and inhabited by wolves.

Silvia is a great walker so we walked all the way there from our hotel and all the way up which involved countless stone steps and then endless winding paths. However, she does not like precipitous slopes and the journey up the paths was somewhat vertiginous, so I had to walk on the outside and hold her hand all the way to the top.

Back at at street level, we spent the afternoon at the Benaki Museum where we had a delicious salad lunch and viewed some of the 20,000 pieces displayed over four floors. The building is named after Antonio Bernakis who accumulated the contents of the museum during 35 years of avid collecting before donating it to the Greek nation. The historical range of artefacts goes all the way from the Bronze Age to the era of independence and the objects include everything from two entire rooms to Greek regional costumes.

On our way to the hill and from the museum, we passed through Syntagma Square which houses the Greek Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is where there have been countless demonstrations – some quite violent – against the austerity forced upon the Greek Government and people by the troika of international lenders. Finally we strolled through a district called Plaka which is full of souvenir and clothes shops plus restaurants.

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Visit to Athens (2)

September 29th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

It’s been 40 years since I visited Athens and much has stayed the same – after all, this is a city with 2,500 years of history. So it is still somewhat rough and raw with uneven pavements and  crazy traffic –  not a city that everyone would love.

But a lot has changed: the city now has a metro, the Acropolis has been in a permanent state of renovation and repair, and there is a now a terrific Acropolis Museum.  Tourists – including us – are different too: we have smartphones with cameras, Google maps and access to Facebook and a lot of people (not us) have selfie sticks.

For Silvia and me, today has been Acropolis day: the morning at the site itself and the afternoon at the Acropolis Museum.

Our hotel is near the site and we set out quite early so that we avoided the crowds but this spectacular location – our guide book calls it “the most important ancient site in the Western world” – is always busy. A major programme of renovation started in 1983 and is still in progress,  so that the west end of the Parthenon is covered in scaffolding and the caryatids on the Erechtheum have been moved to the new museum and replaced by copies.

The new Acroplis Museum was opened shortly after the city hosted the Olympic Games and is truly impressive, both in design – wonderfully light and airy galleries with a view through the windows of the Acropolis itself – and content – almost 4,000 original pieces from all parts of the site. A short film is shown in alternating Greek and English with respectively English and Greek subtitles and this explains that the Parthenon was constructed from some 16,500 pieces of marble that fit perfectly together.  The film finishes with a reference to the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum and characterises their acquisition as an act of looting.

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Visit to Athens (1)

September 28th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Since my mother died in 1999, my sister Silvia and I have created a tradition of going abroad for a short trip without our spouses. We’re just about to set off for our 10th such venture and this time our destination is Athens.

Silvia has never been there and my only previous visit was 40 years ago. Last time I was there, the country had only recently come out of a military discatorship; now it is a member of the European Union and struggling profoundly with the consequences of being a member of the Eurozone.

But, of course, we’ll be concentrating on visits to the remains of Ancient Greece and learning more about the time when this part of the world was the cradle of democracy.

The weather forecast is good …

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A review of the new version of “The Magnificent Seven”

September 26th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Like almost everyone, I loved the 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven” and I’ve seen it at least four times. But the new remake of the classic is a decent work that deserves to be enjoyed. I’ve written a review here.

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One of the most beautiful songs ever recorded

September 25th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

I refer to the Italian song “Con Te Partiro” as sung by the tenor Andrea Bocelli. You can hear and watch him perform this classic here:

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A review of the 1979 Woody Allen movie “Manhattan”

September 24th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Of course, I have seen it before, but this weekend I was round with friends and we revisited this Woody Allen classic, leading me to review it here.

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Watch Mustafa Suleyman at FutureFest 2016

September 24th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

I’m very interested in the future – it’s where I intend to spend the rest of my life. Last weekend, I attended an event called FutureFest and this is one of the talks – a discussion of artificial intelligence –  that I heard:

Mustafa Suleyman, Co-founder of Google DeepMind at FutureFest 2016 from Nesta UK on Vimeo.

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A review of the Jordanian film “Theeb”

September 23rd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

In 60 years of watching movies, I think that my all-time favourite film is still “Lawrence Of Arabia” (1962) – see my review here.

Surprisingly, I’ve just seen a film set and shot in the same location and rooted in the same point of history. It is the Jordanian work “Theeb” which I found moving and which I have reviewed here.

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The 100th anniversary of the birth of Karel Kuttelwascher, the RAF’s greatest night intruder pilot

September 23rd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of my wife’s father, a Czech pilot with the wartime RAF whose story I wrote in the book “Night Hawk” published by William Kimber in 1985 and to be reprinted by Fonthill Media in 2017.


Flight Lieutenant Karel Kuttelwascher,
DFC and Bar
Karel Kuttelwascher – or Kut as he was known to all his wartime colleagues – was born in a town now called Havlíčkův Brod. He joined the Czechoslovak Air Force when he was 18 and clocked up some 2,200 flying hours before the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 and disbanded the Czechoslovak armed forces. Three months after the invasion, he made a daring escape from Czechoslovakia into Poland by hiding in a coal train.

Together with many other Czechoslovak pilots, Kuttelwascher was able to make his way from Poland to France where he was drafted into the Foreign Legion to await the imminent outbreak of war. When war came, he flew with the French Air Force in the fierce but brief Battle of France. He claimed a number of German aircraft destroyed and damaged.

Then, when France fell, he managed to reach Algeria, escaped to Morocco, and took ship to Britain where he immediately joined the beleaguered Royal Air Force. He was assigned to the RAF’s oldest unit, the legendary No. 1 Squadron in time to earn his place as one of ‘The Few’.

Kuttelwacher eventually spent a full two years with No. 1 Squadron. During the early circus operations, in each of the months of April, May and June 1941, he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 off the French coast – but his score would not remain at three.

Meanwhile No. 1 Squadron experienced more excitement with their involvement in the famous Channel Dash when, on 12 February 1942, the two German battle cruisers ‘Scharnhorst’ and ‘Gneisenau’ raced from the French port of Brest and set sail for Norway. In a cannon-blazing attack on three accompanying destroyers, No.1 Squadron lost two aircraft, but Kut saw his shells exploding on the decks of his destroyer and judged the damage to be considerable.

By this time, No. 1 Squadron was based at its ancestral home at Tangmere. It was in April, May & June of 1942 that Kuttelwascher – notwithstanding his German surname – became the scourge of the Luftwaffe bombers operating from France and the Low Countries. The type of operation was called night intrusion. This involved flying a long range Hurricane IIC, aptly named the ‘Night Reaper’, over enemy bases during the couple of weeks around the full moon. He would endeavour to locate German bombers as they were taking off or landing, so that they were low, slow and vulnerable to his cannon.

In just three months, Kuttelwascher destroyed 15 bombers and damaged a further five. On one memorable occasion, he knocked out three Heinkel bombers in just four minutes. These exploits brought him the Distinguished Flying Cross twice in a mere 42 days.

He was the RAF’s greatest night intruder ace and, with his total score of 18, the top-scoring Czech pilot of the Second World War. The wartime media dubbed him ”the Czech night hawk”.

You can find more details about his exploits here.

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From Moscow to Mexico: a father-and-son’s 2,000 mile voyage by bicycle from northern Idaho to the Mexican border

September 22nd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

A colleague of mine has just done something remarkable. Together with his teenage son, he raised over £5,000 for the cancer charity Macmillan by cycling some 2,000 miles in the United States over a period of seven weeks.

I made a small contribution to the cause which which is why I followed the journey on Facebook as it happened. The whole trip has now been written up in a captivating account complete with great photographs. If you’re interested in cycling or the USA or would like to contribute to the cause, check out the narrative here.

Many congratulations Adam and Joe.

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