At long last, the new book has reached its
final stages and the action has moved from the deserts of Iraq and Jordan to
the icy mountains of Bulgaria. To the ski resort of Borovets, to be precise,
which is 1350 metres (4430 feet) above sea level in the Rila Mountains, about
73 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of the capital, Sofia.
I was there about three or four years ago
and took a load of pictures precisely so I had a feel and a flavour of the place
for when I reached this stage of writing. It’s been very useful to look back
over them now.
Take this shot, for instance, up a mountain
in Borovets. I’d completely forgotten that, at somewhere around 7700 feet, for
quite a lot of the time you were above the clouds, it was like looking down on
a misty ocean.
In fact, the highest I went was 2369 metres
(7772 feet). The highest peak locally was Mount Musala at 2925 metres (9600
The only way up is to take the gondola
lift. I think the 1315m is the distance up it travels.
You certainly get the most amazing view as
you slowly crank your way upwards. Not quite as much snow on the trees this far
up, though – there had been too much sunshine that winter.
Down in the resort itself, though, there
was the icing sugar coating effect on the trees, which was a beautiful sight.
Despite Borovets reputation as the booziest
place to ski in Europe, there were plenty of entertainments for smaller
visitors, like this mini dog-sled ride …
… or varying sizes of very small pony. I
wasn’t quite sure about the handlebars and the horn, though.
pic from SnowSphere.com
And for the grown-ups, there was also the
sleazier side to Borovets. Bars and the occasional strip club line the main
Hog roast is a traditional dish, and most
of the restaurants had an outside spit going.
Also to keep the grown-ups happy were night
snowmobile rides through the forest, which was an amazing experience and gave
me all kinds of ideas.
As did some of the very unusual ‘souvenirs’
on offer in one of the local stores. Didn’t think I’d get any of this lot back
to the UK on a plane. Not as carryon, anyway.
Outside the resort, the architecture had a
very Soviet feel to it, like this apartment block on the outskirts of Sofia.
But elsewhere there were old tsarist
palaces and places like this royal hunting lodge, the style and layout of which
I have borrowed for plot purposes.
And I’ve also mixed in the location of this
fortress at Veliko Tarnovo. That’s the nice thing about creating your own
world, you can take reality and mess with it just enough to keep things
believable. After all, we’re trying for realistic,
rather than real.
For those of you who want to know what’s happening in the
world today, just shut your eyes. Your ears too, because what you see and what
you hear doesn’t really seem to matter much anymore. What counts these days is
whatever turns agendas—political and otherwise—into realities.
All of which brings me around to the subject of this week’s
An epic character, perhaps the most well known character in
children’s literature, who stands as a universal symbol of the perils of
prevarication to one’s proboscis.
It all began with The
Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) a children’s novel by the Italian writer
Carlo Collodi, in which a kindly old carpenter, Geppetto, carves a marionette
in the image of a little boy who lives a literal wooden existence dreaming that
someday he’ll be human.But between him
and his dream stand a series of trials and a singular moral defect: Pinocchio’s penchant for lying and bad
Though some literary types have equated Pinocchio’s journey with
that of epic literary heroes such as Odysseus, I think for purposes of today’s
post it’s better described by Jack Zipes in an introduction to a book on Pinocchio,
titled Carlo Collodi.To him, it’s a story about those who venture
out into the world naively unprepared for
what they find, and get into ridiculous situations.
Enter the “nose knows.”
Alas, if only we had as ready a way of separating truth
tellers from charlatans today.
But there’s another lesson to be drawn from Pinocchio.
The list of Pinocchio productions and knock-offs is endless,
but undoubtedly Walt Disney’s 1940 version, praised as one of the greatest
animated films of all time, is the most well known.
What isn’t as well known is that, as originally written,
Pinocchio was an obnoxious boor, whose end was not intended to be
pleasant.Disney though didn’t see that
sort of character as appealing to the masses, and so he turned him into a more
likeable, innocent mischief-maker, who ultimately achieved his dream of
Today’s opinion-shapers still turn the obnoxious into the
likeable, and far-fetched cinematic dreams into realities, but they’ve have
added something else to the mix.They’ve
turned the common sense adage for truth—“As plain as the nose on your face”—on
its ear (so to speak) by libeling any nose other than their own as a Pinocchio protuberance,
not to be believed.
In other words, we now live in a world where up is down and
down is up.But that’s from another
children’s book, for another time.
Rachel Chiesley, known as Lady Rachel Grange, was by all
accounts, a bit of a girl and rather a handful. She is best known for being
abducted, by her husband, James Erskine, Lord Grange.
Rachel was born on Skyein 1679 - just as the Jacobites were starting to flex their tartan
She was one of nine children. Her father rather famously
shot dead the Scottish judge who had dared to pronounce a verdict against him.
He was found guilty of that murder by the Lord Provostand he was sentenced to death by hanging,
before the sentence was carried out his right hand was cut off and the pistol
he had fired was hung round his neck.
Rachel herself was one of ten children, she would have been
nine or ten years old when her father was executed so I guess we could say her childhood was troubled. She was considered very,
very beautiful, very passionate with a temper to match. She married Lord Grange,
a successful lawyer, at the age of 28, probably after she became pregnant.
Although the marriage was never happy, they had nine children together.
Her husband’s family, the Erskines, were known to be
Jacobite sympathisers. The younger Earl went by the rather lovely name of ‘Bobbing
John’ due to his political machinations.
Rachel was a bit bonkers – probably the result of the nine children
she had. She talked of suicide often, a huge scandal at the time and it is rumoured
that she slept with a cutthroat razor under her pillow – probably to keep her
husband away . She also threatened to
strip naked in the middle of Edinburgh just to embarrass her husband. (This is
the noise of people in Edinburgh being outraged… ‘tut’)
Rachel swore in the street ( in Edinburgh!!!) and disrupted church services,
saying that her husband was a Jacobite and she had in her possession letters
that would show he had plotted against the Hanovarian government in London. She
insisted that he should be executed as a traitor. She used to abuse her
children in the street to such as extent that they would hide in the local pub
until she either calmed down or went away, and that might take two or three hours.
James Erskine, the Lord Grange dismissed divorce as a
solution to all this. He decided to have her kidnapped. He paid some close
friends to do it, then explained her disappearance as her sudden death and gave
her a decent funeral. Interesting to note that this time he was playing fast
and loose with the charms of a local coffee house owner. More interesting to
note that her children,the eldest being in their twenties, knew their mum had been abducted by their Dad and did nothing to get her back.
Their tutor is on record as saying that the kids were terrified of their mother
and her spontaneous angry outbursts. And their mum had disinherited them all at
So the Lady was taken from her home sometime during the
night of22 January 1732 by some Highland
noblemen. There was a bit of a scuffle, or a bit of a rammy as we would say,
and the bold Lady was removed from the premises in a sedan chair and then taken
by horse to Falkirk, where she was held for six months in a empty tower. At
that time she would have been about 50.
The kidnappers took their role very seriously, tearing out
her hair and knocking her teeth out. They took her off for a very long tour of the very
remote Scottish island on the Western coast, ending up in Hirta of St Kilda and
left her there. It sounds awful… alone in a stone walled hut with a grass
thatched roof,right beside the seawith only goats and sheep for company… and an
awful lot of whisky- actually that sounds better than living with her husband. Until you remember thehorrific wind up there that never ever stops
– most folk who lived inany part of St Kilda were deaf due to the noise of the
wind and sheep knew not to go too near the edge of the cliff for fear of being
The locals were told not to give her food or clothing, and
she probably didn’t share a language with any of them.
In the end she managed
to get a message to Edinburgh, to the minister of Inveresk. He was horrified by
the conditions she was living in and he paid for a boat with armed men to sail
to St Kilda ( no easy feat ). It had already set sail by 14 February 1741, but
it she had already been moved on.
He probably got wind of the rescue attempt. (?)
Her husband lawyer had already blocked a legal application
for a search warrant for St Kilda so he must have known that somebody would
attempt a rescue.
Now, at Hirta on the St Kilda archipelago, a pile of rocks are the only remains of Rachel’s house. A
cleit, twenty feet by ten. In the winter she would have been scooping the snow
out of her bed with her hands.Even in a
good day, the island is a bitter, inhospitable place- fortyfeet waves are quite
Rachel died, without regaining her freedom on 12th
may 1745, aged 66 by which time she had been effectively jailed for 13 years, and her life has been constant fodder for stories and songs
that have now passed into folk lore.