Jul 2016



Despite the title of this post, I wouldn’t presume to pass judgement on this vast country or its 143.5 million people. We spent just a week there and stayed only in the two largest cities. All I can do is to share my experience of a very enjoyable week. In doing so, I have to make generalisations based on my very limited experience. But I’m aware that’s what I’m doing, so I hope that makes it “all right.”

Both cities are perfect for tourists and have plenty to see. They are also full of enormous parks – something I miss in my little country. We saw some of the famous sites.


Peterhof Palace

The next three paragraphs were originally published on Tim Taylor’s blog.

As a child, I heard a lot about Russia. My brother visited and then studied there. My aunt and uncle visited. I heard about stern officials, supermarkets only for foreigners while Russians queued for meagre supplies, Jews in a synagogue too scared to talk to foreigners.

Russia is very different now. The two cities we visited, Moscow and St Petersburg, look like thriving European cities. Moscow’s Jewish Museum is modern and prominent; interesting, too.

A couple of things I saw fit with my impressions from the many Russians I’ve met here in Israel. One is that they smoke a lot. The other is that sometimes they have a strange way of thinking; things that are obvious to them are not for anyone else. In what other capital city do you exit the metro and spend half an hour looking for the train to the second biggest city in the country? No, this wasn’t a language problem because OH knows how to read Russian. There simply wasn’t a sign.


Hermitage Museum

I have another observation about something – or rather some people – who I found lacking. In Israel, I’m used to seeing people of colour on the streets. There are Jews from Ethiopia. There are also Jews whose families are from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, etc. There are non-Jews from Africa who generally come for a limited time to make money. I’m also used to seeing people who are identifiable as Muslims.

I saw about one Muslim and two non-white people during my visit. I don’t think that shows there aren’t other populations in Russia, but only that they don’t live in the two largest cities.

One day, I would like to return to Russia and visit other places. Maybe I’ll even find out where my grandparents came from.

Remembering 4th July, 1976

The summer of 1976 was a special one for me. For starters, it was my last summer before I left England for a year-long programme in Israel with the potential to turn into a permanent move. I planned a party for friends and work colleagues. I was excited to be doing something new, in a new land, and looking forward to being close to the boyfriend who in time became my husband.

It was unusually hot in England  that summer. The heat wave was to last for about three months, although we didn’t know that at the beginning of July. In some areas, people would suffer from water shortages, though not in London, where I lived. I remember joining work colleagues for a day trip to Oxford. I remember relaxing on a punt and trailing my hand in the water.

The media was full of a special anniversary. Three-and-a-half thousand miles away, and further, across the Atlantic Ocean, something enormous was being planned in an enormous country I’d never visited – a country connected to us by language but one that seemed very foreign in many ways. The United States of America was about to celebrate two hundred years of independence.

Despite my distance from that place, in all senses, I would have been interested in the run-up to the special day. I would have been happy for those people over the ocean, but for one thing.

One unfolding event in another part of the world dampened my enthusiasm for everything else and kept my eyes glued to the television screen. In a disused part of the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, a little over a hundred people were being held hostage by four hijackers with the full support of the leader of that country, Colonel Idi Amin Dada. Apart from the French crew members who had elected to remain there rather than desert the hostages, those people were Jews or Israelis, following a selection process reminiscent of other such processes that took place not so many decades previously, and resulting in all the other passengers of the hijacked plane being released.


On the morning of Sunday, 4th July, I woke up in time to turn on my transistor radio for the eight o’clock news, and was overjoyed to hear the first item. Israel had launched a raid on the old airport building at Entebbe and rescued the hostages. I raced downstairs to tell my father, who always got up early but never turned on the radio before my mother got up.

Throughout the day, we listened and watched as details became clearer. We also watched the Independence Day celebrations in that far off country. Suddenly they matched the way we felt: euphoric.

The following day, work colleagues congratulated me as if I’d personally planned the whole rescue operation. Times were different then.


On October 25th, I’ll be celebrating another fortieth anniversary – of my move to Israel. There might be prizes.

Before that, probably later this month, I plan to announce a change in direction for this blog. Keep watching this space.

Letters from Elsewhere

My visitor today is Sam Longmore, son of the main protagonist in The Calgary Chessman series by Yvonne Marjot. He’s going to have a lot more to say for himself in the next volume of the Calgary Chessman series (The Ashentilly Letters, forthcoming from Crooked Cat).

March 28

Montrose University

Dear Mum,

What do you mean, what does pollen have to do with archaeology? According to Prof. Heyes palynology is the most important and useful scientific tool available to archaeologists and climate scientists today. To be honest, he’s a nice old bloke and he really knows his stuff. He’s almost managed to convince me he’s right.

Palynology is the study of pollen grains, and it works like this: You take a core sample or two from your site of interest. That’s a cylindrical plug of soil about 2cm across and as deep as you can possibly get it to go. In a nice bit of old swamp you can get three or four metres of core.

Soil builds up slowly over time, and the different layers correspond to changes in the local conditions at the time that the soil was laid down. So you can get a pretty quick look at the development of the site by seeing if there are changes in the colour and texture of the soil layers. E.g. a layer of sand might indicate that the sea had covered your site for a while, or series of stony layers could mean that a river or glacier once flowed over the area.

Then you take samples of all the different layers and make them into microscope slides. (Remember to add the proper stain, as I will never ever forget to do again!) You take a look at your slides under the microscope and, hey presto, instant information.

If your slide has a lot of grass pollen, that could mean that there was a prairie-type landscape, although grass types mixed with certain herbs might mean a swamp. Birch pollen is cute. It’s a rounded triangle with a hole at each corner, and every time I see one it makes me think of an ocarina. Seeing lots of that indicates a seral stage, where trees and shrubs are beginning to colonise an open landscape. Hazel pollen comes later in the succession; it’s triangular with dimples, a bit like tiny prawn crackers. And if you see pollen that looks like a scrotum, that’s Scots pine, which tells you there was a proper forest near the site you’ve sampled.

What’s interesting is that pollen has given us evidence for a worsening of the climate at the end of the Neolithic. The spread of uncultivable land and the change in the distribution of cereal crops coincided with changes in human behaviour: more building of fortified structures, more warfare, and eventually the emergence of the Bronze Age, which was all about the new metal weaponry and the opportunity it gave for a few individuals to gain authority over large numbers of people.

That’s your pocket lecture for today. I promised to tell you a funny thing that happened. Well, it wasn’t funny at first. In fact, Niall and I had a little tiff. At least, I shouldn’t say tiff. I called it that to Niall’s face and he was really upset, because actually it was quite serious for a while.

You know my friend Pete, the one I play darts with? Well, we’ve been playing a lot. He’s the one who got me into rowing, too. A few weekends ago Niall turned up to see me, but I’d forgotten he was coming and Pete and I had gone to a darts match in town. We had a few drinks and then we rolled home in the early hours of the morning and there was Niall waiting for me. I felt really bad because I should have remembered it was his weekend, but Pete just laughed and told him not to be such a boring old fart, we couldn’t help it if he’d forgotten what it was to be young.

Anyway, I did say sorry. Niall was really angry though. He told me Pete fancies me, and he wasn’t so sure that I didn’t fancy him back. I told him not to be an idiot and he told me I was so innocent I couldn’t see what was under my nose and I accused him of being jealous. Well, I won’t tell you the rest. You can imagine, I’m sure.

We made up in the end, and we’ve been all right since, but I still had to worry about what I was going to do about Pete. Because he’s my friend. There isn’t anything else in it, but I can kind of see where Niall was coming from. After all, he doesn’t know what I’m getting up to the other twelve days of the fortnight, and he just has to trust me. I told him that I have to trust him too, but he says that’s different. Just because he’s been around a bit and has found the man he truly loves, doesn’t mean that I’m ready to settle down. So he’s afraid of losing me, but he’s also scared that if he holds on too tight he’ll lose me anyway.

Well, in the middle of all that going on Dr Rigby gets a new post-graduate student. At least, he really came to work with Prof Heyes, but Tim’s his official mentor since the prof is due to retire next year. Guess who it is: Rick Mason that we met on the Lismore dig. I bumped into him down at the Student Union, and Pete was with me so we invited him to come to darts with us the next Friday, and guess what? Now Pete and Rick are going out.

It’s great. It’s like I’m some sort of lucky charm for people, because I sorted out a fight between Becky and her boyfriend the other day and now they’ve got engaged. Then the next weekend Niall turns up and there’s Rick and Pete all over each other, snogging for Scotland. Honestly, could they at least get a room? So Niall and me are okay again.

Other than that it’s pretty boring here in student land. How’s the old homestead down under? Please tell me there’s a hunky man living next door and you’re having a wild fling? Or was I right all along about Ewan, and now you’re pining for him madly? I know – you’re my Mum and you’re never going to tell me. Are Nanna and Granddad okay? Your last letter was a bit scary – I hope the news is good. But anyway, let me know you’re all right. Miss you.

Lots of love

Your Best Beloved


About The Calgary Chessman Trilogy

 The Calgary Chessman

YMarjot TCC TBL picsDiscovery is Only the Beginning

On a windswept beach on the Isle of Mull, Cas Longmore is walking away from loneliness when she unearths a mystery in the sand. To Cas, torn between Scotland and her New Zealand home, the object seems as odd and out-of-place as herself.

Intrigued, she begins to search for its origins, thinking it will bring a brief respite from isolation. Instead, the Calgary chess piece opens the door to friendships and new hope. Her son, meanwhile, brings home his own revelation to shake her world.

The Book of Lismore

The Past is a Lost Book

While visiting the beautiful Hebridean island of Lismore, Cas and Sam stumble upon a new chapter of the island’s past. Once again, they are confronted by the ghosts of the distant past, and ancient tragedy combines with present danger as each is faced with a fresh challenge.

Archaeology provides a strong bond between Cas and her favourite men, but the mystery they uncover proves easier to solve than the ongoing conflicts in her personal life, and love seems as fragile and elusive as ever.

About Yvonne Marjot

YMarjot profile 1Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012 she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

Her archaeological romances The Calgary Chessman and The Book of Lismore are published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

She has worked in schools, libraries and university labs, has been a pre-school crèche worker and a farm labourer, cleaned penthouse apartments and worked as amanuensis to an eminent Botanist. She currently has a day job (in the local school) and teenage children, and would continue to write even if no-one read her work, because it’s the only thing that keeps her sane. In her spare time she climbs hills, looks for rare moths and promises herself to do more in the garden.

You can follow her work via the Facebook page and group The Calgary Chessman, @Alayanabeth on Twitter, or on the WordPress blog The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet.

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