Wednesday, December 24, 2008

English Vineyard

While in the UK a couple weeks ago, I had occasion to go the country's largest vineyard in Dorking, Surrey about 30 minutes from my friends' home. The day was pouring rain - washing out great stretches of road at times so we did not tour the vineyard but had an excellent lunch with a wonderful dry white wine and made some purchases from the gift shop. I repeat some of the material from Denbie's website, including the link. I attach a couple photos of the estate in sunny times, looking for all the world as if we are in France and a link to many more images.

On top of Ashcombe hill (now Ranmore hill) was a farm where John Denby was at one time the farmer. The farmhouse was purchased by a Mr .Wakeford who sold the property in 1754 to Jonathan Tyers, the founder and proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens. He transformed the farm building into a modest Georgian House, which could be regarded as the first 'Denbies' House. …

The Estate now comprises 627 acres, 200 of which are woodlands, and includes 10 estate houses. There is no known connection between the current owner and his name-sake James White, who owned Denbies 200 years earlier who could well be the same James White who was a well known auctioneer in Dorking.

Adrian and Gillian White have five children, one daughter and four sons. It is for them that the Estate has been developed to optimise the use of the land with today's difficult balance between preservation and conservation, at a time when Britain's entry into the European Economic Community (Common Market) has made farming a questionable investment. Lateral thinking, because of farming's depressing position, led to the development of the Estate's south facing slopes, of little grazing value, into a vineyard. Dr. Selley, Professor of Geology at Imperial College, London and longtime Dorking resident, had suggested that Adrian White consider planting vines in view of the similarity of Denbies soil and climate to that of the Champagne area of France.

Subsequently research revealed that vines had thrived in the area previously. In AD 100 the Romans planted a vineyard at Bagden Farm, less than 350 yards from Denbies Estate. In Daniel Defoe's 'A Tour Through the Whole Islands of Great Britain', written in the early eighteen century, we read of Charles Howard of Deepdene House, laying down a vineyard on the south facing slopes of Dorking, "which, they say, has produced since most excellent good wines, and a very great quantity of them." It is interesting to note that in the early 1680's Defoe was at school near Dorking.

The vineyards of Denbies Estate are situated on the North Downs with its famous chalky soil, in a protected valley of south facing slopes. A total 265 acres have been planted which is three times the size of any other in the United Kingdom and has met the promise of producing some of the finest sparkling and table wines in Europe through repeated certification in the annual International Wine Challenge.

For a full history click on this site.

For more photos of Denbie's please click here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winchester and Distance Ancestor

When I was young, I thought everyone had a family tree enumerating ancestors, their spouses and children back some 400 years. I didn’t find it unusual to have a gold bracelet that had once belonged to a great great grandmother, her daughter and then my mother all of whose initials were inscribed. I did find it odd that it had skipped my mother’s mother. I grew up with the stories of my great great grandfather who was the captain on a whaling vessel and then subsequently with his eponymously named son and grandson owned the maritime company that sprang from the ship’s ownership. Only very recently I have learned that his house in New Bedford stands today as one of the stops on the Underground Railroad. Quite recently as well and most interestingly (and over two hundred years prior to the captain), one ancestor whom I’d always known had come to the U.S. on the Mayflower now is known to have traveled first to Jamestown, where his shipwreck on Bermuda was the basis of the plot within Shakespeare’s Tempest, and the Butler, Stephano, modeled after him, Stephen Hopkins. Research within the last decade has definitely shown that both these parts (Jamestown and Plymouth) were played by one and the same man whose roots can be traced to Hampshire, England and specifically for a period of his life to Winchester. My very recent visit to Winchester owes its origin to this recent new information about my ancestor. I owe my knowledge of these new facts to the wonderful wealth of information available on the internet that I can read while in Qatar.

I attach a few photos from Winchester of sites that Stephen Hopkins would have seen in the early 1600s. (My commentary is drawn from a Walk-around Guide to Winchester, Wikipedia and other tourist naterial .)

The Westgate was built as early as the 12th century with later additions in the 13th and 14th centuries. It stands where a Roman gate stood 1500 years ago and when the defensive needs of the city declined, it was put to use as a jail and debtor's prsion. The grooves down which the portcullis would have been dropped during an emergency and five openings through missiles would have been fired on anyone attaching the gates are visible. Alas, the small museum with armour, weapons, household objects and a painted ceiling created for the marriage of Mary I to Phillip of Spain in 1554 and the roofwalk from which Winchester can be viewed are closed during the winter months and so I couldn't visit.

The Great Hall, built between 1222 and 1236 for Henry III, is considered to be the finest medieval hall in England after Westminster. Throughout its history the Hall witnessed many events and for most of its life has been a legal and administrative center and today is physically joined to the modern law courts. High on the west wall is the famous round table, made of oak and 18 ft in diameter. Dating from the 13th century it has hung in the hall from at least 1463, although at the opposite end until 1873. It is believed to have been painted for the visit to Westminster of Charles V and Henry VIII in 1522. The design is of a robed King Arthur with the names of his knights around the circumference.

The east end of the great hall was painted in the 19th c with a great tree showing the names of parliamentary representatives of Hampshire from the earliest times. On this wall are the Wedding Gates of Prince Charles.

The first cathedral in Winchester was begun in 642 by King Cenwealth of Wessex. The present version was started in 1079 with many alterations through the 16th century and today is renowned for, among other things, the longest nave in Europe. Although Stephen Hopkins' parish chursh was St. Thomas, Winchester, he surely would have known the cathedral. The Norman foundations consisted of a great raft of logs laid on bogland and by 1900 the cathedral was sinking. William Walker, a diver, worked under the foundations in black water for five years, removing the peat and decayed timber handful by handful so that the structure could be underpinned with concrete.

I close with a lovely Horse and Rider by Elizabeth Frink (1975) that looked cold in the December light rain but must be charming when the sun is out and leaves are full.

News from here

A compilation of recent news items that shape our lives here in Qatar.

From a very recent internal email to all students and employees:
"Please note that internet services in Qatar have been affected by the breach of three of the four internet sub-cables in the Mediterranean Sea, linking the Middle East and India with Europe and America. Engineers from Qtel are working to source additional alternative routes to maintain speed and connectivity but, in the meantime, you may experience delays accessing external web pages. Work to repair the cables is currently underway, although this could take several days to complete.
Thank you for your patience." Delays continue ...

Qatar celebrated its National Day - commemorating the establishment of the State of Qatar in 1887 by Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed bin Thani. I was trapped for over 30 minutes in traffic as a parade passed by - first wonderful horses and then camels, all with riders dressed in native outfits. Of course, no camera since I had been trying to get groceries. Below are some excerpts from the local newspaper.

DOHA: It was a day to cherish and a night to remember as Qatar’s history, achievements and visions were presented in all its glory to an admiring public and curious onlookers. “The Qatar National Day celebrations exceeded our expectations,” said Salman Almass Al Qubaisi, director of administrative and financial affairs and state bureau; and a committee member of the Qatar National Day Organising Committee. “The members of the Qatar National Day Organising Committee are very happy with the turnout of the event. And we saw many people along the Corniche having fun with family and friends, and enjoying the shows since morning,” said Al Qubaisi. Thousands gathered at the Corniche to witness the shows—from the parade in the morning, to the light and water show in the afternoon and early evening, to the spectacular display of fireworks at 10pm.

(I saw the fireworks from my apartment.)

New Islamic Museum and culture news:
DOHA: The total number of visitors to the newly-opened Museum of Islamic Art has crossed the 30,000 mark within two weeks of its opening to the public. Both local and international visitors joined the rush to see Qatar’s new cultural landmark during the period, the Qatar Museums Authority has said. The largest Islamic museum in the world resounded with the footsteps of 1,500 visitors on December 1, the day it opened to the public. Visitors of all ages enjoyed the museum’s permanent collection featuring more than 800 pieces of priceless Islamic art and the first temporary exhibition ‘Beyond Boundaries: Islamic Art Across Cultures’ – all free of charge. more ...

DOHA: Qatar is grateful to renowned architect I M Pei for presenting the iconic Museum of Islamic Art (IMA) to the country and the whole world, said H H Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned here yesterday. “The priceless monument Pei has offered us will be the cornerstone of the region’s culture and tradition,” she added.
Sheikha Mozah was addressing a seminar on “Islamic Architecture from Tradition to Modernity”; a discussion held in honour of Pei at the newly opened museum yesterday.
“Our idea is to enhance this museum as an epicenter of the region’s arts and cultural movement,” she said. more ...

DOHA: Hollywood icon Robert De Niro signed an agreement with Qatar Museum Authority (QMA) here yesterday to launch the next edition of New York’s world-renowned Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) in Doha. ...The first Tribeca Film Festival Doha, featuring 40 films, is to run from November 10-14, 2009, at the Museum of Islamic Art. more ...

Qatar to assist developing countries fight poverty
UNITED NATIONS: Qatar is spearheading efforts to promote trade and cooperation between developing economies as a part of an economic strategy to help the world’s poor work together in pulling themselves out of poverty. Qatar’s ambassador to the United Nations Nasser Abdulaziz Al Nasser, opened a four-day conference in New York recently to debate a process economists have called “South-South Development”. The Global South-South Development Expo 2008, which closed on Friday, saw Al Nasser joined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other advocates of fair economic growth in midtown Manhattan. Doha’s envoy, who is also the president of the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Committee on South-South Cooperation, emphasised on the importance of forging such an economic alliance. more ...

Boat with medical supplies defies Israeli blockade
DOHA: A boat chartered by Western pro-Palestinian activists, docked in the Gaza’s fishing port yesterday morning, carrying urgent medical aid supplies and a Qatari delegation. The boat named Al-Karama (Dignity) was the first to successfully break Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is a part of a series of sanctions Israel applied on the territory after the Hamas movement seized the territory in 2007. Prime Minister of the defunct Palestinian government Ismail Haniyah expressed his gratitude over the arrival of the boat at the Gaza Port. He viewed demonstrations staged in Arab and Islamic capitals that called for lifting of the Gaza siege as evidence that Arab people could no longer tolerate the Israel blockade. more ...

Divorce, Saudi Style
RIYADH: A Saudi court has rejected a plea to divorce an eight-year-old girl married off by her father to a man who is 58, saying the case should wait until the girl reaches puberty, a lawyer involved with the case said. “The judge has dismissed the plea (filed by the mother) because she does not have the right to file such a case, and ordered that the plea should be filed by the girl herself when she reaches puberty,” lawyer Abdullah Jtili said after a court decision on Saturday. The divorce plea was filed in August by the girl’s divorced mother with a court at Unayzah, 220km north of Riyadh just after the marriage contract was signed by the father and the groom. more

from today's paper, news you can use ...
DOHA: The Ministry of Public Health yesterday denied what has been circulating through SMS that a street vendor has been selling perfumes, which, if sniffed could cause death. An official at the Public Health Ministry denied as baseless these rumours, which said 18 persons were killed and another 35 persons were rushed to intensive care units as a result of these perfumes. The official affirmed that such rumours were completely untrue and called on the people not to spread such rumours and messages, which created panic. The Ministry of Public Health urges people to notify the Ministry of Public Health on 5511847 in case of receiving such SMS.

(Last year an SMS mesage circulated about an impending hurricane that caused enough panic among some to have workforces let go - not ours - the same was tried this year but debunked early. An interesting demonstration of the power of SMS.)

and finally, Weather
(from end November):
DOHA: Qatar received scattered rainfall across the country yesterday, and the weatherman has forecast chances of more showers today. The Met department officials termed yesterday’s rains as “scattered but almost all across the country”. The daily weather chart forecast “partly cloudy to cloudy weather with a chance of scattered rain today.” The weather report also forecast relatively cold weather. Early yesterday morning, Doha received light scattered rain. Ruwais, Dukhan, Al Khor, Abu Samra and Mesaieed also witnessed light drizzles. Doha witnessed very light rain in the noon that lasted just a few minutes. The weatherman forecast a maximum temperature of 27 degrees Celsius and minimum of 19 degrees today. The easterly to southeasterly wind is expected to blow at a speed of six to 14 knots inshore and eight to 17 knots offshore. Winds are expected to whip up waves.
from Dec. 1:
Doha: The Emir H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani will take part in the Istiska (rain-seeking) prayers tomorrow morning at the Al Wajba prayers ground. These prayers come in line with the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him), who performmed Istiska prayers at the time of rainfall delay.
As I recall, the last time this was attempted, hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans ...