Thursday, 26 March 2015

Murder in Mitcham Parva

During a Baltic cruise I visited the Catherine Palace in Tsarkoe Selo and saw the famous Amber Room. My friends subsequently asked if I was going to write a book about it.

Oh yes, I have.....

Sir Bernard Smythe owns Mitcham Manor in Mitcham Parva which has an Amber Room. Some items, including a couple of panels, are found to be fakes. Many people wonder whether the panels that are originals were some that had been stolen from the Catherine Palace during World War II. Once the expert has confirmed that the fakes are modern, the police are called in.

Who was responsible for the thefts and are they connected to the murder of one of the Manor's cleaning ladies? There are plenty of suspects and Cleo Marjoribanks, now back home in the New Forest following her Spanish holiday, manages to get involved. DCI David 'Steaming' Kettle is put in charge of the investigations and Primrose Day, Cleo's journalist friend also helps.

Cleo's fans will welcome back some of the people met in previous books including her cleaning lady, Mrs. Walsh and David's team of DC Jenny Dixon and DS Jeremy Wiles. And, of course, Cleo is happy to be driving around the New Forest in her beloved Rolls Royce Silver Wraith.

Murder in Mitcham Parva is the fourth book in this series.

The previous titles are:

Homicide in Hampshire,
Dirty Deeds in Downdene,
Poltergeists in the Parador.

All of them are available for e-readers. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Fabulous Fire Mountains

It was six years of eruptions in the 18th century that formed these fantastic mountains on Lanzarote and the highest ones are still hot.  One of the hottest areas is Isolte de Hilario where at only 10cm below ground the temperature is 140c and at 61cm down it is over 460c. The first 'experiment' we encountered on arrival was to pass around a small pebble that had been dug up. Yes, very hot, but it did have one advantage - it warmed out hands. We had all taken jackets against the cold but most of us had forgotten our gloves.

This volcanic area is the Timanfaya National Park. Timanfaya and Tinecheide being the names of the mountains.

I didn't get to see the other two 'experiments' properly. The first was the burning bush. A gentleman held the bush down into a small crater. First it started smouldering, then it burst into flames. Unfortunately, when it began smouldering the smoke blew into my eyes and I had to turn away. The last demonstration was an imitation geyser. A man poured some water into a deep hole, he fled, then hot water spurted up. He did this twice and on both occasions a lady's head got in the way of my view. Same lady.

We were then directed into the cafe where some had wine or coffee. Once I had thawed out I left to take a stroll in the area. The scenery is spectacular and, when you look carefully the colours come to the fore. It isn't just boring old brown lava. Here and there are dots of green looking like pin cushions. Just around a corner I found myself looking at an artist's pallet of colour. Grey-green, a field of bright grass green, a strip of ochre mixed with orange. Breathtaking.

The drive through the lava fields was superb. Devised by local artist the late Cesar Manrique the narrow road twists and turns to display the scenery to its best - and most artistic - advantage. Petrified waves, gorges, towering pillars and some really scary shapes.

If you have visited Lanzarote and wondered about the fields (some on hills) with low crescent shaped walls, wonder no more. They are vineyards. Due to the winds that blow across this island the vines are low growing and the walls protect them.

Before I finish let me recommend another gorgeous sight. El Golfo is a deep emerald green lagoon and is half of a volcanic crater. The other half is in the sea.

This was another excursion from my Canary Islands cruise on P&O's Oriana.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Painting Paradise - the new Exhibition at The Queen's Gallery

Opening on 20th March a new exhibition - Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden - will display the ways in which the garden has been illustrated over the centuries with more than 150 paintings, drawings, books, manuscripts and decorative arts on display.

There will be some of the spectacular paintings of royal landscapes, jewel-like manuscripts and beautiful botanical studies. These show the changes in gardens from the 16th to the early 20th century and will include paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and some of the fabulous work of Carl Faberge.

The first real garden painting on record in British art is Henry VIII's Great Garden at Whitehall Palace which forms the background of the painting The Family of Henry VIII, (c.1545).

In the 18th century there was great rivalry between the French and English kings as to who could produce the most elaborate royal garden. In the exhibition there is a panoramic view by Jean-Baptiste Martin of the gardens at Versailles (c. 1700) and 'A View of Hampton Court' by Leonard Knyff (c.1702-14).

The 19th century saw the advent of the 'natural' look as created by Capability Brown - and copied by others - which features in many paintings, but Queen Victoria and Prince Albert wanted more domestic paintings. This produced work by Edwin Landseer (who painted the Royal couple in the East Terrace Garden at Windsor Castle) and William Leighton Leitch who did a watercolour of the Swiss Cottage at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

Flower designs were very popular on porcelain, silver, furniture and textiles. Jacob Wauters (c. 1650) produced a vine-covered tapestry of a pergola; Faberge created the beautiful 'Bleeding Heart' which has flowers suspended from gold stems so that they quiver and look as if they are being blown by the wind.

This exhibition runs from 20th March - 11th October 2015 at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace (entrance in Buckingham Palace Road).

For more information log on to