Category Archives: History


I love the cover of 1947. This ‘literary scrapbook of the year’ by Elisabeth Åsbrink consists of a somewhat odd collection of facts from the year ‘when now begins’ as it says on that attractive cover.

Elisabeth Åsbrink, 1947

Maybe it’s true that life as we recognise it came into being two years after WWII ended. I don’t know. I began reading 1947 with the expectation of finding out; discovering some startling proof. But the book is mainly a series of unrelated stuff happening to people or countries during that year. I was waiting for a reason why George Orwell was in there, and what the significance of Simone de Beauvoir’s romantic interlude with some man in America might be for me.

There are flying saucers. I like flying saucers, but why were they in there? About the most interesting fact – to me – was the possible background to the disappearance of Dagmar Hagelin in Argentina in the 1970s. That was part of my growing up.

Elisabeth appears to have grabbed facts as she found them, putting them in for artistic effect. It feels a rather Swedish thing to be doing at the moment. For that’s what this is, the latest ‘historical’ offering from a woman whose own father escaped Hungary after the war. But that doesn’t explain all the rest; the UN, Palestine, Mahatma Gandhi, Christian Dior, Swedish nazis and fleeing nazi war survivors.

I was hoping it would be fascinating, that it would teach me something new. Instead it was a return to the Emperor’s New Clothes, all over again.

It’ll be fun to see how the rest of the world receives 1947. I found the English translation by Fiona Graham good enough to make me forget I was reading in the ‘wrong’ language.


Women in Sport

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that interested in the Women in Sport book. That’s not because I thought Rachel Ignotofsky’s book was bad; just that I’m not that much into sport. But the way it is for women right now, how could I not read Rachel’s book?

I began by looking at the list of her 50 women, feeling a deep sense of shock at discovering I’d not heard of all that many. Why, when I have heard of lots of male athletes? I suspect it’s because they have kept quiet about the women, especially those from longer ago.

I didn’t expect to find the book all that interesting, despite what I’ve said above. But there’s something about the way these women, often only girls at the time, kept at it. In the face of what society said and thought, they practised until they were really good at their sport, and then they insisted on taking part in games and even on winning, when the world didn’t want them to.

And it’s probably not because the men thought they’d be losing to these weak creatures; I’m guessing they really thought they were not up to it. Go Billie Jean King!

Rachel Ignotofsky, Women in Sport

There I was, reading away about the many inspiring women, and I actually wanted to cry. I think it was the kind of crying when you are really, truly touched by what someone has achieved. Because I couldn’t even think myself into their mindsets when struggling to be allowed to join in. I’m just so proud of what they all did, every single one of them.

And weren’t those men stupid? In some cases they’d even forgotten to actively prohibit women in their games. It was just understood. But when one walked in, she had to be allowed to compete. 😄

Thanks for all you did, and continue to do, ladies!

Rebel Voices

It’s depressing how relevant this book is today. Louise Kay Stewart and her illustrator Eve Lloyd Knight can’t have known this when they started on their Rebel Voices, a book about women’s right to vote. They refer to the 2016 US presidential race, but we’ve fast moved in the wrong direction since then. And no one could have guessed the #metoo movement.

In pictorial form the two show how the women’s suffrage movement was first successful in New Zealand in 1893, finally making it to Saudi Arabia in 2015.

As a child I took for granted that we were equal and that everyone should have the right to vote. I knew that it hadn’t happened simultaneously for the sexes, but somehow back then the first couple of decades seemed long enough ago that I felt it was all right. I didn’t know that Evita Perón had to fight for the vote, and that despite her powerful position, Argentina only got there shortly before her death.

Louise Kay Stewart and Eve Lloyd Knight, Rebel Voices

I was 15 when Swiss women finally could vote! Before Jordan, but after Yemen. Now I find myself living through this late Swiss start and its effect on life today. It can’t be a coincidence that women still fare badly in Switzerland. Many of the men who happily discriminate today, began life in a country where women had to ‘charm’ men into doing what was needed.

The early successes in the fight for equality make for inspiring reading. It’s only knowing how the fight is not yet over which makes me sad and furious.

‘Every time a modern woman votes – whatever and wherever the election – she has her suffragist sisters to thank.’ Yes. And every time a woman ‘forgets’ to vote..? Because it’s ‘not going to make a difference.’

(Out today. Please teach your young ones about voting.)

Poet on the runway!

Don’t take any notice of what I’m about to mention here.

My Swedish Bookwitch-sister recently blogged about Elsa Grave, a poet who lived ‘not too far away’ from where the younger Bookwitch used to live and work, whereas I see that it’s been quite a while since I wrote about Elsa on here.

A friend emailed me about her a while back, and it was when I mentioned this to the family that the Resident IT Consultant asked how important a poet she was. And I have absolutely no idea.

When someone is ‘famous’ locally, it could be that they are merely a big fish in a small pond, or it’s possible they are world famous, or at least a national treasure. So I don’t know. We looked Elsa up on Wikipedia, and she seems to have done a bit of everything.

Anyway, this post was caused by what my friend said. It seems her mother knew Elsa, whereas I never really stopped to think about even where she lived, despite my postal connection to Elsa’s cat and her pot plants. I knew her postman fed one and watered the others, but as to the where, well that seemed irrelevant.

Now I know, and I can quite see why Elsa did what she did, both from a geographical point of view, as well as how it fits in with her personality. When she wanted to go into town, she cycled. And the most direct route was along the runway of our small airfield/airport. Strictly not allowed, but apparently she knew the timetable…

Mind you, I’m sure this never happened.

A stone for Christmas Eve

The Resident IT Consultant rather surprised me. Back in the summer we wanted to have a few films to watch, and I asked him if there was anything he fancied getting. The response was immediate, and surprising. He wanted The Stone of Destiny.

For reasons I can’t easily explain here, he sees many more film trailers than I do. I assumed he’d come across it in the cinema during the last year or so. And then it turned out the film was almost ten years old. I was amazed he even remembered.

But of course he would, as it’s about Scottish history. We could see a trailer on YouTube, but then we hit a stone wall. In the end he sourced a Polish version online, with subtitles and everything. (If you’re really clever you can turn the subtitles off, but it was harder than it usually is.)

Ian Hamilton, Stone of Destiny

This is the true story of a group of young people from Scotland who go to London in 1950 to steal the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. They do it on Christmas Eve (because that’s such a good time to commit a crime…). And they succeed.


It’s not an outstanding film or anything, but it’s fun and informative for rookie Scots. It’s got Robert Carlyle in it, and a group of relatively unknown actors (to me, anyway). I enjoyed it, and I could really feel the cold in that unheated B&B somewhere in London. The capital at Christmas looks very fine, if chilly, and then they drive north with the stone and it looks like summer near the Scottish border. That drive either took a long time, or the weather’s so much better up here. Or continuity forgot to lose the leaves on the trees.)

Stone of Destiny - film

It was not a forever triumph over the English, but it was good enough.

The film is worth seeing, especially without the subtitles. And the Resident IT Consultant got so fired up he [re]read Ian Hamilton’s book about his exploits as a young man, which we had on our Scottish shelves.


Helped by love

It made a great impression on the young Bookwitch. During those years when I devoured [almost] everything I found on the shelves at home, I came across this book, the title of which I no longer remember. While it looked a little boring, I read it nevertheless, and discovered that it was actually very good. Very romantic. And I know I re-read it later on, as I always thought of it as a ‘proper book.’

Older and wiser, I discovered when looking at it again, that it had originally been published by Mills & Boon. Oh dear. Well, I had known no better. But it just went to prove that translating a book and giving it a cover that doesn’t hint at anything light or lurid, makes it look like a real novel.

Written by Mary Burchell (pen name) it featured a young secretary who tricked her boss to marry her. Obviously for all the right reasons, but he didn’t know that at the time. Being an honourable man, he did the honourable thing and married her, once she had been compromised (via a conveniently ‘faulty’ door handle). You can tell how much I remember, even this long after!

Anyway, they obviously fell in love. There were one or two misunderstandings, as there should be. It ended happily. One detail I often think of is how our heroine is chauffeur-driven to wave her new husband off as he travels the world on business, departing by boat from Southampton. The kindly chauffeur covers her with a travel rug, so she won’t feel the cold…

‘So where am I going with this?’ I hear you ask.

There was a short letter in the Guardian last week, telling us about the real Mary Burchell. She was really Ida Cook, and with her sister Mary Louise, she rescued refugees in the 1930s, financing the operation with money from writing those romances.

I now feel really proud of my early Mills & Boon author. I’m glad she did so well with her over one hundred romances, and that she used the money for a good cause. And I’ve never felt apologetic about reading that old, nameless, book. I enjoyed it, and it left a lasting impression on me. (Something which can’t be said of the countless romances I consumed at a later stage.)

And as the writer of the letter said, who’d have thought that eighty years later we’d still need Safe Passage?

(I believe it was Wife to Christopher, from 1936.)

Which Orient Express is yours?

You can choose your Poirot – and mine is David Suchet – and you can choose your Orient Express, if you have one. Unfortunately, for me the two didn’t coincide.

But never mind.

Actually, I don’t remember the David Suchet Orient Express some Christmases ago terribly well. I only recall quite how weird he was. Not David so much, perhaps, as the way he had to portray Poirot in that film.

If we’re talking films, the 1974 express is mine, Albert Finney notwithstanding. And say what you will, but his moustache was far better. Kenneth Branagh’s took over the whole film, especially considering that on a cinema screen you get pretty close up to such growth. But, the man’s entitled to have whatever he wants in the middle of his face.

The question is, do I prefer the old film, because it was better (I’d like to think it was), or because it was my first? As with the Branagh express, the film is full of stars, but I suppose I feel the 1974 stars were starrier, as well as more my kind of star. In this new version all I could think of was who someone had been played by in the older film. Judi Dench vs Wendy Hiller; Michelle Pfeiffer vs Lauren Bacall?

Murder on the Orient Express, 1974

It’s mainly a matter of personal taste. And if this new film was your first, you are likelier to prefer it, even if you try the older one later.

Apart from the ghastly moustache, I mainly objected to the [unnecessary] changes Kenneth Branagh had made. I got the impression from an interview I read somewhere, that he was jolly pleased with his ‘originality.’ Whereas it seemed to me as if he borrowed the worst from the Suchet version, and then changed how the murder was committed. Those sleeper compartments are small, even on a fancy train. Just saying.

I had read the book before seeing the 1974 film. Today it appears many cinema goers might not have, but have bought the book since, judging by increasing sales. This is good. I hope that even a mediocre film can grow fresh fans for Agatha Christie. And crime. And train travel.